Trash me Rob-Art Activist
An Interview with Wangari Maathai
Trash me Rob-Art Activist
An Interview with Wangari Maathai
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.
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.
Here’s a wonderful link A Harvard Psycholgist shares 5 ways to raise them to be Kind
“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.
“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.
I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.
I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.
This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)
Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.
Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight.
Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.
From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…
(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?
Simple Definition of humility
the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble
When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.
Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste.
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”
Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”
Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.
A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
And why is humility important?
Ever wonder about injustice?
Ever wonder about creation?
Ever wonder about relationships?
Ever wonder about the environment?
Ever wonder about invention?
Ever wonder about the unknown?
Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.
I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed.
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”
Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting or complimentary colors.
(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)
I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…
Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.
Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.
They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way.
Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.
Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.
Here are some of the awe-filled results:
Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking: “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.
This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.
This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.
I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.
“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”
And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”
Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.
It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with. These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?
Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”
Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
and replaces it with creative capacities
to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
Bigger and better than ourselves.