The greatest small gifts

Last month I attended a tremendous conference in San Francisco called  Educating for Creative Minds: Using Brain Science to Ignite Innovation and Imagination.

From the conference I have a long list of books to read and pages of notes to refer to, and inspiration and knowledge to keep me busy for a long time.

I will be referring to speakers and ideas from this conference in this and subsequent blogs.

“We are unable to  measure creative and divergent  thinking in a standardized way. Nationally, we teach what we can measure so we can teach it.”

“I can force you to pass a test and memorize, I cannot force you to write Hamlet.”

“Everyone has to become creative. If you want to be managed, you are not employable. Necessary traits for creativity and entrepreneurial qualities are; active engagement, resilience, agency to believe you can do it, original ideas, passion, empathy, uniqueness, alertness to opportunity, friends, confidence,  and global competency.

Here’s how traditional schools kill these traits and qualities:

Demand everyone to be the same

Rank them

Reward and punish accordingly so children can lose interest, confidence and curiosity.

And don’t give them time to play and explore.”

“We treat Reggio, Montessori and Waldorf as boutique education. Progressive education is a NECESSITY.”

-Yong Zhao, Phd

In this blog, I want to share and convey the depth and intention of the work in the studio, and implications for learning and developing creativity.

I am trying a new approach, two short videos.


Here’s video one, Developing Authentic Creativity , an overview of what many weeks of work looks like on the Shad and Insect project in the studio.


Here’s video two, Engagement and Ability., an opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a moment in the studio, an opportunity to see what it is really like.


I’d love to get feedback on your thoughts, what you see, and the effectiveness of sharing children’s work through video.

Just a quick end-note.  In the studio, the Shad fish project  was introduced in January. Kamrin, (pictured below) completed his wire Shad fish mobile this week. He finished, and went off to explore freely in the studio. About 3 minutes later, he came running back to me, gave me a big hug and looked in my eyes and said, “Thank you Ms. McLean”, and ran back to his free-time. The importance of honoring each child’s ability individually through daily interaction and relationship can never be underestimated. These are the greatest small gifts.







calder wire make

“If aesthetics fosters sensibilities and the ability for connecting things far removed from each other, and if learning takes place through new connections between disparate elements, then aesthetics can be an important activator for learning.” Vea Vecchi

Since returning to school in January, the atelier has been filled with wire. Spending long periods of time with a type of material is essential in the studio. Not only does one gain a sense of mastery and ability to manipulate and craft, but one gains a deep relationship with the process. Habits of mind develop, and languages begin to emerge…






I wanted the children to view the work of artist Alexander Calder. Slowly, I have been taking groups of children to the National Gallery to truly experience Calder’s grand and intimate mobiles, stabiles and wire works. With the help of parents Paromita, Trin, Amy, and Laura M., each child had a bag of varied types of wire and beads to express the impact of Alexander Calder’s work, as we sat amongst it. Viewing his large work, we returned to ideas of perspective, and I introduced questions of balance, shadow, and movement.





Loris Malaguzzi used to say that the work of a teacher is for ‘professional marvelers.’ The definition is truly beautiful; a message of hope for such a delicate profession.” Vea Vecchi

May we all (teachers, parents, and citizens) aspire to be ‘professional marvelers’ in this complex world of ours.