An Interview with Wangari Maathai
An Interview with Wangari Maathai
This post documents the process of the making of our 4 foot by 4 foot bottle cap mosaic, inspired by the Wishes for the World Project. Both projects happened simultaneously. It created a wonderful back and forth between maker space production and socratic meaningful conversation. This piece will be auctioned off to support our DC Reggio Inspired Elementary Public School. xoxo
It’s a new school year. Filled with possibility, new relationships, and sweet growth for both the children and all the connected adults in their lives.
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” Loris Malaguzzi
When children learn from their heart and soul the importance of protecting and honoring the earth (even cuty kids), when they learn to wonder, think, imagine, and be curious of the world around them at a young age, when they experience the connection of all living things, they develop the empathy and awareness to make a difference. To be kind. To create solutions. To find metaphors.
And this is why we engage so deeply in the Monarch rescue effort. It is more than science.
It’s making ripples.
“I wonder if caterpillars play with their friends?” Olivia D., Kindergarten
“I wonder, how did they take such big bites (of the Milkweed leaf) with a tiny tiny mouth?” Lucy, PreK
After the caterpillar falls, because the cage is accidentally bumped, the caterpillar curls up. The PreK3 group gasps because they think it’s hurt.
Suddenly it stretches out on the leaf and starts moving.
“It’s not curled! It’s happy now!” Alonzo, PreK3
“Actually I see (the caterpillars) are the same. Same stripes.” Felix, PreK3
In these images Laurel communicates all her knowledge and wonder and understandings to me by tapping, and pointing, and expressing non-verbally. By “visually listening” I learned how enthralled and connected she is.
“I see they have black and white feet.” Lucy, PreK
“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK
“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK
One Monday, when I arrived at school, I found that 3 of the caterpillars had escaped the cage. Two were found, but one disappeared. I told Mr. Moore the custodian about the missing critter, and hoped when he swept, he would find our missing caterpillar. I crawled under every table and chair. Eventually, I cam to the conclusion that the cat had either crawled away or had been vacuumed up by accident.
5 days later, Alexandra says, “Ms. McLean, I found something in the pony palace.” This is a play house about 25 feet from where the caterpillar tent is.
“What did you find?”, I asked.
I gasped. “Is it alive?”, I asked her.
“I think so.” she replied.
I put that caterpillar on a milkweed and low and behold, after 5 days of no food, it began munching away! It has since turned into a beautiful female butterfly. What a magical story!
“I wonder why it hangs upside down.” Nergu, PreK
Transformation of the caterpillar into the chrysalis is a rare thing to witness. This year, children, parents, and staff had the opportunity to watch this four times! It is such a grand moment of wonder and hope. For if this little creature can make such a spectacular transformation, surely we can too.
“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK
Here’s a brief video of the end part of the transformation. It is aptly called, the pupa dance.
Engaging in small groups with tiny miraculous creatures offers deep moments of observing, thinking, wondering, expressing, and caring. In these small moments were opportunities to focus on not only caring for the earth, but each other too. Listening while others spoke, engaging in kind language, sharing materials, and collaborating. These are not the small things, but the big things. The ripple makers, to spread goodness.
Here’s a wonderful link A Harvard Psycholgist shares 5 ways to raise them to be Kind
“I wonder, is there a mommy and daddy?” Josephine, PreK
Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. – Plato
When one of the PreK3 children became frightened by the butterfly, the effect was catching. Soon I had four screaming 3 year olds. I quickly grabbed two Kindergarten children, Dale and Olivia, who were on their way to recess, and asked them if they would come in and teach the 3 year olds there was nothing scary, while I took the very frightened little one out to get a drink of water and calm down. The two stayed for a whole hour, even facilitating and helping the younger children make a great big butterfly mural. I really couldn’t have done it without them. When I thanked Dale and Olivia for giving up their recess time to help me out, Olivia looked at me and said, “No, thank YOU Ms. McLean for inviting us.” I almost cried.
“I think caterpillars have different brains.” Gilly, PreK
“Hey butterfly, look at this picture. She cute, right?” Ryan, PreK3
Themes and discussions of freedom emerged, as the children vacillated between wanting to name and keep the butterflies and also wanted to let it go. It also allows children to think about their selves. Wanting to be totally free, but being a child and also wanted someone there, when they are afraid. Isn’t that what we all want?
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change
My deepest wish is that I can be an instrument in supporting your child/children to become themselves. Beautiful kind compassionate loving selves.
Here’s to a year of making lots of ripples, and butterfly flights.
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.
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?
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!
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:
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…
PreK 4 Conversations
PreK 3 Conversations
Even 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.
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.
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.
There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.
I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.
This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.
But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.
Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.
So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post:
WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.
The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.
Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.
I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.
But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
They were flabbergasted.
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin
The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”
And so I signaled, to go back the other way.
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.
And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
Sasha F.’s sketch
Edwin’s sketch (below)
Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.
The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.
The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.
Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.
I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher, someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.
I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.
With sincere thanks and best wishes,
Press Representative / JAG Entertainment
4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato
Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.
The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”
“From seeds” comes from a conversation that came about today when I was in the SWS garden harvesting vegetables and flowers to paint with Caleb, Franklin, and Boaz (PreK children).
The act of picking the produce or herbs or flowers develops a shared anticipation, as each child waits their turn to cut, pluck, or support a friend who is cutting.
It’s exciting, the bees are buzzing, the wind blows, the sun shines, or maybe it is raining. It is an act made with care. It is filled with sound and touch and friends.
Placing each tender newly harvested item onto a tray or basket to bring back to the art studio, there is a glee and a joy.
Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking
and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate.
No, it’s purple.
Well maybe purple brown.
Where is that?
As a group, this act of looking, observing, debating, and choosing goes on for each pepper, tomato, zinnia, or radish.
It is slow.
It is purposeful.
It is a task that connects the children deeply to each nature item, even if they didn’t pick it. It connects each child to one another as they help, shout, whisper, and cajole their friend who is choosing a paint, that no, it really should be a light green for the stem.
After this beautiful experience of harvesting, and collaboratively choosing a pallette of paint, each child gets to choose what they want to paint.
Since they themselves pulled the radish from the dirt, passed the radish from hand to hand while choosing a tub of paint that matches it, and then carried it all to the table…what happened next was a natural act.
These small children, PreK children, naturally understood the beauty and nuances and began to paint.
The Trail of Tears Bean on the vine gestured.
It was silent.
This is more than painting a still life.
This is connecting to life.
This week as millions marched world wide to stop climate change and met to discuss the health and future of our planet, I am struck by the importance of these small connecting moments in the garden with our young SWS caretakers of the urban garden at the entrance to our school.
Please read the conversation below. It speaks to a child’s understanding of interconnectedness, of consumerism, and in the end…that it all comes “from the seed.”
We had this conversation outside, hands in the earth by the radish bed.
I wonder, if I did not take them out, if SWS did not have the vision and will to place a garden at the entrance to our school, if parents and staff did not have the passion and energy to volunteer and create and upkeep this plot, if our FoodPrints program did not exist, if the teachers did not have the values to get the kids in the mess and the dirt and the seeds…
would the conversation had ended at “…food comes from the store”?
It is science, it is art, it is literacy, it is nutrition, but it is oh so much more.
These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy.
Better than “dust to dust,”
our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.”
Please watch this 3 minute video. It is a love letter. This is the poem by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands that brought down the house at the UN Climate Summit today. It is moving in a way that you wouldn’t believe.
Dear Matafele (a love letter to a child)
Please linger in the garden with your child, or volunteer to cook, harvest, plant and water at SWS, in your community, or wherever you live.
Get a little dirty.
March, sing, dance, research, talk, touch, create.
Every small act.
We truly are interconnected.
We are all
(Thank you to Boaz, Franklin, and Caleb who inspired this post.)