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

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

Afrofututrism-Part 1, A New Lens By Which to See, Inspired by Cyrus Kabiru

This Spring as a school, we focused on elevating Black Joy, Excellence, and Culture through living folx throughout the African diaspora. And while this is a project that we engaged in from February through beginning of April, Black Joy is intended to be a provocation for continued expansive teaching practice and curriculum development at School Within School as a core principle.

 

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

In the Atelier, Black Lives Matter at School is 24/7, through expression, art, culture, movements, and making. The narrow expanse historically of art, art institutions, and art education has centered white male Eurocentric artists, with a handful of women and BIPOC thrown in during their designated cultural months.

I dare say it is easy to scrap the white supremacist model of art education because there are limitless and boundless histories, cultures, and BIPOC and women artists to center to inspire young children (and ourselves) to express and transform power, beauty, and aesthetic.

Inspired by an art exhibit I visited in Barcelona 5 years ago “Making Africa”, and as the Early Childhood Atelierista (working virtually yet live with the children), I centered our Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation projects around Afrofuturism.

Part 1 was inspired by Cyrus Kabiru.

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

“For the uninitiated, Afrofuturism is a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct “Blackness” in the culture. Reflected in the life and works of such figures as Octavia Butler, Sojourner Truth, Sun Ra, and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression — both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature.”

We began by being inspired by the vision and genius of Cyrus Kabiru.

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

“I grew up surrounded by a lot of trash,” says Cyrus Kabiru of his childhood. “The biggest dumpsite in Nairobi was right opposite my house. I used to tell my dad, ‘When I grow up I’ll give trash a second chance.’ I used to feel like trash also needs a chance to live.”

After looking at Mr. Kabiru’s glasses ( C-Stunners, as he calls them), glasses no one had ever imagined before, I explained how he is called an Afrofuturist. He is an artist from Kenya who creates art that no one in the world has ever seen before, he creates by making a new and better future, where trash is given a second chance. All of his C-Stunners also tell a story. Each one is different. He is a creative genius.

“To me, being an Afrofuturist is a mix of creativity from different continents.” •

His increasing success in the art world has afforded Kabiru the opportunity to travel and to expand his collection of found objects. •

He says: “When I go to London, I’ll pick up trash. I always pick up trash from different continents. If I make an artwork with European trash, my work will look newer, so I try to combine old Kenyan trash and new European trash.”

This was a project we returned to for many weeks. This returning is to practice depth, as opposed to a make-it take-it crafting hour. Each class we re-visted Mr. Kabiru through looking at his art and watching and listening to him speak to us through videos. As children constructed, an Afrofuturism playlist that I created of SunRa, Janelle Monet, Laura Mvula, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kamasi Washington, Eryka Badu, Valerie June and more played. The sensory and delight of the creative process was compelling to observe. The music helped keep track of time and guide children into a state of flow.

I could see into all the squares on the Teams Meeting where children were experimenting, constructing, and creating, all while centering the Afrofuturist ideals of Cyrus Kabiru.

 

Cyrus Kabiru, Mixed Media Art

We did multi-modal language shifting by using our sculptures as a provocation for mixed media 2d collage art (as Cyrus Kabiru also uses photography and mixed media collage to express his stories.)

All of this project work is happening during a global pandemic. This is relevant. There is no doubt that each child and adult has experienced trauma, loss, and abrupt change. Because trauma is experienced inwardly, with no words to express,(especially if you are 3-6- years old) the act of making and creating in an open-ended and expansive manner allows one to process (often unconsciously) pain or anxiety. The brain shifts and creates new passageways during making. When these neurological passageways shift, you are released from the biological and emotional effects of fight, flight, or freeze. Expression through the arts releases and heals emotionally and neurologically.

Right now, in the newspaper is the unrelenting horror of the details of the murder of Mr George Floyd. What strikes one, is the fact that the police officer who kneeled on the neck of Mr Floyd and killed him ceased to see his humanity. What strikes one, is the fact that a trial is even necessary when the world witnessed his tragic death via a cell phone video. What strikes one, is those who watched who had the power to stop another Black man, another human being, from being killed just watched. The othering and dehumanizing of Black and Brown children and adults hails from the transatlantic slave trade. It is enmeshed in all of our systems, including our education systems. We are raised in the subtle and the obvious ways that creates internalized hatred of BIPOC.

We are all, within our capacity able to create, demand, imagine, and act in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and dismantles white supremacy culture. For me it is as a mother, artist, educator, and activist.

As children gazed at the beauty and genius of Cyrus Kabiru, valuing his existence, we are reminded of the importance of our our daily work. Especially with our youngest citizens.

“Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quo’s blind spots.”

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

Our paths co-constructing Afrofuturist thinking and making in the Atelier/Art Studio led us next to The Black Indians of New Orleans, The Super Heroes of Hebru Brantley, and The Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The journey of learning and thinking as an Afrofuturist makes visible Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation intrinsically. It goes on and on. Like the C-Stunners of Cyrus Kabiru, Afrofuturism offers us all a new lens by which to see, especially in the blind spots.

“The magic is… change the world.”

“The magic is… change the world.”

It is January first.

A new year.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

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

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

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

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

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing without joy.

Everything with gratitude.

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

And as Aviv says:

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

A careful considerate gaze or I am because you are

A careful considerate gaze or I am because you are

Here’s some links to explore connections:

To  explore the concept of Ubuntu

Link to NAREA (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance)

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

Link to Brenee Brown

Link to article on Curiosity

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

And so, How Are You Different Than Nature?

And so, How Are You Different Than Nature?

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)

The SWS Love Mother Earth Children’s Parade Video

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.

I hope beautiful things live forever

I hope beautiful things live forever

Balance.

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.

Yesterday,  I represented DCPS  by marching in the DC Capitol Pride Parade with my SWS sisters and brothers.
(YES, it’s been a year of PARADES!)
All to find myself home sick today, coughing, headache…seems like life gave me lemons, so here comes the lemonade!
Overwhelmed by the idea catching up from Earth Day, I am posting from the present- the most current happenings, (and will try and catch up the middle at a later date.)
I have no voice today, so I will stay with this as a metaphor and let the children/SWS speak through this vide0 I created, (since I was stuck at home in bed.) Enjoy the lemonade!
HERE’S THE LINK TO THE VIDEO (approx. 8 minutes):
I want to thank the Renwick, they opened up  No Spectators- The Art of Burning Man exhibit an hour early, so that some of the youngest citizens in DC (ages 4-6) could experience the wonder and beauty of the exhibit (without competing with taller and larger bodies.)
We were welcomed by Geoff, and his invitation to touch and explore was lovely.
The children were moved and wowed. Many felt the weight, the lightness, the sacredness, and emotions of the Temple,
and all were mesmerized by the plethora of possibilities within the art and ideas of the playa.
The upper elementary aged children who visited the exhibit with Erika during the previous weeks were also astounded and inspired.
Upon returning to school, the upper elementary children began to build a collaborative Temple out of recycled cardboard.
The youngest children used tools and helped each other (just like the teams of artists who collaborated in the exhibit) to create a small Burning Man/Woman out of recycled materials with a wish, hope, or memory.
“I remember when I was a little baby , I felt happy with my family.” Brooke, age 4
“My memory is going inside the Renwick gallery. My favorite room was the one with the television in the sky.” Malda, age 6
The pop up museum opened Friday June 8th.
It will be gone by the end of the week.
But maybe gone only in the material state.
The gift of this type of work is the deep resonating memories and the thoughts by the children and community left in the SWS temple.
The gift of this work is children learning first hand, the power of creating a vision and dream into reality with friends.
The gift of this work is creating something in community with others, with both personal and global ideas (reflected in the cards left in the temple.)
The gift of this work is creating the space and the safety to be vulnerable in interactions, sharing wishes, hopes, and remembrances, and in the actual creating.
It was not easy. “If it’s easy, your brain isn’t growing”, a common refrain of mine. “It’s supposed to be a little bit hard.”
This is education:
Inclusive. Cultural. Personal. Community based. Global. Reflective. Expressive. Scientific. Inventive. Kind. Meaningful. Fun. Hard. Connected and inter-connected. Responsive. Oriented from thought to action (and sometimes the other way around,) Most importantly education is being a part of  creating a better world.
(I know that you always are with me.)
It was not easy.
But it was soul filling.
It was hopeful, it was love,
and it will live on.
Labor of Love

Labor of Love

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

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

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What is ACEs science?

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

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

 

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

 

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

https://acestoohigh.com/

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So what does this mean for the my work?

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

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

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

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

It seems most appropriate today to declare this work, this year, sincerely, as a Labor of Love.
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Looking forward to connecting and reconnecting!
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Because you need to. Because you want to.

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The Children Got the Closest.

There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.

I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.

This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
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This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
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The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.

But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.

Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip  of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars  at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.

So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post: 

Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt

By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.

The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.

Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.

I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.

But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
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They were flabbergasted. 
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin

The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”

The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
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Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”

And so I signaled, to go back the other way. 
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
IMG_4650IMG_4675First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
IMG_5316Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.

IMG_4671photo 2 (2)And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
IMG_5335Sasha F.’s sketch

Edwin’s sketch (below)

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Bryce
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Auden
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Apolena
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Milena’s sketch
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Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.

The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were  jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.

The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.

A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
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Dear Marla,

Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.

I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher,  someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.

I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.

 With sincere thanks and best wishes,

 Jane
Jane Covner

Press Representative / JAG Entertainment

4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

jcovner@jagpr.com

 “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,

flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato

Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.

The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”

And I say to that, Amen.
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One heart at a time

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

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

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

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

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

 Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
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.

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At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect?
shakers dakari2shakers dakari(Making musical percussive shakers)
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.

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

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

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

Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding.
“I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf?
“Red lines!” 
Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
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.
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These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.

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

making the sky

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

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