How it started. How it’s going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to make a camera.” Remi

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

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

Reflection and Sing Goodbye.

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

“The years are changing. They go by so fast.” Sophie, Kindergarten

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It’s cold.

It’s winter so it is to be expected.

This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.

“The icicles

look like lamps.

The snowflakes look like stars.”
–Maya, PreSchool 3

For me, it is thrilling in the context of the work I do with children. This isn’t a slushy kinda cold season, this year it is frost and sparkle and whiteness from ice, snow, and salt that changes the entire space both inside and out. It is felt from toes to nose.

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I recently watched an interview of Carla Rinaldi, one of the visionaries who helped develop the pre-primary schools in  Reggio Emilia, Italy.

She says, “School is an expression of the vision and values of a community.”

 

School as an EXPRESSION of vision and values.

 

This idea resonates deeply with me. In fact, since hearing this phrase I have co-opted it as my definition of school and my practice in the Atelier (and community) at SWS.

 

It allows me to quickly reflect and re-shift during the day. I can reflect, “Do my deeds, actions, and interactions express my values right now?”

 

What a treasure these words are.

 

So much of the planning and discourse at SWS is centered on an expression of values.

On December 20th, 2013 SWS celebrated Winter Solstice. This is a special ritual in our school. It is anticipated, talked about, and I am pretty sure will be a memory when the children leave our school.

 

Every year children begin in advance creating lanterns that transform the environment on the awaited day.
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This year, children made photo transfers on recycled glass jars. The preparation and process was enthralling.

 For the youngest children, it is difficult to explore how the light changes, the gradual creeping darkness is not apparent to them yet. Their memories of late summer evenings of light is difficult for them to remember.

 So how did I explore with the 3 year olds? I made a cave.
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And in this cave (like a bear) we went. In this dark cozy place I read a book about light rituals around the world. Quickly each child became excited to talk about Christmas or Chanukah. I then introduced a very hard concept for the youngest children in our school. I asked each to hold the lantern and make a wish or say something kind about SOMEONE ELSE.
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At first it was really hard. “I wish for my Mom to buy me _____” was an oft heard phrase.
With some support and further questioning children began to think of others near and dear.

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Peyton:  I wish my mommy has a good day.

 Liam: I wish Santa brings my mommy and daddy presents.

 Scarlett: I wish for mommy and daddy to play with me.

 Lincoln: I love Nate.

 Nate: I wish my family don’t get sick.

Winter, a hibernating time, is an optimal season to help children reflect in new ways.  It is an ideal time to  develop and practice capacities to broaden their thoughts.

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The shared experience in the “cave” gave time and care to thinking about seasonal changes to a 3 and 4 year old’s world in a relevant way.
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Sinatra: Its scary when there’s no light. When it’s dark you need light. A ghost might be hiding. So the light makes you not scared.

 

The day of Solstice is almost epic in scope at SWS. It is shear beauty and light.

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It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.

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Everyone is in pajamas and the smell of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and maple syrup eminates.

 In the studio, the annual Solstice Ceremony and Ritual occurs.
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 There is almost a reverence when the children join hands to make wishes, dance, give wishes, and receive a small pendant/symbol which reminds them that they are indeed a shining star in the universe. That they are connected and interconnected to each other, the community, their families, the natural elements,  and the greater world
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 This year, when children returned after two weeks of holiday, the cold weather increased.

 

I continued the exploration of these great changes with the children, all the children.

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In this fashion of learning, the one  day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.

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What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.

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Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.

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Conversations

About

Winter,  Solstice &

The Changing

Light

The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.

–Sasha, PreK
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 You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.

-Harvey, Kindergarten

 

On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.

-Geraye, Kindergarten
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 The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.

-Jack, PreK

 

The winter is white and you have to put on your snow jacket, your snow boots, your snow mittens, and your snow hat. In the summer you just go out and play!

-Quinn, PreK

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We make lanterns.

-Edwin, PreK

 

 People put up wreaths on their doors. So when people walk by they can see the door is decorated.

-Myles T., PreK

 
We stay happy by playing inside. –Anias, PreK

Yeah, like we play Pass the Bean Ball. –Melin

 
On Winter Solstice you go in pajamas and celebrate the night and the sun.

And my Dad makes turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice. Does your family make turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice?

-Brandon, PreK

 

 In the summer the plants come back to life.

-Bryce B., PreK

 
People decorate their homes with light.

-Maddie

 

Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.

-Kamrin, Kindergarten

 

Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.

-Gabriel F.-F.

 

I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.

-Lilah, Kindergarten
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People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.

-Sophie, Kindergarten

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Scarlet’s ice art :
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“I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3
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The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.

 “The years are changing. They go by so fast.”

-Sophie, Kindergarten

And I for one am listening.
This is the definition of school.
What’s yours?
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The calm and then the storm

mark

On Friday, February 5th, we arrived at school knowing that a huge snowstorm was coming our way. The Federal government was on leave and DC Schools were closing at noon.

On that same Friday, as anticipation grew, and flakes of snow began to fall, Swatantar Mann, the assistant teacher in room 9 arranged for a friend, Ms. Clare,  to visit the Kindergarten classes.

guestClare came to share the stories within the movements of indian dance.

Despite the heightened mood all around, the children were transformed with scarves, mylesfabrics, and Swatantars jewels & beads juliacarolineand mesmerized by the calm and mystic stories of Ganesha, Shiva, Hanuman and more.

Hand positions,

moving fiercely without making a sound, and using the eyes to become a character were just some of the exercises.It was just so beautiful to watch the calm and concentrated effort that went into each movement.brigid1ellie

rashad

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And then it was noon.

It took over an hour to drive 7 miles home as the city evacuated. By evening the world around us was eerily quiet and postcard quaint with glittering snow everywhere. When Saturday morning arrived, we knew for sure that “Snowmageddon” arrived.snow

In complete agreement with the 100 languages:

angels were made in the middle of the street, angels

the environment was explored, mesnow

home made bread was baked and soup was made,bread and tea

my husband and I sang as we shoveled,lamar and we danced to entice our little dog to go outside. My daughter (who leaves for Brazil on Tuesday where it is 95 degrees) and I created a Snow Goddess sculpture.

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In a few days, when I become fatigued and annoyed by trying to negotiate getting to and from work, parking spaces, and the grocery store, I hope I will look at the smiling Goddess on our front lawn and remember the smell of freshly baked brownies in the oven and the feeling of contentment as I wrote this post.

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