How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and more meaningful expression and responses?
Why does it matter?
What can we learn?
As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to feel, see, and create is engagement.
Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,
An environment filled with provocations that delight, intrigue, and expand possibilities,
Values made visible in words, images, and actions that proclaim that all are welcome here
Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult
Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas, concepts, and understandings.
We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.
On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a school community.
Since then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.
Our active enduring question is, “How can we spread Kindness?”
This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.
Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.
On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.
Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.
Kindness Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!
My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.
If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.
There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.
Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.
To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.
“International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”
My eyes often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon, cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!
Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.
“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.
Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.
Sharing these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others (and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.
As children painted and used materials, they became closer to reliving that moment.
When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.
Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.
The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering
What is diversity?
The next project was proposed.
I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, Need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out upon me, The rock, the river, the tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.
“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?
There! There! 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.)
If you work with young children, you know there are many opportunities to experience emotions.
Last month I was working on a project with some 1st graders. The provocation was to plan a story without writing the details or the the ending.
Why? Well, I noticed the 1st graders had figured out how to draw and make graphic representations well enough, to respond quickly to pretty much any prompt or observation. However, their ideas and drawing were somewhat static. The figures (even though well done) seemed to be a stuck at the same level and their story development was not stretching them.
I wanted to know what would happen if each page, a part of the plan was tackled slowly and thoughtfully through a new process.
First, I asked them to look at their story plan and only draw the setting part. “If you said it was winter what needs to be remembered? If you have a location of Washington DC, how do I know it from the picture? If it is night time, show it.”
I was surprised that I had to teach them to “read” or evaluate what they had drawn, to see if it made sense. Having the plan to refer to , made this facilitation quickly become an independent process. Instead of saying, “I’m done!” and me asking “how do you know?” and them responding “Because I did it,” the responses became more intentional, such as “They all have mittens and coats, and there’s snow and a sidewalk, and rowhouses.”
The next time in the art studio the focus was on facial expressions.
Emma Clare, “It’s when you show how you feel on your face.”
Using mirrors and books as resources and really practicing and noticing, the children checked their plan to see if they needed to represent an expression that was happy, sad, surprising…
Carrington for several tries drew a U shaped bottom lip and a parralel line for the top lip. Hmmmm, I would say, I’m not seeing an expression of happiness or laughter. I am seeing the same smile you always draw. I want you to push yourself and solve this. I kept prompting, look closely at your top lip in the mirror. What shape is it making? She became extremely agitated, “I don’t know what to do!”. After several attempts and nearing frustration, she realized the top lip is (unbelievably) shaped like a traditional frown line! Once she figured this out, she was elated. She also began helping her peers to see the same thing.
Xavier developed a technique of puposeful smudging, after he accidently dripped some ink on his page. This became a great resource for all the kids once shared.
Maya concentrated looking in the mirror longer than many of her peers. All of a sudden she looked up at me, with tears streaming down her face-but smiling!
“Look Ms. McLean, I practiced being sad so hard, tears came out!”
Another time in the art studio, I asked them to pull out their story idea or plan and tell me, where they go to in their story.
I then asked them to try to walk, run, skip to their imagined place based on the 1st drawing figures in the setting page. It was hilarious acting out walking with both arms straight out and legs locked straight as well. Thus became the exploration of joints, viewpoint, and action. How does the body work? What do arms do when one walks? How often are both feet on the ground when one is moving? How does one look when being viewed sideways?
This process was extremely difficult.While the intention was to help children think about movement, expression and observation, it became about perseverence.
She believes there are some simple steps to boost creativity:
Teach kids how to be happy.
While this might be simple, it is far more complex. Happiness is a set of skills that must be learned. She asks, “How’s that problem solving going when you are angry?”
The first place to start is LETTING KIDS FAIL. Children must be taught the skills, thinking and coping for when things don;t go as planned.
When children do not learn these skills, they hide mistakes, feel shame, expect others (parents/teachers) to “fix” things for them, and in teen years self-medicate through alcohal and drugs.
“No one is entitled to a life free from pain. ” says Christine Carter.
It is necessary to develop grit and persistance. Mistakes are opportunity.
Before one of the studio sessions, I had a conference with Alysia Scofield (one of the 1st grade teachers.) She expressed that many of her kids were quick to crumple up or dispose of any work when they experience any mistake, instead of working through the hard parts and transforming mistakes or trying to solve the problem. For this reason, I started the class by saying that if you make a mistake, you would not be able to grab another piece of paper today. Instead, you would need to figure out how to make a mistake into something wonderful.
I gave some examples of accidently dropping a big puddle of ink on my drawing. What could I turn this into? Silence.
What about a flower? A hole? A tree? A rug? In fact, the image became more interesting with the transformed mistake.Soon kids were making innovative suggestions.
“Ask each other for ideas! Artists always do that!”
Shortly after, Maya made some type of “mistake” and asked for another paper. I reminded her that this was the challenge, to turn the mistake into something else. She was not happy. She proceeded to ask, then beg for another piece of paper. I encouraged her to ask friends for suggestions. I told her she could ask me for suggestions if she wanted some. Friends began to chime in with innovative solutions. No.
In that moment, she became so angry, she began to cry, and ask and then return to begging for another piece of paper.
These are moments when you have to make a split second decision. I took a risk, “Maya, I know you can solve this problem. Everyone here is willing to make suggestions. I am so sorry you are feeling frustrated, however, I will not be giving you another piece of paper today. You are welcome to go get a drink of water or take a break if that helps too.”
Katie went over to give her a hug as she returned to drawing silently. She skipped free time and continued drawing, for a long time. Then she looked up at me. “I’m done.”
“Can I see?”
“What do you think?” I asked
“It’s the best drawing I have ever done.” replied Maya, with a huge grin.
“I am really proud of you, you didn’t give up, you worked through the hard part, and now you feel really good.”
“It’s my best drawing ever.”
Hard. But not hard for hard-sake.
Another step in teaching kids these skills of developing the abilty to persevere is: Reducing Stress through Compassion.
Instead of focusing on the child/self (What did you do? Did you do your best? Were you line leader? Did you know the answer? Let me see yours) broaden kids capacity and vocabulary for compassion or the “other” with simple daily rituals.
Here’s two questions to ask your children everynight at the dinner table (and the rest of your family members and self too!)
“What’s one thing you did for someone today?”
“What’s one kind thing someone did for you today?”
The brain has a funny way of returning to neural passages ways again and again and again in times of stress or failure. This determines response. When kids (and adults) default to the ways in which they are supported and helped on a constant basis, they are able to frame or perceive problems differently.
Instead of defaulting to “Well he did it first!, or I couldn’t do it because the teacher wouldn’t give me more paper”, the child defaults to “Oh, I made a mistake, how can I fix it or make it better, who can help me solve this?”
Last week, I made a mistake. Somehow I completely skipped a studio group in Mr. Jere’s room the previous week. When I saw the skipped group, I said, “Ms. McLean made a horrible mistake. I had to change some groups around last week, and I completely skipped you! I feel terrible, because now you have double the work to do. In the future, please say something to me if you think you were skipped. I feel really bad. Grown-ups make mistakes too. I am so sorry.”
“That’s ok Ms. McLean.” replied Harvey, “Now you know what to do!”
The PreK’s have been working on the very long process of creating Soundsuits, inspired by artists Nick Cave.
Once again, this is a project that takes tremendous perseverance.
Because I noticed the lure of the tools in the studio, the project started with an ankle piece.
I use real tools with students, and they needed to flatten the bottle caps and then use an awl to put a hole in it.
Dominc: “This is hard work. I’m gonna sweat!”
While some children were energized by the heavy work, others were fatigued. The amount of sensory inout and output varies from child to child. It is my job to notice who is awakened by this work, and remember to use this as an adaptation. At the same time, for those who fatigue early with heavy work, I notate who needs support to develop their core strength.
When Samuel found his name on a bottlecap he was thrilled. Suddenly, everyone was looking closely at what was printed on the bottlecaps. Soon anchors, elephants and “this is almost my name ” were seen. This act encouraged not only literacy and observation skills, but an understanding and acknowledgment of the extraordinary found in the ordinary.
The work on this project vacillated between focused heavy big work and small focused actions.
Attaching the bottle caps and beads so they create percussion, was once again difficult.
While this proved frustrating to many, Lucinda seemed to respond to the sequencing and constant twisting and connecting. Her Sound Suit ankle was overflowing with sound. She also was able to help others. Everyone in each group has a strength. Everyone has many challenges. By remembering that Lucinda can help peers in this part of the project, she is also able to receive help at other times. This is the culture that must be nurtured and taught in order for kids to be able to handle mistakes.
In every part of this project, every time someone completed a part, and tested it out- the perseverance quotient heightened.
Next it was time to revisit the artist Nick Cave’s work.
I started by asking “What is a suit?”
First I got blank stares and silence. Then slowly ideas emerged. This is the power of a group. It promotes formulating remembering, and responding in a social and conversational construct. It gives each participant a wider breath of looking at topics.,
“A bathing suit! ” Tate
“Superman wears a suit!” Liam
“A costume is like a suit.” Dylan
“My Dad wears a suit!” Audrey and Maddie expressed this in separate groups
“A coat you wear. Something you put on your whole body so people will notice you.” Gabriel (In Jere’s class)
Next, I showed them some videos of Nick Cave’s creations in action and still.
When I stated, “It will take a long time to make your own sound suit.”
Levi shouted out, “Its like the fish!”
He was able to connect the persistance needed to complete the wire project to the ideas of this new project. Hard. But not hard for hard-sake.
This is Eric using his Sound Suit idea plan to figure out what color he needs to select. He is shown using the tape on the table to measure the strips.
The concept that designing an object means more then one view is one leap these learners must learn or “read.” When I first proposed the template for designing the Sound Suits with a two-figure graphic, Mira was the first to figure it out. “Is that the front and the back of the shirt?”
This new way of thinking about a two-sided design using a one-sided paper was also hard.
Aksel was thrilled by the opportunity to alter the design. “Mine will have wings, look!” And he drew the colors so they looped like wings. So many adults do not realize that young children have strong ideas. It is when they have the time, facilitation and the culture to create original ideas that they come to fruition and visibility.
Next, the fabricating of the Sound Suits.
I broke down this part of the project into small bits. First, just weaving the flagging tape through the front and back collar. (Myself and a cadre of parent volunteers snipped two parallel snips for each strip to go through.)
Once again, this was difficult. many kids put the strips in backwards, or had trouble using two hands to manipulate threading the strips through the front and back of the shirt.
Using intentional language and uploading,
When I heard, “This is hard, I can’t do it!”
“Can’t is a bad word in the art studio-it stops you. What can you say instead?”
“This will be difficult. That’s ok. You can take a skipping break down the hall and return, you can stand, you can sit, you can shake your hands, you can jump. Everytime you come it will get a little less hard. The practice will make it easier for you to do. And when you do something hard, and complete it, you feel soooo good because your brain has grown, and you know you can do the hard parts.”
“I’m not very good at this.”
I replied, “That’s because you’ve never done it before. Stick with it, you’ll see, it will start making sense.”
“What are some things you can do when you are stuck?” (Ask for suggestions from other kids and adults, express that it is tricky and I need help, express it is frustrating because you are not alone, it is for hard for someone else in the group too.)
After two to three studio times of adding the collar and sleeves, I told the kids they could try the Sound Suits on.
When the first group tried to attach the flagging tape to the mid section of the shirt, it was too hard. The oversized shirts become just a mess of fabric when trying to find the inside. In this case, hard was just too hard. At this point I came up with a solution that I had a hunch might work.
Embroidery hoops! You can see this allowed for many opportunities to try techniques, and allowed the children to maneuver the strips through successfully.
I am intentionally changing the culture, wheras asking for suggestions is applauded as opposed to a sign of weakness. Wheras it is exciting when someone figures out a way that works for them, and it is shared as a resource for all.
Gabriel (in Ms. Hannah’s class) was having a hard time persevering. He complained and procrastinated. Maybe this felt too big or overwhelming so I helped him break it down further.
“Gabriel, why don’t you put four strips through the sound suit and then take skip all the way down the hall and back. You can do this each time.”
This helped. Then he started slowing down again.
“Hey Gabriel, how about you count out the strips you are using before you start, just four!”
“I’m gonna do a pattern!”
He returned to the work with energy.
All of a sudden I noticed he was talking as he worked, “In the lava, out the lava, in the water, out the water …”
His flagging tape became a metaphor and a mantra, and he worked to completion.
In the lava out the lava, in the water out the water. Hard, but not hard for hard-sake.
Working in collaboration with Movement Teacher, Shannon Dunne the kids are developing a new conversation with movement and patterns, their selves not as their selves but these “rainbow beings.”
(A flash mob in Eastern Market is being planned in a few weeks, an opportunity to bring these rainbow beings into the unsuspecting daily lives of the public.)
Here’s a peek at Shannon with Mr. Jere’s class taking turns watching two classmates have a conversation using their body and ankle Sound Suit piece “Remember and think about how one person talks while one person listens, and then you respond and say something. In this conversation you are doing the same thing, but you are using your body and no words to talk.”
See how attentive the rest of the class is.
This idea of choreography surfaced in the studio.
“Look Ms. McLean! ” said Aurora, “Look how to move.
and Half Moon!”
Now that so much progress is being made, they can’t wait to try out the Sound Suits in progress for anyone who will look, teachers, kids in the halls, and especially their classroom teachers and their peers.
Hard isn’t good for hard-sake. But hard is good within the context of a project that encourages not only personal growth but the development of a culture of shared community struggle and JOY!
The Sound Suits are not so interesting on their own, it is within the group that the emotions and purpose soar. It is the development of a community creating an identity as a group of rainbow beings that make this powerful.