The environment is the Third Teacher (Parents and Teachers being the other two), and while most folx recognize nature and outdoor spaces as a great teacher, the indoor spaces are often not seen this way. There’s a lot of “classroom” aesthetic that is sold and promoted that has no soul or even beauty. It doesn’t tell the story of the past, the present, and leave space for the children and adults to co-create the culture of the space as it emerges and informs the future. When I walk into your space (home, office, classroom, studio) what does it say? What values does it speak. What are the children hearing the space say as they enter?
I am so sad that no family and friends are allowed to wander in, volunteer, or hang out due to covid restrictions. I so value the spontaneous and planned infusions of perspectives, ideas, emotions, and just plain old getting to know each other that happens when the doors are wide open and family enters. I hope that through this blog, you can at least be a fly on the wall or even be moved to leave a comment or question.
How we enter the Atelier. We usually gallup on imaginary horses, although Kindergarten and First Grade seem to ride cheetahs, dragons, unicorns, and all kinds of hybrid creatures. This is intentional. Moving your body is directly connected to activating the brain and raising serotonin to elevate well being and joy.
We stop outside the doorway. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 jumps and to the rug.
And then we read the visual schedule. Because just like the kids, I like to know what’s coming.
Create. On the schedule, this “Create” time refers to responding to the project thread/idea/provocation. It might be learning a new media, or it might be “visible speaking” or sharing your thinking through making, it might be an individual response, or it might be a collaboration. It may be starting, returning, or finishing something from the previous week. It might be experimenting or planning an idea.
Free Time. Free time is like gold. Children are often surprised that they can feely decide to create something to take home (project work usually lives on in the Atelier, to inform curriculum and conversation)
Play is foundational to social emotional well being, exploring, practicing the imagination, creating stories, games, rules, and small worlds, trying something new, processing complex feelings, even traumas, negotiating, finding some alone time or making friends, and creating new worlds. After extended periods of being apart, this togetherness of a new family of friends and adults can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Throughout Free Time I am able to observe and support interactions that are sometimes divine and other times difficult and complex. Trust is developed. The learning and growth is never to be underestimated.
Using the visual symbol makes giving the signal of flicking the lights off for clean up time a known thing. Children have been helpful, and even when they get distracted, their generosity in helping a friend or myself clean up is a common occurrence.
Reflection and Sing Goodbye.
We typically begin reflection with a quick guided routine to think about project work. Usually guided by prompts, What do you remember talking about first, What materials did we use? What was tricky about this? What was interesting or fun? What might we do next week in connection to the project? What do we need to work on as a group? How did we get along? What do we need to practice? Where did you prefer working? Sometimes we look at a collaboration together and share connections and appreciation. Sometimes we each share one thing we did during Free Time that was special. I usually reply “Yes, when you made that game up, you were an author, creating stories and characters.” Or “Yes, you were an engineer, designing a structure.”
We always sing Skinamarinky dinky dink I love you to end class. One is never too old too sing in unison a love song with funny words. To make a ritual of sweetness that can be dependably found at the end of every Atelier/Art Studio.
To that matter, we are never too old for making time to practice and find space to grow capacities of expression, compassion, imagination, transformation, and perspective taking. In this time, in this space- this is how it’s going.
Please leave comments and questions on the blog post. I’d love to be in conversation despite being separated.
Afrofututrism-Part 1, A New Lens By Which to See, Inspired by Cyrus Kabiru
This Spring as a school, we focused on elevating Black Joy, Excellence, and Culture through living folx throughout the African diaspora. And while this is a project that we engaged in from February through beginning of April, Black Joy is intended to be a provocation for continued expansive teaching practice and curriculum development at School Within School as a core principle.
In the Atelier, Black Lives Matter at School is 24/7, through expression, art, culture, movements, and making. The narrow expanse historically of art, art institutions, and art education has centered white male Eurocentric artists, with a handful of women and BIPOC thrown in during their designated cultural months.
I dare say it is easy to scrap the white supremacist model of art education because there are limitless and boundless histories, cultures, and BIPOC and women artists to center to inspire young children (and ourselves) to express and transform power, beauty, and aesthetic.
Inspired by an art exhibit I visited in Barcelona 5 years ago “Making Africa”, and as the Early Childhood Atelierista (working virtually yet live with the children), I centered our Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation projects around Afrofuturism.
“For the uninitiated, Afrofuturism is a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct “Blackness” in the culture. Reflected in the life and works of such figures as Octavia Butler, Sojourner Truth, Sun Ra, and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression — both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature.”
We began by being inspired by the vision and genius of Cyrus Kabiru.
“I grew up surrounded by a lot of trash,” says Cyrus Kabiru of his childhood. “The biggest dumpsite in Nairobi was right opposite my house. I used to tell my dad, ‘When I grow up I’ll give trash a second chance.’ I used to feel like trash also needs a chance to live.”
After looking at Mr. Kabiru’s glasses ( C-Stunners, as he calls them), glasses no one had ever imagined before, I explained how he is called an Afrofuturist. He is an artist from Kenya who creates art that no one in the world has ever seen before, he creates by making a new and better future, where trash is given a second chance. All of his C-Stunners also tell a story. Each one is different. He is a creative genius.
“To me, being an Afrofuturist is a mix of creativity from different continents.” •
His increasing success in the art world has afforded Kabiru the opportunity to travel and to expand his collection of found objects. •
He says: “When I go to London, I’ll pick up trash. I always pick up trash from different continents. If I make an artwork with European trash, my work will look newer, so I try to combine old Kenyan trash and new European trash.”
This was a project we returned to for many weeks. This returning is to practice depth, as opposed to a make-it take-it crafting hour. Each class we re-visted Mr. Kabiru through looking at his art and watching and listening to him speak to us through videos. As children constructed, an Afrofuturism playlist that I created of SunRa, Janelle Monet, Laura Mvula, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kamasi Washington, Eryka Badu, Valerie June and more played. The sensory and delight of the creative process was compelling to observe. The music helped keep track of time and guide children into a state of flow.
I could see into all the squares on the Teams Meeting where children were experimenting, constructing, and creating, all while centering the Afrofuturist ideals of Cyrus Kabiru.
We did multi-modal language shifting by using our sculptures as a provocation for mixed media 2d collage art (as Cyrus Kabiru also uses photography and mixed media collage to express his stories.)
All of this project work is happening during a global pandemic. This is relevant. There is no doubt that each child and adult has experienced trauma, loss, and abrupt change. Because trauma is experienced inwardly, with no words to express,(especially if you are 3-6- years old) the act of making and creating in an open-ended and expansive manner allows one to process (often unconsciously) pain or anxiety. The brain shifts and creates new passageways during making. When these neurological passageways shift, you are released from the biological and emotional effects of fight, flight, or freeze. Expression through the arts releases and heals emotionally and neurologically.
Right now, in the newspaper is the unrelenting horror of the details of the murder of Mr George Floyd. What strikes one, is the fact that the police officer who kneeled on the neck of Mr Floyd and killed him ceased to see his humanity. What strikes one, is the fact that a trial is even necessary when the world witnessed his tragic death via a cell phone video. What strikes one, is those who watched who had the power to stop another Black man, another human being, from being killed just watched. The othering and dehumanizing of Black and Brown children and adults hails from the transatlantic slave trade. It is enmeshed in all of our systems, including our education systems. We are raised in the subtle and the obvious ways that creates internalized hatred of BIPOC.
We are all, within our capacity able to create, demand, imagine, and act in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and dismantles white supremacy culture. For me it is as a mother, artist, educator, and activist.
As children gazed at the beauty and genius of Cyrus Kabiru, valuing his existence, we are reminded of the importance of our our daily work. Especially with our youngest citizens.
“Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quo’s blind spots.”
Our paths co-constructing Afrofuturist thinking and making in the Atelier/Art Studio led us next to The Black Indians of New Orleans, The Super Heroes of Hebru Brantley, and The Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The journey of learning and thinking as an Afrofuturist makes visible Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation intrinsically. It goes on and on. Like the C-Stunners of Cyrus Kabiru, Afrofuturism offers us all a new lens by which to see, especially in the blind spots.
Wow, it has been a looooong time since I last blogged.
I will start from today though, from now, November 12th, 2020.
And right now, I can share that it is not only possible to connect and create virtually with 3-6 year old humans in the Atelier, it is meaningful, compassionate, and inspiring.
There is still opening and closing rituals, music, stories, provocations, and just like being in person, there is sustained time where there is a flow of constructing, experimenting, and expressing (with music flowing and me, not talking.) And there is still Reggio Inspired Projects and the possibilities of expressing understandings in 100 Languages.
We began the school year with the provocation of Monarch butterflies and as they emerged and began their migration to Michoacán, Mexico, we moved from local to global. We moved from the simplicity that all living things migrate to the complexities of human migration.
Here is some documentation to connect you to the rigor, depth, and joy of our weekly one hour Atelier LIVE with Ms McLean.
To end this post, I leave you with a link and a quote.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an extraordinary Mexican artist who uses technologies to create art about human connection. In 2019, I took both PreK classes to his interactive exhibit that connected human heartbeats and fingerprints to beautiful pulsing lights and waves. It was transformative.
He recently creating mind blowing art interactions at the US/Mexican border.
If you have 17 minutes to spare, watching this video by Art 21, Rafael Lozano Hemmer “Borderlands” will surely move you. I hope it will also give you perspective on the importance of the thinking and doing that children manifest in the Atelier. Children, in fact, imagined, like Hemmer, ways to connect people, despite the complexities of pandemics or borders.
What Hemmer has imagined and created is not so different than Delilah or Aliya, both in PreK4
“There is art on the ground on both sides of the wall, and people can talk about it through the tunnel.” Delilah
“”I made a big chair in the Middle of the wall so the kids from both countries can sit together to talk or read books. Kids holding hands together and dancing I also draw a tree house with a balloon and a big bear.” Aliya B., PreK4
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.” — James Baldwin
I hope you will engage through leaving comments, wonderings, or connections below. In gratitude.
How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and more meaningful expression and responses?
Why does it matter?
What can we learn?
As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to feel, see, and create is engagement.
Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,
An environment filled with provocations that delight, intrigue, and expand possibilities,
Values made visible in words, images, and actions that proclaim that all are welcome here
Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult
Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas, concepts, and understandings.
We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.
On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a school community.
Since then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.
Our active enduring question is, “How can we spread Kindness?”
This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.
Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.
On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.
Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.
Kindness Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!
My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.
If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.
There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.
Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.
To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.
“International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”
My eyes often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon, cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!
Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.
“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.
Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.
Sharing these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others (and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.
As children painted and used materials, they became closer to reliving that moment.
When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.
Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.
The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering
What is diversity?
The next project was proposed.
I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, Need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out upon me, The rock, the river, the tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.