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.
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:
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!
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.
It’s a new school year. Filled with possibility, new relationships, and sweet growth for both the children and all the connected adults in their lives.
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” Loris Malaguzzi
When children learn from their heart and soul the importance of protecting and honoring the earth (even cuty kids), when they learn to wonder, think, imagine, and be curious of the world around them at a young age, when they experience the connection of all living things, they develop the empathy and awareness to make a difference. To be kind. To create solutions. To find metaphors.
And this is why we engage so deeply in the Monarch rescue effort. It is more than science.
It’s making ripples.
“I wonder if caterpillars play with their friends?” Olivia D., Kindergarten
“I wonder, how did they take such big bites (of the Milkweed leaf) with a tiny tiny mouth?” Lucy, PreK
After the caterpillar falls, because the cage is accidentally bumped, the caterpillar curls up. The PreK3 group gasps because they think it’s hurt.
Suddenly it stretches out on the leaf and starts moving.
“It’s not curled! It’s happy now!” Alonzo, PreK3
“Actually I see (the caterpillars) are the same. Same stripes.” Felix, PreK3
In these images Laurel communicates all her knowledge and wonder and understandings to me by tapping, and pointing, and expressing non-verbally. By “visually listening” I learned how enthralled and connected she is.
“I see they have black and white feet.” Lucy, PreK
“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK
“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK
One Monday, when I arrived at school, I found that 3 of the caterpillars had escaped the cage. Two were found, but one disappeared. I told Mr. Moore the custodian about the missing critter, and hoped when he swept, he would find our missing caterpillar. I crawled under every table and chair. Eventually, I cam to the conclusion that the cat had either crawled away or had been vacuumed up by accident.
5 days later, Alexandra says, “Ms. McLean, I found something in the pony palace.” This is a play house about 25 feet from where the caterpillar tent is.
“What did you find?”, I asked.
I gasped. “Is it alive?”, I asked her.
“I think so.” she replied.
I put that caterpillar on a milkweed and low and behold, after 5 days of no food, it began munching away! It has since turned into a beautiful female butterfly. What a magical story!
“I wonder why it hangs upside down.” Nergu, PreK
Transformation of the caterpillar into the chrysalis is a rare thing to witness. This year, children, parents, and staff had the opportunity to watch this four times! It is such a grand moment of wonder and hope. For if this little creature can make such a spectacular transformation, surely we can too.
“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK
Here’s a brief video of the end part of the transformation. It is aptly called, the pupa dance.
“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK“I think the golden on it tells you it’s a special surprise.” Hope, PreK
Engaging in small groups with tiny miraculous creatures offers deep moments of observing, thinking, wondering, expressing, and caring. In these small moments were opportunities to focus on not only caring for the earth, but each other too. Listening while others spoke, engaging in kind language, sharing materials, and collaborating. These are not the small things, but the big things. The ripple makers, to spread goodness.
“I wonder, is there a mommy and daddy?” Josephine, PreK
Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. – Plato
When one of the PreK3 children became frightened by the butterfly, the effect was catching. Soon I had four screaming 3 year olds. I quickly grabbed two Kindergarten children, Dale and Olivia, who were on their way to recess, and asked them if they would come in and teach the 3 year olds there was nothing scary, while I took the very frightened little one out to get a drink of water and calm down. The two stayed for a whole hour, even facilitating and helping the younger children make a great big butterfly mural. I really couldn’t have done it without them. When I thanked Dale and Olivia for giving up their recess time to help me out, Olivia looked at me and said, “No, thank YOU Ms. McLean for inviting us.” I almost cried.
When it looks like you’re breakdancing in the atelier, you know something good is happening.! Embodying and engaging all senses makes one alive to the world. Processed with Snapseed.
“I think caterpillars have different brains.” Gilly, PreK
“Hey butterfly, look at this picture. She cute, right?” Ryan, PreK3
Themes and discussions of freedom emerged, as the children vacillated between wanting to name and keep the butterflies and also wanted to let it go. It also allows children to think about their selves. Wanting to be totally free, but being a child and also wanted someone there, when they are afraid. Isn’t that what we all want?
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change
My deepest wish is that I can be an instrument in supporting your child/children to become themselves. Beautiful kind compassionate loving selves.
Here’s to a year of making lots of ripples, and butterfly flights.
The Prek 3 Classes have emabarked on a project. The children started talking about “statues” a few months ago when I had them working on a collaborative wire sculpture in the studio. Their excitement about seeing sculptures and statues in Washington, DC got the classroom teachers and I planning a trip to the National Sculpture Garden. They already “owned” the sculptures in their neighborhoods and parks, we were curious on how they would own sculptures in a formal DC space. This documentation sheds some light and reflection on the ongoing experiences.
There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.
I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.
This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.
But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.
Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.
So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post:
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:
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:
Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”
And so I signaled, to go back the other way.
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened… First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd. Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.
And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed: Sasha F.’s sketch
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.
Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.
I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher, someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.
I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.
With sincere thanks and best wishes,
Press Representative / JAG Entertainment
4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato
Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.
The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”