“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us.”  – Hasan Davi

“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us.” – Hasan Davi

Afrofututrism-Part 1, A New Lens By Which to See, Inspired by Cyrus Kabiru

This Spring as a school, we focused on elevating Black Joy, Excellence, and Culture through living folx throughout the African diaspora. And while this is a project that we engaged in from February through beginning of April, Black Joy is intended to be a provocation for continued expansive teaching practice and curriculum development at School Within School as a core principle.

 

Super Heroes inspired by Artist Hebru Brantley By Ava, age 5 “My super power is spreading LOVE!!!!!!!”

In the Atelier, Black Lives Matter at School is 24/7, through expression, art, culture, movements, and making. The narrow expanse historically of art, art institutions, and art education has centered white male Eurocentric artists, with a handful of women and BIPOC thrown in during their designated cultural months.

I dare say it is easy to scrap the white supremacist model of art education because there are limitless and boundless histories, cultures, and BIPOC and women artists to center to inspire young children (and ourselves) to express and transform power, beauty, and aesthetic.

Inspired by an art exhibit I visited in Barcelona 5 years ago “Making Africa”, and as the Early Childhood Atelierista (working virtually yet live with the children), I centered our Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation projects around Afrofuturism.

Part 1 was inspired by Cyrus Kabiru.

From the essay Afrofuturism Has Always Looked Forward: How can the ideology serve as a blueprint for cultural growth? by Taylor Crumpton:

“For the uninitiated, Afrofuturism is a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct “Blackness” in the culture. Reflected in the life and works of such figures as Octavia Butler, Sojourner Truth, Sun Ra, and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression — both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature.”

We began by being inspired by the vision and genius of Cyrus Kabiru.

The 3 to 6 year old children were spellbound listening to and watching Cyrus speak and create Making Wearables Through E-Waste.

“I grew up surrounded by a lot of trash,” says Cyrus Kabiru of his childhood. “The biggest dumpsite in Nairobi was right opposite my house. I used to tell my dad, ‘When I grow up I’ll give trash a second chance.’ I used to feel like trash also needs a chance to live.”

After looking at Mr. Kabiru’s glasses ( C-Stunners, as he calls them), glasses no one had ever imagined before, I explained how he is called an Afrofuturist. He is an artist from Kenya who creates art that no one in the world has ever seen before, he creates by making a new and better future, where trash is given a second chance. All of his C-Stunners also tell a story. Each one is different. He is a creative genius.

“To me, being an Afrofuturist is a mix of creativity from different continents.” •

His increasing success in the art world has afforded Kabiru the opportunity to travel and to expand his collection of found objects. •

He says: “When I go to London, I’ll pick up trash. I always pick up trash from different continents. If I make an artwork with European trash, my work will look newer, so I try to combine old Kenyan trash and new European trash.”

This was a project we returned to for many weeks. This returning is to practice depth, as opposed to a make-it take-it crafting hour. Each class we re-visted Mr. Kabiru through looking at his art and watching and listening to him speak to us through videos. As children constructed, an Afrofuturism playlist that I created of SunRa, Janelle Monet, Laura Mvula, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kamasi Washington, Eryka Badu, Valerie June and more played. The sensory and delight of the creative process was compelling to observe. The music helped keep track of time and guide children into a state of flow.

I could see into all the squares on the Teams Meeting where children were experimenting, constructing, and creating, all while centering the Afrofuturist ideals of Cyrus Kabiru.

 

Cyrus Kabiru, Mixed Media Art

We did multi-modal language shifting by using our sculptures as a provocation for mixed media 2d collage art (as Cyrus Kabiru also uses photography and mixed media collage to express his stories.)

All of this project work is happening during a global pandemic. This is relevant. There is no doubt that each child and adult has experienced trauma, loss, and abrupt change. Because trauma is experienced inwardly, with no words to express,(especially if you are 3-6- years old) the act of making and creating in an open-ended and expansive manner allows one to process (often unconsciously) pain or anxiety. The brain shifts and creates new passageways during making. When these neurological passageways shift, you are released from the biological and emotional effects of fight, flight, or freeze. Expression through the arts releases and heals emotionally and neurologically.

Right now, in the newspaper is the unrelenting horror of the details of the murder of Mr George Floyd. What strikes one, is the fact that the police officer who kneeled on the neck of Mr Floyd and killed him ceased to see his humanity. What strikes one, is the fact that a trial is even necessary when the world witnessed his tragic death via a cell phone video. What strikes one, is those who watched who had the power to stop another Black man, another human being, from being killed just watched. The othering and dehumanizing of Black and Brown children and adults hails from the transatlantic slave trade. It is enmeshed in all of our systems, including our education systems. We are raised in the subtle and the obvious ways that creates internalized hatred of BIPOC.

We are all, within our capacity able to create, demand, imagine, and act in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and dismantles white supremacy culture. For me it is as a mother, artist, educator, and activist.

As children gazed at the beauty and genius of Cyrus Kabiru, valuing his existence, we are reminded of the importance of our our daily work. Especially with our youngest citizens.

“Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quo’s blind spots.”

From the article “How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend”, by C. Brandon Ogbunu

Our paths co-constructing Afrofuturist thinking and making in the Atelier/Art Studio led us next to The Black Indians of New Orleans, The Super Heroes of Hebru Brantley, and The Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The journey of learning and thinking as an Afrofuturist makes visible Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation intrinsically. It goes on and on. Like the C-Stunners of Cyrus Kabiru, Afrofuturism offers us all a new lens by which to see, especially in the blind spots.

And so, How Are You Different Than Nature?

And so, How Are You Different Than Nature?

It is the night before the very last day of the 2017-2018 school year. I just couldn’t let the year end without giving you this small gift.

I have here the link to the 12 minute video I made documenting our all-school Earth Day parade. (12 minutes)

The SWS Love Mother Earth Children’s Parade Video

I must thank all the folks who sent photographs and videos, both Erika and I had our hands full and were unable to do it ourselves. Thank you thank you thank you!

Thank you to Lynette Craig who did all the paperwork and phone calls to convince our city to shut down the streets for this parade (park service and the police!). She left to me- only to meet with the officers/officials and sign my name. You have powers!

Thank you to Erika Bowman, my sista Atelierista and dream-it-into-reality-parade- partner. I will miss you. But I get to keep the memories (and friendship!), lucky me.

After the video link is documentation  of some of the early childhood experiences that inform the parade video.

As a team (Prek3, PreK, Kgn) we focused on a year long exploration of Global Environmental Citizenship. Here’s how it emerged in the studio context:

Have a beautiful summer.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the World

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the World

Slide01 Slide02 Slide03 Slide04 Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12 Slide13 Slide14 Slide15 Slide16 Slide17 Slide18 Slide19 Slide20 Slide21 Slide22 Slide23 Slide24 Slide25 Slide26 Slide27 Slide28 Slide29 Slide30 Slide31 Slide32 Slide33 Slide34 Slide35 Slide36 Slide37 Slide38 Slide39 Slide40 Slide41 Slide42 Slide43 Slide44 Slide45 Slide46 Slide47 Slide48 Slide49 Slide50 Slide51 Slide52 Slide53 Here are some of the links I am using/will use as resources within this work:

Talking to children ages 5-8 about homelessness


National Coalition for the Homeless lesson plan for ages K-2nd grade

Any Refugee, sending a postcard to displaced children

Trash me Rob-Art Activist

Wangari Maathai

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Wangari Maathai

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/01/root-causes-interview-wangari-maathai

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

9c012963-eda5-4ad6-984a-da15149442c7
img_0649img_0684When one of the PreK3 children became frightened by the butterfly, the effect was catching. Soon I had four screaming 3 year olds. I quickly grabbed two Kindergarten children, Dale and Olivia, who were on their way to recess, and asked them if they would come in and teach the 3 year olds there was nothing scary, while I took the very frightened little one out to get a drink of water and calm down. The two stayed for a whole hour, even facilitating and helping the younger children make a great big butterfly mural. I really couldn’t have done it without them. When I thanked Dale and Olivia for giving up their recess time to help me out, Olivia looked at me and said, “No, thank YOU Ms. McLean for inviting us.” I almost cried.0cc5567f-54f3-4332-acda-a32442b7beb9

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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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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.)

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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