Making ripples and Butterfly Flights

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

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

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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

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

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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.

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

“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK

“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK

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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!

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

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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.

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“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.

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“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

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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

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

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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

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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

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

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

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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?

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“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.

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Because you need to. Because you want to.

Because you need to. Because you want to.

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Because we love each other

Because we love each other

It’s hard to believe that I have not posted since November!
It’s not for lack of work. It’s because the projects, the creativity, the trips, the collaborations, have been expansive and mindblowing.
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So much good stuff, that I have no idea how to edit down the myriad experiences and post!
Not a bad problem to have.

Instead, I am posting the last 2 days in the Studio/Atelier.
I provoked conversation with every small group (PK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten) using the same exact question:
Who does Washington DC belong to?
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Each group, at each specific developmental range showed great thought, engagement, and care.
Through small groups, trusted relationships, and the SWS Reggio-inspired environment, the children have all learned how to engage in conversation. Even at age 3!
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School Within School is a part of a year long research project (with 9 other DC private and public schools) out of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero. The DC city-wide project is titled, Children are Washington DC Citizens. 
I sent the documentation of these conversations to the project researchers and facilitators, Ban Mardel and Mara Krachevsky. Ben emailed me this morning: 

Marla,
I read the conversations and then shared them with my family, who of course, thought they were fantastic. 
Confirmation that we all do have something to learn from young children. 
Ben

I hope you will take the time to read the following conversations.
They are best viewed if you zoom in to 150-200 percent. (Sorry I crammed everything in a little tight)
The progression is Kindergarten, then PreK4, and then PreK3. They are best when read aloud.
Let me know what you hear, what you think, and what you wonder in the comment section below. Let’s extend these conversations…

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Kindergarten Conversations
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PreK 4 Conversations
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PreK 3 Conversations
Slide14Slide15Slide16Slide17Even after 20 years of doing this work with such young humans, or perhaps because of 20 years doing this work, I am both enthralled and humbled by the power of their reflection, connection, and expression. This work offers educators and parents an opportunity to see/hear the mindfulness of young children. 


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I will spend time with the childrens’ thoughts and images. I will formulate more questions and interpretations. It (the documentation) is an opportunity to see the child individually and as part of a group/community. It is teacher research. It is progressive education. It is, as Emerson says, because we love each other.

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This Work Reminds Me of Flying

This Work Reminds Me of Flying

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The Prek 3 Classes have emabarked on a project. The children started talking about “statues” a few months ago when I had them working on a collaborative wire sculpture in the studio. Their excitement about seeing sculptures and statues in Washington, DC got the classroom teachers and I planning a trip to the National Sculpture Garden. They already “owned” the sculptures in their neighborhoods and parks, we were curious on how they would own sculptures in a formal DC space. This documentation sheds some light and reflection on the ongoing experiences.


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From seeds

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
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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.

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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.
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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.)

All These Questions Are Love

This is the view from my window right now.
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Another snow day.

A day to reflect and catch up on blogging.

 February just ended.

It’s when the Love Fairy visits SWS.
love fairy 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.

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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.
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The concentration and dexterity paired with the tactile feel proved to be worth the focus. Every child stuck with their sewn Valentine through completion. 
IMG_4679The next week the children beaded, made a card, and wrapped the Valentine.
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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.
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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.

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I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?

 

Hard question.

 

You try answering it, let alone only being on this planet 3 to 4 years!

 

Their responses were moving, thoughtful, and thought provoking.
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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.
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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.
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I want the children to notice and be able to differentiate between artificial and natural materials.
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I want them to realize that constructing is multi-layered, requiring understanding of space, gravity, and design.

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 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.

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I want them to realize you can only work on one side at a time, one three dimensional surface.

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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.

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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.

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It is happening.

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It is the love of this work that is motivating them to continue to come in and get to work. It is theirs.

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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.

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One work period, there was a commotion and excitement:
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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.

 

The Kindergarten children have been engaged in a project inspired by The Cabinet of Curiosity or Wonder.

These rooms filled with collections began before museums existred in the 15th century. 
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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?

 Anyone else?

 Silence.

 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.

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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.
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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.
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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?”

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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)
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The Kindergarten children went on the road trip to The Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD.

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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.

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They LOVED this.

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Each child found inspiration that resonated within from the walls of the Cabinet of Wonder.

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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.

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Mapping. 

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.

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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.
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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.
Madeline maps Japan

ryan mapping

 ryan mapping costa rica

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?

 
Here is an article that shows an alarming trend, American Schoolchildren Appear Lost in Latest Study of Geography Aptitude

 From this article,

 “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.”

 and

 “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.

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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.
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Kamrin working on representing a wall of stuffed animals of every sort he saw in Virginia.
Kamrin making stuffed animals
Lilah trying to figure out how to create the outdoor shower she saw.
Lilah outdoor clay shower
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.
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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?

 I am ending the post with an article I read recently, Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions. Before you skip the rest because it sounds like a horrible self-help text consider the subtitle:

 “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. “

 Sound familiar?

That’s because when I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?,  Miles’ response summed up the above text.

 He said:

“All these questions are love.”

heart horizontal(Early Childhood sanctioned hall graffiti. 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The years are changing. They go by so fast.” Sophie, Kindergarten

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It’s cold.

It’s winter so it is to be expected.

This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.

“The icicles

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.

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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.
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 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
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 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.

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In this fashion of learning, the one  day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.

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What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.

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Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.

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Conversations

About

Winter,  Solstice &

The Changing

Light

The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.

–Sasha, PreK
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 You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.

-Harvey, Kindergarten

 

On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.

-Geraye, Kindergarten
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 The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.

-Jack, PreK

 

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!

-Quinn, PreK

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We make lanterns.

-Edwin, PreK

 

 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?

-Brandon, PreK

 

 In the summer the plants come back to life.

-Bryce B., PreK

 
People decorate their homes with light.

-Maddie

 

Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.

-Kamrin, Kindergarten

 

Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.

-Gabriel F.-F.

 

I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.

-Lilah, Kindergarten
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People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.

-Sophie, Kindergarten

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Scarlet’s ice art :
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“I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3
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The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.

 “The years are changing. They go by so fast.”

-Sophie, Kindergarten

And I for one am listening.
This is the definition of school.
What’s yours?
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The Uncommon

“We react to weather in relative rather than absolute fashion,” said Laurence S. Kalkstein, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami. “The uncommon is what bothers us.”
(From the Washington Post article, Shriver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test)

But, I wondered, what if the “uncommon”  polar vortex that changed the DC metro area could be transformed into a temporary wonderful, magical, and stunning curiosity?
For the children and community of SWS, this small poetic gesture was offered.
Frozen Sun catchers.

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May you encounter the uncommon with all your senses
May it fill you with wonder
And joy
May you pass it forward
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