How it started. How it’s going.

In March of 2020, I hastily grabbed books and the turtle for what I thought would be a few weeks of remote teaching. That didn’t go like that. In June of 2020, I had a few days to pack up years of collecting, archiving, materials, tools, paints, a little hoarding, thrift store finds, treasured objects, kids art, and lots of started kid projects (this part makes me so sad, because they had to go in the trash) into boxes because our 920 F Street building was to be gutted and transformed in the next 18 months. I had to do this during covid restrictions so all the volunteers who help me massively with staying focused and organized were barred. Somehow, most of the Art Studio was somehow packed up. I didn’t see any of it for 14 months. After 18 months of teaching live virtually from home, I entered the SWS @ Springarn, (off of 26th Street, NE) “swing” space, and my temporary Atelier for the year. I gasped. I groaned. I took long epsom salt baths, and used many bandaids. 4 days later, the Atelier began to emerge.

The environment is the Third Teacher (Parents and Teachers being the other two), and while most folx recognize nature and outdoor spaces as a great teacher, the indoor spaces are often not seen this way. There’s a lot of “classroom” aesthetic that is sold and promoted that has no soul or even beauty. It doesn’t tell the story of the past, the present, and leave space for the children and adults to co-create the culture of the space as it emerges and informs the future. When I walk into your space (home, office, classroom, studio) what does it say? What values does it speak. What are the children hearing the space say as they enter?

Welcome to Ms. McLean’s Atelier for children in PreK3 through First Grade.

I am so sad that no family and friends are allowed to wander in, volunteer, or hang out due to covid restrictions. I so value the spontaneous and planned infusions of perspectives, ideas, emotions, and just plain old getting to know each other that happens when the doors are wide open and family enters. I hope that through this blog, you can at least be a fly on the wall or even be moved to leave a comment or question.

How we enter the Atelier. We usually gallup on imaginary horses, although Kindergarten and First Grade seem to ride cheetahs, dragons, unicorns, and all kinds of hybrid creatures. This is intentional. Moving your body is directly connected to activating the brain and raising serotonin to elevate well being and joy.

We stop outside the doorway. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 jumps and to the rug.

And then we read the visual schedule. Because just like the kids, I like to know what’s coming.

Project Meeting. Children arrive in small groups of 5-11 children. No matter the age we start with the Project Meeting. In these 10 minutes a provocation is presented, materials may be modeled, a book may be read, a video clip or image might be shared, we might dance to music that is connected through genre, culture, or lyrics. We often do a Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routine. There is always a conceptual thread that connects and interconnects with the home, school, classroom, and the bigger world.
Relationship, connection, and kindness is where we started. What does kindness look like and feel like at home, school, and the world? Why does it matter? How do we fix our mistakes when we are unkind? How can we practice kindness?

Create. On the schedule, this “Create” time refers to responding to the project thread/idea/provocation. It might be learning a new media, or it might be “visible speaking” or sharing your thinking through making, it might be an individual response, or it might be a collaboration. It may be starting, returning, or finishing something from the previous week. It might be experimenting or planning an idea.

Create time in relation to project work is rigorous in a beautiful expansive way. And along the way, I am listening, observing, and taking notes of aha moments, strengths, mistakes, challenges, and explorations. I am noticing dispositions and small moments of understanding and connection.

Free Time. Free time is like gold. Children are often surprised that they can feely decide to create something to take home (project work usually lives on in the Atelier, to inform curriculum and conversation)

“I want to make a camera.” Remi

Play is foundational to social emotional well being, exploring, practicing the imagination, creating stories, games, rules, and small worlds, trying something new, processing complex feelings, even traumas, negotiating, finding some alone time or making friends, and creating new worlds. After extended periods of being apart, this togetherness of a new family of friends and adults can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Throughout Free Time I am able to observe and support interactions that are sometimes divine and other times difficult and complex. Trust is developed. The learning and growth is never to be underestimated.

Using the visual symbol makes giving the signal of flicking the lights off for clean up time a known thing. Children have been helpful, and even when they get distracted, their generosity in helping a friend or myself clean up is a common occurrence.

Reflection and Sing Goodbye.

We typically begin reflection with a quick guided routine to think about project work. Usually guided by prompts, What do you remember talking about first, What materials did we use? What was tricky about this? What was interesting or fun? What might we do next week in connection to the project? What do we need to work on as a group? How did we get along? What do we need to practice? Where did you prefer working? Sometimes we look at a collaboration together and share connections and appreciation. Sometimes we each share one thing we did during Free Time that was special. I usually reply “Yes, when you made that game up, you were an author, creating stories and characters.” Or “Yes, you were an engineer, designing a structure.”

We always sing Skinamarinky dinky dink I love you to end class. One is never too old too sing in unison a love song with funny words. To make a ritual of sweetness that can be dependably found at the end of every Atelier/Art Studio.

To that matter, we are never too old for making time to practice and find space to grow capacities of expression, compassion, imagination, transformation, and perspective taking. In this time, in this space- this is how it’s going.

Please leave comments and questions on the blog post. I’d love to be in conversation despite being separated.

Because you need to. Because you want to.

Because you need to. Because you want to.

Slide02


Slide01
Slide03 Slide04
Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12
Slide13
Slide14
Slide15
Slide17 Slide18
Slide19 Slide20 Slide21 Slide22
Slide23
Slide24 Slide25
fixed

Slide27 Slide28
Slide29 Slide30 Slide31
Slide32
Slide33 Slide34 Slide35
Slide36
Slide37 Slide38 Slide39
Slide40
Slide41
Slide42
Slide43 Slide44 Slide45 Slide46
Slide47
Slide48
Slide49
Slide50
IMG_2444Slide52IMG_2206
poemSlide54


This Work Reminds Me of Flying

This Work Reminds Me of Flying

making bw
The Prek 3 Classes have emabarked on a project. The children started talking about “statues” a few months ago when I had them working on a collaborative wire sculpture in the studio. Their excitement about seeing sculptures and statues in Washington, DC got the classroom teachers and I planning a trip to the National Sculpture Garden. They already “owned” the sculptures in their neighborhoods and parks, we were curious on how they would own sculptures in a formal DC space. This documentation sheds some light and reflection on the ongoing experiences.


Slide03
Slide02

Slide04Slide05
Slide06


Slide07


Slide08

Slide09
Slide10


Slide11 Slide12
Slide13
Slide14
Slide15
Slide16
Slide17
Slide18Slide19
Slide20
Slide21
Slide22

From seeds

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
IMG_3791
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.

desmond tutu
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.
Slide1
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.)