Happy eARTh day!

 

(Yes, that’s my car.)  Happy eARTth day!

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a workshop panel and presentations with an international group of researchers called Speak Out: Art and Eco Activism. This was at the National Art Education Association Conference in NYC. I was thrilled to gain not only connections and new relationships with colleagues who share similar values and do tremendous work, but a new lexicon of phraseology.

My first and favorite of this new vocabulary has been singing in my ear causing new delight in my work with children at SWS.

Radical Amazement.

“To understand what it means to live on earth in a meaningful way is to create immediate, sensory, feelingful, and embodied connections with one’s changing environments. Aiming at awakening the senses or experienc-ing radical amazement (O’Reilly, 1998) mean that one engages in diverse and personal meaningful ways to observe, experience, feel, and connect with the environment. In short, this is a challenge to pause, note, and experience the extraordinary in the everyday and ordinary.”

My goal is to enact, provoke, kindle, evoke and incite radical amazement. Celebrating our very local and fleeting cherry blossoms with ritual and joy across the street in Stanton Park is an important ritual.

One of my favorite moments of our Cherry Blossom Celebration was looking over to see a group of boys playing very intense  game of soccer  with crowns of flowers upon their heads.

That’s “Our Ladies of the Cherry Blossoms” (Rachel Cross, Cynthia Copeland, myself, Cecilia Monahan) who facilitated musical parades and movement, bubble blowing land and cherry blossom crowns. These are the memories that connect us to “place” or to the rhythm of our geographic and cultural location. Children are inundated to consume popular culture and place in  non-stop media bombardment, even on the public transport and food packaging. It limits the ability to connect. A pre packaged culture does not allow one to add to the creation of where they are right now. And while popular culture and media saturation is here to stay, Radical Amazement empowers all of us to engage in joyful, creative, new and meaningful ways.

Last Friday, as part of the Kindergarten Anacostia River Project, we visited a new river park called the Bladensburg Waterfront River Park. It was a full day outside interacting with this body of water. Though still toxic from decades of neglect and dumping, it supports a plethora of wildlife. Chris from the Anacostia Watershed Society guided us all on a boat tour filled with wonder, silence and the sad realities of it’s current state and what we can do.

The fact that anything from the Peabody playground (from food to trash to balls) ends up in the Anacostia River made the connection very real. Our actions directly affect the river. On the first trip to Anacostia River Park in DC, Mr. Jere’s class (among other stuff) found a ball and brought it back as an artifact. The children were amazed to realize this connection. As we looked at the river,  more balls were spotted.

Despite the trash, the Anacostia River the children and teachers experienced last Friday had  both a  beautiful tranquility  and an energy teeming with life.

Brooke was worried about the boat ride and asked if I would sit near her. Her fear evaporated as she began experiencing the river from within.

Radical Amazement!

 

The day continued with the provocation of how to measure the river (and yes, both classes in small groups armed with yarn did some creative measuring that is to be continued with Mr. Jere and Ms. Scofield) singing and music with Ms. Rachel, observation, games and making memory lockets of the day from recycled caps with me.

(aerial view of the boat on the river)

(turtle and bird as seen from the boat)

Both the Cherry Blossom Celebration and the River Project support another important principal that I adopted from the workshop I attended.

Place-Based  Epistomology

“Developing caring, attentive, fulfilled, and protective relationships with one’s environment and its habitants requires a place-based orientation and epistemology, which acknowledges the environment as central to understanding one’s place in the world. Attending to the specificity of place supports a sense of kinship, emotional bonding, empathy, and revitalized perception (Jokela, 2007).”

While I have sought intuitively for this type of connected learning throughout my teaching career, adopting the lexicon gives gravity and intentionality.

An amazing and powerful personification of this priniciple is Kindergarten student Jasper. On our first trip to the Anacostia river as a community, all of us were dismayed at the huge amount of trash in and on the shores. This sparked great conversation, poetry and representations. I printed this poem in my last post, but I am reprinting since as you can see, Jasper was in this group of poets.

IN THE WATER By  Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

There was a lot of trash in the water

Brownish

Mushy stinky

There was even a skittle wrapper in the water

Maybe they didn’t know they dropped it

Maybe their parents didn’t teach them

Not long after the trips and poetry and collections of artifacts from the river, Jasper’s Dad, Adam sent out an email.

“Hi all–At Jasper’s urging, we’ve found out that there’s an Anacostia river cleanup on Sat. 4/21 for Earth Day. It might be fun to have a bunch of us go together. The cleanup is in the morning, and there’s some kind of fair afterwards which we could turn into a class social/potluck. Anyway, we can figure it all out after spring break but I wanted to suggest it and invite everyone to put it on their calendar.”

Yesterday, I was honored to join the SWS contingent in cleaning up the river, as urged by Jasper. My sister Gale (co author and photographer of the book Craft Activism) was in from Connecticut and joined me. As we got out of the car, I told her the story of the project, the workshop I attended, and Jasper. As we walked along the river in search of the SWS kids, the first thing I saw was a dilapidated tv pulled from the river, and who should be examining it?
.Jasper!  What a great start to the morning. It turned out that parts of that TV were pretty darn interesting, so thanks to Maya’s Dad, Eric, (and his mother-in-law’s van parked nearby) there  will be some TV innards to transform into something this week in the studio.The clean up was both sad and joyful. So so so much trash.

and so so so much discovery.

There also was some excellent multi-tasking as the kids in addition to removing trash, collected natural materials to make Fairy Houses later this Spring.

Yet another concept or phrase that struck me is

Relational Learning – Recontextualizing Self as Interbeing

In February I decided to do some worm composting in the Art Studio. The classrooms had already started, and so I asked Margi Finneran (Assistant teacher in Room 11) who is a wonderful garden and composting expert (among many other things!) if some of her trained PreK children could help me set up mine.

So Piper, Carter, Emmett, and Electra became my experts.

Piper: They live in dirt but sleep in paper.

First step was ripping up the paper. But what a surprise when our music teacher Rachel Cross ended up in our worm bin!

Emmett: The worms will eat her up and poop her out. (Lots of laughter)

and then? She will help grow the flowers!

The experts had a lot of physical labor. And while drilling had a conversation.

Carter: They eat paper.

Electra: Vegetables

Emmett: Rotten stuff

Carter: The worms think it’s delicious, but we think it’s gross.

It was time to add the worms. I was touched by the simple kindness of the act.

Emmett: Don’t be scared little buddy

Carter: I’m giving you a home.

Piper: Don’t worry worm.

Emmett to Ms. Finneran “Can you talk to my mom to see if the worms can come to my house for a play date?

Electra: I’m glad we got a chance to dig in the worms.

Me: Well I’m glad and thankful that you came to help me do this. I didn’t know what to do at all.

Carter: We teach you and you teach us!

Each week I open up the bin to feed the worms. I do this during free time or in the common area. It never fails that I immediately have helpers to feed, turn and maintain and observe the worms. Radical Amazement. Recontextualizing self as interbeing.

“Humans gain a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment through developing loving, caring, respectful, non-manipulative, non-acquisitive relationships with each other. But beyond human affairs, similar expanded relations with the environment are necessary to Earth Education. Beyond the obvious need to respect our environment, people who are committed to nature preservation and deep ecology arguably enjoy life more, have deeper relationships through a shared sense of belonging, and more emotional capacity to bond and to attend to experiences, such as fear and mourning in the face of social and natural events (Milton, 2002). Implicit in the notion of interbeing is the understanding that self-realization cannot be attained through heightened attention to the individual ego, but must be achieved in relationship with other people, species, living organisms, and even with water, rocks, wind, and earth. We suggest that, in seeking to achieve interbeing, people engage in collaborative and relational processes/projects with other artists and nonartists, particularly in the context of the natural world (Boldon, 2008; Bourriaud, 2002; The Green Museum, 2011; Jokela, 2008).”

One might wonder how worm composting is connected to art making. I felt no need to have the kids sketch the worms.

Experiences (such as the worms) activate the senses, understanding,  and connections. Because of the richness of the interactions these experiences become memory. Here’s why it is important to the creative process. Invention is often an act of recombination.

The inventor , George de Mestral went on a walk with his dog and returned to find his pet covered with burrs. As he pulled them off, he became interested and put one under a microscope. He noted the way the fiber was like a hook and latch. He soon invented velcro by putting nylon under infrared light.

By creating a transdisciplinary studio environment, filled with meaningful and memory laden experiences, children are building a reservoir of concepts and understanding. These reservoirs of experiences combined with  poetic languages, materials, inquiry, construction, representation,  community, ingenuity, trial and error, experimentation, practice,  and observation develops the mind set of creativity.

One morning I was working with a group of PreK students, when Lena from Ms. Scofield’s Kindergarten came in. She waited until I had a minute and said, “I was cleaning off the stuff we collected from the Anacostia, and I found something living. I think it’s a caterpillar, look!”

“Hmmm,” I responded, “it doesn’t look like any caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Let’s do a little research at the computer.” First I brought up images of caterpillars, and she agreed that it did not look like any of the photos. We tried worms, snakes and finally moved on to larvae. Low and behold, she found a match. It was a beetle larvae. We went on to see what type of beetle it would turn into. It was thrilling. And she went running back to her class.

I cringe when parents choose computer learning over hands on interaction, thinking it will give their child advancement in learning. I do believe in computer literacy, however  computer literacy without real life sensory interactions does not create intellect, it creates data entry ability.

While outside sketching, something surprising is discovered on the old logs.

Augie found a whole world of brightly iridescent insects.

Sometimes the shared experiences become challenge. For the Kindergarteners I asked, “How does an artists create water in their art? ” What does water really look like?” “How can you create water on paper?” I challenged them to experiment with materials that can be manipulated in experimental ways-oil pastel, paper towel, brushes and baby oil. I urged them to try a new way and another and yet another. To shout out when they figured out something interesting.

“Animating Art Knowledge as a Model for Understanding Nature- To develop a sense of interbeing with one’s immediate and larger environment simulates the process often experienced by artists engaging with the development of their art. This relationship is an animistic process, during which the artist and his or her work renegotiate their connection, and the meaning of existence in relation to one another. We suggest a similar organic and animistic relationship to be the goal between an individual, their communities, and environments. Altering one’s self to relationality and availability utilizing artistic, embodied, and emotional bonding allows all components to develop in meaningful relationality.”

It is hard to tell from this blog that we are a school located in the heart of a city.

Another phrase I heard again and again at the National Art Educators Association was “Embodying:

Once again including the entire body and sensory system  with experience, interaction and in this case, play. At SWS the nature play space is transformed hundreds of times every day. One afternoon I documented how children interacted freely with the environment. The choreography from contemplative to raucous, imaginary to reflective illustrates the importance of these open ended natural spaces, especially in a city school. Once again, children are creating their culture and play-not just consuming it pre-made.

I will end this post with some inspiring words from Peter London, who was one of the speakers at the conference I attended. I hope on this eARTday it speaks and resonates within you too.

 “But suppose we are Nature. Suppose we are one more interesting crop of
a universe whose nature is fecundity and whose manifestations are infinite. Suppose there is no divorce.
And that drawing closer to nature is not so much an outer journey to some distant exotica but a journey in
the exact opposite direction, inward to an awakening of what is already contained within. What we so
fervently desire to join is joined, just veiled.

And the artistic/creative processes
lift the veil.”

Wade in the water

The Anacostia River, a Kindergarten Project.

The idea hatched from  Kindergarten teacher Alysia Scofield’s relationship with it, crossing it daily, venturing near it, on it, learning to love it. This major body of water running through DC is part taken for granted part wasteland and part beauty.

As the classroom teachers explore and document what the children know, their theories, the river and it’s history, water and it’s scientific properties, what lives in it, what grows in it and around it and above it, Shad harvesting and releasing, experimenting, ecology, pollution, their river collectons, geography and more, there is a different study also going on in the studio.

The sensory, the wonder,  and the poetic languages of water and of the river.

 

Just like the children, my primary relationship with the Anacostia River was from above.

The first encounter on Friday February 17th was enchanting, exhilarating and multi-sensory.

There was a cacophony of sound, texture, smells, sight, touch, sensation and feelings.

WATER  By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

When I was feeling the water it felt like it was soft

The river water, you could hardly feel it at all, like no texture

It sounded

Like a splash

Like a couple of little splashes

The water was going slowly. Tiny waves everywhere

The water was going this way

NO it was going that way

NO it was going North

NO that way

It was going both ways

I ran across it

Ripples

Like a tornado

When you step in it, small circles

Then bigger and then bigger

Slowly

There are so many circles

By Luke (The lower front shows a child putting his foot in the water and creating ripples)

MUD By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia

The ripples were like an upside down V

Blue green brown

My boots squooshed in the mud

It felt like squishy jello

I felt like I was walking in the middle of a mud monster’s home.

I was an ant walking in jello

It was so big

I was so small

I was stuck in the mud

Every footstep was hard

Deep sand

Like quick sand

My foot stuck like glue

Really the mud monsters were sucking my feet down.

 SAND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

I went in the deep sand

It felt like you were sinking

You could sink in to the passageway

To an imaginary castle made of sticks and mud

To a zombie house

To a magical fairy house

Or the the North Pole

Santa would ask,

Where are you from?

From DC

From the Anacostia River!

There is always the unexpected on trips like these. What we were not expecting was to witness Anacostia High School on fire. It proved to be huge part of this river trip.

By Eli

THE FIRE  By Lena, Bridget, Charlie, Emma, Patrick, Han

It was dark in the sky

It was foggy below

I saw the smoke

It looked like clouds that were

About to begin a thunderstorm

The air was black and misty

It looked soft but it’s not

It’s black

Like Smoke

Hhhuuuuh SCARED!

Some people were scared

Some people were not

And the fire?

What is the fire and smoke?

Red

Fire

Black

Smoke

Sirens

It sounded like a flashing sound

100 persons blowing a whistle

Like Han ringing the bells

By Stephen

FIRE By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

We saw a fire

So blazing hot

We could kinda feel the warmness

It had blackish grey smoke

Like the color of a sperm whale

The smoke was big

Like a giant

Like a planet

The very real was tempered by the very magical. Everyone encountered “The Castle” and a few “The Treasure Chest.”

By Joseph

CASTLE By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia

It had little rocks on the top

Like Squares

They felt rough and pointy

Like a porcupine

Like a cactus

Like thorny plants

Flowers were growing on the little rock squares

We stood on the top

Like a bird

Like a queen

Like being on a creature’s house

Like a guard fighting off people who were going to steal the gold and diamonds and copper coins and chocolate coins.

I saw seagulls trying to fly above us

I saw the stream leading to the Anacostia River

THE TREASURE CHEST By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington

It was in the water

In the dirty water

The Anacostia River water

It was gold

It was brown

It was brass

It had golden beads

We knew it was a treasure chest because it had a curve

It was stuck in the mud

Water was coming around it and making squares or rectangles

Inside it we imagine

A Key

A Crown

Diamonds

Earrings

Jewelry

Necklaces

Bracelets

Gold pieces

Rubies

Pearls

Carrington saw it first

Stephen thought it was just a piece of metal

By Jai

By Natalie

MUSSELS AND MUD By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington

A little baby mussel

Like 50 of them

I put them in Ra’Kyia’s cup

They are not clams

They have food in them

You can eat from them

They live in the mud

It was really squishy

It was making a noise like sucking–your-tongue-noise

Squish squoosh squash

It got in my sneaker

When you picked it up it felt like

Soft and hard mixed together

Soft as a blanket

Soft like a cookie

Soft like a cushion

Soft like a pillow

Soft like a bed

You’re making me sleepy

By Emma

STUFF WE FOUND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

You can find stuff

Like treasures!

Seashells

Rocks,

Phones,

River glass

Sticks

I think I saw an alligator

Motors

Mud

Water

Turn it into a machine

Turn it into a special sculpture

Turn it into materials for the Art Studio

RIVER STUFF By  By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The river has stuff in it that’s nasty

People throw it out

They throw their bottles in the river

They sit on a bench and drink and just throw it

I think they don’t have trashcans in the Anacostia River

The people were being careless

The birds and the animals feel sad

The ducks can’t live in the river,

They can’t go home

IN THE WATERBy   Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

There was a lot of trash in the water

Brownish

Mushy stinky

There was even a skittle wrapper in the water

Maybe they didn’t know they dropped it

Maybe their parents didn’t teach them

Seeing was so nuanced on this trip. Watching the children “look”  was like watching a dance performance.

By Sylvie (in the lower left side you can see how Sylvie represented a friend bent over and collecting)

The birds were as much a part of the river as the river itself.

BIRDS By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

They were making a sound

K-K-K-K-K-K

Flapping their wings

Like a door slamming

Up in the air like a plane

Like a phoenix

 By Kiran

By Zaire

THE TRAIN By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The train was on the track

HONK-HONK

When it went past it was going DING-DING-DING-DING

It was as loud as

A police car

A motorcycle

The fire bell in School

It sounded like a building crashing down

By Dominic

By Bridget

By Emma

THE BRIDGE  Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The water

It moved like an ocean

Under the bridge

The river looked crazier then the bridge

Because it moved like a crazy person under the bridge

The bridge was calm

But it looked like it was moving

Immersed in this project, I find myself singing water and river songs. Funny how so many are about letting go, forgetting, sailing off, rebirthing, and becoming new.

So I leave this post with songs in mind but within a context of discovery and joy, of memory and feeling, of hearing and seeing, of smelling and touching, of the very real Anacostia River mixed with the intangible sense of magic.

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

If you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

So Wade in the water

Wade in the water children!