And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.

What questions are we asking children?

In what ways are we listening to children?

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.

Relationship.

Love.

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.

Each child makes a Kindness Rock as a gift for another child (they do not know in advance who it will be for!) to exchange on 9/11. And a second one that is left out in the DC metro sometime during the school year area to spread Kindness to a stranger.
Every classroom reads Have You Filled a Bucket Today? This conceptually plants the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for caring for those around us, as opposed to bucket dippers, who themselves have an emptiness and so try to fill up their own bucket by taking from others.

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.

We practice how to introduce yourself, and how to give and receive.

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!

I decided to enter into a project that I have been researching since the 1990’s; anti bias education and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.

“It’s the Tokyo Tower! I can’t believe it! It’s amazing!” Sora, age 3

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.

The session ended with the video of Maya Angelou reciting this poem at Clinton’s inauguration.

Here are the ending verses.

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.

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.

Labor of Love

IMG_7136
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.”

IMG_7058 IMG_7056

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.

IMG_7061

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/

IMG_7136

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.
IMG_7127

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.
Untitled

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.

IMG_6941

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.
IMG_7091 IMG_7096
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.
IMG_6955

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.

IMG_7067 IMG_6959

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.

IMG_7114

“Relationship is the evidence based practice.” Dr. Allison Jackson
IMG_7080

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.
Picture1

Looking forward to connecting and reconnecting!
IMG_6964

Making ripples and Butterfly Flights

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.
img_0620

“I wonder if caterpillars play with their friends?” Olivia D., Kindergarten

img_9807

“I wonder, how did they take such big bites (of the Milkweed leaf) with a tiny tiny mouth?” Lucy, PreK

img_9972

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

img_9982

“Actually I see (the caterpillars) are the same. Same stripes.” Felix, PreK3

img_9710

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.

img_0790
img_0788
img_9717

“I see they have black and white feet.” Lucy, PreK

“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK

“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK

img_9705

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.

“Look!”

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!

img_0210

“I wonder why it hangs upside down.” Nergu, PreK

img_0094

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.

img_0134
950955b0-b10a-470b-8a95-f3449c14d3d3

“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.

 

 

 

 

Processed with Snapseed.

“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreKimg_9816“I think the golden on it tells you it’s a special surprise.” Hope, PreK

img_0479

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

img_0488

“I wonder, is there a mommy and daddy?” Josephine, PreK

img_0541


img_0917

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

9c012963-eda5-4ad6-984a-da15149442c7
img_0649img_0684When 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.0cc5567f-54f3-4332-acda-a32442b7beb9

img_0924
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. Processed with Snapseed.

 

 

 

Processed with Snapseed.

“I think caterpillars have different brains.” Gilly, PreK

img_9838
“Hey butterfly, look at this picture. She cute, right?” Ryan, PreK3

img_0784
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?

freedom-monarch
img_0955
“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.

img_0583

 

 

 

Bigger and Better than Ourselves: Humility

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
IMG_3655
Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
IMG_4091
Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight. 
IMG_4070
Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
IMG_4296
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)
IMG_5099
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.
IMG_0144
The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
IMG_8130
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.
IMG_7572

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?
IMG_3845 IMG_3865 IMG_3880 IMG_3883 IMG_3909

Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?

IMG_4714 IMG_4715

 

Humility.

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.
IMG_8681
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.
8812223F-E321-4FAA-BC10-2E95A2A7DC9F
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?

IMG_3960

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. 
IMG_3710Scarlet says,
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”

IMG_3976Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting  or complimentary colors.
IMG_4028(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. 
IMG_3560Children 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.

(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name  your skin?”)
IMG_3562 IMG_3563

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?
IMG_8489
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?!”
IMG_6102

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!
IMG_6101
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.”
IMG_6103

This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
IMG_6105

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.

This also connects to play.
IMG_5734(Sensory exploration and play with rainbow spaghetti)

IMG_5239 (Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)

IMG_5399(3 year olds playing office)

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?”

Why?

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?
IMG_3559

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.
IMG_4395

IMG_4396

IMG_4539
IMG_4538
Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.

IMG_4659(There’s Mr. Jere playing the moon sax with the children during the Solstice Moon Ceremony in the Atelier)

Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
IMG_4540

and replaces it with creative capacities 
IMG_4495rainbow connectionIMG_4479 IMG_4473 IMG_4461 IMG_4494 IMG_4456
 to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
IMG_4508IMG_4496Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
IMG_4411Bigger and better than ourselves.

Because you need to. Because you want to.

Slide02


Slide01
Slide03 Slide04
Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12
Slide13
Slide14
Slide15
Slide17 Slide18
Slide19 Slide20 Slide21 Slide22
Slide23
Slide24 Slide25
fixed

Slide27 Slide28
Slide29 Slide30 Slide31
Slide32
Slide33 Slide34 Slide35
Slide36
Slide37 Slide38 Slide39
Slide40
Slide41
Slide42
Slide43 Slide44 Slide45 Slide46
Slide47
Slide48
Slide49
Slide50
IMG_2444Slide52IMG_2206
poemSlide54


Focusing on love.

In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
IMG_8800

For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
IMG_0056

For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
IMG_9874

Research is in my favor here.
IMG_9880

Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
IMG_9883

Alas, policy only slides deeper into forcing children younger and younger to spend their formative years in a fixed mindset being coerced to decode and read long before they have had the experience to comprehend ideas, problems, relationships, and the world around them.
IMG_9116

Love.
IMG_9290

This is not a flaky word.
IMG_9328

Love is extremely difficult. It takes practice, passion, commitment, and grit when applied to any instance…sharing, mistake making, idea forming, friend making, conflict resolving, exploration, imagination, conversation.
IMG_9734IMG_9742

Without the source of love, there is no reason to keep on trying, to create something, solve something, learn something, get up after a fall.
IMG_9968

Often in life we are required to love a person (our children, our spouse, our sibling, our students, a neighbor), so in need of support that they act unloveable. Where does one build the capacity?
And what does this have to do with the Atelier, School Within School, with children, with collaboration, with wonder, with the 100 Languages?
IMG_0511

I would say everything.
IMG_9605

In the studio “can’t” is a bad word. A disabling word. What can you say instead? I need help, this is tricky, what do you think, how can I, what is not working here, can someone lend a hand, any ideas how to solve this?
IMG_0296

What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
IMG_0532

You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
IMG_0488

What part was frustrating? How did you figure out how to solve the problem? What do other people think? What makes you say that? What are you thinking of next? What do you need to practice? You must feel really good, you stuck with it, even when it got hard!

IMG_0530

What else is a bad word?
IMG_0997

Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
IMG_0360

Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
IMG_6596

I know that, I know everything, I’m an expert. (said the 5 year old)
No person knows everything. Life and school would be so boring if you knew everything. We are all researchers here learning together. Different people have different areas that they are very strong in. Together, we learn from each other and strengthen each other. Some grown ups spend many years researching things, we invite them to share with us so we can learn from them. We also learn from our friends who are children.
IMG_0589

This is love.
IMG_0588

Recognizing mistakes. Leaning in to the unknown. Asking questions because it is rewarding and awe inspiring as opposed to answering the question correctly. Listening, observing, watching, admiring, and loving those around us in our learning groups.
IMG_0402IMG_0440
Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
IMG_0405IMG_0411
Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
IMG_0392
Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
IMG_0417

When a child is afraid to make a mark on a paper because they are afraid of making a mistake, this is the opposite of love. When a child is afraid to answer the query, What do you think?, because they are not sure what the “right “ answer is, this is the opposite of love. When a child doesn’t try something new, because it’s different, that is not love. This is fear.
IMG_1013

The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
IMG_0986Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Sebastian: “Why?”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”

And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
IMG_0834 (1)

Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
IMG_0798 (1)
Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
IMG_1023
Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
IMG_0884

for the fulfillment is in the experience,
small boy
in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
smaller2
Love.

I am not alone in my research.

Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking,  on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
IMG_8753

Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
IMG_8742
Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder,  writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
IMG_1199To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”

Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
IMG_9543

This year I’m focusing on love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From seeds

“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.
IMG_3742Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking
IMG_3791
and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate.
It’s brown
No, it’s purple.
Well maybe purple brown.
Where is that?
There! There!
IMG_3665As 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.
IMG_3667After 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.
IMG_3985These small children, PreK children, naturally understood  the beauty and nuances and began to paint.
IMG_3681The 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.

desmond tutu
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.”
Slide3We 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.

Slide5Slide4Slide2These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy.
Slide1
Better than “dust to dust,”
our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.”
Growing.
Growing hope.

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)

Growing 
Growing hope
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
From
the seeds.

(Thank you to Boaz, Franklin, and Caleb who inspired this post.)