How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and
more meaningful expression and responses?
Why does it matter?
What can we learn?
As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to
feel, see, and create is engagement.
Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,
An environment filled with provocations that delight,
intrigue, and expand possibilities,
Values made visible in words, images, and actions that
proclaim that all are welcome here
Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion,
even when it is difficult
Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas,
concepts, and understandings.
We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.
On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a
then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.
Our active enduring question is, “How can we
This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.
Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.
On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.
Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.
Kindness Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the
Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate
curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!
My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep
connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and
If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.
There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.
Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.
To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.
“International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”
often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that
give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with
happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon,
cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!
Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.
“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.
Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.
these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others
(and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in
different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of
what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.
As children painted and used materials, they
became closer to reliving that moment.
When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.
Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.
The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering
What is diversity?
The next project was proposed.
I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, Need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out upon me, The rock, the river, the tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.
In the Spring of 2012, when I realized that our school was really leaving our historical Peabody building for a barracks type temporary building , I had to summon all reserve positivity.
OK, I said, we will transform our new school space into the extraordinary. I shouted this from the rooftops until I became a believer. The first inspiration came from the site STREET ART UTOPIA We declare the world as our canvas. Teapots filled with plants and buildings covered in flowers.
I sent out a call “…collect teapots this summer, scour garage sales, your basement and thrift stores.”
This image and call to action became the metaphor that became a mantra, especially during the challenges, We are growing a school!
The action gave us something to do when there was nothing else we could do as we waited for our new space to be ready for occupancy.
Now I will back tread showing you a quick visual of the reality of this move:
First the furious packing in June. It was hard to pack the moon.
This is July 20th, when I thought maybe I could come in and set up in the new space:
It was August 20th when we were allowed to move in, but oops, none of our furniture and boxes were there.
The district called in some movers, but it was the SWS staff and volunteers who literally made the move happen. One of the most heard questions was, “Does anyone have any ibuprofen?” We were some sore staff and volunteers. More importantly we were some visionary staff and volunteers eager to make an empty space home.
Here’s August 28th:
When the children finally entered, it all became a beautiful dream:
Thanks to Adrian (Bella’s father in Ms. Burke’s room) the original counter and hideaway space, that was made in 1994 by parent Mike Ryan was uninstalled, stored and then retro fitted to the new space. He also did the same with the studio curio shelf made 3 years ago by parent Charlie Territo and his brother. In addition to retro fitting, I asked him to raise it up so the coveted hideaway space could also accomodate our 1st graders without them banging their heads!
The spirit of the studio has come alive, with experimentation, conversation, creation, inquiry and new friends.
While most of the things that make the studio home could come to the new space (Racecar the turtle, the snowglobe collection, the moon, the materials, the hideaway space and soft stuffed dog, the piano, light table and overhead projector, many of the natural collections, most of the furniture,) I did have to forgo the beloved playhouse. Not a day goes by when a small friend asks me, “Ms. McLean, where’s the playhouse?”
The small bits of disappointment make way for great opportunities to transform. By embracing change as a thing of wonder, a climate of empowerment takes over. The sky is the limit.
Which takes me back to the teapot story.
My faith is humanity was overwhelmingly overflowing on beautification day. It was the weekend before school started (and the grounds were just an empty mess.)
The tasks I led were getting rocks from a quarry and the teapot project. J.T. (Carly’s dad in Ms. Burke’s room) and I met bleary eyed in the morning at Irwin Stone in Rockville and had a blast choosing and hauling rocks. Special thanks to his father-in-law for the truck loan. Whatever wacky idea I came up with, Nicole Mogul (1st grade mom to Sylvie) somehow made it happen.
After hauling the rocks (JT went back a 2nd time!) it was time for the teapot planting and hanging!
It was a cacophony of lids and kids and pots, flowers and rooted vines, toddlers to grandparents scooping pebbles and dirt. It was what makes a heart beat with great joy and gratitude.
Such a joyful entry.
With the project came a provocation…what should be done with the teapot lids?
I proposed to small groups, that they should think of ways to transform the lid into something else. And that their ideas could be turned eventually into a mosaic sign or piece of art for our new school.
In this group I asked each child one at a time, to select a lid and then tell the group what they wanted to change it into.
They then were asked to pretend their finger was a pen and draw the lines that would transform the lid. Sometimes other children made suggestions or added lines. They all were able to envision what was not there, First in their minds as the artist and also they were able to see the imaginary lines their friends had drawn.
One of the 8 Studio Thinking Frameworks/Habits of Mind (From the book Studio Thinking, from the Harvard School of Education/Project Zero) is Envision, Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece. If you know me or have followed my blog, I intentionally teach/facilitate through this body of work and research.
In the image above, Tayen chose a lid that looked like a roof. He drew the walls. I prompted, what else could you add? Soon windows, and a door were drawn by his finger. I asked his small group if there was anything else. They imagined chimneys and a garden and front steps.
Building on the habit to Envision, one is able to develop the capacity to solve problems, think out of the box, invent, and discover new possibilities. This is not just an artist’s tool, but a tool for humanity.
The next step for the children was to select a lid and take it to the table. This time they would use black line marker and first draw the lid as it really exists.
They then were to change or transform it by adding lines. Color pencils were added as their ideas progressed.
The initial step of observing the lid and representing it, with it’s detail, shape and color was challenging since they also were envisioning the change simultaneously.
Emma (first grade) transformed her lid into an insect. She noticed the handle looked like a leaf, which she represented clearly, plus it looked like a nose for her insect.
Observe, Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.
This is another Studio Habit of Mind that is intentionally developed through projects and which requires persistance and practice. Once again it is a habit of mind that offers not only great possibilities but limitless joy. A child who is observant is a child who is curious and never bored.
When everyone was finished we met on the floor to share the work. The practice of looking at work is intentional. It is never good or bad, or I like it or it’s pretty. In this instance I utilized another technique from Project Zero/Harvard School of Education.
I See I Think I Wonder is a tool for talking about art and other interesting things that develops the habits of inquiry, curiosity and observation.
First children are asked what do you see? They are encouraged to start their observation with the words, I see.
Above, responses to Adinath’s lid transformation were “I see flowers on the cheeks.” “I see a rectangle body.”
Then I think. “I think it’s a person.” “I think it’s a flower person.”
Then finally I wonder. “I wonder who that person is” “I wonder if it’s a boy.” “I wonder if the person is a kid.”
While his image was clearly a person, it is interesting when a drawing is more ambiguos.
In one case, the image was thought to be a pullman rail car, a caterpillar, and a bench. This was a tremendous opportunity to talk about how often the artist has an intent but the viewer sees something completely different. I exclaim how intersting this makes the world, facilitating a culture of questioning and risk taking.
This approach alters the dynamic of “getting it right” to “thinking and looking deeply.”
I learned another lesson from these first groups in the new studio.
The architectural open-ness, while visually and symbolically designed to be inviting and a part of the whole school, also is not conducive to small group discussions. There was so many distractions at one point Patrick (1st grade) said, “I don’t know who to be paying attention to. Them?” (he pointed to 2 staff in the kitchen) “Them?” (He pointed to the bathroom, echoing with sounds of children and teachers. “Or her?” (A 1st grader walked by shouting out greetings)
“You should have put a door in.” Said Emma.
I told them thank you and that they were absolutely right.
I rigged up some curtain panels. While not soundproof, they are a sign to the folks in the hall area that there is a conversation happening. It also psychologically offers a more intimate and calm space.
Together we are growing this school.
And together we will continue old traditions while transforming or changing them in ways that are meaningful. On September 11th SWS celebrates Kindness Day. Please reference this past post to understand the history “Kindness Day.”
In past years, all new incoming children to SWS received handmade gifts from the returning students. This year, since we all are in fact “new”, I initiated that each child would make a gift for another child, the fun part being, they won’t know who until kindness day.
It was recommended to me by my mother in law, and it has been a great provocation for actions, conversations and thought.
The premise is, that all people walk around with an invisible bucket. When you do something thoughtful or nice to or for another person, you are a bucket filler. When you are insensitive or mean, you are a bucket dipper. When you bucket dip, your bucket does not get filled. Bucket dippers are usually unhappy and in need of their bucket filled.
This simple analogy offers a way to reflect on how you are in the world.
This year, each child is making a necklace/sun catcher/overhead projector image as a gift.
Elilie, who is a new incoming 1st grader to SWS proclaimed. “Kindness Day is when you fill a lot of buckets!”
Each project that happens however small or large, is layered with potential for learning experiences.
In this case, the kindness gifts not only are a way to be bucket fillers, but an opportunity to explore and experiment with light, transparency, color and translucence. This idea of light as a method for communicating understandings and expression is one of the Reggio principles of 100 Languages.
Olivia’s unicorn gift
As I reflect on the past weeks of furious change and transformation of the Logan Annex Barrack into the School-Within-School at Logan Annex I am humbled by this tremendous community. At times this work can feel overwhelming, but you wake up each day with great optimism and walk through the flying teapots just to enter our school. It is just a big rainbow of hope to me. We’re growing a school!
As I observed the children creating their kindness day gifts, I realized there was a kind of glow happening with each group.
This intense glow happened after they created their drawing on artist acetate and then brought it to the overhead projector.
There were private moments of seeing their tiny drawing take up a whole wall, there was the experimenting of layering images on top of images. Oh and then there was moving the images and distorting them, adding other objects, looking at the shadows of the hands.
But what was most powerful to observe was being able to see their very “being” embodying the wonder of encountering a transformation.
It is the expression of an epiphany, of learning, of joy, of relationship.
It is to me a challenge to catch this moment in my hands and then return it to each child when the work feels hard and the wonder feels far away for them.
We’ve heard it all: Change is good. Change is hard. The only constant is change.