(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.
“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.
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.
“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
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.”
.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.
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.”