“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us.” – Hasan Davi

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.

Super Heroes inspired by Artist Hebru Brantley By Ava, age 5 “My super power is spreading LOVE!!!!!!!”

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.

Part 1 was inspired by Cyrus Kabiru.

From the essay Afrofuturism Has Always Looked Forward: How can the ideology serve as a blueprint for cultural growth? by Taylor Crumpton:

“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.

The 3 to 6 year old children were spellbound listening to and watching Cyrus speak and create Making Wearables Through E-Waste.

“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.

Cyrus Kabiru, Mixed Media Art

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.”

From the article “How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend”, by C. Brandon Ogbunu

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.

And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.

What questions are we asking children?

In what ways are we listening to children?

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.

Relationship.

Love.

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.

Each child makes a Kindness Rock as a gift for another child (they do not know in advance who it will be for!) to exchange on 9/11. And a second one that is left out in the DC metro sometime during the school year area to spread Kindness to a stranger.
Every classroom reads Have You Filled a Bucket Today? This conceptually plants the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for caring for those around us, as opposed to bucket dippers, who themselves have an emptiness and so try to fill up their own bucket by taking from others.

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.

We practice how to introduce yourself, and how to give and receive.

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!

I decided to enter into a project that I have been researching since the 1990’s; anti bias education and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.

“It’s the Tokyo Tower! I can’t believe it! It’s amazing!” Sora, age 3

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.

The session ended with the video of Maya Angelou reciting this poem at Clinton’s inauguration.

Here are the ending verses.

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.

“The magic is… change the world.”

It is January first.

A new year.

And despite being on this planet for quite a while, and teaching in public school for 20 years, there is still a newness, a joy, a surprise, great gratitude, and hope that comes with each day.

This Solstice, (a very special SWS yearly tradition), we wanted to go deeper. We wanted to immerse the children and ourselves into the exploration of darkness as beauty.

We intentionally sought to change the paradigm. The season of the darkest days as delight. A time of coziness, discovery, joy, and reflection as opposed to complaining that it is cold, wet, and dark .

And so I share with you the transdisciplinary, polysensorial, and magical moments of these darkest days. May you find this documentation of children and the darkness symbolic and relevant.



Simultaneously, while exploring the dark, children were creating lanterns. This year, they made Fairy Lanterns.

The lanterns were not a one time make it take it. We read stories of how Fairies are caretakers of the earth. We learned that fairies are part of one of the 4 elements: air, water, fire, or earth. We learned that fairies live all around us, yet, in a magical world that is separated from us by an invisible door.

Using painter tape, allowed children to make the “invisible door”, which they removed to reveal their lantern’s fairy and light.

The multi-step artistic thinking, paired with exploring the dark in the studio and classroom, books of solstice history, fairy tales, and fiction with characters who encounter the dark, led to children developing their own relationships with darkness.

Popular culture inundates children with images, movies, books, advertising, and shows that exalt light as good and beautiful, and dark as evil and unattractive. How do these small daily doses of messaging affect one’s perspective over a lifetime? How does it affect a community and society over time?

“Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born” (Quote from The Winter of Listening by David Whyte)

The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

We must take the time to linger in the beauty of darkness.

Through conceptual constructs such as darkness, children are given space to create culture as a community.

We are intentional in developing a culture that nurtures, questions, morphs, interconnects, and gives value to curiosity, inclusion, and expression.

Exploring meaning in life, searching for beauty, experiencing wonder, developing perspective, practicing kindness, expressing through 100 languages, and slowing down and listening are all tenets of our rigorous curriculum.

Nothing without joy.

Everything with gratitude.

As we enter into 2019 with our beloved community, we are reminded that no matter the difficulties in life, we are planting seeds in dark fertile ground together

And as Aviv says:

Happy New Year. It is a joy and privilege to share the journey with all of you.

A careful considerate gaze or I am because you are

Here’s some links to explore connections:

To  explore the concept of Ubuntu

Link to NAREA (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance)

Link to Global Children at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero

Link to Brenee Brown

Link to article on Curiosity

Much love! And feel free to respond below and start a conversation.

Labor of Love

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I was thinking about the complexities of “labor” today, on this Labor Day eve.
I was thinking about the labor or role of the teacher.  The possibilities and power of relationship and transformation that can happen in a learning environment is on my mind as this new school year has begun. For me this is in the Atelier or Art Studio at SWS.
IMG_6919It made me jump to the phrase “Labor of Love.”

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Last Spring I became part of a year-long 12 person Art Educator DCPS Fellowship. ACES Art Fellowship. ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The fellowship I am a part of aims to create a cadre of trauma –informed art teachers to develop strategies and  practice within their art classes and then share and spread this work within their school communities and throughout DCPS.

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What is ACEs science?

ACEs science refers to the research on the prevalence and consequences of adverse childhood experiences, and what to do to prevent them. It comprises:

  1. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with four ACEs— including living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse, and losing a parent to divorce — have a huge risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.
  2. Brain science (neurobiology of toxic stress) — how toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of kids’ developing brains.
  3. Health consequences — how toxic stress caused by ACEs affects short- and long-term health, and can impact every part of the body, leading to autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, as well as heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, etc.
  4. Historical and generational trauma (epigenetic consequences of toxic stress) — how toxic stress caused by ACEs can alter how our DNA functions, and how that can be passed on from generation to generation.
  5. Resilience research — how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal. This research ranges from looking at how the brain of a teen with a high ACE score can be healed with cognitive behavior therapy, to how schools can integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices that result in an increase in students’ scores, test grades and graduation rates.

 

 “ACEs are still experienced by more than one in three children under the age of six.  Even in higher income families, more than one in four children have ACEs.”

 

Here is a wonderful link (where I copied the above info from)

https://acestoohigh.com/

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So what does this mean for the my work?

It means a more intentional and informed practice of being the safety net for children within the context of the SWS Atelier/Art Studio.
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A child does not need to have 1 or more ACES to benefit from me cultivating a compassionate and inclusive classroom based on ACES science. A child who does have one or more ACES has the added potential and benefit of altering their neurology, developing a sense of healthy connection, and developing necessary resiliency.
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One of my favorite simple strategies within this work is to offer “unconditional regard.” It means taking a breath and offering love, even when a child presents in an unlovable behavior. It means routines, rituals, and language that lessens triggers. It means learning how to de-escalate children who are acting out with care and thought. It means thoughtful planning and facilitating of materials, environment, and lessons through this lens.

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And let us not forget the power of the arts to heal. Materials or the 100 Language of children offer children (and adults!) opportunities to express, explore, experiment, and take risks. It allows one to reflect, make beauty, destroy, make mistakes,  construct, and transform.
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When opportunities to create art occurs within a safe inclusive space, with a teacher who verbally and non-verbally defines boundaries, offers freedoms, and unconditional regard, there is fertile ground for growth. And for joy.
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SWS and DCPS are systemically committed to this work. It is an honor and privilege to meet consistently with the DCPS ACES Art Fellowship cadre under the facilitation of Lyndsey D.  Vance, ATR-BC, LPC from ProjectCreate, DC in Anacostia.

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This year, all the ongoing Reggio practice, Constructivist theory, Art Theory, Art Ed, Early Childhood pedagogy, DCPS Standards, Developmentally Appropriate planning, Project Approach, and Mindfulness practices that are embedded in my teaching at SWS, have a new connecting thread. Unconditional regard. Trauma informed practice. Love.

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“Relationship is the evidence based practice.” Dr. Allison Jackson
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Intuitively I have always known this. In my life, I have been both on the receiving and giving end. Now I have the science and fellowship to truly understand, share, and further develop my practice.

It seems most appropriate today to declare this work, this year, sincerely, as a Labor of Love.
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Looking forward to connecting and reconnecting!
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Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the World

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Talking to children ages 5-8 about homelessness

National Coalition for the Homeless lesson plan for ages K-2nd grade

Any Refugee, sending a postcard to displaced children

Trash me Rob-Art Activist

Wangari Maathai

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Wangari Maathai

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/01/root-causes-interview-wangari-maathai

Because you need to. Because you want to.

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Focusing on love.

In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
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For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
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For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
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Research is in my favor here.
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Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
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Alas, policy only slides deeper into forcing children younger and younger to spend their formative years in a fixed mindset being coerced to decode and read long before they have had the experience to comprehend ideas, problems, relationships, and the world around them.
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Love.
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This is not a flaky word.
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Love is extremely difficult. It takes practice, passion, commitment, and grit when applied to any instance…sharing, mistake making, idea forming, friend making, conflict resolving, exploration, imagination, conversation.
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Without the source of love, there is no reason to keep on trying, to create something, solve something, learn something, get up after a fall.
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Often in life we are required to love a person (our children, our spouse, our sibling, our students, a neighbor), so in need of support that they act unloveable. Where does one build the capacity?
And what does this have to do with the Atelier, School Within School, with children, with collaboration, with wonder, with the 100 Languages?
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I would say everything.
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In the studio “can’t” is a bad word. A disabling word. What can you say instead? I need help, this is tricky, what do you think, how can I, what is not working here, can someone lend a hand, any ideas how to solve this?
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What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
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You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
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What part was frustrating? How did you figure out how to solve the problem? What do other people think? What makes you say that? What are you thinking of next? What do you need to practice? You must feel really good, you stuck with it, even when it got hard!

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What else is a bad word?
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Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
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Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
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I know that, I know everything, I’m an expert. (said the 5 year old)
No person knows everything. Life and school would be so boring if you knew everything. We are all researchers here learning together. Different people have different areas that they are very strong in. Together, we learn from each other and strengthen each other. Some grown ups spend many years researching things, we invite them to share with us so we can learn from them. We also learn from our friends who are children.
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This is love.
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Recognizing mistakes. Leaning in to the unknown. Asking questions because it is rewarding and awe inspiring as opposed to answering the question correctly. Listening, observing, watching, admiring, and loving those around us in our learning groups.
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Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
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Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
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Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
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When a child is afraid to make a mark on a paper because they are afraid of making a mistake, this is the opposite of love. When a child is afraid to answer the query, What do you think?, because they are not sure what the “right “ answer is, this is the opposite of love. When a child doesn’t try something new, because it’s different, that is not love. This is fear.
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The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
IMG_0986Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Sebastian: “Why?”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”

And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
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Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
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Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
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Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
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for the fulfillment is in the experience,
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in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
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Love.

I am not alone in my research.

Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking,  on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
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Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
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Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder,  writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
IMG_1199To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”

Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
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This year I’m focusing on love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because we love each other

It’s hard to believe that I have not posted since November!
It’s not for lack of work. It’s because the projects, the creativity, the trips, the collaborations, have been expansive and mindblowing.
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So much good stuff, that I have no idea how to edit down the myriad experiences and post!
Not a bad problem to have.

Instead, I am posting the last 2 days in the Studio/Atelier.
I provoked conversation with every small group (PK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten) using the same exact question:
Who does Washington DC belong to?
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Each group, at each specific developmental range showed great thought, engagement, and care.
Through small groups, trusted relationships, and the SWS Reggio-inspired environment, the children have all learned how to engage in conversation. Even at age 3!
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School Within School is a part of a year long research project (with 9 other DC private and public schools) out of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero. The DC city-wide project is titled, Children are Washington DC Citizens. 
I sent the documentation of these conversations to the project researchers and facilitators, Ban Mardel and Mara Krachevsky. Ben emailed me this morning: 

Marla,
I read the conversations and then shared them with my family, who of course, thought they were fantastic. 
Confirmation that we all do have something to learn from young children. 
Ben

I hope you will take the time to read the following conversations.
They are best viewed if you zoom in to 150-200 percent. (Sorry I crammed everything in a little tight)
The progression is Kindergarten, then PreK4, and then PreK3. They are best when read aloud.
Let me know what you hear, what you think, and what you wonder in the comment section below. Let’s extend these conversations…

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Kindergarten Conversations
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PreK 4 Conversations
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PreK 3 Conversations
Slide14Slide15Slide16Slide17Even after 20 years of doing this work with such young humans, or perhaps because of 20 years doing this work, I am both enthralled and humbled by the power of their reflection, connection, and expression. This work offers educators and parents an opportunity to see/hear the mindfulness of young children. 

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I will spend time with the childrens’ thoughts and images. I will formulate more questions and interpretations. It (the documentation) is an opportunity to see the child individually and as part of a group/community. It is teacher research. It is progressive education. It is, as Emerson says, because we love each other.

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This Work Reminds Me of Flying

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The Prek 3 Classes have emabarked on a project. The children started talking about “statues” a few months ago when I had them working on a collaborative wire sculpture in the studio. Their excitement about seeing sculptures and statues in Washington, DC got the classroom teachers and I planning a trip to the National Sculpture Garden. They already “owned” the sculptures in their neighborhoods and parks, we were curious on how they would own sculptures in a formal DC space. This documentation sheds some light and reflection on the ongoing experiences.


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All These Questions Are Love

This is the view from my window right now.
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Another snow day.

A day to reflect and catch up on blogging.

 February just ended.

It’s when the Love Fairy visits SWS.
love fairy I adore Valentines Day.

The opportunity to “make” for others, to write, draw, wrap, and give to others-just for the sake of the day is worth all the commercialized advertisements for diamonds and dinners.

 
What does love have to do with learning?
What’s love got to do with it?

 
I was thrilled to engage my PreSchool children in making a sewn, beaded, wrapped Valentine for someone in their family.

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It was a first time sewing for the children. The pulling and pushing just the right amount without creating tears or big loops of thread, flipping the card, finding a new hole to go through.
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The concentration and dexterity paired with the tactile feel proved to be worth the focus. Every child stuck with their sewn Valentine through completion. 
IMG_4679The next week the children beaded, made a card, and wrapped the Valentine.
cardThis is a lot of work.

Wrapping a gift was also a new experience for many. A tape dispenser alone offers a challenge, and then learning to connect two pieces of paper with one piece of placed tape, without getting it all stuck together.
Bryce wrapping

These rituals and skills of Valentine making, and giving children the opportunity to “do” is no different from all the other learning experiences. Except this one, this project has the ultimate impetus of love.

 Hidden in all the rigor of managing materials, using new tools, staying focused for extended periods, and persevering in new tasks is the anticipation of giving.

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I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?

 

Hard question.

 

You try answering it, let alone only being on this planet 3 to 4 years!

 

Their responses were moving, thoughtful, and thought provoking.
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The multi-layered work they did gave me opportunities to assess many skills. Language, connection to content and comprehension, fine motor skills, following multiple-step directions, staying focused to complete tasks, overcoming difficulty.

 Their conversations and language went deep, and they became a small connected group in conversation.

The children  were motivated. Love.

Working with the medically fragile children,I can clearly state love also is a part of learning. I have a weekly challenge of bringing materials-based experiences that bring joy, discovery, and that each child can in some way participates in.
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Each child must also feel safe enough to trust all the strange sounds, textures, mess, and sights that I entice, cajole, engage, and impose on them. Love.

 In the PreK classes, there is a long-term project that has had it’s starts and stops and starts and stops again  as holidays and winter storms came and went. 

It’s Fairy Houses.

It started as a way to work on engineering and building sturdy structures.

It was developed to engage the children in looking closely and seeing natural materials as viable materials and metaphors in expressing themselves.
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I want the children to notice and be able to differentiate between artificial and natural materials.
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I want them to realize that constructing is multi-layered, requiring understanding of space, gravity, and design.

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 I want the children to think about when something needs to be drilled as opposed to hammered or glued, and how to determine what drill bit is best.

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I want them to realize you can only work on one side at a time, one three dimensional surface.

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I want them to have the experience of extended periods of making that allow enough repetition that they can master parts and press on to harder and more demanding solutions and ideas.

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I wanted them to have time and space to step away before they make their next decision. Time to interact and share with each other.

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It is happening.

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It is the love of this work that is motivating them to continue to come in and get to work. It is theirs.

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It is theirs because the very intentional long-term studio practice and habits have transformed them into children that are independently able to take the next step on their own, or with the help of a friend. They are able to build upon their competencies and go deeper.

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One work period, there was a commotion and excitement:
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It’s a rainbow!
The fairies did it!
I think they are already visiting our houses.
They are visiting my house, I know.
They are going to visit everyone’s house!
We made them a fairy city!
Wait, it went away!

Where did it go?
 
“In a culture obsessed with measuring talent, ability, and potential, we often overlook the important role of inspiration in enabling potential.

Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Inspiration may sometimes be overlooked because of its elusive nature. Its history of being treated as supernatural or divine hasn’t helped the situation. But as recent research shows, inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.” – Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.,

Co-founder of The Creativity Post; Author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

 
If you are inspired, you love something. That something is what allows you to override the difficulties and setbacks, the mistakes and frustrations. This love of something/inspiration is the necessary foundation for perseverance to occur when the work is hard.

 

The Kindergarten children have been engaged in a project inspired by The Cabinet of Curiosity or Wonder.

These rooms filled with collections began before museums existred in the 15th century. 
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After looking at objects as having meaning with their families, I wanted to present the experience of how people have historically looked at objects and have access to objects. 

A trip was planned to go to The Walters Museum to view their Cabinet of Wonder.
I began to ask hard questions again. Instead of What is love? It was What is wonder, What is Curiosity? What do you think a Cabinet of Curiosity or Wonder is?

 

We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?

 Isaiah: Something you open up and there’s stuff inside. Can we open it?

 Anyone else?

 Silence.

 What is “wonder”?

 Maggie: It’s when you think inside your head about something that you love.

 Mira: I don’t think you love something you wonder about because if you are curious you don’t know about it. So you don’t love it, yet.

Can we make a Cabinet of Curiosity ourselves?!!

 That’s a really interesting idea.

 How about if you start by thinking of a time you were outside of Washington, DC. Think about an object of wonder from somewhere you visited. It can be something you saw, found, or bought that you would NOT encounter in DC.

 Willa: I was in the woods. I don’t know where but it was outside Washington, DC and I found this leaf with yellow and orange and I brought it home.

 Mira: I saw a jellyfish n Florida

 Ainsley: At Cape Cod Beach, a wave.

 Maggie: A dead snail in a seashell in New York, where the Statue of Liberty is.

 Ibby: A sand dollar at the beach house, I don’t know where but I’ll ask.

 Noah: I saw a dead shark at the beach.

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We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?

 Rowan: A cabinet and you wonder what’s inside of it.

 Audrey: A drawer.

 Dominic: A place where you can keep all your treasures.

 Lusa: A cabinet you open and wonder what it is for.

 Tate: You guess what’s inside it. If you don’t get it right, you don’t open it.
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We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?

 Isaac: It means you go in it and it feels fun and there’s all kinds of delicate stuff.

 Percy: It’s a tunnel and it has weird weird stuff and you wonder in your brain what it is.

 Collette: I think it has toy Barbie’s and a toy museum.

 Jordan: Maybe it has dinosaur bones.

 Lucinda: I think it has tiaras and crowns.

 What is wonder?

 Evan: Wonder is something you see and you really like it but you don’t know what it is.

 Sonora: Wonder means you know something but you don’t know what it is.
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We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?

 Ryan: A room with lots of collections.

 Eric: All different stuff from old times.

 Tali: I think it’s like a place where you keep really cool stuff. Wondering is thinking about the cool stuff you see.

 Hazel: I think a Cabinet of Wonder is where lots of people wonder, What’s in it?

 Eric: Yeah, like people say, “What is this?”

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We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?

 Aurora: When you open a cabinet and you wonder about it a lot.

 Gabriel M.: I think it’s something you wonder about, you just think.

 Liam: It means you don’t have any idea what’s in the cabinet.

 Samuel: I think it’s a person inside a cabinet.

 Madeline: If you heard there was something inside the cabinet and you didn’t know what it means, you wonder what it’s about.

 Gabriel: Curious is Wonder!

(At the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD)
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The Kindergarten children went on the road trip to The Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD.

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While there, children went on a scavenger hunt, picked three objects to sketch (to later be written into classroom “Wonder Stories,”) engaged in a strory-telling circle inspired by the objects around them, and were read books about mummies and armor as they sat surrounded by the real objects.

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They LOVED this.

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Each child found inspiration that resonated within from the walls of the Cabinet of Wonder.

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Children, parent chaperones, and teachers returned from the trip with ideas, excitement, and enthusiasm. We also came back with rich resources to take this project in divergent directions.

I explained that travel used to be just for a very few rich people. Most people never left where they lived. That meant, if you were born n Washington, DC, at a time before museums, you would not see a Palm Tree or a desert. You would only see the geography and culture of the people who you lived with. Unless you had the opportunity to visit a very wealthy person’s Cabinet of Wonder.

Prior to the trip, the children were already planning to create their own Cabinet of Curiosity. The children pulled out their sketches of an object they saw, collected, or bought when traveling outside of Washington, DC. These objects range from Grandpa’s old toy collection on a shelf in Pennsylvania to tall buildings with TV screens in NYC to an outdoor shower in North Carolina.

Wanting to put this in a context to make them aware also of Georgraphy, the children have begun a new strand of this project. They mapped where their personal object of wonder is located on a map in the studio.

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Mapping. 

What is a map?

Liam: It’s something to find out where something is.

Madeline: It shows you different countries and cities.

Gabriel: To lead you where you want to go.

Samuel: Sometimes you get what you want. Like treasure. It shows you with arrows. Like a pirate map.

Benjamin: It helps you how to get home.

Looking at the map and noticing the land and water, Isabel added this: 
There’s less where we can stand and more where we can drown.

Rowan: If you want to go to a jungle, you might want to look at a map.

Tate: A map is so if you get lost or if you wanna see where the world is.

Riley: A map is to look ahead.

Lusa: To see where you are.

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Only two children out of two classes knew where to find a location on the maps.

Percy new exactly where Idaho was. He told me he has a map puzzle so that’s why he knows. The other kids were very interested in how far Idaho was.
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With hints, eventually all the locations were found. A world map was added because several children had objects of wonder outside the US, like Audrey, Ryan, Madeline. and more.
Madeline maps Japan

ryan mapping

 ryan mapping costa rica

Most children are growing up with GPS devices as their maps. How does this effect the concept of mapping and the related lessons that Geography brings?

 
Here is an article that shows an alarming trend, American Schoolchildren Appear Lost in Latest Study of Geography Aptitude

 From this article,

 “Students aren’t learning subjects such as geography and history as teachers spend more time on math and reading to accommodate standardized tests, said Roger M. Downs, a Pennsylvania State University geography professor.

As “classroom time becomes an even more precious and scarce commodity, geography, with subjects such as history and the arts, is losing out in the zero-sum game that results from high- stakes testing,” Downs said in a statement released with the results.”

 and

 “Geography “provides the context for understanding many of the complex social, political and economic relationships that exist in our world,” said Garrison.”

 
Having the maps has created cross-fertilazation for all children using the studio.

Every group seems to question and interact with the display of maps. Just last week a three year old said to me, “…hey, why do you have these planets on the wall?”

 
The individual Objects of Wonder are now a blueprint for creating a Kindergarten Cabinet of Curiosity.

Similar to the Fairy house project, with more complexity-the children are slowly developing what steps to do next as they begin to visually represent in the context of the 15th-17th Century phenomenon.

Repurposed cigar boxes, some broken apart are being transformed.

For many, it means following plans to create and determine background colors that makes sense for the object.

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Using clay, representations are being made and added as a three dimensional object to fit inside the cabinet. Scale, correct use of craft to ensure the clay objects are strong, and thought to making the clay clearly express their idea are just some of the challenges the children are facing.

Percy making the log home he stayed in when in Idaho with his family.
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Kamrin working on representing a wall of stuffed animals of every sort he saw in Virginia.
Kamrin making stuffed animals
Lilah trying to figure out how to create the outdoor shower she saw.
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The children who experienced the ornate cabinets and chambers filled with cabinets at The Walters Museum are also using mosaic and gold and silver paint to give their cabinet a historic design.
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Every child has to manage where they are in the project, what materials they need, how to use, care for, and clean up the materials, what to do next, and what to do when something falls apart, or just doesn’t work out.

Love in learning is not an “extra”. Children who are motivated will push themselves to persevere in all domains of learning when they have the drive to do so. Isn’t that the same for adults?

 I am ending the post with an article I read recently, Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions. Before you skip the rest because it sounds like a horrible self-help text consider the subtitle:

 “A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love”

 (I would also say in the school context,  A caring provocation will unlock a room inside the people you love and teach.)

The act of teaching, parenting, and being in a relationship is the ability to provoke both understanding and expression.

 How often have parents said to me, “My child never tells me what they did all day. How do you get them to do this?”

 Here’s some examples from the article

 
“How did you feel during your spelling test?

What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?

Did you feel lonely at all today?

Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?

 And I never ask my friends:  How are you? Because they don’t know either.

Instead I ask:

How is your mom’s chemo going?

How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?

What’s going really well with work right now?”

 This article concludes by saying

“Questions are like gifts – it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become. “

 Sound familiar?

That’s because when I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?,  Miles’ response summed up the above text.

 He said:

“All these questions are love.”

heart horizontal(Early Childhood sanctioned hall graffiti. 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The years are changing. They go by so fast.” Sophie, Kindergarten

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It’s cold.

It’s winter so it is to be expected.

This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.

“The icicles

look like lamps.

The snowflakes look like stars.”
–Maya, PreSchool 3

For me, it is thrilling in the context of the work I do with children. This isn’t a slushy kinda cold season, this year it is frost and sparkle and whiteness from ice, snow, and salt that changes the entire space both inside and out. It is felt from toes to nose.

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I recently watched an interview of Carla Rinaldi, one of the visionaries who helped develop the pre-primary schools in  Reggio Emilia, Italy.

She says, “School is an expression of the vision and values of a community.”

 

School as an EXPRESSION of vision and values.

 

This idea resonates deeply with me. In fact, since hearing this phrase I have co-opted it as my definition of school and my practice in the Atelier (and community) at SWS.

 

It allows me to quickly reflect and re-shift during the day. I can reflect, “Do my deeds, actions, and interactions express my values right now?”

 

What a treasure these words are.

 

So much of the planning and discourse at SWS is centered on an expression of values.

On December 20th, 2013 SWS celebrated Winter Solstice. This is a special ritual in our school. It is anticipated, talked about, and I am pretty sure will be a memory when the children leave our school.

 

Every year children begin in advance creating lanterns that transform the environment on the awaited day.
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This year, children made photo transfers on recycled glass jars. The preparation and process was enthralling.

 For the youngest children, it is difficult to explore how the light changes, the gradual creeping darkness is not apparent to them yet. Their memories of late summer evenings of light is difficult for them to remember.

 So how did I explore with the 3 year olds? I made a cave.
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And in this cave (like a bear) we went. In this dark cozy place I read a book about light rituals around the world. Quickly each child became excited to talk about Christmas or Chanukah. I then introduced a very hard concept for the youngest children in our school. I asked each to hold the lantern and make a wish or say something kind about SOMEONE ELSE.
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At first it was really hard. “I wish for my Mom to buy me _____” was an oft heard phrase.
With some support and further questioning children began to think of others near and dear.

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Peyton:  I wish my mommy has a good day.

 Liam: I wish Santa brings my mommy and daddy presents.

 Scarlett: I wish for mommy and daddy to play with me.

 Lincoln: I love Nate.

 Nate: I wish my family don’t get sick.

Winter, a hibernating time, is an optimal season to help children reflect in new ways.  It is an ideal time to  develop and practice capacities to broaden their thoughts.

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The shared experience in the “cave” gave time and care to thinking about seasonal changes to a 3 and 4 year old’s world in a relevant way.
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Sinatra: Its scary when there’s no light. When it’s dark you need light. A ghost might be hiding. So the light makes you not scared.

 

The day of Solstice is almost epic in scope at SWS. It is shear beauty and light.

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It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.

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Everyone is in pajamas and the smell of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and maple syrup eminates.

 In the studio, the annual Solstice Ceremony and Ritual occurs.
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 There is almost a reverence when the children join hands to make wishes, dance, give wishes, and receive a small pendant/symbol which reminds them that they are indeed a shining star in the universe. That they are connected and interconnected to each other, the community, their families, the natural elements,  and the greater world
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 This year, when children returned after two weeks of holiday, the cold weather increased.

 

I continued the exploration of these great changes with the children, all the children.

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In this fashion of learning, the one  day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.

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What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.

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Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.

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Conversations

About

Winter,  Solstice &

The Changing

Light

The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.

–Sasha, PreK
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 You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.

-Harvey, Kindergarten

 

On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.

-Geraye, Kindergarten
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 The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.

-Jack, PreK

 

The winter is white and you have to put on your snow jacket, your snow boots, your snow mittens, and your snow hat. In the summer you just go out and play!

-Quinn, PreK

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We make lanterns.

-Edwin, PreK

 

 People put up wreaths on their doors. So when people walk by they can see the door is decorated.

-Myles T., PreK

 
We stay happy by playing inside. –Anias, PreK

Yeah, like we play Pass the Bean Ball. –Melin

 
On Winter Solstice you go in pajamas and celebrate the night and the sun.

And my Dad makes turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice. Does your family make turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice?

-Brandon, PreK

 

 In the summer the plants come back to life.

-Bryce B., PreK

 
People decorate their homes with light.

-Maddie

 

Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.

-Kamrin, Kindergarten

 

Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.

-Gabriel F.-F.

 

I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.

-Lilah, Kindergarten
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People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.

-Sophie, Kindergarten

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Scarlet’s ice art :
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“I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3
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The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.

 “The years are changing. They go by so fast.”

-Sophie, Kindergarten

And I for one am listening.
This is the definition of school.
What’s yours?
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One heart at a time

This year at SWS, I have three new classrooms of children to interact with. For the first time we have two 3 year old preschool classrooms and one classroom with non-categorical medically fragile children.

leaves modge podgeScarlett, one of our children from our first SWS 3 year old PreSchool program
and
Ayanna, who is in Ms. Maureen’s non-categorical class next door
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Because they are located on the ground floor, many people have not had the opportunity to greet the possibilities that grow with these new populations.

 In a Reggio context, this has been an opportunity to truly believe in the concept of the 100 Languages.

 The idea that children are able to express themselves through 100 Languages and that teachers/facilitators need to be “Visual Listeners” to observe, understand and extend that conversation (especially non-verbal conversations) has always been a tenant that I embrace.

 In the context of our new classes, the pre-school children do not necessarily possess the strongest ability of expression verbally and with the medically fragile children, the majority are non-verbal.
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With the preschool children, my goal has been to engage the senses, develop their capacity to be in a small group that gives and receives, and the experience/environment to express themselves and their theories and for them to find value in this.

 Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
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“There’s something on the round carpet for you to see. Please walk around it, look closely, have a seat, and think about what it is.”

“It looks like a snowflake!” Abbey

“Green stripes!” Joe-Joe

“Green pictures!” Oskar

 “A flower and the petals.” Miles

“Like the sun!” Emily

“It looks like a spider.” Coby

“I think it looks like a spider web.” William M.

“It looks like a diamond.” Elana

The previous week I had the children paint and asked them what they “saw” or imagined in a painting. Because of this, they returned to this type of thinking and few children noticed or verbalized that everything was green without prompting.

 “There are 100’s of greens in the world, and we are going to hunt for them in the garden today.”
green matchgreen matching

I attended a conference where a presenter shared that because of the extended time young children are spending on ipods, iphones, and other close range viewing screens- children are not developing full spectrum color sight as well as full long range distance sight.

As an artist and human this appalled me. To counter this possibility, the intention was to get the children to observe all the nuances of color outside, especially in our vibrant garden.
After an exciting and intense green hunt, the children engaged in painting only in green. It also was an opportunity to introduce small brushes and small paintings, another way to make marks, learn to take care of paint colors, and have a shared experience in the studio.
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“What do you think of your small green paintings?”

“This one (green color) is kinda blue. The dark green, it is melting all the light colors up.” William T. 

“Mine is beautiful.” Jillian

 “They look like the grown up paintings.” Simon

Continuing the provocation of nature and the garden, I facilitated embodying leaves and the concept of metaphor within the concept of the fall leaves and three year old children.
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With the non-categorical medically fragile children I began a journey of non-verbal communication and relationship through materials and the senses.

My goal is to develop a relationship of caring and trust, a community of “makers” and an awakening of senses through projects and materials.

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At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect?
shakers dakari2shakers dakari(Making musical percussive shakers)
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The beauty of eye contact and a pat from a child who initially stayed across the room and by week three began to join me and “make”, observing a child realize they are making marks instead of watching others make marks, the reactions to cause and effect, the feel and sound of materials, the lightness of being when I began spontaneously singing to engage them in a new project, the non-verbal greetings of joy when I walked in by week four, the deep beauty and surprise of touch (both human and materials.) The richness in these small moments of connection is vast. 
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The continuity of the garden and nature explorations and inspirations continues with the Prek 4’s and Kindergarten classes.

 I have such gratitude for the community (led by Jennifer Mampara and Nicole Mogul) in creating and maintaining the garden that greets every child, family member, friend, and visitor as they enter our school.
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At a staff meeting last month, 2nd grade teacher Erika Bowman spoke with great admiration and awe at a community who makes it a value to create and grow a bountiful garden, the first year existence in new location.

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For the PreK 4’s, all the project work has been about facilitating the development of visual voice to express their observations in the garden.
Each small group picked a vegetable to touch, observe and then sketch. Before beginning each child was asked to observe their plant silently and think about something they noticed after looking really really really closely. Then we took turns sharing and listening, learning that listening to your friend  is an important part of the curriculum. Listening to another child gives the group new ways of thinking, seeing,  and doing.  This is a practice that I want the children to value.
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Here’ a radish conversation:

“Whoa, there’s a pink thing down there!! Charlie B.
charlie copy“There’s spikes on the stem.”  Liam
“The leaves are a little pokey.” Priya
“There are lines on the leaf.” Julia
“The shape on the leaves is blurry like, wiggly.” Santino

One of the cabbage groups had a very interesting conversation that developed into theory building:

“I can see little holes in the leaves.” Myles T.
“Caterpillar must have ate it.” Quinn
“I see a bubble. It’s a bubble of water.” Melin
“Why do you think the leaves have those bubbles?” Ms. McLean
“I think maybe a bumble bee came. I think a bumble bee came and sting the leaf to make a bubble”  Edwin
“I think it’s juice that someone spilled.” Quinn
“I think it’s bumble bee honey. I think a bumble bee ate the leaf, then licked it and the bumble bee made a juicy on the leaf.” Anais.
“Yeah, I think it’s from a bumble bee licking it.” Myles T.
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In the following  weeks children used their sketches from the garden with a corresponding photo of the vegetable and used paint to make an observational painting in the studio. 
This time the children had to be extremely observent not only about line and form but color. 
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swiss chard sasha
swiss chard masonGoing through the same thinking process, children were asked to silently look closely and observe the color and then we went around the table and listened to each other’s observations.
“The white on the leaf is cause the sun is shining.” Mason

The following week each group progressed to making Observational Art of the same vegetable, this time using materials.
First they had to shop and collect materials. Next they had to arrange the pieces so it made sense using their photo, observational drawing and observational painting as a resource.

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“Why do you have all the colors if we only need greens and red and pink ?” asked Gabriel. He had a radish and was a little disappointed when I asked him if his radish had all the rainbow of materials color that he had placed on his paper.

“Because then I would be doing all your thinking. You get to make your own decisions and this is how I can see your thinking. It’s hard but your brain will grow.” Ms. McLean

Before gluing, I ask children to place the obkects on the paper, allowing them to edit and change, unti shape, form and space begin to come together and make sense into the form of their vegetable plant. When I see they have solid ideas forming, I place the glue down for them to use. Because of this process, children usually continiue to add and delete objects as they observe nuances not noticed before.

Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding.
“I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf?
“Red lines!” 
Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
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Children are learning to make visual metaphors by using objects to represent and symbolize real thinking and observations. This is no different then learning that letters symbolize words that can represent thinking and observations. This is literacy.

cabbage cora materialsCora’s cabbage
casbbage melinMelin’s cabbage

swiss chard julia photoAva’s Swiss Chard
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When looking at their representations, I avoid having children at this stage present their own work.

Here are the two “scripts” I give them:

 

“Please share what was difficult or hard about making this observational painting.”

 And/Or,

(With the Materials Observational Art project, each child was asked to “read” the art of another child’s work in the group and respond,) “When you look at Ingrid’s Observational Art, what is it telling you she noticed.”

reflect on ingrids lettuce
This intentional reflection practice encourages children to utilize visual thinking strategies (instead of “I made a stem.”), listening (the artist is eager to hear what his/her friend sees in his/her art) and another layer of observation development. It also illustrates the belief that every child has something to learn from another.
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Using the garden and nature as a provocation with all grades, (but with a different approach) allows for a continuity and collective understanding for the representations throughout the school.

The Kindergarten children were challenged to tackle symbolism and meaning through color and objects. 

In this provocation, they were asked to make a plan for a collaborative sculpture where every color or image had to represent or symbolize something from our garden or nature experiences.
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These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.

Here’s Noah working on wrapping blue fabric around sticks he had painted yellow. “It represents the sun and the sky.”

making the sky

As children progressed in making all the small symbollic pieces, the counter became a bounty  and source of ideas.

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Each week Kindergarten children returned to see visually what the next step was.
Last week many of the small group sculptures were assembled.
The process was truly an act of trusting the group, as the head became unbalanced and balanced as the children took turns drilling and adding pieces.
An unintentional lesson was in fact Balalnce.
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Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Orange/Gold Variation) 10/22/13

 

My sticks look like flat oranges. It represents oranges. –Lilah

 

I planned to do the stick. I painted it gold. The gold represents the sun. –Dorian

 

I made it be like an acorn tree. I painted it blue like water around the earth. –Aksel

 

 I painted the head golden like hot lava. –Gabriel

 

I made the thing about some flowers that are in our garden. They are kind of colorful and they are are very soft. And they are small. The petals are warm. Flowers are important in nature because they are beautiful. –Anabel

 

I painted the golden part on the head.  I was thinking of rocks. Some rocks are golden.

-Kamrin

 

The acorns represent the sky, the blue acorns. The sky has clouds. The sun shines on it. –Sofie

centerpiece ryan and lucinda
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Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Blue Variation) 10/22/13

 

I made flowers. They help bees and butterflies live. –Mira

 

Flowers make the world a beautiful place. –Willa

 

I did the sun. It helps flowers grow. –Dylan

 

I made grass. Grass is good for the world because it makes people walk on it. –Willa

 

I made a flower. Flowers help butterflies and bees. Butterflies make pollen. Bees make honey for us. If they weren’t alive we would have no pollen or honey. And then we wouldn’t be happy because if there was just plain yogurt, you would want honey in it. It doesn’t taste so good, if you mix it up with honey it’s good. -Ibby

 

I made some sticks that I painted yellow. It represents the sun. And the blue that I put on, represents the sky. –Noah

 

The red roses, they can grow good and live like if you water them a bunch they will be good. They will grow better. –Isaiah

 

The blue face represents the water and the sky.

-Ainsley 

tree make2engaged collaborange

Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Orange/Blue Variation) 10/16/13

 

The flowers represent nature. -Isabel

 

Flowers make earth look beautiful. They bring pollen for bees and butterflies, to help other flowers grow.

–Aurora

 

The leaves represent flowers. If there were no leaves then the flowers would never have water. Cause the leaves have little tiny strings that go into the tree that gives water to the flowers.

–Gabriel

 

After you grow cucumbers you wash them. You can cut it up and then you eat them. You can turn them into pickles and eat them too. –Benjamin

 

The tree represents growing things.

The head represents the sun. The glasses represent water. The water makes things grow.

–Liam

 

The carrots symbolize eating. And they also help you grow. –Samuel

 

The leaves give us air. -Madeline

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Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Green/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

I painted the head green and brown. The brown symbolizes dirt. The green symbolizes leaves, spinach, and grass. –Riley

 

I made the sticks like with the tomatoes. The beads represent the tomatoes.  -Lusa

 

Birds like gardens because they like fruit and stuff. –Gael

 

The apples represent a tree. When you eat apples you get very healthy. The apples stick on a tree for a reason, so they don’t get bruised. –Dominic

 

The carrot grows. The root grows from the bottom, and the carrot is part of the bottom. You pull it up from the leaves. You wash it, and then you eat it. –Tate

 

So leaves, they survive on trees. So it is beautiful.

 –Rowan

 

The caterpillar and the butterfly symbolize nature because they live in the dirt and nature is in the dirt. -Audrey

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Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Purple/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

 

The brown paint represents the dirt in the garden and also the earth. –Harvey

 

The carrots go in the dirt. –Eric

 

The necklace represents the rocks of the ground.

–Sonora

 

On top, the stick represents trees with berries.

–Hazel

 

It symbolizes a flower to the branch. I see a carrot tree, there also might be an acorn tree.

–Issa

 

The purple is for the whole wide world to grow. If people die, the purple takes their spirit and buries them.

 –Geraye

 

The flowers symbolize prettiness.

–Tali

 

The jewels symbolize a shiny thing, like the sun shining down. It also makes music, like a jingly.

-Ryan

purple brown detail

I no longer am teaching the older expanded grades of (this year) 1st and 2nd.

The growing pains of a Reggio Inspired school are , How do you keep the continuity, caring and intimacy of a small community, while at the same time expand to secure a vital future and create a new revolutionary model of public education?

This questions helped me to develop some small “interventions” to cross-fertilize the entire community through creativity.

 

The first small intervention I just recently tried, is inviting two first grade children to be studio assistants for an hour while I have a 3 year old group.

My first two friends were Kayden and Remi from Ms. Scofield’s class. I wanted them to experience being in a different developmental bracket, so I asked them to visit while a had 5 three year olds in the studio.

 

I broke their time in to two segments. Before I went to retrieve my three’s, I invited Remi and Kayden in.

“The three year olds have been exploring nature around the school. They have such wonderful ideas about the changing of the seasons and the leaves right now. However, you have the experience to illustrate and respond to their ideas, like an artist who does the pictures for another writer.”

 

Here are there responses.
leaf kayden simonleaf kayden
leaf remi willleafe remi

They took this work seriously. They didn’t laugh or question the validity or ideas of the three year old children, they simply, responded visually.
I will continue to explore the possibilities of these types of new interactions.

Last week many of the teachers attended a professional development at Washington International School, in conjunction with the DC-Project Zero (Harvard Grad School of Education Research Collaborative/Institute.)

One of the speakers, Ben Mardell said, “We can make children (young children) big or small.”

At SWS, our youngest smallest children are not considered small. We see them in big ways, as individuals and as part of the community.

liam and mom

The first ever SWS Yarn Bomb was the second intervention or act I facilitated to bring the community together in a creative cacophony of joy and color.

 

As I view the images of children/adults of all ages equally participating, it clearly makes visible the strength of honoring every individual at their current stage of development.

almost done boys Bridget burst buttons carrington chair tree cherry blossom done fringe katie margi katie krista nicole scarlet sew the smallest

 People stop by and ask me, How’s it going? What do you think of this big place? How’s the change? Do you like it?

This is a great experiment in expanding the heart. It is beating, it is warm, it is vigorous non-stop beating, it is at times exhausting, but it is, truly wonderous and just the beginning of a ripple of change. A ripple that will keep on moving outward, one heart at a time.

kiran and the heart