Marla Mclean

atelierista

“People speak different languages, because that’s how they are made.” Remy, age 5

Wow, it has been a looooong time since I last blogged.

I will start from today though, from now, November 12th, 2020.

And right now, I can share that it is not only possible to connect and create virtually with 3-6 year old humans in the Atelier, it is meaningful, compassionate, and inspiring.

There is still opening and closing rituals, music, stories, provocations, and just like being in person, there is sustained time where there is a flow of constructing, experimenting, and expressing (with music flowing and me, not talking.) And there is still Reggio Inspired Projects and the possibilities of expressing understandings in 100 Languages.

We began the school year with the provocation of Monarch butterflies and as they emerged and began their migration to Michoacán, Mexico, we moved from local to global. We moved from the simplicity that all living things migrate to the complexities of human migration.

Here is some documentation to connect you to the rigor, depth, and joy of our weekly one hour Atelier LIVE with Ms McLean.

To end this post, I leave you with a link and a quote.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an extraordinary Mexican artist who uses technologies to create art about human connection. In 2019, I took both PreK classes to his interactive exhibit that connected human heartbeats and fingerprints to beautiful pulsing lights and waves. It was transformative.

He recently creating mind blowing art interactions at the US/Mexican border.

If you have 17 minutes to spare, watching this video by Art 21, Rafael Lozano Hemmer “Borderlands” will surely move you. I hope it will also give you perspective on the importance of the thinking and doing that children manifest in the Atelier. Children, in fact, imagined, like Hemmer, ways to connect people, despite the complexities of pandemics or borders.

Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on the Importance of Telling Complex, Nuanced  Border Stories - The Texas Observer
Hemmer’s installation allowed people in both Juarez and El Paso communicate by manipulating and crossing search lights and speaking into microphones that worked as a sound tunnel.

What Hemmer has imagined and created is not so different than Delilah or Aliya, both in PreK4

“There is art on the ground on both sides of the wall, and people can talk about it through the tunnel.” Delilah

“”I made a big chair in the Middle of the wall so the kids from both countries can sit together to talk or read books. Kids holding hands together and dancing I also draw a tree house with a balloon and a big bear.”  Aliya B., PreK4

Delilah
Aliya, PreK4

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.”
— James Baldwin

I hope you will engage through leaving comments, wonderings, or connections below. In gratitude.

Focusing on love.

In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
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For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
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For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
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Research is in my favor here.
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Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
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Alas, policy only slides deeper into forcing children younger and younger to spend their formative years in a fixed mindset being coerced to decode and read long before they have had the experience to comprehend ideas, problems, relationships, and the world around them.
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Love.
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This is not a flaky word.
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Love is extremely difficult. It takes practice, passion, commitment, and grit when applied to any instance…sharing, mistake making, idea forming, friend making, conflict resolving, exploration, imagination, conversation.
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Without the source of love, there is no reason to keep on trying, to create something, solve something, learn something, get up after a fall.
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Often in life we are required to love a person (our children, our spouse, our sibling, our students, a neighbor), so in need of support that they act unloveable. Where does one build the capacity?
And what does this have to do with the Atelier, School Within School, with children, with collaboration, with wonder, with the 100 Languages?
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I would say everything.
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In the studio “can’t” is a bad word. A disabling word. What can you say instead? I need help, this is tricky, what do you think, how can I, what is not working here, can someone lend a hand, any ideas how to solve this?
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What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
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You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
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What part was frustrating? How did you figure out how to solve the problem? What do other people think? What makes you say that? What are you thinking of next? What do you need to practice? You must feel really good, you stuck with it, even when it got hard!

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What else is a bad word?
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Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
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Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
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I know that, I know everything, I’m an expert. (said the 5 year old)
No person knows everything. Life and school would be so boring if you knew everything. We are all researchers here learning together. Different people have different areas that they are very strong in. Together, we learn from each other and strengthen each other. Some grown ups spend many years researching things, we invite them to share with us so we can learn from them. We also learn from our friends who are children.
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This is love.
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Recognizing mistakes. Leaning in to the unknown. Asking questions because it is rewarding and awe inspiring as opposed to answering the question correctly. Listening, observing, watching, admiring, and loving those around us in our learning groups.
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Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
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Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
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Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
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When a child is afraid to make a mark on a paper because they are afraid of making a mistake, this is the opposite of love. When a child is afraid to answer the query, What do you think?, because they are not sure what the “right “ answer is, this is the opposite of love. When a child doesn’t try something new, because it’s different, that is not love. This is fear.
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The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
IMG_0986Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Sebastian: “Why?”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”

And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
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Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
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Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
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Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
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for the fulfillment is in the experience,
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in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
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Love.

I am not alone in my research.

Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking,  on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
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Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
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Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder,  writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
IMG_1199To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”

Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
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This year I’m focusing on love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncommon

“We react to weather in relative rather than absolute fashion,” said Laurence S. Kalkstein, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami. “The uncommon is what bothers us.”
(From the Washington Post article, Shriver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test)

But, I wondered, what if the “uncommon”  polar vortex that changed the DC metro area could be transformed into a temporary wonderful, magical, and stunning curiosity?
For the children and community of SWS, this small poetic gesture was offered.
Frozen Sun catchers.

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May you encounter the uncommon with all your senses
May it fill you with wonder
And joy
May you pass it forward
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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Hopeful

We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear
a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

-President Obama, excerpt from inaugural speech

 

I will run to people who are bad. I will talk to them and speak the laws and they will change.

-Super Running Boy, (Zander)  Kindergarten

It is a day of great hope.

It is the Inauguration day of President Barak Obama.

It is the day we remember and honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems like a perfect day to share some of the Peaceful Magical Super Heroes created by PreK, Kindergarten and 1st Grade children at SWS.

I began the New Year introducing the ideas of Martin Luther King, Segregation, Equality, Justice and Injustice, and Non-Violent protest.

 

I began by asking the children  “What do you know about Martin Luther King?”

The largest knowledge base from the children was he was shot, the next most common response was he was good and for peace, the third most common answer was there is a sculpture of him in DC, and the fourth most common response was a confusion of him and Rosa Parks.

 Only 3 children understood who he was. Two of those children were brothers.

 

In small groups, I began by saying “Martin Luther King was an American, he was brown skinned and he is one of my heroes”.

And then I told stories:

“A long time ago, in the United States of America, you are not going to believe this, all the brown skinned people, and tan skinned people had to live separate from the white and pink skinned people. It was the law, or the rules.

People were not allowed to go to school together, play together or live together.

It gets even worse!

The white and pink skinned people got all the best stuff. The brown and tan skinned people were not allowed to use all the good stuff.

It was unfair!”

 

And so went my retelling of history.

The children were flabbergasted!

“What, you mean I couldn’t play with  _______?!!!” (naming a friend in the group)

 

I even went on to share that I could have gone to go to jail because my children are brown skinned.

 

And so I continued…

 

I shared a portion of the I Have a Dream Speech.

 

I shared that people wanted to join Dr. King, however they had to make a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, weapons or fighting words.

 

“Sometimes I fight with my brother.”

“Sometimes my parents fight.”

 

 “Yes! ” I said, “this is normal; it takes a lot of practice not to fight. The important thing is to practice, and try, and think about what to do when you are angry.”

I told a story of brown skinned boys who sat down at a lunch counter and the restaurant would not serve them, because of how they looked.

I told the story of how Martin Luther King rallied people through his words and how they joined outside the restaurant and held hands, and chanted “This is unfair, equality now!” and how people used art and words and made signs.

And then bad angry people came and pushed them down, and said mean words and hurt them. But the people who were protesting did not fight back. They helped each other up and peacefully kept chanting, “This is unfair! Equality now!”

 

What really got the children is when I told them, “…and then the police came, and who do you think they took to jail? They took the peaceful people to jail! And when the peaceful protesters were put in jail they sang songs, like “This little light of mine” and “We shall overcome.

 Drawing By Elise, 1st Grade

 

And the word got out, that we lived in a country where peaceful people were pushed down and put in jail, and so more people joined the ideas of Martin Luther King,Jr.”

 Of all the things children knew about MLK, it was that he was shot. And so I told them how “he was speaking to the garbage workers, because they were not getting enough pay to feed their families even though they worked really really hard to keep the streets clean.

And someone who did not believe in all things fair and equality was violent and shot him. But, the amazing thing is, the work of Martin Luther King did not end when he was shot. People kept working for fairness, and soon the laws or rules were changed.”

The conversation was riveting with all groups of children.

Patrick said, “Wait, were the police all white that took the peaceful people to jail?”

“Yes.”

He looked at his skin, and looked up, “I hate being white.”

I assured him that he did not do any of those things from the past. That he was not responsible for what happened a long time ago. I reminded him that his maternal side of the family is from Columbia, South America.

“And my Dad is from Hawaii.” He seemed momentarily relieved. I was struck by his deep sensitivity and and sense of responsibility.

Throughout this project, parents stopped me to share that their children were coming home to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this project had meaning.

 

At this point I introduced their new project:

“First think about something you are really good at or love to do.

Next I want you to imagine, make-up, invent a super hero with super powers that includes what you love to do. You can have more super powers too, like super speed, or strength or even flying.”

 This might sound easy, but, I have a big challenge for you; your Super Hero selves have taken a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, just like Martin Luther King and all the people who believed in his words.

 That means you can make the world better, you can rescue, you can change bad guys, but no hurting or killing anyone…not even the bad guys!”

 (I have no issue with children killing or eliminating bad guys in their play or pretend. It is normal development for young children to begin to deal with good and evil through dramatic play. It is healthy for children to do this play, as it allows them a sense of control over all things bad. However, peaceful conflict resolution and non-violence takes great thought and practice. This project is to allow children to start the thinking and practice through narrative, art and metaphor.)

Below, Mira works on showing power in her drawing.

She loves making art, and so like many, her super power is activated through teaching:

Art Super Hero

I’m gonna fly and jump over roofs and teach people who want to be artists to do art. – Mira, PreK

 

The majority of PreK children jumped into this project with fantastical magical thinking. Ryan, for example included Santa Claus as the ultimate change agent:

Flying Boat Hopper

I can jump past heaven and into my boat. My boat has wings. I fly to Mexico to save my grandparents. I save them from evil bad guys. My boat shoots out Santa and his reindeer and the bad guys are not coming back ever. -Ryan, PreK

 

For Ainsley, she recently developed a new power over Christmas, she learned how to do somersaults. For her, her super hero was based in her new physical abilities:

 Somersault Super Hero

I do somersaults to make people happy. -Ainsley, PreK

Dorian’s Super Hero is also not separated from his real life self:

Dress Up Dorian

I dress up and do shows for people. They will feel happy. -Dorian, PreK

Harvey, who loves using the hammer, drill, and tools in the studio uses his “thing that he loves to do” to help others.

Super Strong Man

I will use my hands to make houses for people. -Harvey, PreK

Lucca, PreK, uses his powers to protect the force that protects him now, his parents. He does have the bad guy hurting himself as a by-product of his actions. This was not uncommon, with many PreK age children still needing to hurt the bad guys in some way (and this is completely developmentally appropriate.)

 Super Fast Man

I’m great at soccer. I go really fast with my super fast shoes. I jump really high to the ceiling and save my parents from the pointy ceiling. The bad evil vampire put them there. He bangs himself on the door when I climb up there. -Lucca, PreK

Levi has made the correlation that calming people can prevent bad decisions. This developmental leap is illustrated through his super hero that both rescues and transforms:

Super Levi

I fly to dogs that aren’t being treated well. I’m gonna stop the people from being mad. I will calm them. -Levi, PreK

PreK Dylan shows some deep thoughts about nurture and nature. His idea that maybe if you are in a place with “not so much mean stuff, you couldn’t be bad”, is deep.

 Lava Man

Lava Man makes volcanoes that scare away bad guys so that they would maybe go somewhere that didn’t have much mean stuff so they couldn’t be bad.

PreK student Tate also follows this theme of  changing bad guys. For him,  giving nice things, like a Yankees baseball cap to a bad guy. makes them feel good, thus facilitating change.

Super Tate

My shoe turns into 100 Yankee caps for the bad guys to feel good. The other foot makes Red Sox caps. First they’re bad and then they’re good! -Tate, PreK

 

Isabella uses the metaphor of sunshine in her illustration, connecting the iconic symbol with meaning:

Isabella Super Hero

I’m really good at riding my huge bike. I go fast. I go up in the air and give people sunshine. -Isabella, PreK

 

In addition to thinking, and inventing based on a concept. I showed children exaples of how illustrators show power through line and color. I challenged the children to make their picture really show it was an example of some type of super power, and not just a regular kid or scene. Below, Kindergarten students Carter and Matteo Z. are deep in focus as they tackle this new kind of task.

In Kindergarten, ideas began to expand. More children created super heroes that helped or rescued in specific ways. While there is a mix of children still deeply entrenched in complete magical thinking, I began to see the next stage of development emerging; more use of metaphor, understanding of fairness, change and inclusion of the greater community.

Flip Guy

I do backflips and catch up with bad guys. I will tie their hands behind their backs so they won’t punch me. I will take them to a spot and tell them to be peaceful and no fighting and no weapons. The change happens when I put a rainbow on them -Lane, Kindergarten

The idea of friendship as a gift of power transmission as told by Gus, is both fierce and gentle:

XStrado

I stomp on the ground as hard as I can and I put my hand out like a fist and a ray comes out. But no one can see it. If there is someone who didn’t know how to make friends they can make friends. -Gus, Kindergarten

Raigan loves to make string necklaces in the studio; her super hero bestows powers to others that allow them to travel:

Super Raigan

I make necklaces. My necklaces help people to go anywhere they want. -Raigan, Kindergarten

August, though in Kindergarten shows his understanding of non-violent protest by using signs and text to create  change. Even though he has not colored his sketch yet, the image is powerful to share.

 Speeding Ninja

I can run around the world putting signs everywhere, they might say, “No Fighting”. -August, Kindergarten

 

Zuri combines magical thinking and metaphor to illustrates in detail how her Super Hero will make change:

 Build Stuff

I’m gonna build a bridge tower around the bad guys with stars. The stars sprinkle stuff all over and they turn into good guys. -Zuri, Kindergarten

 

Super Michael

My powers will make the city grow back; houses, cars, streetlights, boats, trees, and grass. –Michael, Kindergarten

 

Lily believes in power of Art:

Super Lily

I’m going to make the world more beautiful. I’m going to make bad guys pictures. They will like them and turn to good guys. -Lily, Kindergarten

 

Electra already recognizes the power of reading. She also travels in time, therefor righting past wrongs:

Super Reading Girl

I can travel back in time.  I will read to bad people and they will be good. -Electra, Kindergarten

 

While for Evie, the healing powers of a Band-Aid prevail!

Hero Evie

I’m good at helping people. I have powers to fly to people who fell down. I help them with my powers and potions. It helps them get up and puts bandaids on them. -Evie, Kindergarten

 

(Lily, Evie and August will be returning to add color to their representations)

In first grade, many children were challenged by this assignment. By first grade the majority are aware of pop culture, advertising and movies that cast super heroes in a pretty reliable role of eliminating bad guys through violence. They had a harder time figuring out how to transform what they are good at into something beyond themselves. There was a less blurring of the lines between real life and imagination, which made the younger children’s stories flow more effortlessly. However their understanding of injustice and justice was more complex. Their ability to express themselves through visual media was more complicated.

Witnessing these subtle changes in thinking, representing, and creating is rewarding. It reinforces why having an Art Studio (in the context of Reggio Emilia Environment like SWS) in upper grades continues to be necessary and a vital force in developing 21st century thinking skills. Much of the work in the studio is about big ideas and how to construct/deconstruct and communicate through symbols and metaphors. 

Mason’s Super Hero shows his understanding that not all people are able to afford flying:

 I can make paper airplanes. I make an airplane that people can fly on for like $5. Cause it cost a lot of money to fly on an airplane. -Mason, 1st Grade

Dare Dog

My name is Dare Dog. I fly and I have a tail. I have three fingers. I fly around looking for people who need help, like if a kite is stuck in a tree or if you’ve lost your mom. I can magically make a path to them. -Dylan, 1st Grade

 

Super Emma Clare

I save babies if they get hurt. I fly down and pick them up. -Emma Clare, 1st Grade

Charlie creatively understands the power of humor to diffuse conflict.

Jokeman

I’m good at making funny jokes. If the bad guys laugh, they’ll be good. -Charlie, 1st Grade

 

Max uses his “thing that he loves to do”; skate, to teach others, like many SWS children. His thoughtful representation shows the intricacies of his ideas.

Super Ice Skater

 

I’m a super skater. I give ice skating lessons. I throw ice dust and the dust makes people better at skating. –Max, 1st Grade

Alden saves fireflies, a wonderful metaphor for preserving light and peaceful beings.

Fire Flyer

I’m good at studying fireflies. I’m gonna have a jet and when I see predators coming to eat fireflies, I’m gonna save the fireflies. -Alden, 1st Grade

Tillie had a simple idea that she illustrated graphically different from most of the children. Her tiny super hero is detailed in simple black silhouette. Initially when she added color, she had the blue sky only at the top of the building (a common idea that the sky is only on the top of a page.) I tried explaining that the sky is all around and she looked puzzled, so I scooted her out the front door of the school to observe how the sky actually surrounds a building all the way to the ground. She lit up with a smile and said “Ohhhhhh, I see that now!” There were a lot of these type of visual “aha” moments with the 1st graders as I encouraged them to take leaps in visual perception and expression.

 

Super Flipper

I’m gonna flip through the air and save people in trouble. -Tillie, 1st Grade

The next day, Tillie brought to school a Christmas present that her talented Uncle created for her for Christmas.

“See Tillie, now you have proof that you really ARE a Super Hero!”, I said.

 

Builder Man

When I see broken buildings I shoot them. When I shoot (the buildings), they come back to being a building. -Xavier, 1st Grade

 

First grade Ava’s Super Hero touched my heart. I often push her to try again and push through the hard parts. Here’s what she created:

Super Woman

I’m going to fly to people in a rocket ship and teach children how to make wonderful art. I have a grabber and I grab the art they don’t like. I get them to do it again. I don’t want them to give up. I give the art back to them and then they try once more. -Ava M. 1st Grade

 

And Anja combined the idea of conflict resolution through diplomatic talks with the addition of some magic dust!

Peace Lady

I’m good at making peace by talking. I can fly. I throw my peace sign dust and people stop having fights and can work it out. -Anja, 1st Grade

 

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today” at the swearing-in ceremony for President Obama today. Here is the last stanza: 

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky.

And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

(Light Sculpture By Xavier, 1st Grade)

 

 It occurs to me, that often it is indeed metaphor and magical thinking combined with reality that stops us in our tracks, and causes pause.

And causes understanding.

And causes wonder.

And sometimes change.

Not unlike the “I have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King.

Not unlike President Obama’s inaugural address.

Not unlike Richard Blanco’s poem

Not unlike the children’s work above.

They are practicing.

Still practicing.

And for that, I am thankful.

And hopeful.

 

 

 PS I am also thankful for Early Childhood Educator and friend Maureen Ingram who told me of her idea to do Peaceful Super Heroes with her 3 year old class. It inspired me to explore the idea in the studio at SWS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paths of light come in so many forms…

The 2012 new school year has been an exercise on how a community of people can truly make change. Personally, it has been both exhausting and extremely inspiring.

Using our new space, neighborhood and place based learning as a framework for planning curriculum this year, stretches me. So many concepts and questions have emerged.

(Ellie transforms the map of our school neighborhood)

While space, place and neighborhood are intertwined ideas,

for the PreK’s I am thinking and questioning how they observe and explore.

For my Kindergarten aged children, I am thinking and questioning around the idea of construction.

For the 1st graders, I am interested in how they become proficient in expressing and telling their stories and understandings through 100 Languages, provoked by the neighborhood we are inhabiting.

 

I noticed the children making gingerbread houses in Ms. Ricks class.

It’s the season of these magical constructions. Our very own Margi Finneran (assistant to Kindergarten teacher Margaret Ricks) is a White House Pastry Chef who creatively constructed the White House Gingerbread Garden! Take a look at this slideshow on Huffington Post! Margi will be sharing the experience with the Kindergarten classes who are expansively exploring the idea of construction this year.

 

I went with Sarah Burke’s class back to the construction site documented in the last post.So much had changed.

 

This time, each adult had a small group. After a period of silence each adult asked first, What do you see?

 

Amelia: There are no windows. The crane is inside the building

 

Fionn: A giant white crane waits for the cement truck to finish pouring cement and then the cement is dropped at the top.

 

Tessa: When the cement carrier, when it’s done, they bring it down.

 

Eva: The crane moves the big pot forward and backwards. Some are landing down and some are not.

 

Colleen: Cement is going down the white chute into a basket. It’s connected to a cement truck. I saw someone waving to us!

 

Mikal: The crane is moving the handle back and forth. And then it goes and stops and then it picks up another cement .

Mikal: I see a reflection of the crane in the mirror of that building.

 

Gus: They were fiddling around the bucket of cement.

 

Wesley: I see a little house.

 

Mira: I see one of the workers talking to another worker.

 

Then we asked, What do you think?

 

Mira: I think the workers are tired at the end of the day.

 

Zuri: I think the cement truck is going to empty out the cement.

 

Bella: I think those (beams) are for the building so they can build on the top.

 

Lane: I think they are thinking about safety. I think they are trying to be careful.

 

Mikal: I think when the crane moves, the bottom part goes back and forth.

 

And then each adult asked

What do you wonder?

 

Amelia: I wonder why they have all those poles.

 

Mikal: I wonder how they stop the cement. I wonder why the crane shows up in the window?

 

Eva: Are they going to have stairs? Or elevators? Or escalators?

 

Gus: What made the crane sway?

 

Bella: I wonder how they get the white posts through the next floor?

 

Michael: I wonder if the crane can hurt them (if they are wearing) with a hardhat.

 

Brian: I wonder if they are building a house or a school.

 

Remi: I wonder when the building will be done.

 

Mira: I wonder if the workers have to work a lot.

 

So why have many of the SWS teachers adopted this protocol for responding to visual artifacts or events?

 

From the Harvard Project Zero site, Making Learning Visible is this printed answer.

 

Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?
This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.

 

Too often adults ask What  do you see? and then the conversation is over. Or what do you like? Or Yes/No questions like: Do you see the cement truck? In which case the child says “Yes.” And the conversation is over.

 

One of the most difficult parts of inquiry based learning is thinking about good questions to ask and developing thinking and listening routines based around questioning for the children to engage in with and even without adults.

 

A powerful statement and metaphor came from Eva during the construction site visit:

Some of the children were having a hard time when asked
What do you think” and “What do you wonder?”

I suggested that if they just look and concentrate silently for a while, ideas would start coming.

 

“Just like you have to concentrate on the stones when you balance them!” Eva offered.

 

These types of moments let me know that the transdisciplinary approach of learning is working. She was able to connect balancing rocks to construct Stone Cairns in the studio to concentrating on inquiry during a classroom fieldtrip to a construction site.

 

“Where transdisciplinary learning is different from traditionally themed or integrated units is that students not only have an opportunity to work in depth, through  a range of disciplines, but also recognize, through practice and reflection, the innate value and challenges in applying a range of disciplines to a topic. This quite naturally opens important questions about thinking, and provides a perfect opportunity for students to realize that disciplines are constructed, are continuously changing and can be questioned.” Complete article here by Darron Davies

 

A small anecdote to the adventure, one of the consruction workers, Mr Ricky came over to talk to the children. He explained he had a radio for the crane operator.

“Are they listening to music up there?” asked Amelia. He explained the radio was for communication.

You can ask the crane operator a question, he volunteered.

“Well, are there girls up in the crane ever?”

Yes, many women work in a crane.

Thoughtful looks from all the girls as they imagined.

 

Back to the Gingerbread houses… I started to think about Hansel and Gretel and the metaphor of leaving paths when you go into the woods.

 

In the context of my work at SWS, the children, myself and the community are constantly going “into the woods.” The woods being the unknown, the wild, the untamed.

 

With the PreK children I have been curious how they explore and observe in the context of a project. There is still so much magical thinking that happens combined with reality for our youngest students here.

 

When Jere, Hannah and I took both PreK classes to the IMAX Monarch Migration film at Smithsonian, they sat in the theatre and reached out their small hands into the 3d images, into the air trying to catch the butterflies. It was beautiful.

 

Is the “unexpected” a vital component of exploration and observation for young children? Is it the necessary thing that keeps one searching (at any age?)?

(Riley becomes a butterfly)

 

Kay Taub, an entomologist and educational specialist brought her insects, specimens and expertise to the SWS Atelier/Studio.

Handing out live insects to two groups of twenty 4 year olds was definitely an experience of “going into the woods.”

 

Here are some of the photos documenting this riveting experience.

(That is a Leaf Bug!)

(That’s a Stick Bug, so fantastic.)

 

It was breathtaking (and at times nerve wracking) watching as crickets jumped, children exclaimed, and a few screamed. One child managed to suck his thumb while supporting a worm perilously close to his mouth!

 

I am wondering if the richness of the unexpected moments from this provocation will lead to deeper inquiry and deeper imaginings.

(Dylan, PreK)

I quickly segued into Solstice Lantern Making without fully revisiting these moments with the children. Solstice was nearing and it was production time with a deadline.

(Augie, PreK holding up translucent wings to light.)

I am thinking all these interactions will connect as long as a pebble path is laid down as we go.

 

I wonder what constitutes a pebble path?

This blog?

Documentation at SWS?

Revisiting experiences with small groups and reflecting/remembering?

Using a myriad of languages (the 100 Languages) that trigger new and deep understandings?

 

I asked the children, “Why do you think this year we are making lanterns that are inspired by Butterflies this year?”

 

Samuel, PreK, “We saw the movie!” (Monarch Migration)

 

Noah, PreK “I think cause we painted them with water paint.”

 

Amira, First Grade “There’s the Honey Vine so the butterflies were here (in the SWS school yard).”

Isaiah, PreK, “There was one in here! (the Art studio)

 

Levi, PreK, “Well, our Monarch died.”

 

Matteo Z, Kindergarten, “Last year we had butterflies (at our Peabody location) and now we are HERE, and the butterflies are HERE. I wonder if that’s why?

 

I think these responses indicate small pebble paths are being laid. I wonder how to make sure they are not in fact, paths made of breadcrumbs that will disappear.

 

School expansion means 127 lanterns this year. At first I had to engage in deep breathing. It is not in my nature to have everyone make and complete the same object by a deadline.

 

The nature of light took away my fears. The plastic bottles crackled, and some of them when being painted made a wonderful percussive sound.

Using transparent and translucent materials mesmerized all grades.

 

Maddie, PreK, “Mine is glowing!”

Aksel, PreK, “I think mine is glowing because the paints are magic.”

 

Fiona, “Look, which side did I draw on?” (When holding up the translucent paper the image replicates on the back side.)

 

Tillie, “Look how it looks with the body and the wings together.”

Me, “Oh you really thought about making the drawing go with the painted body. It’s very coordinated, do you know what that means?”

Tillie, “No.”

Me, “It means it goes together really well, without being exactly the same or matching”

Ms. Scofield (who had walked into the studio and sat down), “Like peanut butter and jelly!”

Me, “Yeah, but not all people would agree.”

Ms. Scofield, “Like peanut butter and chocolate!”

Me, “Yes!”

Tillie, Kiran and Sylvie, big smiles.

(Mikal’s Ninja Butterfly Lantern)

(Emma A.’s Lantern)

 

 

 

Sometimes it is not so academic. Sometimes threads are just so very sweet, shooting the breeze, and sharing life together. Although I would say Ms. Scofield’s example of peanut butter and chocolate to illustrate the word coordinated was pretty brilliant.

I tell all the children that 1000’s of years ago, people who lived near where we live noticed how dark it bexame at dinnertime, how cold the weather felt, they said, ” Oh no, all the flowers have died!”, and they noticed the leaves fell off the trees and died. But then, they noticed one tree stayed green. And they thanked Mother Earth for leaving the Evergreen Tree to remind us that Spring will come. And they did this by singing, lighting candles and decorating with pine. They did things to make their own light and warmth.

 

Through this story comes a sharing of their traditions and celebrations they know about.

While many shared their Chanukah and Christmas traditions, Dominic shared a moment quite different.

Dominic (PreK) shared a story of light.

“When I go to my grandpa’s farm, we have these hats with lights on them. We go out into the dark and we see deer. And the deers eyes glow.”

 

I asked many of the children to create “Shiny Happy Things” in addition to lanterns to hang from our teapots and trees around school, since most of the plants died. You can see from these drying pieces the generous spirit and care that went into making gifts for the school.

 

And some more magic happened with the experimentation of materials.

 

And then came December 21st. Our very special Solstice Celebration. Preparation seems a littlr crazy, but then the day comes and yet another transformation happens.

 

The annual Moon Ceremonies in the art studio fill my heart.

Some of the children’s Solstice wishes they shared around the moon:

 

My parents and family are always healthy.

That all of us here are friends forever.

I wish for joy and happiness for everyone.

I wish I can live with my mommy and daddy forever.

I wish that everyone’s light shines.

Even when we’re far away, my love is everwhere.

I wish to play with all my friends always.

 

As Louise Chapman, said to me, it’s like these good thoughts become contagious.

 

 

 

The weeks before Winter Break and the build up to our school Winter Solstice Celebration always brings much reflection. Half the year has come and gone. Am I being intentional? Am I doing enough? Is the work rich and meaningful? Have I overlooked something or someone? Where do I go next, while still staying connected to what we have done? What can I do better?

 

And then surprisingly and magically, small little spontaneous moments were left in the studio. Many times.

Translation: Dinosaur Village. Do not touch. I’m serious. Patrick, Xavier

#1

 

and

 

#2 a week later, built by Patrick, Xavier, Amira, Carrington

 

Many adults have walked by these small worlds, and exclaimed, laughed, or taken photos on their IPhones.

 

Dino Village has become viral, everchanging from grade to grade, group to group. After one of Ms. Scofield’s created a new Dino Village, some of Mr. Tome’s class stood in awe.

“Look what they did!”

“I wish we would have thought of that!”

 

 

It was a great opportunity to talk about how Patrick and Xavier started Dino Village, and it in turn inspired others, and then came back and inspired them!

It reminds me of the work of the artist, Slinkachu.  Slinkachu is a talented artist based in London (a former art director) who now creates tiny scenarios in public places, then photographs and abandons them – to be discovered by no-doubt bemused passers-by.

“The street-based side of my work plays with the notion of surprise and I aim to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes I set up, more evident through the photography, and the titles I give these scenes aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed,” 

 

Human beings have left paths of connection and understanding throughout civilization. From architecture, literature, inventions, musical scores, recordings, films, rituals, remembrances, paintings, to sculptures and research. It is when we as humans are at our best, when we search for meaning and purpose in the woods.

 

It is impossible to not be affected by the Newton, CT tragedy. It is darkness that is possibly too dark. I can only continue to be dedicated through work to making the world a better place in small ways.

 

Perhaps Patrick and Xavier and friends are aware of “the woods” in their lives, and perhaps they have figured out how to leave pebble paths for the rest of us. Pebble paths that won’t disappear. Pebble paths to follow, to be inspired by, or even to just notice.

 

This is important and good and beautiful.

I’m serious.

 

Happy precious New Year!

May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.

And may you notice the many small paths.

 

 

 

 

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.”

“…they scatter memories behind them like breadcrumbs…”

Sometimes life can feel incredibly complex to break down into small digestable bits.

Many rich projects have been occurring in the studio during this time of my playing hookie from blogging. This causes me to feel overwhelmed on what to include. (I mean I’ve been told my blogs are too long already.)

Sometimes I can see this same feeling within my students.

A provocation can seem overwhelming, draw a self portrait, build a chair out of clay, draw your nightmare and tell me about it. A big part of my work is teaching others how to break down what they see, feel, think, or hear into pieces, deconstructing what seems insurmountable.

 

Some background of what you are seeing: The “Chair Project” emerged in Ms Burke’s PreK class. Winnie drew a picture of the tables and chairs to illustrate the job of “snack helper.”  The table had about fifty legs and the chairs were represented as circles on top of the table. Dimensional thinking is complex, let alone representing it with pen and paper as a four year old. Ms. Burke found it fascinating, and we discussed it. I suggested giving the children the challenge of creating a 3d chair out of clay, and returning to the drawing later. The photos above from the studio include Hannah Birney scaffolding or asking questions to provoke understanding that would facilitate overcoming the challenge,  examples of  chairs in different postions to help children understand how they are  constructed, and Zuri giving peer support to Matteo.

50 percent of the children began by making a flat “drawing” out of clay initially.

90 percent of the children struggled with creating sturdy legs and balance. What you see plus the wonderful quality of clay-you can smoosh it when it doesn’t work out, led to enormous leaps of growths.

About 20 percent of the children came up with their own strategies  for making the chair upright. Platforms, bucket chairs and a chaise lounge were some of the ways.

When the children  finally manipulated the clay and created an upright chair, I had a few figures from the play castle for testing stability. After children “tested” their chair with the fugure, they went off to have some studio freetime.

In one small group, all but one child was done. Fionn was working with great intensity to tackle his chair. When he finally had success, I commented on how he stuck with this project, even when it was hard. I placed Fionn’s chair next to the other chairs still on the table that had a small figure seated.

“WAIT WAIT! He didn’t get to put a person on his!” Michael exclaimed from the floor where he was playing with the wooden castle. I had no idea he was paying any attention at all. I was about to just pluck a figure off the neighboring chair, when Michael rushed up with the small figure he was playing with. “There!” He pronounced, placing the toy he was playing with onto Fionn’s chair.

That small moment of caring, of equity and of kindness struck me as not just kind, but incredibly giving. Memories like these remind me of the tiny gestures which make humanity grand.

 How do I hold on to these small moments?  How can I catch them, and put them in my pocket, to be retrieved and written down before I forget them? And then, when do I remember to share them, with the person who made the moment, or the small gesture?

“…I wonder how memories can be here one moment and then gone the next. I wonder about how the sky can be a huge, blue nothingness and at the same time it can also feel like shelter. ” p.175 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

After the chairs were fired in the kiln, I placed them on black paper and put up a stand so that black paper would be a backdrop for the chair. I wanted the children to see the negative space  black instead of the entire visual field around their chairs.

I wondered if the memory of mentally deconstructing a real chair and physically constructing a clay chair would support their dimensional thinking , allowing them to “see” and draw this complex object.

Mira’s chair with standing figure above.

I told the children that this was difficult for even grown-ups to do, and that they should expect to do a whole bunch of tries. That even grown ups have to do things a lot of times, and even then, it might still be difficult. As you can see from the above photos, the cognitive and tactile experiences paired with the expectation that it would take a bunch of drawings to figure it out, made for astounding development. I witnessed tremendous breakthroughs in this process.

 Dima

When it was discovered that a seat of a chair sideways makes a letter “L” shape, I showed everyone this finding.

This immediately made sense to Tessa (above)

Bella, below, was really trying hard to figure out how to draw her chair sideways. Her seat was a big circular shape, and the way she saw it, it was more from an aerial perspective. I know she was listening as I urged each child to notice that “L” shape on their own chair. When she didn’t find it, she added it to the bottom of her drawing as a bunch of “L” legs. Sometimes what you see doesn’t look like what others see. If you look closely, there is indeed a side view, just from a different perspective.

With each group, I left time at the end to reflect about what was hard or difficult as well as what they and or their friends figured out.

This intentional practice of teaching and modeling observation, critique and reflection is a way to make it a value or eventually an internalized practice for each child. At first it’s a little like pulling teeth, and then “pop” with ease and surprise great awakenings are verbalized.

Eva, throughout the process kept saying “I can’t do this.” I reminded her that “can’t is a bad word, but instead she could say, “This is hard! Can you help me?” She was however quite successful in in the end representing her chair, which she created on a base.

When we regrouped to reflect, Eva exclaimed poetically:

“If your brain looks into your creation,

Use the power.

And tell Mommy and Daddy, ‘You did it! Whoo Hoo!'”

I returned to transcribing the nightmare paintings. My goal was to complete this important process of writing down each child’s words with their paintings. I find these works by four year olds both brave and playful. While some children turned their nightmare into a dear friend like Simone,

or an element of power like Archer

 Ava S. expressed herself in an honest and touching way. I find her nightmare painting and memory as incredible evidence of the importance of  parents  protecting their child from even the  imaginary.

“Then he holds me by the shoulderss and looks me in the eyes and says,

We see things. Sometimes they there. Sometimes they not there. We see them the same either way. You understand?”

p169 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

The intensity in the studio is coupled with the free time children are able to take, time permitting. While sometimes project time will use up the entire slot, I try hard to be cognizant of the merits of free time as equally important to the teacher facilitated period, and make space for it. Some children live for free time, especially those who seek the social emotional release and joys of dramatic play. While they might “live” for this free time, it does not mean it is easy. Negotiating friends, time, space, place and materials takes a multitude of thought and self regulation. Even those who prefer to make something on their own or play alone often have to defend their choices- all important habits of mind.

Here are some memories caught and documented during free time.

 Lane over the past weeks has sought out the drum during free time. He keeps a repetitive and steady beat, and loses himself in the concentration and rhythm. A few weeks ago, he began rearranging chairs and stools to make a seat and platform for his playing. He was experimenting with many configurations independently. “Can I sit on this?” he asked, rolling over the clay trash container on wheels. No child had ever asked this, so I told him to go ahead. After some bustling around, I realized the steady drum rhythm had returned. When I looked, I could see that Lane had created a throne for his music making.

Sophie this week chose to use clay to make something for her free time. She spent a long time crafting a teeny tiny sculpture. While she was welcome to take a big wad of clay, she chose to make something small and precious. When she was done she handed it to me. “It’a a platypus.” I turned it around in my hands trying to figure out how to even put one initial on it. When I determined an initial would overwhelm her piece I told her, “Sophie, this is so small, I am unable to put your name or letter on it. Please remind me that you made it after it’s been fired.”

Sophie looked at me in alarm and said, “But Ms. McLean, what if someone ELSE makes a platypus?!”

 Robert and Gabriel chose to work together making copious amounts of meatballs and spaghetti. For a half hour they made tiny pinch pots and squeezed out clay through the extruder with great excitement and seriousness. It was an epic amount of clay pasta, and their engagement and spirits were so high. Was this a fleeting moment?  or a memory that one day, when they are grown and cook for themselves,  will slip into their consciousness like a small little jolt?

What memories do we control? How can memories be utilized as a learning tool in intentional connected ways? How accurate are memories in reflecting or re-experiencing events?

Mant times when I lead classes to a museum, there is no photography allowed of the objects. In these cases, I speak very seriously to the children. “It’s important that you sketch what is interesting or gives you ideas. Since photography is not allowed, these pictures in your sketchbook will be your memory for you to return to.” I was floored by the intensity I observed when I led Ms. Ricks’ PreK class to the Museum of African Art. The line quality and pen strokes conveyed materials, features and intricacies of art and artifacts.

In the art studio, Raigan tends to complete drawings with speed and little effort.In the Museum of African Art she was transfixed, staring closely as she slowly sketched. I never tire of the phenomenon of young children enthralled and engaged in an art museum. So many parents tell me their children won’t draw or aren’t interested in looking when in a museum setting. These very same children, with high expectations that they are competent and able , seem to float into a zone where the rest of the world disappears. They create images, ideas and connections which they know are important and can see are strong work.

Shaw

Will

Zander

Loic

Sometimes memory is important  just for the reason to share a moment that was delightful. The first week back after Winter Break, folk dancers came to share dances around the world. Despite having an audience of over 80 four to six year old children, the performance was interactive and entertaining and the hour long performance was a hit.  Thanks to Arts for Every Student and Class Acts, this program was free.

The hundreth day of school was marked  by the Kindergarten students with a lot of numeracy and ritual. This year, I joined each classroom with thousands of craft sticks, wire, glue dots, paper towel rolls, egg cartons and some foam bits and pieces. In both K classes the children were given the challenge of using each one hundred sticks in some kind of sculpture that they make in an hour. A beautiful chaos of “making” ensued.

While most kids consciously or  unconsciously gave up on the idea of incorporating one hundred craft sticks, Emma Clare was determined to use all 100 sticks. With shades on, she created a skateboard storage area on her sculpture (that woud be the sticks as skateboards placed tightly in a paper cannister.) Brilliant!

 

This exercise of exploring and constructing without a plan was filled with engineering and ingenuity. It was however lacking time, so I found myself in a mad rush of cleaning up the gazillions of materials which sprawled, before the kids missed lunch or the bus. When I was leaving Mr. Jere’s class, clutching various materials I heard my name being called and felt a small person quickly following me as I zipped around. “Ms. McLean, Ms. McLean” I hurriedly said “What?” and spun around to face Anja. “Thank you for setting that up in our class. I really like doing that kind of thing.”  I felt a wave of gratitude and a little shame for being so curt initially.

I happened to bump into Anja’s parents one afternoon and told the story. It’s not often that someone even thinks to thank you for the everyday work you do, and especially not a 5 or 6 year old. This memory truly stops me in my tracks, and illuminates the great power of a small heartfelt thank you.

Memory is closely related to observation and discovery. I took one group in the art studio and decided to see if they were interested in some water experiments. The Kindergarten classes are in the beginning phases of The Anacostia River Project. Because the first visit to the river was cancelled due to weather, there were no first encounters to rely upon.  My idea was to observe water in altered states and sketch afterwards. I was not certain at all.

Dropping a golf ball in the water. Adding oil to water. Adding water color paints to water. Adding salt to water.

Stephen

Maya

Jasper

Perhaps the memory of the experiment will connect to what they see when they visit the river at the end of the week. To my delight, this one group of children (Jasper, Stephen, Ra’Kiya, Luke and Maya) were eager and enthusiastic scientists. They each documented the shared process and sequence and ideas- their memory of the multi step experiment.

Memory is called upon as a coping mechanism.With children, both the joy and the pain must be revisited with support and care to gain a sense of stability and understanding. “Remember when you were left out of your friends game? How did you feel? How do your friends feel when you leave them out? What do you need to do?” Children spontaneously bring up memories of grief, from a relative to a pet. These are great windows into life. I recently attended a funeral of my uncle. The power of memory and story is not only essential to the grief process but to each and every individual as a human being.

Piper

How and what we remember informs our very being.

Last Friday, a former student, Eva Epstein who is now in third grade came to visit me. After a big hug she looked into my eyes and said, “Ms. McLean, I came into here (the art studio) and all the memories came flooding back!”

“We return to the places we’re from; we trample faded corridors and pencil in new lines. “You’ve grown up so fast,” Robert’s mother tell him at breakfast, at dinner. “Look at you.” But she’s wrong, thinks Robert. You bury your childhood here and there. It waits for you, all your life, to come back and dig it up.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

Slowly, I get to know each child, quite intimately. Helena often creates representations of her baby sister. The drawing above came about when I asked her, “What are you into? What interests you? What is something you think about?” My sister, she replied. When I asked her what her sister can do, she told me “crawl”. I bent a small figure in a crawling postion so she could figure it out.

 Previously, during free time she created her sister in her car seat out of clay.

There is an amazing way we, all people walk the earth. We bring our memories from home with us, wherever we go. They are invisible to others most of the time. For young children, they wear their memories  on their sleeves. The family memories bubble up and emerge. One moment they are playing happily and the next moment they think of their mommy, and briefly, the tears or yearning is vocalized. The next moment they are a part of a new group, building new memories, creating new pathways in their brains. Like Eva Epstein, who visited me, someday these memories will just bubble up. And define them.

“…every hour…, all over the globe, an infinite  number of memories disappear, whole glowing atlases dragged into graves. But during that same hour children are moving about, surveying territory that seems to them entirely new. They push back the darkness; they scatter memories behind them like bread crumbs. The world is remade.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

 

 

Some wisdom for 2012

Birthdays, solstice, anniversaries and New Years are such wonderful triggers for reflection, memories and storytelling. While many make resolutions, I tend to think about experiences that have inspired my thoughts and actions. Returning to these memories or ideas provide me with a path for forward motion.

For five or six years I have hung words from The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) on the studio door at SWS. I often reread them as they deeply represent my beliefs. I wish I wrote them. What I can do is actualize them.

Yesterday, I took the Kindergarten students, teachers and parents on the annual trip to Baltimore to the AVAM. It is my favorite museum and favorite place to introduce  others to. For this post, I will share the powerful AVAM words from my studio door, with images from my work/life.

AVAM’s Seven Educational Goals

1. Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.

Images from visit to the Folger Theatre Costume Shop with room 9 Kindergarteners.

Natalie’s rendering

2. Engender respect for and delight in the gifts of others.

Nick Cave Exhibit at Mary Boone Gallery in NYC, 2011

Evidence of children at work…

AVAM Art Bus

Sanjay Patel Exhibit at the Museum of Asian art in San Fran, 2011

Yarn Bomb in SoHo, 2011

Horse Bomb at SWS, 2011

“A Flying Ms. McLean” By Fiona, 2012

3. Increase awareness in the wide variety of choices available in life for all…particularly students.

4. Encourage each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths.

5. Promote the use of innate intelligence , intuition, self exploration, and creative self-reliance.

This happened a few days ago. During free time in the studio, Winnie (PreK) asked “Why are there letters on the bells? I explained that the musical scale has letters that go C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C and it was the same thing they sing up and down with Ms. Rachel in Music. She said,”Wait, say them again.” As I did, she arranged the bells in order and played them. I went about my own thing, and awhile later came upon this…

6. Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.

(Katie’s Bluebird)

7.Empower the individual to choose to do that something really, really well.

EmmaClare wanted to making something that flies that she could carry like a purse.

Tremendous words of wisdom. For all. I am so thankful for the American Visionary Art Museum.

This morning I was reading an article in the Washington Post about the children’s author, Mo Willems. He wrote “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.”  and more. Once again, words of wisdom. I am ending this post with a quote from the article:

“He’s not afraid to show kids failing,” says Willem’s friend Tom Waburton, a fellow animator. “He’s not afraid to show that bad things can happen and good things can come out of that. There’s something underneath everything he does.”

That something is…humanity, perhaps? Compassion? Psychological strife? Or maybe it’s something simpler, like Willem’s explanation of how he writes for children as though they are all wise souls.

“Adults and children,” he says, “are members of the same species.”

“It’s one of those sentences that means nothing and everything, depending on how you read it.   (The author who revels in a small fan base by Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 1/7/2012)

It means everything to me.

Call them not your children. Call them your builders. -The Talmud

Happy New Year 2012

Not afraid of the dark

The darkness of this time of year, is actually our guide.

How do I greet and introduce this shift of our natural world with my young children that I share the bulk of my time with in the SWS Art Studio?

It is all to easy to shut out the natural occurrences with modern technology and a blind eye. With ritual and reverence, playfulness and curiosity, the journey into the darker days of the year become meaningful.

When  K teacher Jere Lorenzen-Strait sent me a link to an exhibit The Bright Beneath,  at The Smithsonian Museum of natural History, my heart skipped a beat. A resident artists was invited to explore bioluminescence through kinetic art installation. The two of us became fascinated by the idea that light and energy can occur where there is no sun, in the deep dark depths of the ocean. Together we went on a recognizance mission to see what it was all about. We were blown away. We quickly  planned to bring the children with their sketchbooks to this trans formative space. We had a sense that this multi-sensory environment would engage and sustain them and prayed it would be a slow and quiet day at the museum, so that they would have time. To prep the children on the day of the trip, I asked them to think about representing something really difficult: movement, change of color, form, light and sound in their sketchbook.

 

 

 

Joseph, above represented movement using undulating lines, while Katie stood up and danced the movement with her whole being immersed in the dark dramatic light, sound and color of the installation (below).

The children pointed, pondered, worked  alone as if in a bubble, or worked with a friend collaborating on how to sketch this enormous idea. The children were rapt for an hour, in fact, we had to stop them so that we could free up the space for the rest of the museum patrons. Several adults and school groups commented on the children’s intense creativity and attention. They were surprised at the children’s focus.

This trip filled my heart. It was values, belief and pedagogy made visible. Children indeed possess deep and thoughtful insights and must be given the time, respect and materials to document their ideas. This trip also was an illustration on how multi-sensory arts education is the great equalizer. Looking at this group, no one would know who has a hard time sitting in a chair, standing in line, or answering a question. All children were engaged in higher level thought and practice. Just beautiful.

The dark alters how we see things. Shadows are long. The overcast sky creates new hues. So with this in mind, I collected some favorite materials for some of the preK children to experiment with. I wanted them to see things in an changed state. While the end result would be creating a  kaleidoscope  of sorts, the process was the illuminating aspect of the provocation.

 

With the longer darker days come the opportunity of spending time inside creating, constructing, and reading. I grew up in Rochester, New York where it was cold and grey six months of the year. I attribute that environment in shaping my love for creating and imagining. As a child I spent hours taking things apart, playing under tables and creating small worlds, and noticing the light whenever a beam glowed in my bedroom.

With teacher Margaret Ricks and her PreK class, we walked to the US Botanic Gardens to see the extraordinary natural small world and trains created by Paul Busse of Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Kentucky. His attention to extreme  detail and fantastical creations makes me imagine him sitting for hours surrounded by leaves and berries and small light.

Despite the beauty and wonder, there is also a small bit of darkness. All these small creations possess the allure of fairy tales with their horrors that the protagonist must face and overcome. It is important for children to understand that adversity is a part of life, and it is through overcoming, that the self’s story begins to emerge. Here is a wonderful article to check out that speaks to this importance, and not just for children: once upon a time… we lived happily ever after

While Paul Busse’s miniatures make you marvel, here’s a link to a family that created their own life size fairy house as their home: Man builds fairy tale home. What a wonderful story of truly building your dreams.

After the botanic gardens we walked across the street to the Reflecting Pool with old bread to feed the birds. Just like in the fairy tales, Ms. Ricks warned the children of falling in, and that she was not planning on swimming that day. The joy and amazement that was elicited through this act of interacting with wild birds was exhilarating.

 

I am not afraid to admit that I scare easy. Sounds in the dark, nightmares, scary movies effect me deeply. In the studio, taking a cue from the sunless sky, I started a conversation with some small groups of children. Willa told me about the sounds she hears in the night, but her parents told her it was the radiator. Dreams were recounted filled with monsters, bad guys and characters from popular tv. I read There’s a Nightmare in My Closet and There’s Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer.

With one group of PreK children I brought out black paper for them to create their own nightmares. Fionn exclaimed “I’m going to ask my mom for dark paper to paint with!” just thrilled with this project.

 

 

 

 

 

With a Kindergarten group I explored the same subject, this time using a coated paper, that reveals line/color as they  scratched away at the dark surface. Their stories revealed their more advanced language and development. Both groups equally were drawn into the provocation of sharing their nightmares.

Dominic’s Nightmare-age 5, December 2011

 I think there’s a poison ivy monster under my bed who drinks poison. I had a dream about it.

The poison ivy monster had two arms and I ran away from him.

He trapped me and then when it was morning time, my daddy shouted,

and my dream was over.

Robert’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011

My nightmare is a zombie and is has 1,2,3,4,5,6, 7 heads! It’s a seven-headed zombie monster. I am on top of his head. I don’t want him to find me. The car, motorcycle, skateboard and scooter are all crashing into the monster because I have a controller. I never fall off. They turn into one transformer and then the monsters fall because they really are sand monsters

I jump down before they fall.

Amira’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011

I am sleeping in my bed and I hear the monster. I wake up and I get my lasso.

The monster appeared quite suddenly. I call my mommy and daddy.

Then my bed starts roller-skating. Mommy and daddy pick me up and got me out.

My bed hits the monster and the monster starts to cry. My nightmare says, “What did you do to me?”

I said, “Well, see how fierce I am!”

My monster said “See how many heads I have?” Then he started being fierce again.

Then mommy and daddy said, “Look how fierce WE ARE!”

Then the monster started shooting pellets. But, I turned his body off.

The End

The very last day of the 2011 school year is marked by a lovely tradition at SWS, our Solstice Celebration. The entire community wears pajamas, cooks pancakes and bacon, cuts fruit, creates projects that respond to light and dark, enjoy a concert by Rachel Cross and her husbund Henry and friend John, and everyone attends a moon ritual in the art studio.

Here’s the rockin’ trio. What started out as a civilized concert turned into a joyful dance party.

Every year I lead the children through the Moon Ritual. I recreate the studio space and selectively choose music to create a whole body mind spirit shift. The golden moon, created by children 5 years ago hangs in the center of the space flanked by the children’s newly created and flickering lanterns. The overhead projectors create lightscapes of drama. Furniture is removed. By grace, it was a dark day outside, so it was especially dramatic.

The ritual takes them through singing songs (This little light of minds and I will be your friend), dancing to the song Dancin’ in the Moonlight while holding crescent moons that changed into smiles, frowns, tambourines and hats,  and a recitation with movements of Oh Look at the Moon poem. Most importantly, I guide them through thinking about the darkness and the changes in the natural world. I place a simple necklace of a moon around each child’s neck as a memory and give them a kiss on theri head and say Happy Solstice. I ask them to embrace the darkness instead of being grumpy or bored by creating, dreaming, playing, thinking, examining, singing, dancing and making their own light. While holding hands we made wishes for the darkest days.

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
― Patrick Overton

Wishing everyone a Solstice Season of stories, memories and warmth. Embrace the dark and make some light!

“This”

I believe that theory and practice are indeed the pedals on the bicycle and you need both to move forward. (Loris Malaguzzi coined this phrase)

 

It is a goal to share this belief within my blog. It is important.

 

Today, however, I want to show

 

gratitude through images.

 

beautiful moments,

small and large

private and public

hard earned through perseverance

spontaneous gestures

independence

help from friends

help from family

exhilaration

quiet

togetherness

chaos

making

flow

solitude

the lit fire

connection

joy

love

 

Embrace this idea:

Without deep relationships developed with children, hand, mind and heart-

“this” would not be possible.

 

This is creativity.

 

Thoughtfullness.

 

The data gathered is called humanity.

 

Trust.

 

It is the force that makes life remarkable.

 

Not always easy.

 

But remarkable.

 

 

In full gratitude,

Marla

 

Binoculars above and walkie talkie below

(Katy, PreK first self portrait)

The surprise of translucent transformation.

(BK Adams I AM ART exhibit at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum) Both K classes got to view the exhibit and meet the artist. When I emailed BK the images he was just blown away. “Marla, wow, this is the reason I do what I do.”

Michael rummaged his hands through the jewels and held these two red ones up to me.

Me: You found two red ones. Your favorite color!

Michael faces me and presses them to my chest, “No, it’s your heart.”

I carried them in my pocket all day. Patting them. I took them home. They sit on my dresser.

Not always easy

but remarkable.

PS  I have made many connections through reading and commenting on visionary blogs especially ones in early childhood education.

One of my favorites is a West Coast PreK teacher who is nothing short of prolific. He is also passionate, committed and fearless. I am humbled and honored to be nominated by him for the best best individual blog through Edublog. Please take a look at  Teacher Tom .  His review of my blog warms my jewel red heart.(and while you are there, brew a pot of coffee and read his posts!)

 

Marking time in the territory they are in

“I have found that my (art) work tells me what I’m interested in. It tells me what I’m doing in the territory I’ve landed in.”

Carrie Mae  Weems speaking at The Corcoran in conjunction with the 30 Americans exhibit, November 12, 2011.

These words really resonated with me. As I revisited my personal work in my grown up studio this weekend, I could see that my work informed me of my thinking during diverse periods in my life.

Artist as mark maker. As a mark maker in the specific moment they are creating. Artist as archiver. It is why artists are so dangerous to repressive regimes. Artists mark time in powerful symbolic ways, reacting, speaking expressing.

This idea makes me think of the listening I do every day.

Visual listening.

With 4, 5 and 6 year olds.

Are they not  also marking time in the territory they are in right now?

The following is the path behind, through and around  one of  the current PreK projects. As long and wordy as this documentation is (and I apologize for this), there is so much more to consider. I hope you will join in “listening” to what is often invisible.

I am posting a sampling of the transcribed work. There was not one that was better than another. Each piece marks the territory where each individual child has landed, right now. It is deepened by the context of being in a small studio group, where ideas are experimented, disseminated, constructed, shared and exclaimed over.

I was thrilled with Gaia’s verbal description for getting bigger or getting fat as “make more big.” Gaia’s first languages are Spanish and Italian. Her taking a risk and telling me a story in English in which she came up with verbal strategies to be heard is quite remarkable!

 

 

Hearing Artist Carrie Mae Weems speak after I wrote this, I would like to add another question:

Why is this work/research so very important? At this moment? In this territory? Right now? With young children?

The Honor to Witness

This blog post is a collaboration between myself and Kindergaten Teacher Jere Lorenzen-Strait. In a whirlwind of adrenalin fueled by immediate happenings, we furiously and joyfully created this documentation. It is my hope you feel the energy of our shared dialogue.

 

Grit

Intent.

Studio work has so much of this, in so many forms.

There is poetic languages and memories made and found that offer new possibilities through creating,  however, behind it all is intent.

For my Kindergarten students working on planning, designing and sewing/constructing a costume, the intent is to develop skills and ability to sew/construct with independence. They are each making a Collection Pouch.

This is a really hard thing to do. One has to: sew on the “wrong side”, create a seam, stay along an edge, travel in one direction, avoid pins that hold it all together, not sew the pocket together. Many jokes and dramatic exclamations were a part of lightly getting pricked by the needle or pins. Deep concentration plus a sense of humor was needed for this part of the project. “Ouch, I got hurt again!” “OOOOOOOHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO! I am pricked!” “When you sew you get hurt, there is blood and it spurts!! and then it hurts and the you blurt and murt!” Lots of laughter, repeat, laughter, repeat…

Intentionally, children are seated knee to knee on the floor. Pins and needles fall easily and children need to share their mistakes and strategies in sewing the pouches in a communal way.  I am also seated knee to knee to provoke  the habit of mind of “engaging and persisting” as opposed to allowing frustration to happen to the extent of shut down. I can see who gets it and can ask them to support a friend when necessary.

When you teach someone else how do do something, the act becomes much more intentional. I observe and listen as helping children begin helping another.

“Like THIS!” when that doesn’t work, they become more specific.  “So, you have to poke the needle down and then flip it over, SEE?” (Carrington)

As expected, this project was new and hard for everyone. It was time consuming. Stitches sometimes had to be pulled out. There wasn’t any freetime with this part of the project and everyone worked at different speeds and abilities. This project  is not only intentionally planned to prepare them for their costume, but  also to develop “grit.”

What is “grit?”

Although this field of study is only a few years old, it’s already made important progress toward identifying the mental traits that allow some people to accomplish their goals, while others struggle and quit. Grit, it turns out, is an essential (and often overlooked) component of success. “I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do.”

From the article, The Truth about Grit by Jonah Lehrer

From sewing seams came turning the pouch right side out. While this may seem intuitive for an adult, it was a stretch for the kids. The studio has a bad word that is not allowed…”can’t.” So when I started hearing a lot of I can’ts, I gave the kids replacement statements again.

This is tricky. 

This is frustrating.

I’m confused.

I need help.

This is part of the intentional work in the studio. Working through the hard parts, engaging, persisting, developing grit.

I was surprised to learn that measuring the strap to fit the body and sewing on the strap would be so challenging. (This is my first time doing work like this with the children.)

Many of the children struggled with: holding the pouch open side up, holding the strap where they wanted to have it pinned, sewing the strap on the wrong side, sewing the strap to the pouch with out closing the pocket.

It was often hard to scaffold the children through this part instead of doing it for them. Many times when children asked for help I asked them questions like, “If I pin the pouch the way you are holding it, how will you put your collection inside?” If they were unable to figure out to rotate the pouch so the opening was on top, I would ask them to look at a friend’s. If that didn’t help, I asked the friend to help.

Intentionally setting up problem solving and collaborative support means the adult not “fixing” the problem.

There was a slight break in challenging work, when they got to draw whatever image they wanted on the from of their collection pouch. But first, it had to be flipped right side out again.

Ahhhh, the sweet sensation of seeing the fruits of their labors.

“My mom is taking stiching class, and I can do it!”

“Don’t tell our parents, we want to surprise them!”

“Is it mine? Can I take it home?”

The Collection Pouches are not done yet. I want the children to learn how to attach  materials to their sewn pouch. Certainly they will need to know how to do this for the costume construction.

The third part of the collection pouch is sewing on beautiful and interesting stuff that has holes (or making holes in stuff to sew on) as well as gluing on.

Once again there is a lot of mechanical, spatial, and technical hurdles to overcome. The pouch is now right side out. The needle starts from the inside of the pouch and can only go through the front. This is a lot of  managing of materials. Sewing incorporates a lot of mathematical thinking too.

However, this part  allows for personal expression, so engagement was even higher. Only one group has started this phase of the project as of this post. The strategies and gusto with which they approached this challenge was far more independent and self-assured then their first interaction with the project.

Stephen’s Collection Pouch

Luke’s Collection Pouch

As children progressively move through this third stage of the project, they see what their peers have done. I usually see that the children in the later groups look at the first pouches and then build upon their models-changing and morphing possibilities.

In these three sessions I have seen a huge development in mathematical and spatial thinking. Huge gains have been made in persisting through the hard parts. Grit is being developed. My questions are:

Will grit transfer to the costume making-which will be hard in a different way?

Will grit transfer to classroom challenges in diverse domains such as writing?

Can you lose the development of grit if you are not in an environment where it is an intentional value?

My hope, is that the moment of perseverance transformed into invention, creation or discovery is too powerful to disappear, in any  situation. It is why I continue to read, research and develop strategies with the children. I’m a believer in grit.

Where, when, how and why did you develop your grit? Who do you attribute to supporting you develop this trait?

(Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

Here is the entire article:  The Truth About Grit, By Jonah Lehrner 

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Seeing

“Seeing is like dreaming, and even like falling in love.

It is entangled in the passions-jealousy, violence, possessiveness, and it is soaked in affect, in pleasure and displeasure and pain.

Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.”

-James Elkins

This quote was brought to my attention by Rika Burnham, author of Teaching in the Art Museum, Interpretation as Experience who was one of the presenters and leaders during the week long seminar Conversations in Creativity at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington DC.

It is such a poweful statement and it has been resonating and dancing in my head. It brings to mind images of a project I did with Kindergarten children on the idea of seeing. I asked, How do we see? Do we see with more than our eyes? What does “seeing” look like? Here are some of the images from four years ago:

 

 

The thinking and emotion that is intrinsic in “seeing” is at the core of both my work with children and adults as well as my personal art making.

Robert S and Michelle M. Root-Bernstein, the authors Sparks of Genius  and  Dr. Kimberly Sheridan, one of the authors Studio Thinking:The real benefits of Visual Arts Education also led the seminar with a combination of passion and research. These two books have shaped my practice, so I was honored to have the opportunity to be a part of a small group of educators from all over the world to engage with them.

The seminar allowed me to both reflect and recharge on the Atelier or Studio environment that I facilitate.

Last Spring, when I asked a group of Pre-K students to think about, plan and create “What makes you happy?” I was inquiring into the minds of 4 year olds, however I was not only honoring their place in life as a 4 year old, but facilitating and mentoring the process of constructing their ideas into a symbol.

Here is Jasper’s Supersonic Aircraft:

Yes, this is an amazing scupltural construction, but what you don’t see, is that it took Jasper one whole hour to put holes in the bottle caps using an awl and hammer, and then he had to secure  the body of the aircraft into a vice to drill holes with a hand tool in order to attach the wheels. It took another 40 minutes to maneuver the wire through the small holes. These moments of engaging, persisting and working through frustration and often failure- to the end, are a micricosm of the process for all the children in the studio.

Weeks after Jasper completed this sculpture he informed me that he was not done. He still needed to add passengers. I honestly had no idea how he would find materials to fit in such a small area of his sculpture. But, I learned, that he has the great ability to visually make dimensional estimates. Through the proposition “What makes me happy” (a seemingly benign proposal), came great understanding of his thinking and habits of mind.

My commitment to Atelier or Studio (transdisciplinary) teaching and teaching environments was supported and challenged to grow during this amazing and in depth seminar. What a wonderful summer gift!

In addition to the seminar, I have another occurence to reflect upon.

Last night I had an experience that was complex and thought provoking. I was hired as an artist by Class Acts-Project Youth ArtReach to lead art workshops in a local detention facility for youth. This type of work is new for me. I brought clay and universal, diverse cultural & ethnic images symbolizing protection, elements, totems and human qualities. The youth were to make sculptural reliefs inspired by these images. Here are some of them:

 

 

I am planning on creating a mixed media mosaic for Class Acts, with these pieces (and more from subsequent workshops.)

Just like with Jasper’s process, this is what you didn’t see: the facility was disorganized so workshops scheduled were cut short, and/or moved to a room without a table/water access. Some staff were disengaged, creating a challenging climate. Eventually, the majority of youth were engaged.

While some participants voiced bravado or tested limits in conversation-others worked in silence. Others told stories inspired by the images. One youth told me with excitement about catching a huge toad, and going to the insect museum at The Smithsonian when he was a kid and seeing the huge hissing cockroaches. (I had scarab images.)

Another told me of his plans to have tattoos all over his body. When he shared plans to one day tattoo his eyelids with “Game” on one eye and “Over” on the other, I gently suggested he get tattoos in places he could hide them. “You really would be limited if you went on a job interview. What would you do, not blink? One day, you will be a father or a grandfather. You want to be able to think ahead and be proud of the images on your body.”

Some of the youth already had tattoos. One had several nautical stars. “What does that mean to you?” I asked. He replied,  “Reach for the stars.”

Another had an intricately drawn and shaded tattoo of a tree with entangled roots on his forarm. He told me it was The Tree of LIfe. It was beautiful.

One youth spent most of his time hiding behind a sofa, eventually emerging to sit apart-declaring he was not going to get his hands dirty. Near the end of the workshop, he stood next to me and began going through the images I had brought.

“Can I have some?” he asked.

“What for?” I replied

“I draw.” he said.

“What type of pictures are you looking for? I can give you a few, but I need the rest for the next workshop.”

“I like wings.” he said.

He found wings. I gave them to him. he said,  “Thank you.”

Poetic, bittersweet and sad. I question what an hour or 45 minutes of images and clay and me is worth in this environment? I believe in connection and relationship, and yes transformation through “seeing.”  How  do brief moments with limited connection and relationship effect (do they even effect at all) incarcerated or detained youth?

My husband, LaMar Davis of The Choice Program has done research on the Arts and incarcerated youth. “The truth is,” he told me, “you just never know what it might mean to a kid. That boy who took those (wing) drawings, it might mean a lot to him. These are kids who have nothing, and have nothing to do all day. Who knows, he might draw and create and that’s really great.”

I return to the words in the opening quote: “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.” and leave them for you to ponder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day the Kids Made God, and other urgent stories…

The end of the school year brings such urgency, for the children, the staff and myself.

For some children, some type of recall memory emerges. The project they started and forgot about long ago, sudennly, MUST be completed in the last week of school.  These  children don’t just want to complete the “forgotten” project quickly, no, suddenly there is great attention to detail and one more thing that must be added. While many I did not photograph, here are a few.

Cate’s favorite place that she loves is her livingroom. You are unable to see this, but she upholstered wood pieces and sewed all the cushions.

Then there was Emma’s (PreK) family on a picnic and Camille’s birthday cake.

Laura not only had to finish herself skating at the ice skating rink, but insisted there had to be seating.

Here is Christina dancing on the ballet bar.

In an urgency to get everyone in the studio and working, I did not get to photograph the epic Elephant Drum by Henry B. and the Dog House with Dog by Chiara. You can only imagine the detail and design that was put into these creations.

A week before Mrs. Ricks Kindergarten closing play, it was discovered that the zebra costume had disappeared. Somehow these three children worked furiously for 3 days to make a new one in time.

For me, there is much that is urgent at the end of the year. One is to tell those stories that never got told. Like the day Sara, Mani, Canon, and Chiara made God. Now I am not sure how this happened. I was watching them build together. Soon, they were excited and HAD to tell me what they had done. “This is God!”

“Really,”  I replied. “Explain it to me.”

Well this part (where the fabric hung) is God and the city and land is all around.

This is how God sees EVERYTHING, like infinity:

and this is God’s power:

Because they had built right outside Mr. Jere’s PreK  class, a few children came out to look. This was the first time the large building materials were in a shape not figurative. Airplanes, the titanic, and bridges had been built, but this was an amorphous shape.

“What is it?”  They asked.

“It’s God!”

“Oooooooh”, said Brooke.

“How?” asked Amira

Alexander said, “Well that is not God.”

I explained, “This is what is so wonderful about being an artist. You have the opportunity to show your ideas and make them. Alex, you would make God differently, and that is what is so wonderful about ideas. They can be different.”

A few minutes later , Sara, Mani, Canon and Chiara showed some of their Kindergarten friends what they made.

“WOW”, marveled Emma, “it REALLY DOES look like God.”

In that moment, my relationship with those large plastic connecting pieces took on new possibilities. It was through this small group that the use of those materials was expanded.

In the last few weeks of school I had another urgency, all those things I wanted to do, had not been done. I decided to go for it. There was a preK class that I felt I had not done enough facilitated collaborative projects and building with. Now was my chance. In small groups of 5 or 6, I told them that they had a ‘play project’. This ‘play project’ was to build a fort or house, using the big plastic pieces, fabric, clothespins. The trick to this project was for most of the tasks, you need to ask a friend for help. I tried to clothespin 2 pieces of fabric together, and showed them it just wouldn’t work. So what should I do?  I asked.

“I can help you!” Carrington said.

That’s it! But not just the fabric. It is super hard to get these big pieces to connect. Most everything you do today, you will need a friend to help.

I watched as they began. All separate.

“Ask for help”, I urged.

So they would shout out, “Can someone help me?” and no one would respond.

It was too generic. I realized they needed some modeling.

“Here’s how to get help. First call someone by their name, and then ask them to do something for you specific. Like this…”Luke, can you hold this fabric together so I can clip it together?'”

Stephen practiced, and realized he had to hold the fabric. “I’ll clip it” Luke offered.

I know this sounds elementary, but often we forget that one does not know how to help without specifics. Modeling this technique changed the dynamics of the interactions. And yes, I did have to walk through the modeling many times, but soon, I was released from this duty. Children who usually strayed from group play were drawn in. Kids who didn’t care to share, needed help. Soon amazing breakthroughs were happening.

Maya and Caroline worked  to build a swinging baby bed. However, Jasper realized that if they wanted  to leave the baby, then they needed to build something for a baby monitor. The level of play in their newly built house was inclusive and open to new ideas.

While one group built a telephone center, the next group was interested in building stairs, that then transformed into a kitchen:

Soon they decided they needed supplies. They pretended there was a delivery man. In another group, they all went to the store, but then, there was a rainstorm. They had to wrap “the baby” up and get him out of the rain:

Having neutral toys that do not tell children what to play, are necessary for creative and imaginative play. Too often corporate branding hijacks play. While I am not opposed to children’s movies as a whole, I do find TV and movie marketed toys as limiting to idea development and construction.

All this play was temporal. It was kept up for only a day in the common area. In that way, there was excitement of seeing something new developed as well as anticipation for when you got to build and create your idea.

Soon new interactive ways of playing collaboratively became explosive.

Here’s the DC High, DC Low Gym:

First you jump over the blue part like Eli. Then you go on the treadmill like Elise (and yes, she is play talking on a cell phone as she exercises!) and then you go low like Kiran:

and skate like R’Kyia

When they were all done, R’Kya said urgently ,”WAIT, we NEED a security system!!!”

“What’s that?” asked Kiran

“It’s something that goes off if someone breaks in and takes stuff.”

So, they went and got bells from the Art Studio.

While Eli put the security system in place, he turned and said. “We won’t have to use these very much.”

Another group returned to the bridge and water theme. But this time, Josie figured out how to make herself into a Mermaid. Soon many were becoming Mermaids. Josie came up to me and said in a quiet voice “Why is EVERYONE being a mermaid now?”

I smiled and said, “Josie, it’s because you came up with a really wonderful idea. Now others want to use your idea. Isn’t that great? Your ideas are spreading.” She broke out in a huge smile.

My last urgent story to share ( I do have a million more) is the wonderful engineering of the teletubby zipline brought to you by Dominic and Eli T. This invention brought lots of excitement and joy to the whole school. I am betting it will become a regular fixture of play.

With time zipping past, it was time to shut down the art studio for the year.

Urgent packing and meeting and reflecting. All we did not do, all we wanted to do, all we did, all we could have done better, the joys, the frustration and yes, before the year ends…urgent planning of intentions for next year. Plans that make your heart beat in the midst of the chaos of shutting down a school year.

Han, wandered in on one of the packing days and grabbed both my arms, he looked at me in the eyes and said,

“Ms. McLean, where are…where are…where are THE CHILDREN?”

“It’s time to pack up Han. Me and all the children will be back next year.”

PS click this link to find inspired and incredibly cool ideas!

Marveling

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…

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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.

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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.


As glorious and grand as the clouds

I love stories, especially stories that speak to insight and research. This year, I began the process of looking at the Anatomy of Mark Making. This is because so many people proclaim that our school seems to produce children who are prodigious at graphic representation. Also, I had been asked to lead a course through Innovations/Wayne State University on said topic. This offered me a challenge, because the source of the inquiry is not a story.

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I have always looked at clouds, initially to “see” an elephant, witch, crocodile or face. However, I vividly remember being thrilled in elementary school when I learned to recognize cloud varieties– Cumulus, Stratus, Cirrus.clouds3

In learning to name or classify clouds, the joy and the magic, the “seeing” did not cease. It actually gave me a new possibility for looking, and in many ways an opportunity to see deeper.

In the spirit of cloud watching, I began the process of naming and then classifying children’s drawings. (I did not include children’s writing as part of this process) I too, became curious of this culture of drawing at our school, and wanted to move from the more intuitive to the more intentional in my research. My first developed classifications were: Graphic Representation as Abstract Thought/Idea, Graphic Representation as Memory, Graphic Representation as Observation, Graphic Representation as Plan, Graphic Representation as Fantasy.

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Soon I realized that my classifying system was slightly flawed, because there was hybrid or combined categories. I relate this to Cumulus-stratus clouds, that forms combine.

I  was fascinated to learn that by classifying the representations of children, you not only begin to see more nuances, but you begin to widen your ability to understand and see meaning and intent.

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So what does this teach me?

More than anything it supported my thesis that graphic representation/drawing is thought. It is language. Young Children are complex thinkers, and when given the tools and time and respect to do so, become fantastic communicators. This work is profound. It shows expressed theories, connections, ideas, and imagination.

While many adults look for schools that produce children who can decode and read above their age level, I theorize that these very children have been robbed of their voice and possibly their intellect. I can read a medical journal-but I have no understanding of content whatsoever. I devour fiction, art, education books and more – but I can add to the field of thought and conversation, and develop new ways of thinking when I read these books. My neuro pathways are engaged and challenged.

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What if my parents never looked up into the sky and exclaimed, “Marla, do you see the castle?”  (Whereby I most likely responded, “Where? Because I see a ship!”)

There is a solid possibility when the chapter on clouds surfaced in my 3rd grade science text; I would have lamely memorized the types to solely pass the multiple choice questions quiz.

absplan1(“I am thankful for my Grandma’s garden.” Julia)

Valuing and researching children’s drawings are more than sorting and classifying. It’s research of both creativity and thought. It is an ongoing provocation and a continuing conversation.

In the context of our school, it is powerful curriculum (and caring).

It is as glorious and grand as the clouds.

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Waiting for the moon

Actually, I am staying up late tonight to see the full lunar eclipse on this Solstice Eve.

I have until 3:00 am to wait for the moon, what a perfect opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Solstice and share images from the SWS Solstice Celebration on Friday, December 17th:

The Moon Ritual in the Art Studio

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Singing and tent raising in room 12

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The drama and expertise of cookin’ panakes, waffles, bacon, sausage and more…

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and quiet moments,

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even the stuffed animals took some quiet time in the beds made by kindergarteners.

As I reflect on the SWS  Solstice Celebration, and await the full Lunar Eclipse this evening, I am struck once again by the affect of wonder in our lives, young and old.

(First snow in DC happened during school last week)

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“Wisdom Begins in Wonder” -Socrates

Wonder and creativity often get discounted in education, especially public education. I recently wrote a short essay as a guest blog. Here it is, Picking up feathers, and other thoughts on creativity by Marla McLean.

On the eve of the longest night of the year, I am filled with gratitude and hope. The problems and despair in the world are overwhelming. It is not too hard to get swallowed by the darkness. Somehow witnessing wonder (in whatever form)  diminishes the fear.

I thank all my “teachers” of 2010. They came in the form of young children, co-workers, friends, family, SWS family, bloggers, my college students from the Corcoran, my studio mates, the teachers and admins in Lima, Peru.

They also came in the form of rain and snow, sparrows, squirrels, my dog,  mountains, oceans, and the rainbow swirl of oil found on asphalt during a city summer. Books, music, art, and the kindness of strangers. The great energy of Washington DC and Silver Spring. Both mistakes and discoveries were my teachers, as well as discomfort, frustration  and contentment.

A rock, a beam of light, a feather.

If it’s possible  to see the sun and moon align this evening on the Winter Solstice (the first since Dec 21st 1632!), I imagine it’s possible to wonder all types of possibilities right into existence.

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Happy Solstice and Happy New Year to all.

An awakening of sorts

What is a plan?

“It’s when you decide whether to go to the park or do something else.” Josie

“It’s something you think of and draw, and then make later.” Maya F.

I initiated the Fairy House plans.

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It was after collecting and sorting natural materials,

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reading the book Fairy Houses,

having lots of practice using the sketch books in different ways (in museums to make memories, outdoor observational sketching, indoor self portraits),

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and after discussing the qualities of artificial, living, and found natural objects.

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I am mentioning this, because this process of modeling and working with children is based on the idea of learning called ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development developed by Vygotsky.

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To cite directly from Vygotsky, this most widely known concept of his theory represented “the distance between the actual level of development as determined by independent problem solving [without guided instruction] and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

“This is confusing.” Ava

I was able to show Ava some work from her peers’ sketchbooks. I also was able to scaffold, or ask questions to give her support. Here’s some diverse examples of the plans:

Using the sketchbooks and mark making to create symbolic representations, for a blueprint, for a fairy house.

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Wills plan

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The following week, children worked in groups of 2-3, combining their ideas to create one Fairy House.

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In these small groups, children challenged each other to develop and build in a more complex manner. Ideas bounced off one another. More experimentation was observed, due to collaboration. Groups working next to other groups shared ideas.

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“Theirs is more beautiful than ours!” Maximillian

A magnanimous attitude towards others developed.

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The thesis behind this “zone” is that at a certain stage in development, children can solve a certain range of problems only when they are interacting with people and in cooperation with peers.

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The Kindergarten children spent a few weeks with me, developing the thinking and skills to make a 3 dimensional clay sculpture of a Fairy.

The collaborative time spent figuring out how to do this was essential to internalizing how to do this.

When I decided they were ready to create and keep a sculpture to be fired, I witnessed children commenting, questioning and supporting peers who were struggling.

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“You forgot the neck, that’s why the head is coming off.”

“Make a slab, like this to make a body.”

“How did you do the hair again?”

Laura clay

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“Attach the hands to the body, or it will fall off.”

Ben clay

This theory of teaching and learning (ZPD) differs from children performing tasks in isolation. In isolation, a child’s success depends upon another child’s failure.

Environments such as SWS that focus on Mastery as opposed to Performance create a paradigm switch amongst children from “self” to “other.”

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Peers are seen as assets as opposed to competition. Each child’s individual success is celebrated within the context of a group.

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Claire, Emma Clare, and Ava’s Fairy House has the following text. They created the narrative together, with passion and excitement:

There’s a water fountain you can drink out of on the outside of the house. Inside the shell, there is fur. You open it up, and then there is water to drink. The little tree is for the fairies to lay on. The seed pod is a big slide. The fairies have  blueberry and cherry blossoms in a bowl. We have water and cherries for each fairy kid in the home to have dinner. The shiny shell is the entrance. I love it!

Once the problem solving activities have been internalized, the problems initially solved under guidance and in cooperation with others will be tackled independently.
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This teaching/learning approach takes thought, intention  and preparation. It is most powerful when deconstructed  & shared with the community. Much time must be alloted.
Despite all the work and time involved, a funny thing happens. An awakening of sorts. What emerges from the children is often as magical and illuminating as a fairy.
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Back to Peru

Adinath’s airplane

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Please send “presenting love” to me during the below conference dates. Whoooo, these things make me nervous.

(Fun part-I get to tour Reggio inspired Peruvian schools in Lima!)

Peru FlyerStories to follow…

You Change Them

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The Art of Inspiration

The Arcimboldo exhibit entitled Nature and Fantasy is on display at The National Gallery of Art. Last week I led a Kindergarten class (Ms. Rick’s) on an exploration of his surreal paintings. For those not familiar, this is a painter from the 1500’s who made portraits out of  things such as fruits, flowers, books, poultry, mammals. It’s fantastic stuff for any age.

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I chose to not tell the kids that the paintings of fruits, flowers & vegetables became distinctive faces. I wanted them to experience the element of surprise and excitement. With the teachers, we prepared them for the trip, by talking about being observant, noticing details, using color thoughtfully, as well as the idea of inspiration.

What does it mean to be inspired?

The museum does not allow photography in this exhibit, so of the many tasks I gave the children, an important one was to choose one of their favorite paintings, and draw it in their sketchbook as a “memory” of the exhibit.

Henry gathered a lot of information, using both notes and representations, with the help of a chaperon:

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Lia, used a different approach for her “memory.” She used expressive marks, creating a representation with great feeling:

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Camille, I noticed sitting in the middle of the floor in one of the gallery rooms, intently sketching. The exhibit is popular and I noticed that patrons were walking in front of her and blocking her view.

“Camille, it’s getting crowded. You are welcome to get close to the painting.”

She replied, “No, I see it better from back here.”

This surprised me, because in general, kids often go so close to displays, they are craning their necks. She was serious and in fact, correct. To get perspective, one does have to step back.

She chose the painting “The Librarian.”

"The librarian"

Her dedication to representing this painting was intense. You have to picture the scores of adults walking around and in front of this small body, hunched over on the floor space, gazing in between the bodies to create her memory.

Before the trip was over, she showed me her sketch. “Can you make me a copy today? I want my Mom to paint my picture.”

When we returned to school, we all discussed what we saw. Camille raised her hand, “Did you make the copy?”

I immediately did, and added a post-it note to inform mom of Camille’s plan.

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It was a Friday, and Camille’s mom, Susan was to be out of town. On Tuesday morning I received an email.

Marla:
I  got in Camille’s folder a copy of her sketch from her field trip (dated 10/15/2010… this must be in her sketch journal that is kept at school), and a Post It note from you that Camille would like me to paint a painting based on  her picture, so I stayed up way too late tonight and painted her a painting… I liked Camille’s composition and so I tried to stay true to her picture… The painting is attached. What a fun thing to do! I named the painting “It’s Time to Cook.” Medium is oil on canvas. 🙂
–Susan
When I told Camille that I received an email from her mom, and saw the painting, she grinned ear to ear. “I know!” she said.
I asked her if together we could share this story of inspiration with the class, and she was thrilled.
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When we shared with the class the story of Camille being inspired by  a 500 year old Arcimboldo painting,
and then her Mom being inspired by Camille, a 5 year old, they were enthralled. There were rich observations and questions made  by the class.
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Reginald: Why did you want your mom to paint your picture?
Camille: Because I like the painting.
Beck: Your mom’s painting is cool because at the bottom it looks like a carrot with a watch, but the carrot holds up the book.
Frederick: If you look really close you can see a hand.
Ruthie: Those two bent things look like fingers that are holding a book.
Lia: The painting looks like a bumble bee. The bent fingers look like wings, and the part in the middle looks like a body.
Sam: I think there’s a celery for the nose.
Owen: The eyes look like glowing beads.
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A kindergarten student inspired by a 500 year old painting.
So inspired, she wants her Mom to be inspired.
The Mom is then inspired by the 5 year old.
The entire Kindergarten class is inspired by Mom’s painting.
Everyone now wants a copy of their “memory.”
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Tomorrow I am taking another class (Ms. Burke’s) on the same trip. I  spoke with the class  in order to prepare them.
“I think you will be inspired! What does inspired mean?”
“You can’t believe your eyes”
“Cool!”
“You want to look at it for a long time”
“Really really really really pretty”
“I know what inspired means, it means,
You change them (the paintings)
but it can still be them”
I am looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure with Ms. Burke’s class, and then Ms. Scofield’s PreK’s in November and Mr. Jere’s class in December (PreK parents, try not to show the Arcimboldo paintings before!)
While the trip was originally planned to align with “The Story of Food” grant  work, the deepest work went beyond the fun scavenger hunt of identifying and finding the hidden eggplant or onion in a face.
This type of deep work,  can be revisited in life endlessly:
Making marks to create memory.
Observing deeply.
Internalizing inspiration.

What Mani said, is  a succinct definition of inspiration.
“You change them, but it can still be them.”
It is also a beautiful metaphor for teaching.

Indestructible Wonder

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life”

Rachel Carson

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“We have to let it go. It probably feels like it’s in jail.” David, age 5

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A few days ago, I had a group of Kindergarten children in the studio. We were discussing different ways to use color in our sketches. Since they had sketched magical creatures of the garden, we were discussing how to make colors “glow”.

Owen was particularly excited about the possibilities of line and color. He kept adding to his picture while narrating what the line or color represented. Suddenly he looked up an exclaimed.

“We’re writing stories by drawing a picture!”

I will follow Owen’s lead in this post and use pictures to tell some of the stories from the studio over the last 2 weeks:

PreK’s invented over 40 colors for the use of all the students at SWS

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With the the new paint colors, and photographs of school memories, the preK’s painted their first observational paintings.

When the anatomy of mark making meets paint- the wonder of watching unfolds…

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Melora

P1080790P1080804P1080830Dominic

Each child exhibited their visual thinking strategies. For some it was all about choosing just the right colors and enjoying the qualities of swirling the paints together on the paper.

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For other, some representational brush strokes to show a fish or a butterfly  or flower was pleasing.

P1080800George however, blew my mind. He methodically painted a solid black background, using brush strokes.

P1080834He then added the green lily pads in the foreground by using the the brush in a different way, as seen in the below photo.

P1080832He used another green to represent the lifted lily pad leaves, and finally added white petals of the lotus, with detailed yellow dots in the center. I just sat and watched from a chair with my mouth hanging open. Watching a young 4 year old deconstruct and then recreate an image is a rare thing. Creative thinking and the brain continues to be a complete wonder to me.

P1080843Fascinating…

and then from observing thinking to making visible the magic in the imagination-

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Christina

Christina

LauraLaura

CamilleCamille

Lilah'sWormWhile searching for gnomes and fairies, Lilah found a worm.

lookingAnd then there were some sightings of little creatures, for some.

maddie and emma

And then to the studio to sketch what might be living in and among the garden.

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Slide4Slide1Slide2The following week, we looked critically at color.

How can you use color to make something “glow?”

We looked through books of illustrations, and the children returned to their sketchbooks to add color.

P1080823Finn

In the book, The One Hundred Languages of Children, there is an essay about the importance of the use of light and projection in Reggio Schools. The essay observes that many adults go through their day, not noticing or experiencing the light, shadow, transparency, translucence around them, and how it transforms and changes places and objects. It  states that this is quite a shame to be missing out on such an important element that is vital to our lives. The following story brings me much joy:

Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4P1080821Every day. Indestructible Wonder.

Necessities

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I am continuing thought/research from my last post, The Evolution of Mark Making.

A week after that post I had my younger PreK children in the studio to create their first self portrait at SWS. This year, I am also held accountable by the school system I work for to produce data that shows either growth or mastery in “Art.” I am still developing the method for doing this, but  decided that collecting self portraits perhaps could be an excellent vehicle for collecting said data.

I am always extremely careful with “firsts.”

“Firsts ” offer leaps, but also can offer failure.

I have met too many people young and old (including myself) who stopped pursuing something because of a first experience with an adult who was not aware how vulnerable we are the first time we dare try something new.

The PreK’s, I will report, were brave, proud and glorious in creating their first self-portraits. Once again, we used mirrors and together discovered the wonder of the human face. Those nose holes are something when we squeeze them and talk, and  the kids were surprised to discover that they have a bridge on their face (nose bridge.) Looking, laughing, touching and then finally sketching…

SPMerov SPKatie

I love looking at these representations. While some children clearly  are comfortable holding a pen, for others, the act of steadying the pen in their hands and having their hand “Kiss” the paper was a great feat in and of itself.

Observing how they organized their face parts was also thrilling to observe. I suggested they make the face large, so they had room to fit all the parts in. Look how  one child accommodated my request, and her sense of space at the same time.sasha

Notice the shaky lines filled with intent

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as well as the strong lines discovering new details.

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They are equally powerful. It would be unconscionable to “grade” this work or make judgements on mastery to fulfill my data collection. Instead, I am determined to develop a system for identifying the evidence of  visual thinking and visual habits of mind.

SPAmira

josiesnowWhen I shared the self portraits with their teachers, some stories emerged. It turns out that one child, in the classroom only drew “snowstorms,” no matter what they were asked to record. In the studio her control and choices were intentional. I remembered  how she made her hair, using long strokes of the pen, instead of the usual one or two strands that most kids draw.

I realized in that moment, that it wasn’t any Ms. McLean magic that happened.

josie

How do we learn to tell stories?  At first humans/babies are non-verbal and then we begin to talk but we lack vocabulary and we don’t understand the idea of a beginning, middle, or end. (We have all listened to children tell a story  in this stage, “and then the man got the bird and then the man ran and then he had some lunch and then he saw his mommy…”)

Adults tell the stories, we read the stories, we engage in conversation. It is the act of listening that teaches children how to tell stories.

Similarly in drawing. It is the act of seeing that teaches children how to sketch. And how we do this is not with “lessons” per se. It is also not by chance or luck. It is by engaging the child’s senses in experiences that set off  synapsis. Synapsis that make everything connect in a visual way. To “see” in multiple ways.

Yesterday the PreK children of SWS went to the National Arboretum.

They engaged in a program about growing, harvesting  and eating vegetables and fruits through some wonderful hands on opportunities.programprogram taste

They used paint swatches and looked for color.

They did observational drawings of the Koi.

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I hypothesize however, it was the total engagement of their “being” in relationship with the environment and caring community that will foster their growth and mastery of drawing.

Following Ms. Scofield through the cold sprinkler.

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Feeding the Koi in the pond.

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“I wish I was a fish so I could walk in the water.” Maya F.

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Running to the Capitol Columns.

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Open space.

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“It feels like a running day to me!” – Samantha

cricketWhen we walked through a field, the crickets were strikingly loud. “It sounds like it’s night time.” -Carrington

Walking under the arbors. “Somebody put sticks up there, and then stuck leaves.” -Robertvine

“It’s like Jack !” (in the beanstalk) -George

Laughing on the bus.

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butterflyFinding butterflies and crickets.

Adinath at one point stopped, turned and just gazed silently at the immensity of the Arboretum.

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Through planning provocations like this trip, valuing  moments,  and revisiting through photos and/or shared memory with the children & community, relationships deepen.

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koi

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The children’s vision also deepens and with this, their need to communicate through mark making or graphic representation (and many other ” languages”) deepens.koi draw2

It does more than deepens, it becomes a necessity.

As Loris Malaguzzi said, “…relationship is a necessity of life.”

and I will add  “…and so is the act of sharing it.”

Found & Lost & Found

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Dove, By Elanor

A few weeks ago a dove nested in the Arbor located on our playground.dove

The kids found it, and soon they were enthusiastically watching the dove watch them, as she sat on her eggs.

I decided to take small groups of children out first thing in the morning to observe and paint her.

outartIn the morning, it is quiet on the playground, with no kids screaming and playing.

We witnessed the papa dove bringing nesting material to the mama and watched as she tucked it into her nest carefully.

What an amazing gift. The small groups all seemed to possess a tranquility and peace as they sat in the early morning light, watching the mama and drawing and painting.

Here are some of their representations:

birdCamille Camille, PreK

reggie paint Reginald, PreK

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Owen, PreK owen paint

David, PreK birdDavid

Danika, PreK birdDanika

Malin, PreK malinpaint

The children were excited to tell the security guard about the dove and show their representations.security

On Monday I returned with a small group to paint. The dove was gone.

birdGone

They painted the empty nest and theorized why she left. They decided they still wanted to paint the birds even thought they weren’t there.

BirdMaren

Maren: “Maybe they left because it’s horrid, not so good. The babies might go on the playground and get stepped on. Maybe she wanted a quiet place.”

birdMary

Mary: “I think they just wanted to visit someone’s house and because the baby birds rolled off the nest and flew.

BirdPaige

Paige: “I think they just wanted a new home instead of here. Maybe in another bird nest or a birdy house, maybe because this house was not too nice.

Maren: “Maybe she came here when no kids were playing on the playground and she said, ”This is a nice quiet place.” And then all the kids came and then she maybe just wanted to fly away and build a nest somewhere else because it wasn’t comfortable.”

They returned to their class and reported the missing bird as well as their theories.  While disappointing, both preK classes have chicken eggs in an incubator in their classroom.

Later that same afternoon there was a group of Kindergarten children in the studio working on their dream house stories, when a rainbow graced itself in a long stretch of the floor under the table. The sunlight managed to hit the water and reflect off an angle of the glass turtle tank in perfection. Estelle and Khalisa dove under the table to investigate. “Look Estelle colored her hair!!”

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Last week it was a an unexpected find in the trash,

LightAlex

LightElanor(Elanor, representation of light)

LightBeck(Beck, representation of light)

LightLydia(Lydia, representation of light)

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this week an unexpected find of a nesting dove (and then loss) in nature, and then by days end there was a rainbow wrapping around our feet. Provocations unplanned never cease to amaze me.

Wonder, discovery, metaphor… continue to be profound principles that guide, inspire, and  provoke learning for both the children and the adults. Not only do these unplanned valued interactions promote engagement, they spark possibilities for growth and perhaps projects in the future. They offer conversation. They offer beauty. They offer confusion. They offer possibilities. They offer imaginings.

(Lilah, representation of light) LightLilah

Important work.

PS If you happen to live in the DC MD VA area, I have a piece of art entitled Sparrows, 1-9 at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center. The exhibit is “Greenspiration.” Opening this Sunday, May 16th 2-4pm

sparrow3detail(detail) Sparrow, 1-9 By Marla McLean

Truth found

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Last Wednesday morning, I was walking my dog. It was 6:30 am, and it was garbage day in my neighborhood. As I went up the street, lo and behold, someone had thrown out an enormous mirrored disco ball. I went over to it, heart pounding and examined it. A few mirrors missing and a small dent. But it was too big to carry and walk my dog. So my poor dog was dragged through his walk, so I could get home and drive to the mirrored sphere and put it in my trunk.alone

When I got to work, I decided to place it on the floor of the studio and turn on one of the overhead projectors to shine on it.

This was to be a pure provocation.

No announcements of it’s arrival or declaration as to what one could do with it. I sat back and watched.

I watched joy and discovery, quiet flickers of  solo encounters

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and group interactions that danced, shouted and whispered.

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I watched mystery and suspense.

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I watched poetry.

A moment.

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Many moments. fairies

And still, I watch.ruby

It is fascinating and engaging for both the children and myself.

So as we ponder what is educational, what is creative, what is important, what is hands on, what is intuitive, what is learned, what is science, what is thinking, what is collaborative and what is reflective…let us remember the possibilities of this encounter.

“Light is the symbol of truth.”
James Russell Lowell

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Caminante, no hay camino (Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking)

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I just returned from Guadalajara, Mexico where I was honored to be  a keynote and presenter  at the RedSolare  Mexico Conference, “En dialogo con el pensamiento creativo del nino” (In dialog with the creative thinking of children.)En diálogo con el pensamiento creativo del  niño(2)

The American School of Guadalajara was a gracious host to educators from 28 states of Mexico, as well as myself from Washington, DC and Juan Carlos Mela Hernandez of Bogota, Columbia. RedSolare co-director Sausan Burshan  of Yucatan and RedSolare representative Ricardo Rubiales  Garcia Hurado opened the conference with a conversation and an invitation to fill the walls with questions.

Tina Carstensen Lopez (also RedSolare), Director of the Early Childhood  Lower School  at The American School,  a kind and visionary leader surrounded by dedicated teachers, opened their classrooms to Juan and myself, and asked for our observations. The dialog was honest and I appreciated their willingness to engage in our ideas, provocations and interventions.

All who gathered were inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach and the culture of their own community. It was a beautiful site to behold. It was a universal affirmation of the work that I am both committed to and challenged/ provoked by.

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Social Constructivism, Relationships, Creativity, and the Reggio Emilia approach are all exhilarating and uncharted paths to walk.

conferenceThe last evening of the conference, Juan Carlos and I were presented with beautiful books of Mexican artists and a precious wooden box with a glass top. Inside sat two handmade leather children’s shoes. On the back of the box the following poem in Spanish is typed, I have also typed a translation.

It is a powerful metaphor. I have decided to adopt it as my song of inspiration.

I have a feeling, you might too.

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Caminante, no hay camino

(Traveler, there is no path,
the path is made by walking)

By Antonio Machado

Everything passes and everything remains,
but we can only pass,
pass making paths,
paths over the sea.

I never sought glory,
nor to leave in man’s
memory my song;
I love the subtle worlds,
weightless and delicate,
like soap bubbles.

I like to see them painted
by sun and spots, fly
under the blue sky, then
tremble and burst…

I never sought glory.

Traveler, it’s your footprints
that are the path, nothing more;
Traveler, there is no path,
the path is made by walking.

By walking the path is made
and looking back
you see the trail
you will never tread again.

Traveler, there is no path,
only the wake upon the sea…

Some time ago in this place
where today the forests a full of hawthorns
you could hear the voice of a poet shout

“Traveler, there is no path,
the path is made by walking…”

Blow by blow, verse by verse…

The poet died far from home.
A foreign country’s dust covered him.
As they left they saw him crying.
“Traveler, there is no path,
the path is made by walking…”

Blow by blow, verse by verse…

When the finch cannot sing.
When the poet is a pilgrim,
when praying will do us no good.
“Traveler, there is no path,
the path is made by walking…”

Blow by blow, verse by verse.

Todo pasa y todo queda,
pero lo nuestro es pasar,
pasar haciendo caminos,
caminos sobre el mar.

Nunca persequí la gloria,
ni dejar en la memoria
de los hombres mi canción;
yo amo los mundos sutiles,
ingrávidos y gentiles,
como pompas de jabón.

Me gusta verlos pintarse
de sol y grana, volar
bajo el cielo azul, temblar
súbitamente y quebrarse…

Nunca perseguí la gloria.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace camino
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar…

Hace algún tiempo en ese lugar
donde hoy los bosques se visten de espinos
se oyó la voz de un poeta gritar
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso…

Murió el poeta lejos del hogar.
Le cubre el polvo de un país vecino.
Al alejarse le vieron llorar.
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso…

Cuando el jilguero no puede cantar.
Cuando el poeta es un peregrino,
cuando de nada nos sirve rezar.
“Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar…”

Golpe a golpe, verso a verso.

Please check out this link to hear the poem, sung by Raúl “pipo” Zerquera

May the words and melody guide you.

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Before and Afters many times over

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I have always been fascinated by before and after images, from fashion magazines to home improvements. I find it especially captivating to view in my school and other schools.

Teacher Tom and his community in Seattle created an amazing outdoor  area in a small space. Take a look. I am going for a water pump with gutters next Fall. And then there is the Blog “Let the children play“. Check out all the amazing outdoor spaces created (ok so there is no before and afters, but it does inspires one to think of their own possibilities for future before and afters.)

In the spirit of before and after.. the Peabpody Outdoor Play Space finally became a reality. Thanks to funding support from Capitol Hill Community Foundation and human power from parents and children, it is a huge success.

Ok, first the before.

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This is from the quarry where I bought the stones (in Rockville, MD,  perfect town name.)

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This is Laila and Dad Kevin, meeting me over spring break to bring “tree cookies.”

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Thanks to Jeff, Miles’s Dad for sawing and delivering bamboo over break.bamboo

Here’s the gang that helped unload my car, wash the stones and help lug them to the area. (Special thanks to Henry’s Mom, Laura and Lucas’s Mom, Charlotte for meeting with me before school to get this project going.)

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The first day I did a guided discovery of the new area with every class and staff member of both Peabody and School-Within-School at Peabody. Mainly safety, storage, and boundaries (i.e. no weaponry due to the sheer volume of kids playing at the same time with 3 foot pieces of bamboo.)

The rules are what you can do:

Construct construct

Create/Inventbridge

Make Musicnature2

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What can I say, but this is rewarding to watch. Plus it is all renewable and easy to upkeep.

Rachel Cross, our music teacher says it’s like witnessing all of humankind’s firsts, i.e. first wheel, first bridge, first crutch, first fire…she is so right!

I’ve always believed that all it takes is one small action to create change, and this is ever changing.natureafter

Another before and after happened in the art studio. Bianca’s Dad and Uncle took a simple line drawing that I sketched and put into Bianca’s folder, and then made it a reality.

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Here’s some amazing photos of the magically created Studio Curio. Bianca helped the entire time during installation, even when I offered her alternatives. It was just touching to see her serious relationship with her Dad Charles, and Uncle Stewy, not to mention how hard and precise a worker she was. Heartfelt thanks again!

cherriesMy last before and after is the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms. It is a ritual to have an annual SWS Cherry Blossom Picnic and celebration directly across the street in Stanton Park. Even though this year, we returned from spring break to find most of the blossoms fallen, it was a breathtaking day of beauty, fresh air and genuine community. We are really lucky to live in a place where flowers fall from the trees once a year, but even luckier that the SWS community will jump into the park with all the paraphernalia at a moments notice.(Photo credit to Tony Milatello for the picture of Sara and Chiara)

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And I would be remiss if I did not mention that Camille/Nolan’s Mom, Susan allowed a group of 8 from SWS to invade her home (until almost 10pm!)

with making flowersbranches, glue guns and japanese paper to create the “cherry blossoms” for the annual 13th School-Within-School Jazz Gala and Auction. Please link on and buy tickets, it is a fabulous evening that makes our school’s vision a possibility.

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I am sad to say that this is the first year in 13 that I will miss the event. I have a wonderful excuse… I have been asked to be a keynote and a presenter at the RedSolare (Latin American Reggio Emilia) conference on Creativity and Children, in Guadalajara, Mexico. I am looking forward to meeting a new community of progressive educators and forming new relationships that are sure to inspire.

En diálogo con el pensamiento creativo del  niño(2)

I like the idea that my work/art  provokes  non-stop cognitive/ creative before and afters in my brain. For this, I am thankful. paint5

Last but not least

I am currently in Boston, visiting my son who is a student at Berklee College of Music. Last night we were talking, and he told me about this moment he had, where he was practicing flute, it had been hours of planned playing, and then, he didn’t even realize it but his eyes were closed, and the music was just happening.

More and more, I am fascinated by these moments, where time and space disappear, and creativity happens, almost in an altered state. It is a deeply personal moment, so I am truly amazed at being a witness to it in the studio, to actually seeing it.last5

The child, who keeps on working, unaware and/or uncaring that they are now alone, strikes me. Because in fact, they are not alone at all- they are in connection with the creative force that resides within. I call this phenomenon the “last child.” You know, the child who for some reason does not notice that everyone has moved on and is the last one working. They are still painting, sculpting drawing. They are not always the same type of child. In fact, I have seen this happen to both extremely social and extremely introverted children. I have seen this with children whose engine can run very fast and very slow. Once again, I am interested in the altered state where, as Howard Gardner says, the Creative self is like a laser beam, and nothing around it exists.

I have touched upon this in many prior blog posts.

Recently, I have been grabbing my camera and documenting some of these “last” children. To me, it is an affirmation. It is the image of the child, as strong and powerful. No TV or computer needed.  It is a reminder of the possibilities within all children.

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Last 3

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babe 5

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“Time is not around me, it’s only around my mother.” Jack, age 5

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I returned last week from an inspired conference, Educating the Creative Mind at Kean College (where I presented.) The above title quote came from Sara Zurr, Phd, who presented  her research on spontaneous music making and time. Her findings from 3 continents, Asia, N. America, Australia: kids who took the longest to line up, to transition, and were often considered behavioral problems had the most spontaneous music making/singing. Kids aware of the clock were least creative, hardly sang. Music eliminates time.

I had the pleasure of recalling her paper as I watched Myles , who in general , is high energy. Sitting for Myles routinely involves chair tipping and much movement (I am sympathetic, because I resist this urge often.)

drawmylesIf he were to be sculpted in clay (as the Terra Cotta Warriors were)  and buried for thousands of years, and then uncovered, he would want his sculpture to tell his story as being “in a band, and I play the drums. I have locks.”

During studio time, there is an extended free time. After he sketched his sculpture idea, he went and grabbed a drum, pulled up a chair near me, and began to play a beautiful rhythm with great intent and feeling. He paused and sat still as he developed his song. He continued, infusing dynamics. The tipping moving energy was replaced with both calm and passion. While his music vibrated, I marveled at how long he sat still. Music eliminated time.

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The previous day, Grace spent 40 minutes in solitude playing the piano with earphones on, while her peers played collaboratively. When she looked up, I asked her if she wanted me to unplug the headset and invite her friends to listen. She had no idea the time she had been lost in her exploration of sound. John and Joya showed great interest as she shared her music. Music eliminated time.piano

Howard Gardner was the keynote at this conference. Imagine my joy when he was asked about his opinion of the pre primary schools in Reggio Emilia, “I think about Reggio Emilia everyday. It has made the biggest impact on me.”

Before I returned to Washington, DC, I stopped in NYC to see the Broadway Musical, Fela!. Quick, go out and buy some tickets and take a trip to NY to see this amazing piece of theatre, music, dance and history. Plus, my  friend, Duke Amayo of Antibalas created the dynamic score. It is a reminder of the important role of creativity in society. Not only as a means of expression, beauty  and culture, but also as a vehicle for fighting oppression.

What a complete embodiment of creative thinking. and multiple intelligences. My dear friend Maureen Ingram recently posted about Gardners’  ideas on her educational blog.

malen2malen1Back at SWS  I was struck by (PreK) Malens’ use of clay to show a funny expression. I had taken the time to show the children how to attach and connect clay, so it would not fall apart as it dries. Their task was to make anything they wanted while practicing the clay technique. Benjamin developed a striking bridge with rock steps.benjamin

My K’s recently returned to their sketch books to think about what their story would be in clay. How do artists tell stories, specifically clay artists or sculptors?

“By looking”

“By the things they put on the sculpture.”

“By making”

This is a photo of  Frederic conferring with Ms. Yvonne about symbols of a fighter pilot. Her husband  is a pilot.yvonnefred Below right, is Frederic as a terra cotta fighter pilot.

I asked the children  to sketch themselves as a terra cotta sculpture, not as a Chinese Warrior, but as they would like to be seen or known. Besides thinking about and creating a visual language to tell their stories, they had to sketch their knowledge within the context of  the possibilities of the material they were to use, clay. I challenged them to draw an  idea that showed that their sculptural piece would balance and be sturdy (Ideas generated to solve this included  making “fat legs”, “big feet”, “a base”.)  Extremities had to somehow connect in at least two places so as to not fall off. This is thinking as a visual artist. If I had chosen to ask the children to replicate a Chinese Terra Cotta Warrior, their conceptual and creative thinking would not have been activated. The project would not have been arts integrated, although it probably would have been interpreted as such.

drawfrederic

Here are some of their ideas. How fascinating that children represented themselves  as  kids, as teenagers, as grown ups, and as Milo definitively said , as “40 years old, I am a builder. I build houses and schools. I have a tool belt.”

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“I’m a singer and full of love”.-Bridget

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“I’m a collector. I collect a nail and a bottle cap.” -Kaidrawkai

“I’m a dance teacher.” -Elliedrawellie

“I have this bear, I had it since I was born. It was my first bear and I dream about it. I’m a kid.frederick-Frederick A.F.

“I am 6 years old, I am pretending to be a Dr. I threw everything out to see.”-Gracedraweve

“I’m a kid. I’m holding Pinky. There’s crayons, markers and a pencil because I like to draw.”-Joyajoya

“I’m a swimming teacher.”-Elladrawella

“I play guitar in a rock band.” Maggiemaggie

drawfinn

“I’m a policeman” -Finn

The first group of children to create themselves and their story in terra cotta were undeterred by the challenges of how to get their figure to stand or sit upright. And their attention to symbol and story, let alone craft created a time vacuum. They worked for a straight hour, until lunchtime without a break, and then returned after lunch and worked for almost another hour. I know this state of mind myself personally. When an altered meditative state replaces standard time. Yes, art also eliminates time.

“”I’m good at reading. I’m a librarian.” Jonas

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“I like to make things, like necklaces and beads.” Annika

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“I’m a kid, I like the beach.” LeilasculptLeila

On an ending note, I attended the art opening of the  exhibit I am in at Adkins Arboretum and was honored to have received a jurors award for my piece. I am also honored to be in company with so many talented artists whose work hangs in the show. It is still hanging, so if you are in the Eastern Shore, take a look.mine2

I am also pleased to be featured in a new book, Digital Art Revolution by Scott Ligon. It is a great book, loaded with ideas for creating fine art with photoshop.

One more quote from Howard Gardner, (to keep  you engaged in promoting and supporting progressive education):

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“You can’t make people creative, but we sure know how to prevent it. Don’t wait for funding, policy starts in a class, in a school, in a community. You never win in politics. Build on a civic  democracy. When you have a dedicated community, with continuity, it can last forever. Next to parents, teachers are the people young people trust the most. If you do your job well, your influence goes on long after you are gone.”

And that’s a long time.

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.

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“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.)

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

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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

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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)

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Small World

(detail from Khalisa’s Dream House)

January began with two new spaces. The Winter Garden and the Hideaway Space.

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The Winter Garden is a small square tactile table that is now filled with corse sand. Cat tails, shells, feathers, rocks, seed pods, small tree stumps and some plastic dinosaurs. My only rule was to “leave something interesting for the next group of children.”

boysOne group of children had a long narrative play. The land was Dino world, and there were bombs (chestnuts dropping) and a thunderstorm (sand dropping) that led to destruction and the creation of a song by Jonas, which Milo and John joined in singing “Dino world its a big big big big world. We’re cleaning up Dino world Dino World it’s a big big big big world. ” Shelters were made, dinosaurs were rescued, and even a dino toilet existed. There was disaster, clean up, peace, disaster clean up peace, and song and discussion.

When Renzo and Henry chose to play in the Winter Garden, Henry made a discovery. By hitting the cattails, white fluffy snow emerged. I struggled with the awe and visual beauty of this new natural material and at the same time, the material management challenges that came with this, the flyaway seeds were copious and covering everything!  I stayed with the awe, especially after teacher Margaret Ricks came to me and said, “Did you see that the winter garden really has turned into a winter garden?” winter

The winter garden idea emerged from conversations with teacher Sarah Burke, who was struck with the natural glass enclosed atriums that we saw in the Reggio schools where children created with natural materials. She was trying to find a way to adapt the quality of these beautiful spaces on our 3rd floor space. At the same time, I had just written a grant to create an outdoor creative nature play space in a corner of our public school playground. Currently the playground  offerings of a cluster of play equipment and asphalt and bikes.offers gross motor play, but not open ended possibilities for engaging in dramatic creative play in conjunction with natural elements. I did get the grant, (Thank You Capitol Hill Community Foundation!) however the space will start up in March/April, and I too was eager to offer the children something now. The new Winter Garden in the common area, and Sarah’s larger version for her class offer opportunities for adults as well. The narrative  stories of these small worlds change with each group of children. I am looking forward to learning more.

The other new space, the Hideaway Space leela lilahcame out of a conversation with lead teacher John Burst.  I was talking to him about spaces and my observations of how the children use the narrow space of the studio. I told him that I noticed that most of the children use the large square table or the floor, and rarely the counter space, which was becoming space for materials or childrens work. What about creating something under the counter? he asked. I was thrilled with this idea, and thanks to Fredric Robb’s mom and her amazing sewing and creativity, there is an evolving space under the counter. lailaI placed two clipboards and pens next to the new cushions. In this first week, it has been used non-stop.legs A side piece of fabric was added mid-week to make it even more fort-like, milesand we are experimenting with adding another piece of draped cloth that we’ll try next week. I am still reading the essays in the book Secret Spaces of Childhood. I am struck with the small worlds all around me. Even the dream houses, which are constructed small worlds, have even smaller worlds within them.carolineCaroline’s Dream House detail

graceGrace’s Dream House detail

ellaElla’s Dream House detail (Keep Out)

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Within the project of using natural material to make temporary art, like artist Andy Goldsworthy multiple hidden small worlds and stories exist.

art“It’s a house in the Garden” (collaboration by Forest, Malin and Elanor)

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Childrens stories are both sacred and informative, and as teacher Alysia Scofield said in a conversation about these ideas, “It’s all about children and power. These stories are like the figures they made with you.” Amazing.casey

(Detail, below from Casey’s Dream House)

As I observe, document, gather and transcribe stories, I will share them on later posts.

I’ll end with a poem by Walt Whitman:

There was a child went forth everyday,And the first object he looked upon, that object he became…

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In small places

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What is imagination? I asked a group of 4 year olds.

“When you wake from a dream and then you have to go back to bed.”

“It’s when you dream and you’re awake.”

“It’s when you pretend.”

“It’s what you think up.”

In the past two weeks I have been struck by the importance and beauty of imagination. The Kindergarten students continue to work slow and steady on their dream houses. paintdreamFinally they are becoming autonomous,  persisting as the challenges of creating a 3d dream house from a 2d sketch become real. They work until they have completed what they are able for the day individually, and then move on to free time. One student was painting on her dream house, another was making a whirly plate and chatting, when I realized that I had not heard a peep nor seen the four other children. I walked into the common area, and it was quiet. I opened the shutter to the playhouse and found 3 children lying on pillows with their feet up, while one sat in a chair with a cell phone. I had happened upon a small private world.playhouse2

“Hi.” I said

“We all have broken legs.”

“We’re in the hospital.”

“Grace is the Doctor.”

“No, no, she’s not the Doctor, she’s the nurse.”

I interjected, “Well Grace can be a Doctor too.” Thinking I was sending a message about gender.

“No! No! She’s the nurse. Nurses are the ones that are there!” I smiled, knowing, that their observation was correct. Several of the children in this play narrative had hospital experiences recently.

I am currently reading Secret Spaces of Childhood (Thanks to Anna Golden, the Atelierista at Sabbot School) and want to share some of the author’s thoughts:

“Why do babies play peek-a-boo ? Or children hang by their knees and capture insects in small cupped hands? Reframing the universe teases their brains to claim their true dimensions. Schools exhort pupils to seek, but children know the importance of hiding out, of finding ‘just for me’ places where they can’t be seen. Without a corner to build a world apart, they can’t build…the ‘small crop of self.’ Without freedom to play , they can’t be King of the Castle or shout ‘I win!’ because no one found them. Without time to incubate , they can’t find their niche.”

And without  access to and experiences with a multitude of languages (media, music, movement) their “self,” their “story,” their “srength”, their “gift”, might never emerge. What a loss to society.

Self-portraits are commonly sketched throughout the year at SWS. I decided to do something different with the Pre-K’s first representation. First we talked about imagination, pretend, and dreams. I then asked them, “If you could be anything, anywhere…real or imaginary, what would it be?” Then, I asked them to use a mirror and sketch their face, but then transform themselves into what they imagined.

Their ideas were diverse, but offered insight into what it means to be 4. So many were the fastest, the tallest,  and possessed magical and powerful qualities (including being pretty.) From here they will create their own models of this transformed self.

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Some magical moments and spaces within the  imagination happen spontaneously, as in the playhouse. Some planned, as in the dream house project or the transformed self-portraits. And some start out as an experiment, or provocation.

Last Friday, I set out baskets of tulle, lace, and netting echoing the colors of a Washington, DC Autumn.  Plastic deer fencing was attached to the loom. The shadow screen was filled with the image of bare fall trees, projected through the loom. I invited Julia and Ruby to give it a go, as they are staff children, and up at school before the others arrive.slyweave Soon Ms. Sly joined in. Then Julia’s sister, Emma. As children began entering into school, many joined the movement, colors, shadows and light. Soon, there was a cacophany of hands and materials.  I watched in amazement as  this unplanned collaboration changed space and time for a small moment, on a very rainy day.

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Artists are very adept at changing time and space for the viewer. They also are thoughtful and imaginative in changing material, form, meaning  and symbols. For these very reasons, each Kindergarten class spent an hour to an hour and a half in small groups, with a chaperone, sketching and having conversation about the work of Brian Jungen redat the National Museum of the American Indian. He is an artist who uses consumer goods to create tribal imagery. His material and symbols question who has the right to name  culture, and how is culture fabricated and reproduced. The children read the symbols and art through their own lenses.

In the sculptures made of stacked golf bags clearly reminiscent of totem poles, the children found many faces. However they said the totem poles were made from backpacks.jungentotem

In the enormous all red hanging textile entitled “Peoples Flag”, Bridget poetically stated, “It’s called Peoples Flag because it is everything people need. The clothes symbolize that people need to wear clothes, the heart symbolizes that we all need love, and the teddy bear symbolizes play, because all people need play.”

I just read a fascinating article in the NY Times, Can the right kinds of play  teach self control? supporting the work and environment at SWS. I think Bridget is very wise.

The visit to the exhibit at the NMAI continues to challenge and promote new ways to use materials in the studio and beyond.bflyholesjungenholes The idea of objects  telling stories is another road to observe and travel.

So many stories, but I will end with images from a special visit with musicians and dancers (Ms. Shannon, Ms. Agie. and Ms. Laura) who involved the children in an Irish tale through sound, movement, music, shadow, and song.

All these rich and varied moments are both fleeting and prolonged. Many are observed, while others remain private. All are important, as windows into what is, and what may be.

“Where, after all, do human universal rights begin? In small places, close to home-so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.” Elanor Rooservelt, address to the United Nations, 1958

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The space between “learning”

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It’s funny how culture and ritual can define a place. In my studio, I have always had an old phonograph player. Children know, in their free time, if they choose, they can make a whirly plate. whirl1For 13 years, it has become a daily act, again and again. Sometimes children add a string or streamers to the plate. Sometimes they glue jewels. For some reason, it is very important. For some reason, it is an obsession for some kids. For some reason, it never grows old.

Last week, Mark, a Kindergartener was waiting his turn. Instead of crowding around the machine, he began to draw bears in a circle, directly onto the plate. whirlbearWhen the machine opened up, he casually said, ” I’m going to add  lines now to my drawing.” He placed the plate on the machine and carefully let his hand go gently up and down creating waves. He came and showed me.

“It’s like a movie!” I exclaimed, you should show your friends. Through play, Mark had discovered how to animate his drawing.(Clip takes a minute to load) markwhirl

The next day, Charlotte, a Kindergarten student from a different class was waiting for the whirly plate machine. “Hey, Charlotte. Yesterday, Mark from room 9,  drew bears in a circle, and then he placed it on the machine and added lines, and it made it look like a movie. If you want, you could try while you are waiting too.”halloweenwhirl

Charlotte drew all types of Halloween characters  holding hands. She  added the word “Boo” several times in the  circle as well. For her, the results were enchanting. I ran and got Mark to show him how his idea inspired Charlotte to make a different movie. A small group gathered round to view this 2nd animation. (Clip takes a minute to load) New Project CC

Today, Casey gave it a try, inspired by the images on my computer of Mark and Charlotte’s animation. “First it’s people. When it’s fast, it’s a snake.” I showed him how to control the settings on the machine. As he went from slow to faster he exclaimed, “They’re going down the stairs now.”New Project 1

Will, on the other hand, created an almost wheel like structure out of 2 plates and put it on his finger. When it kept falling off, I gave him a dowel to experiment with. He found many ways of creating movement and sound with the dowel and plates. “Hey, are you ready to film mine?” (Clip takes a minute to load) willplatesmall

This happened in between painting and building dream houses, talking about color, and taking care of brushes after using acrylic paint. In  free time, in  choices, in play, in rich studio environments is the space for a 5 year old to invent and discover animation. And if an adult is watching, therein lays the opportunity for such a discovery to grow so that it touches another child. And when the next child takes the idea and adds their experimentation? This is   creativity at it’s best. An act of curiosity, that becomes a theory, that becomes a shared value. This is Constuctivist Theory in action. And to think I was wondering if the childrens addiction to making whirly plates was healthy!