A careful considerate gaze or I am because you are

Here’s some links to explore connections:

To  explore the concept of Ubuntu

Link to NAREA (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance)

Link to Global Children at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero

Link to Brenee Brown

Link to article on Curiosity

Much love! And feel free to respond below and start a conversation.

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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Bigger and Better than Ourselves: Humility

I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.

I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.

This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)

Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.

Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
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Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
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Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight. 
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Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
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Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.

From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…

(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
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At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at  the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
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The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
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The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
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The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
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Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?

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Humility.

Simple Definition of humility

 the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble

When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.

Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste. 
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
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The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”

Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”

Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.

A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
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And why is humility important?

 

Ever wonder about injustice?

Ever wonder about creation?

Ever wonder about relationships?

Ever wonder about the environment?

Ever wonder about invention?

Ever wonder about the unknown?

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Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.

I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed. 
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“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”

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

I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…

Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.

Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.

They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way. 
IMG_3560Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.

(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name  your skin?”)
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Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
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I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.

Here are some of the awe-filled results:

Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking:  “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
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This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
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This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
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This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
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Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.

This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.

This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.

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

IMG_5239 (Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)

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I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.

“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”

And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”

Why?

Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.

It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with.  These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
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And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?

Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”

Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
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Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.

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

Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
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and replaces it with creative capacities 
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 to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
IMG_4508IMG_4496Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
IMG_4411Bigger and better than ourselves.

Because you need to. Because you want to.

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Focusing on love.

In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
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For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
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For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
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Research is in my favor here.
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Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
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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.
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Love.
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This is not a flaky word.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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I would say everything.
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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?
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What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
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You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
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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!

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What else is a bad word?
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Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
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Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
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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.
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This is love.
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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.
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Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
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Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
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Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
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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.
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The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
IMG_0986Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Sebastian: “Why?”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”

And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
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Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
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Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
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Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
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for the fulfillment is in the experience,
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in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
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Love.

I am not alone in my research.

Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking,  on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
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Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
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Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder,  writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
IMG_1199To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”

Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
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This year I’m focusing on love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.
cardThis 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.
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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.

josh table

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.

drill partners

Zeke

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. 
cabinet b and w
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.

cabinet web

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.
book

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.
wonder web3

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?”

cabinet web4

 

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)
whole chamber

 

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

 riley

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.

dylan and tate2dylan and Tate
gabriel m and Tibbie
They LOVED this.

wondering

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

looking
cobra
draw
chamber
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.

mapping
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.

audrey maps
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.
Idaho Percymap us
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.

paint
painting
Aksel paint
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.
percy plans
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.
mosaic
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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.” -Aurora

I love the lights. I unapologetically love the visual bliss this season brings.
lights
I could do without the barage of advertisements, mailings, and catalogs that bombard me to buy stuff. It’s a lot of paper to put in recycling. The advertisements geared towards children often sicken me. Gender-specific everything saddens me.

And then there is the disturbing trend to market computers to children as young as infants like in the case of the ipad bouncy seat

Despite all this consumerism, I love the collections of paintings and objects I’ve accumulated from my travels that surround me, my new boots bought online, and treasured gifts from friends. 

This blog is about an ongoing project called Objects and Meaning.
It is the perfect antidote to the season as we admire, buy and succomb to all the stuff around us.

This project idea came about because I am enrolled in a year-long course (with Kindergarten teacher Mr. Jere) with The Smithsonian Museum of American History called Pass it Forward Teacher Institute. This Institute encourages Object Driven Curriculum to teach History. My  challenge is to take this older elementary and up process and make it relevent to young children. (Ms. Hannah was thrilled with the ideas Jere and I proposed and has joined in this exploration.)

In both Hannah and Jere’s Kindergarten classroom, children talked about collections, made a collection box, and in each classroom approached personal collections in a unique way.

I saw the children thrilled with their boxes of collected stuff. But, do children see collections outside of their own personal stuff?

I tested this question by asking the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they are walking into their home. I asked them to look around their home but NOT go into their bedroom or playroom. What collections do your family have? What collections would I see if I came in their home for the first time?

It was hard.

“My family doesn’t have any collections.”

I heard this in every small group.

“Look in your kitchen, your family room, where you eat, even your closets. I believe every family has collections.”

home tate

Slowly the light came on! Children began to figure this provocation out and SEE.

Gabriel M.  was really stuck. Finally with some scaffolding questions, he said, “I got it!”
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Dylan sat for a long time, maybe a half hour. 
“My family does not have any collections, they don’t have any stuff they picked up and collected.”
His definition was defined by going on nature walks and “collecting.” Once I explained that collections can be found, bought, or received he immediately got it!
“My family has a collection of glass bottles.”

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How often are children interpreting questions in a way that makes them stuck?  Once Dylan and I had the conversation, he immediately visualized a collection in his home.
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home sonora
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The awareness to see  a collection of others (in this case their family) is a form of empathy. The noticing of  the other, their lives, likes and interests can be observed if you take the time to notice.

I decided to read Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to kickstart the children into a  deeper provocation concerning Objects and Meaning.
This book would be the first foray into history.
It begins, “She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The book tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to America. The shovel is a constant on every page from farming, to  keeping the food and home warm due to the shoveling of coal into the stove, to helping her in a flood, to clearing a skating rink. The shovel is present through marriage, mid-life, old age and the death of her husband, and birth of her children and grandchildren.

The book ends with the opening line, “”She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The children were absolutely spellbound by this book.

I then handed the children a sheet of paper with two rectangles.

I instructed them: “Right now you are going to pretend. You must leave Washington DC immediately and move to another country. Your family and pets will come with you. Your parents have packed your clothes, food, and water.

What is the one object you will choose?”
thinkingand after you do that, “What is the one object you think your parent/parents will choose?”

Some children knew immeditely what they would choose, while others thought long and hard. 
Thinking about what their parents would bring was even more difficult for many of the children. 
willa hw
I decided to share this exercise at Thanksgiving Dinner in my home this year. 
I excplained The Miss Bridie premise and asked my family, “What would would you take as your one object?”
Some guests said, I just don’t know.
My son immediately said, “My guitar, I could earn money, bring people music, and keep busy.”
My husband said “…for survival, my GPS watch”, my daughter said, “Surprisingly, I would not pick something sentimental, I would choose something useful to help us out, like a rope.” My 81 year old father said, “All my photos and work are on a cloud that I could retrieve. So, I think I would choose something from when me and your Mom first began our relationship, an early photo album.” My mom said, “Hmmm, I just don’t know.” About 20 minutes later she said, “I got it! I would bring a deck of cards!” I said, “I think I would bring Grandma’s rolling pin. Mom let me have it when I left for college. It has moved with me on every move and made may deserts and breads. And it has multiple uses.” My daughter looked at me, “But what about your rocking chair.” Hard decision…

Try it out with your family  or friends. it made for a wonderful dinner conversation.

The next progression of this project was, drum role please…ART STUDIO HOMEWORK.
hw folderChildren created a special folder  for transporting the work. It built anticipation and excitement. Their homework was to get their parents to do homework. 
The following text and paper went home with each child: 

KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK & THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER.

 Dear Families of Kindergarten Children,

As part of the Collection Project we are also thinking about objects and what they mean.

I read the book Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel By Leslie Conner (in the Studio.) It is the story of a young woman who chose one object to bring to America in 1856.

The children then thought about the one object they thought they would bring and filled out a sheet with a picture and words.

I also asked them to think of the one object their mom or dad would bring. Once again they illustrated and wrote the words.

Now I am asking you to do the same exercise.

 

*Please fill out the enclosed sheet. Please draw a picture and write the words of the one object you would take and the one object you think your child would take.

You may choose to have one parent fill it out or two.

Please do not ask your child what they chose until after you have filled out the paper.

(Please note that it is assumed you would have your pets, necessary clothes, food, and water packed)

 

PLEASE RETURN THIS HOMEWORK IN THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER. Your child will bring it to the studio, where we will share the enclosed sheet.

 

There will be more “HOMEWORK” coming home in this folder. Please take the time to be a part of this project as we delve deeper into the idea of collections and objects.

 

Warmly,

Ms. McLean, Atelierista and

 

 

 

_______________________________________   

Lusa signs hwAs you can see, each child signed the homework, letting the parents know it was from them and me.

I am proud to say, there was 100 percent participation. OK, I did chase down a few parents, but the children did a phenomonal job engaging their parents in the project. I even heard their was a facebook post devoted to the stress this was causing the parents!

When all the parent homework came in, I created an interactive documentation board, so kids could engage in analyzing the data and share what their parents drew and wrote.

obj aksel look“I think my parents are right. Even though I didn’t pick it. I think I would take my stuffed dog.” Aksel

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In small groups they learned how to categorize the data. What a great opportunity to use some math and science skills.

“We don’t know what our parents would bring.”

Audrey

 

“Lots of people guessed a lot alike, they guessed wrong. But, it’s still interesting.

It’s hard to choose what objects you or your parents would bring. It’s hard to choose because there’s lots of different stuff you like and your parents like.”

Lusa

 

“I DID NOT GUESS had the most symbols.”

Dominic

“I DID NOT GUESS has the most symbols and MY PARENTS DID NOT GUESS had the 2nd most symbols.”

Tate

 

“My parents guessed what I would take because I sleep every night with baby.”

Riley

 hw riley
hw riley family

As more groups met for small group conversation the board became increasingly filled. In the end, Ryan expained the conclusion of the gathered data. “Most kids did not guess their parents, and most parents did not guess their kid’s object, but some parents guessed their kid’s.” He even decided that he preferred his parent’s choice for him to choose even better then what he had chosen.

ryan data
But the heart and the soul of this project emerged from the conversations that occured.

For some groups, they began to understand values within their family:

“I guessed my mom would take her phone, but she said, “I can always get a new phone, but I can’t get a new baby book.”

Sofie 

“My parents would take pictures so they can always remember me as a baby.”

Lilah

“It’s hard to guess what your parents would bring cause they have so many things that are special to them.”

Sofie

 “I said my dad would take his Kindle, but he would take his Viola and because it’s really old and he can play it even though he doesn’t play it so much cause we are busy.”

Willa
willa hwhw willa family

“Out of this group, 5 of your families chose photos. Why do you think so?”

Ms. McLean

 

“So they can see me when I was a baby and laugh.”

Gabriel
HW Gabe M family

 

“Samuel’s dad wrote why:

“A book of our family pictures. These tell us a story of who we are and where we came from. Through pictures we remember stories of time together, and recall the loved ones who have passed.”

 
“How come your parents did not choose fancy cars and Diamonds to bring?

Ms. McLean

 

“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.”

Aurora

 

“Yeah, it’s special stuff.”

Noah

 

“Yeah, it’s like stuff to remember your ancestors.”

Aurora

Many families chose books or literature as their object:
convo values2

“Why do you think two family members of this group chose books?”

Ms. McLean

“Because you can read to make your mind grow!”

Dylan

 

Another realization that surfaced was the value of choosing something that was connected to “creating” :
convo 3
convo values

“How is what Noah’s mom chose, (a blank book,) and what Sophia’s dad chose, (a mandolin,) and what Isaiah’s mom chose, (a rolling pin) alike?”

Ms. McLean

 

“They all are using their hands!”

Noah

 

“To make music!”

Sophia

 

“They all are making something!”

Noah

 

Many children realized their parents knew them better then maybe they know themselves:

“I noticed many of your parents chose different objects then you chose for yourself. What do you think?”

Ms. McLean

 

“I think they’re right, I would take my bird because I like my bird better. I always sleep with him at night.”

Eric

issa conversation
Sometimes I meet with children at the end of the day. They are tired. Sometimes the practice of actually having a conversation must be implicitly discussed for success.

Conversation is a learned value. When a small group I was meeting with was having some issues listening to each other respectfully, I stopped everything.

 “We are having a conversation. The expectation is when you finish speaking; you stop and listen to your friends. What I am seeing is some people speaking and when they are done they start playing or disrupting others. The cool thing about a conversation is you get to learn so much from your friends. It’s a back and forth.”
Ms. McLean

 

“Ohhhh, it’s like the golden rule!”

Maddie K.

 At that moment the conversation shifted with focus and respect to include religous and cultural values.

“That’s true Maddie. Except in a conversation it is so great because you get to know and learn all these new things from another kid.

Like from this group I learned about all of you  AND  your  families!

Maddie, thanks to listening to you, this group knows your mother would choose to take her Ketubah.”

Does anyone know what a Katubah is.”
 

“Well, it’s the paper that says your married.”

Maddie

 

“It’s even more special. It is a very beautiful document with lots of designs on it and swirly letters. Like your Mom drew it. It is a special paper you sign when you get married if you are Jewish.”

Ms. Mclean

 

“I’m not Jewish.”

Eric

 
“No, but today we learned Maddie is. Some people are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other religions. And now everyone in this group learned something new from Maddie.”

Ms. McLean
 

“I am Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Years.”

Maddie

Issa explained his Mom chose her  meditation beads. When I asked him to tell  about meditation beads, he explained simply they are very very special.

I can tell you about meditation beads!” said Sonora, “You close your eyes and breathe and think of one thing, and you hold the beads like this. It is relaxing. And then a bell rings and you open your eyes and you are like calm.”

Tali’s Mom chose Shabbat candles and so Tali explained why to the group.
“It’s like we have a holiday every Friday night. It’s on Saturday too.  If we had to move somewhere there might not be Shabbat candles. And it is very special and important to light the candles.”

In this last conversation, the purpose and reason of Atelier/Studio learning and this project in particular  became incredibly clear.
In the following small group, a shift occured and the conversation was about people who had died.
I was moved by the intimacy of the conversation, especially with Harvey and Eric sharing some difficult memories.
Suddenly, objects weren’t of worth because of their advertising, but because of the connection to a person, or a memory.

I wrote Harvey’s Mom and Dad an email. I did not want to share any personal information that might be considered private.

I am cutting and pasting our correspondance.

Subject: Something Harvey said

Dec 3
Hi,
A small group of children were having a conversation with me, that became very serious, yet appropriate. I am pasting the conversation below, because I would like to include it in documetation for the Objects and Meaning Project.
I want to find out if this is ok with you before I include it as a part of the documentation. I will respect what you decide.
Conversations
In each small group, conversation took very interesting turns. Many of my questions revolved around values. I was surprised at things children understand and often brought up; life, death, monetary value versus emotional value, religion, culture.
 
“Many families in this group chose things that do not cost a lot of money. Many families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
 
“To remember people.”
Eric
“So you can remember family from before. Like if they died.”
Harvey
“I have a picture of me and my pet before she died. She was a great pet.”
Evan
“I have a photo of my great great grand daddy. He went to the hospital and then he died.”
Lucinda
My Dad’s brother died because he was taking drugs.
Harvey
What are drugs?
Eric
Like medicine except it’s really bad for you.
Harvey
There’s a picture of all my cousins and me and Uncle Bernie. He died and he was in a blue and gold coffin with a cross. My cousins have that picture but then they made copies for all of us.
Eric
 
 
From conversation 12/3/13

Here’s The Craig’s response. Please click on it to make it larger.
Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.14.52 PM

 I am honored to be surrounded by such inspirational children and adults.
Brave and beautiful.
Honest and thoughtful.

I feel closer and know more about every child and family who participated in this work.
The children in turn also know.
And all this came about by taking the time to think about what objects mean to the child-self and the adult-self.

Turns out that in this period of excess, in the end, the important  objects are about relationships- for surviving, enjoying, enduring, inspiring, connecting, calming, and remembering- even when it is difficult.

A wonderful reminder, for any season.

values photoBy Aurora