The idea hatched from Kindergarten teacher Alysia Scofield’s relationship with it, crossing it daily, venturing near it, on it, learning to love it. This major body of water running through DC is part taken for granted part wasteland and part beauty.
As the classroom teachers explore and document what the children know, their theories, the river and it’s history, water and it’s scientific properties, what lives in it, what grows in it and around it and above it, Shad harvesting and releasing, experimenting, ecology, pollution, their river collectons, geography and more, there is a different study also going on in the studio.
The sensory, the wonder, and the poetic languages of water and of the river.
Just like the children, my primary relationship with the Anacostia River was from above.
The first encounter on Friday February 17th was enchanting, exhilarating and multi-sensory.
There was a cacophony of sound, texture, smells, sight, touch, sensation and feelings.
WATER By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia
When I was feeling the water it felt like it was soft
The river water, you could hardly feel it at all, like no texture
Like a splash
Like a couple of little splashes
The water was going slowly. Tiny waves everywhere
The water was going this way
NO it was going that way
NO it was going North
NO that way
It was going both ways
I ran across it
Like a tornado
When you step in it, small circles
Then bigger and then bigger
There are so many circles
By Luke (The lower front shows a child putting his foot in the water and creating ripples)
MUD By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia
The ripples were like an upside down V
Blue green brown
My boots squooshed in the mud
It felt like squishy jello
I felt like I was walking in the middle of a mud monster’s home.
I was an ant walking in jello
It was so big
I was so small
I was stuck in the mud
Every footstep was hard
Like quick sand
My foot stuck like glue
Really the mud monsters were sucking my feet down.
SAND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke
I went in the deep sand
It felt like you were sinking
You could sink in to the passageway
To an imaginary castle made of sticks and mud
To a zombie house
To a magical fairy house
Or the the North Pole
Santa would ask,
Where are you from?
From the Anacostia River!
There is always the unexpected on trips like these. What we were not expecting was to witness Anacostia High School on fire. It proved to be huge part of this river trip.
THE FIRE By Lena, Bridget, Charlie, Emma, Patrick, Han
It was dark in the sky
It was foggy below
I saw the smoke
It looked like clouds that were
About to begin a thunderstorm
The air was black and misty
It looked soft but it’s not
Some people were scared
Some people were not
And the fire?
What is the fire and smoke?
It sounded like a flashing sound
100 persons blowing a whistle
Like Han ringing the bells
FIRE By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia
We saw a fire
So blazing hot
We could kinda feel the warmness
It had blackish grey smoke
Like the color of a sperm whale
The smoke was big
Like a giant
Like a planet
The very real was tempered by the very magical. Everyone encountered “The Castle” and a few “The Treasure Chest.”
CASTLE By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia
It had little rocks on the top
They felt rough and pointy
Like a porcupine
Like a cactus
Like thorny plants
Flowers were growing on the little rock squares
We stood on the top
Like a bird
Like a queen
Like being on a creature’s house
Like a guard fighting off people who were going to steal the gold and diamonds and copper coins and chocolate coins.
I saw seagulls trying to fly above us
I saw the stream leading to the Anacostia River
THE TREASURE CHEST By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington
It was in the water
In the dirty water
The Anacostia River water
It was gold
It was brown
It was brass
It had golden beads
We knew it was a treasure chest because it had a curve
It was stuck in the mud
Water was coming around it and making squares or rectangles
Inside it we imagine
Carrington saw it first
Stephen thought it was just a piece of metal
MUSSELS AND MUD By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington
A little baby mussel
Like 50 of them
I put them in Ra’Kyia’s cup
They are not clams
They have food in them
You can eat from them
They live in the mud
It was really squishy
It was making a noise like sucking–your-tongue-noise
Squish squoosh squash
It got in my sneaker
When you picked it up it felt like
Soft and hard mixed together
Soft as a blanket
Soft like a cookie
Soft like a cushion
Soft like a pillow
Soft like a bed
You’re making me sleepy
STUFF WE FOUND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke
You can find stuff
I think I saw an alligator
Turn it into a machine
Turn it into a special sculpture
Turn it into materials for the Art Studio
RIVER STUFF By By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke
The river has stuff in it that’s nasty
People throw it out
They throw their bottles in the river
They sit on a bench and drink and just throw it
I think they don’t have trashcans in the Anacostia River
The people were being careless
The birds and the animals feel sad
The ducks can’t live in the river,
They can’t go home
IN THE WATERBy Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia
There was a lot of trash in the water
There was even a skittle wrapper in the water
Maybe they didn’t know they dropped it
Maybe their parents didn’t teach them
Seeing was so nuanced on this trip. Watching the children “look” was like watching a dance performance.
By Sylvie (in the lower left side you can see how Sylvie represented a friend bent over and collecting)
The birds were as much a part of the river as the river itself.
BIRDS By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia
They were making a sound
Flapping their wings
Like a door slamming
Up in the air like a plane
Like a phoenix
THE TRAIN By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke
The train was on the track
When it went past it was going DING-DING-DING-DING
It was as loud as
A police car
The fire bell in School
It sounded like a building crashing down
THE BRIDGE Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke
It moved like an ocean
Under the bridge
The river looked crazier then the bridge
Because it moved like a crazy person under the bridge
The bridge was calm
But it looked like it was moving
Immersed in this project, I find myself singing water and river songs. Funny how so many are about letting go, forgetting, sailing off, rebirthing, and becoming new.
So I leave this post with songs in mind but within a context of discovery and joy, of memory and feeling, of hearing and seeing, of smelling and touching, of the very real Anacostia River mixed with the intangible sense of magic.
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 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!
A few weeks ago a dove nested in the Arbor located on our playground.
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.
In 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:
The children were excited to tell the security guard about the dove and show their representations.
On Monday I returned with a small group to paint. The dove was gone.
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.
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.”
Mary: “I think they just wanted to visit someone’s house and because the baby birds rolled off the nest and flew.
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!!”
Last week it was a an unexpected find in the trash,
(Elanor, representation of light)
(Beck, representation of light)
(Lydia, representation of light)
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)
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