Because we love each other

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!
3 conversation
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

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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From seeds

From seeds

“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.
IMG_3742Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking
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and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate.
It’s brown
No, it’s purple.
Well maybe purple brown.
Where is that?
There! There!
IMG_3665As 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.
IMG_3667After 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.
IMG_3985These small children, PreK children, naturally understood  the beauty and nuances and began to paint.
IMG_3681The 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.

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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.”
Slide3We 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.

Slide5Slide4Slide2These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy.
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Better than “dust to dust,”
our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.”
Growing.
Growing hope.

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)


Growing 
Growing hope
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
From
the seeds.

(Thank you to Boaz, Franklin, and Caleb who inspired this post.)

The Reciprocal Wisdom

The Reciprocal Wisdom

I love imagery, photos, sound. Art.

This blogging thing is difficult for me.

I wish sometimes that others could just understand what I’m creating or doing, imagining, or thinking. I wish the intent and meaning of my work was clear without narrative sometimes.
liminality2small(Liminality ll, Marla McLean 2014)

I worry, if I write about it, will I then have the energy to do it?
Mermaid Rivers1(Detail from Rivers, Marla McLean 2013)

Which brings me to the dilemma of not posting since APRIL!

Where do I begin again?

Chronologically?

By intensity?

Is there a thread to return to?

 Slide38I am deciding at this moment to start with the most current of thought and experience.
street(The streets of San Miguel, 2014, MM)
I just returned from co-teaching a course, “Art & Social Justice” in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with the
Corcoran College of Art & Design Pittman Study Abroad Program.
skullinglesia(Mojiganga, in front of La Parochia, San Miguel de Allende,  2014, MM)

 

It’s my second year of traveling with Art Ed Grad students and Art Ed Director Dr. Pamela Lawton to be immersed in the rich cultural heritage of SMA, as well as facilitate an art project in Casa Hogar Santa Julia, an orphanage/girls home.

group photo(Here’s the Corcoran gang at the studio of Anado and Richard.

 First, let me say that San Miguel de Allende is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s a World Heritage sight.
It is an ideal location to travel with Graduate Art Ed Students to inspire, immerse, and learn.

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Despite it’s vast riches (as world-over the case may be), poverty and need still exist. Similar to the US there is a great level of income inequality.

As part of the Corcoran College of Art & Design Study Abroad Course, students are given the challenge of creating art/arts programming at Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco. (A look at life at San Miguel de Allende that is often hidden.)
SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Ana Maria, 2014)

“Casa Hogar Santa Julia, founded in 2005, provides housing, education, and support to girls in need. Surrounded by the competent, caring devotion of their beloved Madres, the girls of Santa Julia are transformed into confident, educated young women.

The needs of these girls stem from the precarious circumstances of their homes of origin; but at Santa Julia, these girls are being equipped to flourish in all parts of their lives—from faith to friendships, preparing for college, and personal discipline.” From the Santa Julia website

Casa Hogar Santa Julia far exceeds our American foster care system. Girls from toddlers to 19 yearl olds are nurtured (emotionally, educationally, physically, and psychologically.) That being said, this is a hard deck of cards to be dealt. The resilience and inner beauty of these girls is fierce in the face of the hardships they deal with daily.

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Loris Malaguzzi , visionary of the Reggio Emilia Pre Primary Schools in Italy really nailed it when he coined the phrase The 100 Languages of Children. This idea is that children or individuals express themselves in a multitude of (non-traditional) ways. When given the opportunity to express through many vehicles (poetic languages of the arts and sciences) and simultaneously being in the company of those who “listen”  through these non-typical communications, great understandings and empathy are developed.

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The Art project we presented to the teenage girls, was a photography based concept. (We spontaneously created programming for some of the younger girls, however the crux of the course/plan was working with the teens.)

It began with a slide show and talk of The History of Mexican Photography By Contemporary Photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio. He took the girls on a journey that ended in popular culture and connection.
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 We then asked the girls, in just one session to photograph, with the caneras we brought,  the following ideas using these prompts:

1. Autoretrato (foto de ustedes)- Self portrait
2. Foto de objecto (objecto importante, que signifique algo)-Significant or important object
3. Foto de algo bello- Something you find beautiful
4. Retrato de alguien que les guste -Photo of someone you like
5. Foto de su lugar favorito aqui -Photo of a favorite place within Casa Hogar Santa Julia

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Katia, 2014)

In Reggio-speak these prompts are what is called a “provocation.”

Or something that provokes and generates thought, excitement, wonder, or  relationship.
A good provocation is the opposite of finite. It is an interaction or idea with legs.

 What happened next is almost impossible to describe.
The girls took off like a butterflies being released.
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These teenage girls first  went about this photo shoot cautiously, but then literally began running from place to place,
high and low,

IMG_0686taking photos lowertaking photos up
open and hidden with a sense of urgency.

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Language barriers faded as small moments of intimacy, silliness, and connection were shared because of the camera.

santa julia groupAbril_Pick_1(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Abril, 2014) 

I became witness to their unspoken.
SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Paola, 2014)

Favorite places, beauty, their personal photos/momentos, their hopes, their place of rest…

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo By Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Joanna, 2014) 

When we returned the next day with contact sheets, well, I wish you could have seen the moment when we handed each girl their images.

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And then we asked them to edit:
directions for contact sheets

1 image for a pillow

2 images to keep.

Pam and I would choose 1 image to be in an art exhibit.

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 This was difficult. The girls discussed, meditated on it, were decisive, indecisive, torn. Editing is tough.

While Ben (Corcoran Graduate and our Tech in residence) was off to print. The sewing part of the project began.
Some girls experienced sewing for the first time, while others were skilled.

Beginning things can be tricky, especially when there are language barriers (none of us were bi-lingual, and our Spanish skills ranged from nothing to a 5 year old’s level!) The girls’ English skills ranged from very little to excellent. Through a mix of doing, diagrams, English, Spanish, body language, and lots of visible listening, together we became a small temporary community.

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The following days were filled with  communion. It is why for generations people have gathered to stitch together; in New Orleans the men gather to hand stitch elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and the women of America stitching quilts in quilting bees.
IMG_0568cutting sewing sewingWe returned the next day with the photo they had picked for their pillow on transfer paper.
IMG_0636After ironing onto the fabric, the moment of suspense and excitement where the image transfers…
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The steady work of the hand in a circle of others for hours creates space for both conversation and silence in the presence of shared work.

We brought fabric markers so the girls could put text on their pillows, dreams or thoughts. Many chose to write in English or asked for translations. The words were quite astounding.
IMG_0708(The pillow reads: My Dream is to be a good sister.)

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IMG_0728(The pillow reads, Always Smiling at Life, Thank you God)

IMG_0660(Her pillow speaks of loving her 3 siblings)

This is also, why, in the context of the Reggio-inspired Atelier, children work in small groups. It creates a circle of familiarity and trust, a repeated gathering where the making is the vehicle for complex relationships.

stuffing fun(The many uses of pillow stuffing)

 In the case of the girls at Santa Julia, their relationships already exist. Our small group of Corcoran students and staff were there to offer another language, another experience, an interaction, a provocation, and an opportunity to facilitate an exchange through the arts.

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This year, for the first time, Pamela Lawton and I chose one image for each girl to be exhibited in Gallery 13, at La Fabrica de Aurora.

Slide1Here are some of the images we selected for this exhibition:
ErneBy Erne

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERABy Soco

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERABy Paola

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERABy Leonor

P1100020By Silvia

 While we, the Corcoran engaged in this “service,” it is always ambiguous as to who in fact benefits most from these small moments.

I contend that while we gave the girls this opportunity, it was in fact, ourselves who received the greatest gifts.

 The girls, knowing we were there for just a short time took the greatest risks.

By sharing their space and place, and engaging us gringos (who by the way, spoke Spanish at the level of a 5 year old at best!) they communicated great integrity, creativity, and gratitude.

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Self Portrait By Silvia

I think perhaps this is true of teaching,  universally. Yes, teachers work tirelessly and endlessly to develop, create, facilitate, and fight for the rights of children. However it is the reciprocal wisdom that the teacher receives from the student (sometimes in indirect ways that you don’t even realize in the moment) that makes life full, meaningful, and worth living.

 

If one can access through reflection the gifts  received, well, that is the secret and art to persevering in teaching (and life itself.)

The exhibit is up through November 2nd.

In gratitude to:

Veronique and Bob Pittman, who make the Pittman Study Abroad Program in Mexico through the Corcoran possible.

Robert Devers, Director of Corcoran Study Abroad Programs for his incredible planning, organization, and support.

Dr. Pamela Lawton, Director of Art Education at The Corcoran, Partner in crime.

Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Photographer/collaborator. He truly helped us rethink this project while in the planning stages, and provoked us to both broaden and edit our plans. He also gave an exceptional lecture to the girls at Santa Julia.

The incredible women of Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco:

Barbara Rueda, Madre Lidia,  Arcelia Chávez, all the Madres who greeted and smiled and made us feel welcome!

The Grad students: Amanda, Christine,  Judybeth, Lauren, who participated in this course with gusto.

The Santa Julia girls who participated in our programming with gusto.

Ben Granderson, who printed and formatted all the images, and also volunteered.

LaMar  and Mara, for volunteering.

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“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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“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.” -Aurora

I love the lights. I unapologetically love the visual bliss this season brings.
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I could do without the barage of advertisements, mailings, and catalogs that bombard me to buy stuff. It’s a lot of paper to put in recycling. The advertisements geared towards children often sicken me. Gender-specific everything saddens me.

And then there is the disturbing trend to market computers to children as young as infants like in the case of the ipad bouncy seat

Despite all this consumerism, I love the collections of paintings and objects I’ve accumulated from my travels that surround me, my new boots bought online, and treasured gifts from friends. 

This blog is about an ongoing project called Objects and Meaning.
It is the perfect antidote to the season as we admire, buy and succomb to all the stuff around us.

This project idea came about because I am enrolled in a year-long course (with Kindergarten teacher Mr. Jere) with The Smithsonian Museum of American History called Pass it Forward Teacher Institute. This Institute encourages Object Driven Curriculum to teach History. My  challenge is to take this older elementary and up process and make it relevent to young children. (Ms. Hannah was thrilled with the ideas Jere and I proposed and has joined in this exploration.)

In both Hannah and Jere’s Kindergarten classroom, children talked about collections, made a collection box, and in each classroom approached personal collections in a unique way.

I saw the children thrilled with their boxes of collected stuff. But, do children see collections outside of their own personal stuff?

I tested this question by asking the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they are walking into their home. I asked them to look around their home but NOT go into their bedroom or playroom. What collections do your family have? What collections would I see if I came in their home for the first time?

It was hard.

“My family doesn’t have any collections.”

I heard this in every small group.

“Look in your kitchen, your family room, where you eat, even your closets. I believe every family has collections.”

home tate

Slowly the light came on! Children began to figure this provocation out and SEE.

Gabriel M.  was really stuck. Finally with some scaffolding questions, he said, “I got it!”
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Dylan sat for a long time, maybe a half hour. 
“My family does not have any collections, they don’t have any stuff they picked up and collected.”
His definition was defined by going on nature walks and “collecting.” Once I explained that collections can be found, bought, or received he immediately got it!
“My family has a collection of glass bottles.”

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How often are children interpreting questions in a way that makes them stuck?  Once Dylan and I had the conversation, he immediately visualized a collection in his home.
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home sonora
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The awareness to see  a collection of others (in this case their family) is a form of empathy. The noticing of  the other, their lives, likes and interests can be observed if you take the time to notice.

I decided to read Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to kickstart the children into a  deeper provocation concerning Objects and Meaning.
This book would be the first foray into history.
It begins, “She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The book tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to America. The shovel is a constant on every page from farming, to  keeping the food and home warm due to the shoveling of coal into the stove, to helping her in a flood, to clearing a skating rink. The shovel is present through marriage, mid-life, old age and the death of her husband, and birth of her children and grandchildren.

The book ends with the opening line, “”She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The children were absolutely spellbound by this book.

I then handed the children a sheet of paper with two rectangles.

I instructed them: “Right now you are going to pretend. You must leave Washington DC immediately and move to another country. Your family and pets will come with you. Your parents have packed your clothes, food, and water.

What is the one object you will choose?”
thinkingand after you do that, “What is the one object you think your parent/parents will choose?”

Some children knew immeditely what they would choose, while others thought long and hard. 
Thinking about what their parents would bring was even more difficult for many of the children. 
willa hw
I decided to share this exercise at Thanksgiving Dinner in my home this year. 
I excplained The Miss Bridie premise and asked my family, “What would would you take as your one object?”
Some guests said, I just don’t know.
My son immediately said, “My guitar, I could earn money, bring people music, and keep busy.”
My husband said “…for survival, my GPS watch”, my daughter said, “Surprisingly, I would not pick something sentimental, I would choose something useful to help us out, like a rope.” My 81 year old father said, “All my photos and work are on a cloud that I could retrieve. So, I think I would choose something from when me and your Mom first began our relationship, an early photo album.” My mom said, “Hmmm, I just don’t know.” About 20 minutes later she said, “I got it! I would bring a deck of cards!” I said, “I think I would bring Grandma’s rolling pin. Mom let me have it when I left for college. It has moved with me on every move and made may deserts and breads. And it has multiple uses.” My daughter looked at me, “But what about your rocking chair.” Hard decision…

Try it out with your family  or friends. it made for a wonderful dinner conversation.

The next progression of this project was, drum role please…ART STUDIO HOMEWORK.
hw folderChildren created a special folder  for transporting the work. It built anticipation and excitement. Their homework was to get their parents to do homework. 
The following text and paper went home with each child: 

KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK & THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER.

 Dear Families of Kindergarten Children,

As part of the Collection Project we are also thinking about objects and what they mean.

I read the book Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel By Leslie Conner (in the Studio.) It is the story of a young woman who chose one object to bring to America in 1856.

The children then thought about the one object they thought they would bring and filled out a sheet with a picture and words.

I also asked them to think of the one object their mom or dad would bring. Once again they illustrated and wrote the words.

Now I am asking you to do the same exercise.

 

*Please fill out the enclosed sheet. Please draw a picture and write the words of the one object you would take and the one object you think your child would take.

You may choose to have one parent fill it out or two.

Please do not ask your child what they chose until after you have filled out the paper.

(Please note that it is assumed you would have your pets, necessary clothes, food, and water packed)

 

PLEASE RETURN THIS HOMEWORK IN THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER. Your child will bring it to the studio, where we will share the enclosed sheet.

 

There will be more “HOMEWORK” coming home in this folder. Please take the time to be a part of this project as we delve deeper into the idea of collections and objects.

 

Warmly,

Ms. McLean, Atelierista and

 

 

 

_______________________________________   

Lusa signs hwAs you can see, each child signed the homework, letting the parents know it was from them and me.

I am proud to say, there was 100 percent participation. OK, I did chase down a few parents, but the children did a phenomonal job engaging their parents in the project. I even heard their was a facebook post devoted to the stress this was causing the parents!

When all the parent homework came in, I created an interactive documentation board, so kids could engage in analyzing the data and share what their parents drew and wrote.

obj aksel look“I think my parents are right. Even though I didn’t pick it. I think I would take my stuffed dog.” Aksel

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In small groups they learned how to categorize the data. What a great opportunity to use some math and science skills.

“We don’t know what our parents would bring.”

Audrey

 

“Lots of people guessed a lot alike, they guessed wrong. But, it’s still interesting.

It’s hard to choose what objects you or your parents would bring. It’s hard to choose because there’s lots of different stuff you like and your parents like.”

Lusa

 

“I DID NOT GUESS had the most symbols.”

Dominic

“I DID NOT GUESS has the most symbols and MY PARENTS DID NOT GUESS had the 2nd most symbols.”

Tate

 

“My parents guessed what I would take because I sleep every night with baby.”

Riley

 hw riley
hw riley family

As more groups met for small group conversation the board became increasingly filled. In the end, Ryan expained the conclusion of the gathered data. “Most kids did not guess their parents, and most parents did not guess their kid’s object, but some parents guessed their kid’s.” He even decided that he preferred his parent’s choice for him to choose even better then what he had chosen.

ryan data
But the heart and the soul of this project emerged from the conversations that occured.

For some groups, they began to understand values within their family:

“I guessed my mom would take her phone, but she said, “I can always get a new phone, but I can’t get a new baby book.”

Sofie 

“My parents would take pictures so they can always remember me as a baby.”

Lilah

“It’s hard to guess what your parents would bring cause they have so many things that are special to them.”

Sofie

 “I said my dad would take his Kindle, but he would take his Viola and because it’s really old and he can play it even though he doesn’t play it so much cause we are busy.”

Willa
willa hwhw willa family

“Out of this group, 5 of your families chose photos. Why do you think so?”

Ms. McLean

 

“So they can see me when I was a baby and laugh.”

Gabriel
HW Gabe M family

 

“Samuel’s dad wrote why:

“A book of our family pictures. These tell us a story of who we are and where we came from. Through pictures we remember stories of time together, and recall the loved ones who have passed.”

 
“How come your parents did not choose fancy cars and Diamonds to bring?

Ms. McLean

 

“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.”

Aurora

 

“Yeah, it’s special stuff.”

Noah

 

“Yeah, it’s like stuff to remember your ancestors.”

Aurora

Many families chose books or literature as their object:
convo values2

“Why do you think two family members of this group chose books?”

Ms. McLean

“Because you can read to make your mind grow!”

Dylan

 

Another realization that surfaced was the value of choosing something that was connected to “creating” :
convo 3
convo values

“How is what Noah’s mom chose, (a blank book,) and what Sophia’s dad chose, (a mandolin,) and what Isaiah’s mom chose, (a rolling pin) alike?”

Ms. McLean

 

“They all are using their hands!”

Noah

 

“To make music!”

Sophia

 

“They all are making something!”

Noah

 

Many children realized their parents knew them better then maybe they know themselves:

“I noticed many of your parents chose different objects then you chose for yourself. What do you think?”

Ms. McLean

 

“I think they’re right, I would take my bird because I like my bird better. I always sleep with him at night.”

Eric

issa conversation
Sometimes I meet with children at the end of the day. They are tired. Sometimes the practice of actually having a conversation must be implicitly discussed for success.

Conversation is a learned value. When a small group I was meeting with was having some issues listening to each other respectfully, I stopped everything.

 “We are having a conversation. The expectation is when you finish speaking; you stop and listen to your friends. What I am seeing is some people speaking and when they are done they start playing or disrupting others. The cool thing about a conversation is you get to learn so much from your friends. It’s a back and forth.”
Ms. McLean

 

“Ohhhh, it’s like the golden rule!”

Maddie K.

 At that moment the conversation shifted with focus and respect to include religous and cultural values.

“That’s true Maddie. Except in a conversation it is so great because you get to know and learn all these new things from another kid.

Like from this group I learned about all of you  AND  your  families!

Maddie, thanks to listening to you, this group knows your mother would choose to take her Ketubah.”

Does anyone know what a Katubah is.”
 

“Well, it’s the paper that says your married.”

Maddie

 

“It’s even more special. It is a very beautiful document with lots of designs on it and swirly letters. Like your Mom drew it. It is a special paper you sign when you get married if you are Jewish.”

Ms. Mclean

 

“I’m not Jewish.”

Eric

 
“No, but today we learned Maddie is. Some people are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other religions. And now everyone in this group learned something new from Maddie.”

Ms. McLean
 

“I am Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Years.”

Maddie

Issa explained his Mom chose her  meditation beads. When I asked him to tell  about meditation beads, he explained simply they are very very special.

I can tell you about meditation beads!” said Sonora, “You close your eyes and breathe and think of one thing, and you hold the beads like this. It is relaxing. And then a bell rings and you open your eyes and you are like calm.”

Tali’s Mom chose Shabbat candles and so Tali explained why to the group.
“It’s like we have a holiday every Friday night. It’s on Saturday too.  If we had to move somewhere there might not be Shabbat candles. And it is very special and important to light the candles.”

In this last conversation, the purpose and reason of Atelier/Studio learning and this project in particular  became incredibly clear.
In the following small group, a shift occured and the conversation was about people who had died.
I was moved by the intimacy of the conversation, especially with Harvey and Eric sharing some difficult memories.
Suddenly, objects weren’t of worth because of their advertising, but because of the connection to a person, or a memory.

I wrote Harvey’s Mom and Dad an email. I did not want to share any personal information that might be considered private.

I am cutting and pasting our correspondance.

Subject: Something Harvey said

Dec 3
Hi,
A small group of children were having a conversation with me, that became very serious, yet appropriate. I am pasting the conversation below, because I would like to include it in documetation for the Objects and Meaning Project.
I want to find out if this is ok with you before I include it as a part of the documentation. I will respect what you decide.
Conversations
In each small group, conversation took very interesting turns. Many of my questions revolved around values. I was surprised at things children understand and often brought up; life, death, monetary value versus emotional value, religion, culture.
 
“Many families in this group chose things that do not cost a lot of money. Many families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
 
“To remember people.”
Eric
“So you can remember family from before. Like if they died.”
Harvey
“I have a picture of me and my pet before she died. She was a great pet.”
Evan
“I have a photo of my great great grand daddy. He went to the hospital and then he died.”
Lucinda
My Dad’s brother died because he was taking drugs.
Harvey
What are drugs?
Eric
Like medicine except it’s really bad for you.
Harvey
There’s a picture of all my cousins and me and Uncle Bernie. He died and he was in a blue and gold coffin with a cross. My cousins have that picture but then they made copies for all of us.
Eric
 
 
From conversation 12/3/13

Here’s The Craig’s response. Please click on it to make it larger.
Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.14.52 PM

 I am honored to be surrounded by such inspirational children and adults.
Brave and beautiful.
Honest and thoughtful.

I feel closer and know more about every child and family who participated in this work.
The children in turn also know.
And all this came about by taking the time to think about what objects mean to the child-self and the adult-self.

Turns out that in this period of excess, in the end, the important  objects are about relationships- for surviving, enjoying, enduring, inspiring, connecting, calming, and remembering- even when it is difficult.

A wonderful reminder, for any season.

values photoBy Aurora

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
ayanna car 2

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.
k shave cream

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.
green star

“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.
green paintgreen paint 2

“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.

.interactP1080351dakari carP1080352

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)
shaker interact

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. 
shakers ayannashaker dakari1shaker angel shaker angel2 shaker angel3 shaker angel4 shaker angel5paishance shave creamhands shave creamshave cream omari

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.
cabbage

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.

draw swiss chard
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.
cabbage nagnifyanais cabbagecabbage look
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. 
observe paint isla2

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.

materials1
materials3
“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)
sish chard andrew

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
swiss chard julia paintswiss chard julia

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.
reflecting1reflect on isla lettuce
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.
plans 2
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.

in process
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.
anabel drillred collab

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
blue collab2blue profile

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

handsgreen profilegaels birdevans carrots

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

purple

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