Noticing the note of each bird

The year started, well…big.

First there was an earthquake (in DC!?) and then there was a hurricane.

Then it rained. Not just rain, but RAIN, for a week. I believe that this all happened within the first 2 1/2 weeks of school.

The rain flooded the landing to the playground so much, workers were brought in.


The rain and the puddle did not deter fun. In between the lightening and thunder, the kids went out.

Room 11 (Ms. Ricks and Ms. Fineran even requested boots for this exploration.)


Water, the essence of survival. The joy it brings to every sense.


The qualities of water are soothing and invigorating, and exploration is endless. As an adult, great films , literature  and works of art rely on the many metaphors and qualities of water. One of my favorite films is titled Water.

While squeals of  delight mix with my  my often heard voice in the Common Area,  “What do you need to do when you make a big spill on the floor? Why do we need to clean up spills? Keep the water in the water table…”, the concentration, discoveries made , and social interactions are rich. The warm water is soothing. The funnels, pulleys, measuring cups, tubes, water wheels and marbles lead to the unexpected. This is the beginning of theory development. These moments connect to understanding concepts.

In addition to water, the Nature Play Space outside is a rich environment and never ceases to amaze me. Children create soundscapes;


Create rich make believe (birds with eggs game)


There are so many versions of King of the Hill games. When was the last time you spontaneously made up a game with friends, complete with rules and fantasy? This is complex stuff for any age disguised in play.

Testing physical limits while being connected to trees and stones is important. Children are drawn to this area, more so than the manufactured play equipment. And while the equipment is good stuff, the Nature Play Space allows children to move what they climb on into new configurations, expand, change and create.

I initiated this natural area after being inspired by so many creative outdoor spaces ( great blog from Australia about nature Play Let the Children Play and this 20 Ways to Creat Play Environments for the Soul ) so I wrote a grant and made it happen. Since natural materials decompose, we are often in search of fresh “tree cookies” and loose parts to keep this area vibrant. Feel free to contact me to add to the space.

Inside the school  additions and traditions in the studio and common area keep things evolving.

Small additions to the playhouse has brought big excitement this year ( I love a good hardware store and thrift store!)

A very special hand operated machine

The beauty of this pulley, is that you need a friend to collaborate with you.

A small tray with handles and a fiber woven tea set provoked an elaborate playtime. While this might seem banal, there was an intense amount of negotiating and agreed upon management of materials, as well as debated role playing. Freetime is an intentional part of learning and offers guidance to teachers, not only on social climate-but on what is interesting the children and what is difficult for them. You usually will find me scrawling on a clipboard while observing the children. Often I watch quietly, while other times I join in to offer support or a challenge to provoke  new thinking.


A new opened ended provocation allows children to “sew lines.” Doing this sewing works best with two, and I am thrilled by the way the children direct each other and decide where to place the needle to make a desired shape, Almost like looking at clouds, the children exclaim, It’s a rocket ship or It’s a car!  Everyday it gets more and more filled with color and line.


I finally bought the missing small piece of hardware that has expanded the piano play. A double jack! It is beautiful to watch the many interactions here.


While the next two experiences are not new in the studio, they are new to all our entering children. The snow globe collection and the whirly plate machine. I challenge any computer to elicit this kind of wonder, awe, and thought…

And the simple pleasure of painting during free time, choosing from multitudes of colors and varieties of brushes created these complex and organized representations. Sylvie’s palette is cool and breezy and notice the details like the bird flying above the two smiling figures.


Alex painted a Matisse like painting, filled with movement and brightness:

This year, the Kindergarten students spent their first few weeks in the art studio working at a furious speed to make ceramic pendants. Every year, Kindergarten children make a gift for all the new students in PreK and K. We created a ritual of gathering, all together, a circle within a circle to greet new faces (including all the staff), sing songs and  give kindness. We have this tradition in response to September 11th, and it is called Kindness Day (just click on Kindness Day to the left for the full explanation.)

It was the first year the Kindergarten created not only a ceramic necklace for a new child, but an identical one for themselves too.  This new idea was inspired by a conversation between Mr. Jere , Ms. Scofield and myself about upholding traditions while at the same time adding new layers of thought/intention.

What is kindness?

“Being polite” -Luke

“Making a card.” -Caroline

“Sharing” -Zaire

“When the Kindergarteners gave us a bracelet last year! I wear mine all the time. Alex is his name who gave it to me!” -Ava

“When you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?'” -Brooke

“Being nice and helping them to do stuff.” -Joseph

Ms. Cross led us in song, I asked each Kindergarten friend to say “Hi, my name is ________, what’s your name?” and then present the gift, Mr. Burst introduced all the staff, and we all closed by singing You are the Sunshine of My Life.

Look closely at the images. The earnestness of the intros and gift giving. The joy of community. Tenderness and pride. It is refreshing and hopeful.


I love this small moment captured between Emma in Kindergarten, and new PreK Tessa:

Adinath and Gabriel make their new friends Archer and Emmett laugh by pretending their necklace is some type of transmitter /phone:

New Kindergarten student Anja helps another  Kindergarten student Sophia:

The beginning of the year is about developing new relationships that nurture the spirit to grow and expand (kids AND adults.) It is about creating a safe and creative space that offers boundaries and room for risk-taking. It is about getting to know each child as an individual and as part of a group. It is about caring. That is what I felt I needed to share, more than the emerging projects.

The Prek children just started a project observing Swallow Tail caterpillars and representing their observations in their new sketchbooks. The Kindergarten children have begun a project about costumes, and have begun planning in their sketchbooks. I can’t wait to post these emerging projects in the next blog.

I will end this blog with a favorite bit of prose which truly explains what the start of a new school year is like. It is why this work is always filled with wonder, research, joy, challenge and surprise. It is a metaphor of The Hundred Languages of Children. Welcome to a new school year at SWS. I hope you will feel comfortable sharing your comments and thoughts. My intention is to blog every two weeks, so check back soon!

Each new year is a surprise to us.

We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird,

And when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream,

Reminding us of a previous state  of existence…

The voice of nature is always encouraging.

-Henry David Thoreau

Of “stuff”

claymiles(That’s Miles, above)

While work and life are intertwined, being snowed in away from the school place gave me an opportunity to work on some of my own “stuff.”

I will presenting at an International Conference on Young Children and Creativity in New Jersey March 3-5. The list of speakers include Howard Gardner. My presentation is entitled “The Studio Experience in Early Childhood as Social Activism.”  It will be stories and images of transformation within the context of my work and experiences at SWS. Thanks to the snow-in, it is completed! Still time to register and attend.

I am part of a juried exhibition at Adkins Arboretum, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. While I have never been there, it looks like a fabulous 400 acres of beauty. My piece is “Raindrops on Asphalt and Feathers on Sparrows.”  RaindropsDetailThe theme of the show is related to Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic. Clearly the curator Carla Massoni of the Massoni Gallery, stretches the theme as much as me, because my art is a nine piece mixed media assemblage that would not grace the cover of any botanical or wildlife journal. Raindrops2The opening is September 27th from 5-7pm if you want to take a trip. Thanks to being snowed in I was unable to drive the piece up to Ridgely, MD, and had to bubble wrap and ship it to the gallery.

While being snowed in, my daughter was dancing frevo in the streets of Olinda, Brazil for Carnival. Her luggage was lost, but if you click the link, it’s hard to feel sorry for her. Feel sorry for my husband and I who managed to ship a 42 lb box of her belongings  to Uruguay where she will be studying for six months.

The sun came out and it was time to return to SWS. On February 16th all the children and teachers risked their lives but made it into school. Despite missing Valentines Day, yours truly donned a new dress and transformed into the annual Love Fairy. lovefairy1Love dust was sprinkled, chocolates were handed out, cards were sorted, and alot of cupcakes were consumed.

Best of all, the studio table was covered with canvas and beautiful red clay is being handled by all. I love clay, and am smacking myself for waiting so long to haul out the real stuff (not playdough, the stuff of Mother Earth.) Next week the Kindergarten classes will be visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at National Geographic. I especially wanted them to have some first hand experience with clay.

Right now I am reveling in the kinesthetic and expressive qualities of clay. While the idea is to give the kids lots of experience with the material (not “make” anything to save,) I am teaching a few ceramic techniques/lingo:

claymoveThe slab (also known as the pancake) is such a physical process, the whole body is engaged, just look at Ella and her hair flying in a forward motion.

clayballsThe sphere (also known as the ball) is tricky, but you can turn those spheres into so many things.

The coil (aka making snakes) is a vital element when creating just about anything.claycoil

The pinch pot (poking, pinching and pulling exercise) great for hats, mountains, bodies, and as Malen imagined, a meteor that flattened her little world.

The experimentation and creation is giving everyone (including me) great satisfaction as well as many many more ideas. Here’s some of the stories from this interaction.

clayO1 clayO2


“It’s a guy that stuff falls out of the sky. It catches it with the tail and bounces off theshell. And it goes back and forth and it can do more than one thing at the same time. When there’s too much bouncing, this part catches some, and there’s a bridge too. It bounces and catches. It keeps switching like a pattern.” (Owen’s (Pre-K) construction was a story in the making. He developed a technique of pinching and adding clay. He told the story as he worked. He included qualities such as it’s ability to multi-task, as well as the idea of patterns that he noticed as told the narrative. From above, it is a compelling design.)


Henry M.  (Pre-K) was sitting directly across from Racecar the Turtle and was aptly inspired.


Chiara (Pre-K) struggled for a long time trying to balance her person. I reminded her that the solution was the same as building with blocks or when she created her wooden figure. After many tries, she was thrilled to find success after creating a base slab.

“I am making a story. There’s a crib and a baby. The baby has a bottle, and a cat, and the cat has a clay  bowl” Grace, Kindergartenclaystory

Grace also told a story, but she had the idea before she created, whereas Owen’s story grew out of sculpting as he worked. It is a constant question for me as a facilitator, create from the plan or plan from the creation?

claykaiKai’s alien. (Kindergarten) He asked me many times to take a picture since it was going to be recycled.

For some children, it was a mesmerizing experience, like Brigid, (K) who at times gazed off as she felt the clay. For others it was a physical joyful experience, like Philip (K) or like Max (Pre-K) who created a boat that he moved as a toy in play. claypinch



Perhaps as human beings, we are hard wired to connect with this vital organic material. This “stuff” that bridges all types of learners and is so easy to transform again and again and again. (below, Annika, K)