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. It made me jump to the phrase “Labor of Love.”
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.
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:
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.
Brain science (neurobiology of toxic stress) — how toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of kids’ developing brains.
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.
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.
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)
It means a more intentional and informed practice of being the safety net for children within the context of the SWS Atelier/Art Studio.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Relationship is the evidence based practice.” Dr. Allison Jackson
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.
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.”
For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
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.
This is not a flaky word.
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.
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.
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?
I would say everything.
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?
What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
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!
What else is a bad word?
Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
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.
This is love.
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.
Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
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.
The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways. Conversation 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.
Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
for the fulfillment is in the experience,
in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
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.” To 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.
“From seeds” comes from a conversation that came about today when I was in the SWS garden harvesting vegetables and flowers to paint with Caleb, Franklin, and Boaz (PreK children).
The act of picking the produce or herbs or flowers develops a shared anticipation, as each child waits their turn to cut, pluck, or support a friend who is cutting. It’s exciting, the bees are buzzing, the wind blows, the sun shines, or maybe it is raining. It is an act made with care. It is filled with sound and touch and friends. Placing each tender newly harvested item onto a tray or basket to bring back to the art studio, there is a glee and a joy. Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate. It’s brown No, it’s purple. Well maybe purple brown. Where is that? There! There! As a group, this act of looking, observing, debating, and choosing goes on for each pepper, tomato, zinnia, or radish. It is slow. It is purposeful. It is a task that connects the children deeply to each nature item, even if they didn’t pick it. It connects each child to one another as they help, shout, whisper, and cajole their friend who is choosing a paint, that no, it really should be a light green for the stem. After this beautiful experience of harvesting, and collaboratively choosing a pallette of paint, each child gets to choose what they want to paint. Since they themselves pulled the radish from the dirt, passed the radish from hand to hand while choosing a tub of paint that matches it, and then carried it all to the table…what happened next was a natural act. These small children, PreK children, naturally understood the beauty and nuances and began to paint. The Trail of Tears Bean on the vine gestured. It was silent. This is more than painting a still life. This is connecting to life.
This week as millions marched world wide to stop climate change and met to discuss the health and future of our planet, I am struck by the importance of these small connecting moments in the garden with our young SWS caretakers of the urban garden at the entrance to our school.
Please read the conversation below. It speaks to a child’s understanding of interconnectedness, of consumerism, and in the end…that it all comes “from the seed.” We had this conversation outside, hands in the earth by the radish bed. I wonder, if I did not take them out, if SWS did not have the vision and will to place a garden at the entrance to our school, if parents and staff did not have the passion and energy to volunteer and create and upkeep this plot, if our FoodPrints program did not exist, if the teachers did not have the values to get the kids in the mess and the dirt and the seeds… would the conversation had ended at “…food comes from the store”?
It is science, it is art, it is literacy, it is nutrition, but it is oh so much more.
These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy. Better than “dust to dust,” our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.” 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.)
It’s when the Love Fairy visits SWS. I adore Valentines Day.
The opportunity to “make” for others, to write, draw, wrap, and give to others-just for the sake of the day is worth all the commercialized advertisements for diamonds and dinners.
What does love have to do with learning? What’s love got to do with it?
I was thrilled to engage my PreSchool children in making a sewn, beaded, wrapped Valentine for someone in their family.
It was a first time sewing for the children. The pulling and pushing just the right amount without creating tears or big loops of thread, flipping the card, finding a new hole to go through.
The concentration and dexterity paired with the tactile feel proved to be worth the focus. Every child stuck with their sewn Valentine through completion. The next week the children beaded, made a card, and wrapped the Valentine. This is a lot of work.
Wrapping a gift was also a new experience for many. A tape dispenser alone offers a challenge, and then learning to connect two pieces of paper with one piece of placed tape, without getting it all stuck together.
These rituals and skills of Valentine making, and giving children the opportunity to “do” is no different from all the other learning experiences. Except this one, this project has the ultimate impetus of love.
Hidden in all the rigor of managing materials, using new tools, staying focused for extended periods, and persevering in new tasks is the anticipation of giving.
I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?
You try answering it, let alone only being on this planet 3 to 4 years!
Their responses were moving, thoughtful, and thought provoking.
The multi-layered work they did gave me opportunities to assess many skills. Language, connection to content and comprehension, fine motor skills, following multiple-step directions, staying focused to complete tasks, overcoming difficulty.
Their conversations and language went deep, and they became a small connected group in conversation.
The children were motivated. Love.
Working with the medically fragile children,I can clearly state love also is a part of learning. I have a weekly challenge of bringing materials-based experiences that bring joy, discovery, and that each child can in some way participates in.
Each child must also feel safe enough to trust all the strange sounds, textures, mess, and sights that I entice, cajole, engage, and impose on them. Love.
In the PreK classes, there is a long-term project that has had it’s starts and stops and starts and stops again as holidays and winter storms came and went.
It’s Fairy Houses.
It started as a way to work on engineering and building sturdy structures.
It was developed to engage the children in looking closely and seeing natural materials as viable materials and metaphors in expressing themselves.
I want the children to notice and be able to differentiate between artificial and natural materials.
I want them to realize that constructing is multi-layered, requiring understanding of space, gravity, and design.
I want the children to think about when something needs to be drilled as opposed to hammered or glued, and how to determine what drill bit is best.
I want them to realize you can only work on one side at a time, one three dimensional surface.
I want them to have the experience of extended periods of making that allow enough repetition that they can master parts and press on to harder and more demanding solutions and ideas.
I wanted them to have time and space to step away before they make their next decision. Time to interact and share with each other.
It is happening.
It is the love of this work that is motivating them to continue to come in and get to work. It is theirs.
It is theirs because the very intentional long-term studio practice and habits have transformed them into children that are independently able to take the next step on their own, or with the help of a friend. They are able to build upon their competencies and go deeper.
One work period, there was a commotion and excitement: It’s a rainbow! The fairies did it! I think they are already visiting our houses. They are visiting my house, I know. They are going to visit everyone’s house! We made them a fairy city! Wait, it went away!
Where did it go?
“In a culture obsessed with measuring talent, ability, and potential, we often overlook the important role of inspiration in enabling potential.
Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Inspiration may sometimes be overlooked because of its elusive nature. Its history of being treated as supernatural or divine hasn’t helped the situation. But as recent research shows, inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.” –Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.,
Co-founder of The Creativity Post; Author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined
If you are inspired, you love something. That something is what allows you to override the difficulties and setbacks, the mistakes and frustrations. This love of something/inspiration is the necessary foundation for perseverance to occur when the work is hard.
These rooms filled with collections began before museums existred in the 15th century. After looking at objects as having meaning with their families, I wanted to present the experience of how people have historically looked at objects and have access to objects.
A trip was planned to go to The Walters Museum to view their Cabinet of Wonder. I began to ask hard questions again. Instead of What is love? It was What is wonder, What is Curiosity? What do you think a Cabinet of Curiosity or Wonder is?
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Isaiah: Something you open up and there’s stuff inside. Can we open it?
What is “wonder”?
Maggie: It’s when you think inside your head about something that you love.
Mira: I don’t think you love something you wonder about because if you are curious you don’t know about it. So you don’t love it, yet.
Can we make a Cabinet of Curiosity ourselves?!!
That’s a really interesting idea.
How about if you start by thinking of a time you were outside of Washington, DC. Think about an object of wonder from somewhere you visited. It can be something you saw, found, or bought that you would NOT encounter in DC.
Willa: I was in the woods. I don’t know where but it was outside Washington, DC and I found this leaf with yellow and orange and I brought it home.
Mira: I saw a jellyfish n Florida
Ainsley: At Cape Cod Beach, a wave.
Maggie: A dead snail in a seashell in New York, where the Statue of Liberty is.
Ibby: A sand dollar at the beach house, I don’t know where but I’ll ask.
Noah: I saw a dead shark at the beach.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Rowan: A cabinet and you wonder what’s inside of it.
Audrey: A drawer.
Dominic: A place where you can keep all your treasures.
Lusa: A cabinet you open and wonder what it is for.
Tate: You guess what’s inside it. If you don’t get it right, you don’t open it.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Isaac: It means you go in it and it feels fun and there’s all kinds of delicate stuff.
Percy: It’s a tunnel and it has weird weird stuff and you wonder in your brain what it is.
Collette: I think it has toy Barbie’s and a toy museum.
Jordan: Maybe it has dinosaur bones.
Lucinda: I think it has tiaras and crowns.
What is wonder?
Evan: Wonder is something you see and you really like it but you don’t know what it is.
Sonora: Wonder means you know something but you don’t know what it is.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Ryan: A room with lots of collections.
Eric: All different stuff from old times.
Tali: I think it’s like a place where you keep really cool stuff. Wondering is thinking about the cool stuff you see.
Hazel: I think a Cabinet of Wonder is where lots of people wonder, What’s in it?
Eric: Yeah, like people say, “What is this?”
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Aurora: When you open a cabinet and you wonder about it a lot.
Gabriel M.: I think it’s something you wonder about, you just think.
Liam: It means you don’t have any idea what’s in the cabinet.
Samuel: I think it’s a person inside a cabinet.
Madeline: If you heard there was something inside the cabinet and you didn’t know what it means, you wonder what it’s about.
Gabriel: Curious is Wonder!
(At the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD)
The Kindergarten children went on the road trip to The Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD.
While there, children went on a scavenger hunt, picked three objects to sketch (to later be written into classroom “Wonder Stories,”) engaged in a strory-telling circle inspired by the objects around them, and were read books about mummies and armor as they sat surrounded by the real objects.
They LOVED this.
Each child found inspiration that resonated within from the walls of the Cabinet of Wonder.
Children, parent chaperones, and teachers returned from the trip with ideas, excitement, and enthusiasm. We also came back with rich resources to take this project in divergent directions.
I explained that travel used to be just for a very few rich people. Most people never left where they lived. That meant, if you were born n Washington, DC, at a time before museums, you would not see a Palm Tree or a desert. You would only see the geography and culture of the people who you lived with. Unless you had the opportunity to visit a very wealthy person’s Cabinet of Wonder.
Prior to the trip, the children were already planning to create their own Cabinet of Curiosity. The children pulled out their sketches of an object they saw, collected, or bought when traveling outside of Washington, DC. These objects range from Grandpa’s old toy collection on a shelf in Pennsylvania to tall buildings with TV screens in NYC to an outdoor shower in North Carolina.
Wanting to put this in a context to make them aware also of Georgraphy, the children have begun a new strand of this project. They mapped where their personal object of wonder is located on a map in the studio.
What is a map?
Liam: It’s something to find out where something is.
Madeline: It shows you different countries and cities.
Gabriel: To lead you where you want to go.
Samuel: Sometimes you get what you want. Like treasure. It shows you with arrows. Like a pirate map.
Benjamin: It helps you how to get home.
Looking at the map and noticing the land and water, Isabel added this: There’s less where we can stand and more where we can drown.
Rowan: If you want to go to a jungle, you might want to look at a map.
Tate: A map is so if you get lost or if you wanna see where the world is.
Riley: A map is to look ahead.
Lusa: To see where you are.
Only two children out of two classes knew where to find a location on the maps.
Percy new exactly where Idaho was. He told me he has a map puzzle so that’s why he knows. The other kids were very interested in how far Idaho was. With hints, eventually all the locations were found. A world map was added because several children had objects of wonder outside the US, like Audrey, Ryan, Madeline. and more.
Most children are growing up with GPS devices as their maps. How does this effect the concept of mapping and the related lessons that Geography brings?
“Students aren’t learning subjects such as geography and history as teachers spend more time on math and reading to accommodate standardized tests, said Roger M. Downs, a Pennsylvania State University geography professor.
As “classroom time becomes an even more precious and scarce commodity, geography, with subjects such as history and the arts, is losing out in the zero-sum game that results from high- stakes testing,” Downs said in a statement released with the results.”
“Geography “provides the context for understanding many of the complex social, political and economic relationships that exist in our world,” said Garrison.”
Having the maps has created cross-fertilazation for all children using the studio.
Every group seems to question and interact with the display of maps. Just last week a three year old said to me, “…hey, why do you have these planets on the wall?”
The individual Objects of Wonder are now a blueprint for creating a Kindergarten Cabinet of Curiosity.
Similar to the Fairy house project, with more complexity-the children are slowly developing what steps to do next as they begin to visually represent in the context of the 15th-17th Century phenomenon.
Repurposed cigar boxes, some broken apart are being transformed.
For many, it means following plans to create and determine background colors that makes sense for the object.
Using clay, representations are being made and added as a three dimensional object to fit inside the cabinet. Scale, correct use of craft to ensure the clay objects are strong, and thought to making the clay clearly express their idea are just some of the challenges the children are facing.
Percy making the log home he stayed in when in Idaho with his family. Kamrin working on representing a wall of stuffed animals of every sort he saw in Virginia. Lilah trying to figure out how to create the outdoor shower she saw. The children who experienced the ornate cabinets and chambers filled with cabinets at The Walters Museum are also using mosaic and gold and silver paint to give their cabinet a historic design. Every child has to manage where they are in the project, what materials they need, how to use, care for, and clean up the materials, what to do next, and what to do when something falls apart, or just doesn’t work out.
Love in learning is not an “extra”. Children who are motivated will push themselves to persevere in all domains of learning when they have the drive to do so. Isn’t that the same for adults?
“A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love”
(I would also say in the school context, A caring provocation will unlock a room inside the people you love and teach.)
The act of teaching, parenting, and being in a relationship is the ability to provoke both understanding and expression.
How often have parents said to me, “My child never tells me what they did all day. How do you get them to do this?”
Here’s some examples from the article
“How did you feel during your spelling test?
What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?
Did you feel lonely at all today?
Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?
And I never ask my friends: How are you? Because they don’t know either.
Instead I ask:
How is your mom’s chemo going?
How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?
What’s going really well with work right now?”
This article concludes by saying
“Questions are like gifts – it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become. “
That’s because when I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?, Miles’ response summed up the above text.
This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.
look like lamps.
The snowflakes look like stars.” –Maya, PreSchool 3
For me, it is thrilling in the context of the work I do with children. This isn’t a slushy kinda cold season, this year it is frost and sparkle and whiteness from ice, snow, and salt that changes the entire space both inside and out. It is felt from toes to nose.
I recently watched an interview of Carla Rinaldi, one of the visionaries who helped develop the pre-primary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
She says, “School is an expression of the vision and values of a community.”
School as an EXPRESSION of vision and values.
This idea resonates deeply with me. In fact, since hearing this phrase I have co-opted it as my definition of school and my practice in the Atelier (and community) at SWS.
It allows me to quickly reflect and re-shift during the day. I can reflect, “Do my deeds, actions, and interactions express my values right now?”
What a treasure these words are.
So much of the planning and discourse at SWS is centered on an expression of values.
On December 20th, 2013 SWS celebrated Winter Solstice. This is a special ritual in our school. It is anticipated, talked about, and I am pretty sure will be a memory when the children leave our school.
Every year children begin in advance creating lanterns that transform the environment on the awaited day.
This year, children made photo transfers on recycled glass jars. The preparation and process was enthralling.
For the youngest children, it is difficult to explore how the light changes, the gradual creeping darkness is not apparent to them yet. Their memories of late summer evenings of light is difficult for them to remember.
So how did I explore with the 3 year olds? I made a cave. And in this cave (like a bear) we went. In this dark cozy place I read a book about light rituals around the world. Quickly each child became excited to talk about Christmas or Chanukah. I then introduced a very hard concept for the youngest children in our school. I asked each to hold the lantern and make a wish or say something kind about SOMEONE ELSE. At first it was really hard. “I wish for my Mom to buy me _____” was an oft heard phrase. With some support and further questioning children began to think of others near and dear.
Peyton: I wish my mommy has a good day.
Liam: I wish Santa brings my mommy and daddy presents.
Scarlett: I wish for mommy and daddy to play with me.
Lincoln: I love Nate.
Nate: I wish my family don’t get sick.
Winter, a hibernating time, is an optimal season to help children reflect in new ways. It is an ideal time to develop and practice capacities to broaden their thoughts.
The shared experience in the “cave” gave time and care to thinking about seasonal changes to a 3 and 4 year old’s world in a relevant way. Sinatra: Its scary when there’s no light. When it’s dark you need light. A ghost might be hiding. So the light makes you not scared.
The day of Solstice is almost epic in scope at SWS. It is shear beauty and light.
It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.
Everyone is in pajamas and the smell of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and maple syrup eminates.
In the studio, the annual Solstice Ceremony and Ritual occurs.
There is almost a reverence when the children join hands to make wishes, dance, give wishes, and receive a small pendant/symbol which reminds them that they are indeed a shining star in the universe. That they are connected and interconnected to each other, the community, their families, the natural elements, and the greater world
This year, when children returned after two weeks of holiday, the cold weather increased.
I continued the exploration of these great changes with the children, all the children.
In this fashion of learning, the one day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.
What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.
Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.
Winter, Solstice &
The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.
You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.
On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.
The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.
The winter is white and you have to put on your snow jacket, your snow boots, your snow mittens, and your snow hat. In the summer you just go out and play!
We make lanterns.
People put up wreaths on their doors. So when people walk by they can see the door is decorated.
-Myles T., PreK
We stay happy by playing inside. –Anias, PreK
Yeah, like we play Pass the Bean Ball. –Melin
On Winter Solstice you go in pajamas and celebrate the night and the sun.
And my Dad makes turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice. Does your family make turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice?
In the summer the plants come back to life.
-Bryce B., PreK
People decorate their homes with light.
Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.
Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.
I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.
People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.
Scarlet’s ice art : “I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3 The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.
“The years are changing. They go by so fast.”
And I for one am listening. This is the definition of school. What’s yours?
If you work with young children, you know there are many opportunities to experience emotions.
Last month I was working on a project with some 1st graders. The provocation was to plan a story without writing the details or the the ending.
Why? Well, I noticed the 1st graders had figured out how to draw and make graphic representations well enough, to respond quickly to pretty much any prompt or observation. However, their ideas and drawing were somewhat static. The figures (even though well done) seemed to be a stuck at the same level and their story development was not stretching them.
I wanted to know what would happen if each page, a part of the plan was tackled slowly and thoughtfully through a new process.
First, I asked them to look at their story plan and only draw the setting part. “If you said it was winter what needs to be remembered? If you have a location of Washington DC, how do I know it from the picture? If it is night time, show it.”
I was surprised that I had to teach them to “read” or evaluate what they had drawn, to see if it made sense. Having the plan to refer to , made this facilitation quickly become an independent process. Instead of saying, “I’m done!” and me asking “how do you know?” and them responding “Because I did it,” the responses became more intentional, such as “They all have mittens and coats, and there’s snow and a sidewalk, and rowhouses.”
The next time in the art studio the focus was on facial expressions.
Emma Clare, “It’s when you show how you feel on your face.”
Using mirrors and books as resources and really practicing and noticing, the children checked their plan to see if they needed to represent an expression that was happy, sad, surprising…
Carrington for several tries drew a U shaped bottom lip and a parralel line for the top lip. Hmmmm, I would say, I’m not seeing an expression of happiness or laughter. I am seeing the same smile you always draw. I want you to push yourself and solve this. I kept prompting, look closely at your top lip in the mirror. What shape is it making? She became extremely agitated, “I don’t know what to do!”. After several attempts and nearing frustration, she realized the top lip is (unbelievably) shaped like a traditional frown line! Once she figured this out, she was elated. She also began helping her peers to see the same thing.
Xavier developed a technique of puposeful smudging, after he accidently dripped some ink on his page. This became a great resource for all the kids once shared.
Maya concentrated looking in the mirror longer than many of her peers. All of a sudden she looked up at me, with tears streaming down her face-but smiling!
“Look Ms. McLean, I practiced being sad so hard, tears came out!”
Another time in the art studio, I asked them to pull out their story idea or plan and tell me, where they go to in their story.
I then asked them to try to walk, run, skip to their imagined place based on the 1st drawing figures in the setting page. It was hilarious acting out walking with both arms straight out and legs locked straight as well. Thus became the exploration of joints, viewpoint, and action. How does the body work? What do arms do when one walks? How often are both feet on the ground when one is moving? How does one look when being viewed sideways?
This process was extremely difficult.While the intention was to help children think about movement, expression and observation, it became about perseverence.
She believes there are some simple steps to boost creativity:
Teach kids how to be happy.
While this might be simple, it is far more complex. Happiness is a set of skills that must be learned. She asks, “How’s that problem solving going when you are angry?”
The first place to start is LETTING KIDS FAIL. Children must be taught the skills, thinking and coping for when things don;t go as planned.
When children do not learn these skills, they hide mistakes, feel shame, expect others (parents/teachers) to “fix” things for them, and in teen years self-medicate through alcohal and drugs.
“No one is entitled to a life free from pain. ” says Christine Carter.
It is necessary to develop grit and persistance. Mistakes are opportunity.
Before one of the studio sessions, I had a conference with Alysia Scofield (one of the 1st grade teachers.) She expressed that many of her kids were quick to crumple up or dispose of any work when they experience any mistake, instead of working through the hard parts and transforming mistakes or trying to solve the problem. For this reason, I started the class by saying that if you make a mistake, you would not be able to grab another piece of paper today. Instead, you would need to figure out how to make a mistake into something wonderful.
I gave some examples of accidently dropping a big puddle of ink on my drawing. What could I turn this into? Silence.
What about a flower? A hole? A tree? A rug? In fact, the image became more interesting with the transformed mistake.Soon kids were making innovative suggestions.
“Ask each other for ideas! Artists always do that!”
Shortly after, Maya made some type of “mistake” and asked for another paper. I reminded her that this was the challenge, to turn the mistake into something else. She was not happy. She proceeded to ask, then beg for another piece of paper. I encouraged her to ask friends for suggestions. I told her she could ask me for suggestions if she wanted some. Friends began to chime in with innovative solutions. No.
In that moment, she became so angry, she began to cry, and ask and then return to begging for another piece of paper.
These are moments when you have to make a split second decision. I took a risk, “Maya, I know you can solve this problem. Everyone here is willing to make suggestions. I am so sorry you are feeling frustrated, however, I will not be giving you another piece of paper today. You are welcome to go get a drink of water or take a break if that helps too.”
Katie went over to give her a hug as she returned to drawing silently. She skipped free time and continued drawing, for a long time. Then she looked up at me. “I’m done.”
“Can I see?”
“What do you think?” I asked
“It’s the best drawing I have ever done.” replied Maya, with a huge grin.
“I am really proud of you, you didn’t give up, you worked through the hard part, and now you feel really good.”
“It’s my best drawing ever.”
Hard. But not hard for hard-sake.
Another step in teaching kids these skills of developing the abilty to persevere is: Reducing Stress through Compassion.
Instead of focusing on the child/self (What did you do? Did you do your best? Were you line leader? Did you know the answer? Let me see yours) broaden kids capacity and vocabulary for compassion or the “other” with simple daily rituals.
Here’s two questions to ask your children everynight at the dinner table (and the rest of your family members and self too!)
“What’s one thing you did for someone today?”
“What’s one kind thing someone did for you today?”
The brain has a funny way of returning to neural passages ways again and again and again in times of stress or failure. This determines response. When kids (and adults) default to the ways in which they are supported and helped on a constant basis, they are able to frame or perceive problems differently.
Instead of defaulting to “Well he did it first!, or I couldn’t do it because the teacher wouldn’t give me more paper”, the child defaults to “Oh, I made a mistake, how can I fix it or make it better, who can help me solve this?”
Last week, I made a mistake. Somehow I completely skipped a studio group in Mr. Jere’s room the previous week. When I saw the skipped group, I said, “Ms. McLean made a horrible mistake. I had to change some groups around last week, and I completely skipped you! I feel terrible, because now you have double the work to do. In the future, please say something to me if you think you were skipped. I feel really bad. Grown-ups make mistakes too. I am so sorry.”
“That’s ok Ms. McLean.” replied Harvey, “Now you know what to do!”
The PreK’s have been working on the very long process of creating Soundsuits, inspired by artists Nick Cave.
Once again, this is a project that takes tremendous perseverance.
Because I noticed the lure of the tools in the studio, the project started with an ankle piece.
I use real tools with students, and they needed to flatten the bottle caps and then use an awl to put a hole in it.
Dominc: “This is hard work. I’m gonna sweat!”
While some children were energized by the heavy work, others were fatigued. The amount of sensory inout and output varies from child to child. It is my job to notice who is awakened by this work, and remember to use this as an adaptation. At the same time, for those who fatigue early with heavy work, I notate who needs support to develop their core strength.
When Samuel found his name on a bottlecap he was thrilled. Suddenly, everyone was looking closely at what was printed on the bottlecaps. Soon anchors, elephants and “this is almost my name ” were seen. This act encouraged not only literacy and observation skills, but an understanding and acknowledgment of the extraordinary found in the ordinary.
The work on this project vacillated between focused heavy big work and small focused actions.
Attaching the bottle caps and beads so they create percussion, was once again difficult.
While this proved frustrating to many, Lucinda seemed to respond to the sequencing and constant twisting and connecting. Her Sound Suit ankle was overflowing with sound. She also was able to help others. Everyone in each group has a strength. Everyone has many challenges. By remembering that Lucinda can help peers in this part of the project, she is also able to receive help at other times. This is the culture that must be nurtured and taught in order for kids to be able to handle mistakes.
In every part of this project, every time someone completed a part, and tested it out- the perseverance quotient heightened.
Next it was time to revisit the artist Nick Cave’s work.
I started by asking “What is a suit?”
First I got blank stares and silence. Then slowly ideas emerged. This is the power of a group. It promotes formulating remembering, and responding in a social and conversational construct. It gives each participant a wider breath of looking at topics.,
“A bathing suit! ” Tate
“Superman wears a suit!” Liam
“A costume is like a suit.” Dylan
“My Dad wears a suit!” Audrey and Maddie expressed this in separate groups
“A coat you wear. Something you put on your whole body so people will notice you.” Gabriel (In Jere’s class)
Next, I showed them some videos of Nick Cave’s creations in action and still.
When I stated, “It will take a long time to make your own sound suit.”
Levi shouted out, “Its like the fish!”
He was able to connect the persistance needed to complete the wire project to the ideas of this new project. Hard. But not hard for hard-sake.
This is Eric using his Sound Suit idea plan to figure out what color he needs to select. He is shown using the tape on the table to measure the strips.
The concept that designing an object means more then one view is one leap these learners must learn or “read.” When I first proposed the template for designing the Sound Suits with a two-figure graphic, Mira was the first to figure it out. “Is that the front and the back of the shirt?”
This new way of thinking about a two-sided design using a one-sided paper was also hard.
Aksel was thrilled by the opportunity to alter the design. “Mine will have wings, look!” And he drew the colors so they looped like wings. So many adults do not realize that young children have strong ideas. It is when they have the time, facilitation and the culture to create original ideas that they come to fruition and visibility.
Next, the fabricating of the Sound Suits.
I broke down this part of the project into small bits. First, just weaving the flagging tape through the front and back collar. (Myself and a cadre of parent volunteers snipped two parallel snips for each strip to go through.)
Once again, this was difficult. many kids put the strips in backwards, or had trouble using two hands to manipulate threading the strips through the front and back of the shirt.
Using intentional language and uploading,
When I heard, “This is hard, I can’t do it!”
“Can’t is a bad word in the art studio-it stops you. What can you say instead?”
“This will be difficult. That’s ok. You can take a skipping break down the hall and return, you can stand, you can sit, you can shake your hands, you can jump. Everytime you come it will get a little less hard. The practice will make it easier for you to do. And when you do something hard, and complete it, you feel soooo good because your brain has grown, and you know you can do the hard parts.”
“I’m not very good at this.”
I replied, “That’s because you’ve never done it before. Stick with it, you’ll see, it will start making sense.”
“What are some things you can do when you are stuck?” (Ask for suggestions from other kids and adults, express that it is tricky and I need help, express it is frustrating because you are not alone, it is for hard for someone else in the group too.)
After two to three studio times of adding the collar and sleeves, I told the kids they could try the Sound Suits on.
When the first group tried to attach the flagging tape to the mid section of the shirt, it was too hard. The oversized shirts become just a mess of fabric when trying to find the inside. In this case, hard was just too hard. At this point I came up with a solution that I had a hunch might work.
Embroidery hoops! You can see this allowed for many opportunities to try techniques, and allowed the children to maneuver the strips through successfully.
I am intentionally changing the culture, wheras asking for suggestions is applauded as opposed to a sign of weakness. Wheras it is exciting when someone figures out a way that works for them, and it is shared as a resource for all.
Gabriel (in Ms. Hannah’s class) was having a hard time persevering. He complained and procrastinated. Maybe this felt too big or overwhelming so I helped him break it down further.
“Gabriel, why don’t you put four strips through the sound suit and then take skip all the way down the hall and back. You can do this each time.”
This helped. Then he started slowing down again.
“Hey Gabriel, how about you count out the strips you are using before you start, just four!”
“I’m gonna do a pattern!”
He returned to the work with energy.
All of a sudden I noticed he was talking as he worked, “In the lava, out the lava, in the water, out the water …”
His flagging tape became a metaphor and a mantra, and he worked to completion.
In the lava out the lava, in the water out the water. Hard, but not hard for hard-sake.
Working in collaboration with Movement Teacher, Shannon Dunne the kids are developing a new conversation with movement and patterns, their selves not as their selves but these “rainbow beings.”
(A flash mob in Eastern Market is being planned in a few weeks, an opportunity to bring these rainbow beings into the unsuspecting daily lives of the public.)
Here’s a peek at Shannon with Mr. Jere’s class taking turns watching two classmates have a conversation using their body and ankle Sound Suit piece “Remember and think about how one person talks while one person listens, and then you respond and say something. In this conversation you are doing the same thing, but you are using your body and no words to talk.”
See how attentive the rest of the class is.
This idea of choreography surfaced in the studio.
“Look Ms. McLean! ” said Aurora, “Look how to move.
and Half Moon!”
Now that so much progress is being made, they can’t wait to try out the Sound Suits in progress for anyone who will look, teachers, kids in the halls, and especially their classroom teachers and their peers.
Hard isn’t good for hard-sake. But hard is good within the context of a project that encourages not only personal growth but the development of a culture of shared community struggle and JOY!
The Sound Suits are not so interesting on their own, it is within the group that the emotions and purpose soar. It is the development of a community creating an identity as a group of rainbow beings that make this powerful.