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
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
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
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
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.
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.
It is the night before the very last day of the 2017-2018 school year. I just couldn’t let the year end without giving you this small gift.
I have here the link to the 12 minute video I made documenting our all-school Earth Day parade. (12 minutes)
I must thank all the folks who sent photographs and videos, both Erika and I had our hands full and were unable to do it ourselves. Thank you thank you thank you!
Thank you to Lynette Craig who did all the paperwork and phone calls to convince our city to shut down the streets for this parade (park service and the police!). She left to me- only to meet with the officers/officials and sign my name. You have powers!
Thank you to Erika Bowman, my sista Atelierista and dream-it-into-reality-parade- partner. I will miss you. But I get to keep the memories (and friendship!), lucky me.
After the video link is documentation of some of the early childhood experiences that inform the parade video.
As a team (Prek3, PreK, Kgn) we focused on a year long exploration of Global Environmental Citizenship. Here’s how it emerged in the studio context:
Have a beautiful summer.
This year, in addition to the daily creating and expression and relationship building in the studio/atelier, I engaged and facilitated a Mardi Gras/Speak for Living Things Parade and an Earth Day Parade with my partner Atelierista, Erika Bowman
One weekend there was a community sign building for a national parade, this past week a pop up interactive art installation, then we made and completed and installed a kinetic sculpture attached on the side of the school “The Listening Sculpture”,
and there were three big field trips for students to encounter immersive, sensory, recycled, and out of the box art. (ArtTech House, The Glass Forest, and The Renwick)
And all of it connected to each other, overlapped, provoked, and embraced the idea of Global Environmental Stewardship (or as Amira, age 5, summed it up, “Dear Earth, Why are we here?)
…but no blog post. All my time and energy went into the hands on making and organizing.
Hence, the balance issue.
Trash me Rob-Art Activist
An Interview with Wangari Maathai
I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.
I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.
This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)
Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.
Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight.
Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.
From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…
(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?
Simple Definition of humility
the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble
When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.
Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste.
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”
Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”
Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.
A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
And why is humility important?
Ever wonder about injustice?
Ever wonder about creation?
Ever wonder about relationships?
Ever wonder about the environment?
Ever wonder about invention?
Ever wonder about the unknown?
Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.
I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed.
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”
Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting or complimentary colors.
(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)
I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…
Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.
Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.
They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way.
Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.
Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.
Here are some of the awe-filled results:
Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking: “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.
This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.
This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.
I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.
“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”
And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”
Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.
It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with. These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?
Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”
Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
and replaces it with creative capacities
to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
Bigger and better than ourselves.