Afrofututrism-Part 1, A New Lens By Which to See, Inspired by Cyrus Kabiru
This Spring as a school, we focused on elevating Black Joy, Excellence, and Culture through living folx throughout the African diaspora. And while this is a project that we engaged in from February through beginning of April, Black Joy is intended to be a provocation for continued expansive teaching practice and curriculum development at School Within School as a core principle.
In the Atelier, Black Lives Matter at School is 24/7, through expression, art, culture, movements, and making. The narrow expanse historically of art, art institutions, and art education has centered white male Eurocentric artists, with a handful of women and BIPOC thrown in during their designated cultural months.
I dare say it is easy to scrap the white supremacist model of art education because there are limitless and boundless histories, cultures, and BIPOC and women artists to center to inspire young children (and ourselves) to express and transform power, beauty, and aesthetic.
Inspired by an art exhibit I visited in Barcelona 5 years ago “Making Africa”, and as the Early Childhood Atelierista (working virtually yet live with the children), I centered our Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation projects around Afrofuturism.
“For the uninitiated, Afrofuturism is a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct “Blackness” in the culture. Reflected in the life and works of such figures as Octavia Butler, Sojourner Truth, Sun Ra, and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression — both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature.”
We began by being inspired by the vision and genius of Cyrus Kabiru.
“I grew up surrounded by a lot of trash,” says Cyrus Kabiru of his childhood. “The biggest dumpsite in Nairobi was right opposite my house. I used to tell my dad, ‘When I grow up I’ll give trash a second chance.’ I used to feel like trash also needs a chance to live.”
After looking at Mr. Kabiru’s glasses ( C-Stunners, as he calls them), glasses no one had ever imagined before, I explained how he is called an Afrofuturist. He is an artist from Kenya who creates art that no one in the world has ever seen before, he creates by making a new and better future, where trash is given a second chance. All of his C-Stunners also tell a story. Each one is different. He is a creative genius.
“To me, being an Afrofuturist is a mix of creativity from different continents.” •
His increasing success in the art world has afforded Kabiru the opportunity to travel and to expand his collection of found objects. •
He says: “When I go to London, I’ll pick up trash. I always pick up trash from different continents. If I make an artwork with European trash, my work will look newer, so I try to combine old Kenyan trash and new European trash.”
This was a project we returned to for many weeks. This returning is to practice depth, as opposed to a make-it take-it crafting hour. Each class we re-visted Mr. Kabiru through looking at his art and watching and listening to him speak to us through videos. As children constructed, an Afrofuturism playlist that I created of SunRa, Janelle Monet, Laura Mvula, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kamasi Washington, Eryka Badu, Valerie June and more played. The sensory and delight of the creative process was compelling to observe. The music helped keep track of time and guide children into a state of flow.
I could see into all the squares on the Teams Meeting where children were experimenting, constructing, and creating, all while centering the Afrofuturist ideals of Cyrus Kabiru.
We did multi-modal language shifting by using our sculptures as a provocation for mixed media 2d collage art (as Cyrus Kabiru also uses photography and mixed media collage to express his stories.)
All of this project work is happening during a global pandemic. This is relevant. There is no doubt that each child and adult has experienced trauma, loss, and abrupt change. Because trauma is experienced inwardly, with no words to express,(especially if you are 3-6- years old) the act of making and creating in an open-ended and expansive manner allows one to process (often unconsciously) pain or anxiety. The brain shifts and creates new passageways during making. When these neurological passageways shift, you are released from the biological and emotional effects of fight, flight, or freeze. Expression through the arts releases and heals emotionally and neurologically.
Right now, in the newspaper is the unrelenting horror of the details of the murder of Mr George Floyd. What strikes one, is the fact that the police officer who kneeled on the neck of Mr Floyd and killed him ceased to see his humanity. What strikes one, is the fact that a trial is even necessary when the world witnessed his tragic death via a cell phone video. What strikes one, is those who watched who had the power to stop another Black man, another human being, from being killed just watched. The othering and dehumanizing of Black and Brown children and adults hails from the transatlantic slave trade. It is enmeshed in all of our systems, including our education systems. We are raised in the subtle and the obvious ways that creates internalized hatred of BIPOC.
We are all, within our capacity able to create, demand, imagine, and act in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and dismantles white supremacy culture. For me it is as a mother, artist, educator, and activist.
As children gazed at the beauty and genius of Cyrus Kabiru, valuing his existence, we are reminded of the importance of our our daily work. Especially with our youngest citizens.
“Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quo’s blind spots.”
Our paths co-constructing Afrofuturist thinking and making in the Atelier/Art Studio led us next to The Black Indians of New Orleans, The Super Heroes of Hebru Brantley, and The Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The journey of learning and thinking as an Afrofuturist makes visible Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation intrinsically. It goes on and on. Like the C-Stunners of Cyrus Kabiru, Afrofuturism offers us all a new lens by which to see, especially in the blind spots.
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.
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
“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.
It’s when the Love Fairy visits SWS. I adore Valentines Day.
The opportunity to “make” for others, to write, draw, wrap, and give to others-just for the sake of the day is worth all the commercialized advertisements for diamonds and dinners.
What does love have to do with learning? What’s love got to do with it?
I was thrilled to engage my PreSchool children in making a sewn, beaded, wrapped Valentine for someone in their family.
It was a first time sewing for the children. The pulling and pushing just the right amount without creating tears or big loops of thread, flipping the card, finding a new hole to go through.
The concentration and dexterity paired with the tactile feel proved to be worth the focus. Every child stuck with their sewn Valentine through completion. The next week the children beaded, made a card, and wrapped the Valentine. This is a lot of work.
Wrapping a gift was also a new experience for many. A tape dispenser alone offers a challenge, and then learning to connect two pieces of paper with one piece of placed tape, without getting it all stuck together.
These rituals and skills of Valentine making, and giving children the opportunity to “do” is no different from all the other learning experiences. Except this one, this project has the ultimate impetus of love.
Hidden in all the rigor of managing materials, using new tools, staying focused for extended periods, and persevering in new tasks is the anticipation of giving.
I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?
You try answering it, let alone only being on this planet 3 to 4 years!
Their responses were moving, thoughtful, and thought provoking.
The multi-layered work they did gave me opportunities to assess many skills. Language, connection to content and comprehension, fine motor skills, following multiple-step directions, staying focused to complete tasks, overcoming difficulty.
Their conversations and language went deep, and they became a small connected group in conversation.
The children were motivated. Love.
Working with the medically fragile children,I can clearly state love also is a part of learning. I have a weekly challenge of bringing materials-based experiences that bring joy, discovery, and that each child can in some way participates in.
Each child must also feel safe enough to trust all the strange sounds, textures, mess, and sights that I entice, cajole, engage, and impose on them. Love.
In the PreK classes, there is a long-term project that has had it’s starts and stops and starts and stops again as holidays and winter storms came and went.
It’s Fairy Houses.
It started as a way to work on engineering and building sturdy structures.
It was developed to engage the children in looking closely and seeing natural materials as viable materials and metaphors in expressing themselves.
I want the children to notice and be able to differentiate between artificial and natural materials.
I want them to realize that constructing is multi-layered, requiring understanding of space, gravity, and design.
I want the children to think about when something needs to be drilled as opposed to hammered or glued, and how to determine what drill bit is best.
I want them to realize you can only work on one side at a time, one three dimensional surface.
I want them to have the experience of extended periods of making that allow enough repetition that they can master parts and press on to harder and more demanding solutions and ideas.
I wanted them to have time and space to step away before they make their next decision. Time to interact and share with each other.
It is happening.
It is the love of this work that is motivating them to continue to come in and get to work. It is theirs.
It is theirs because the very intentional long-term studio practice and habits have transformed them into children that are independently able to take the next step on their own, or with the help of a friend. They are able to build upon their competencies and go deeper.
One work period, there was a commotion and excitement: It’s a rainbow! The fairies did it! I think they are already visiting our houses. They are visiting my house, I know. They are going to visit everyone’s house! We made them a fairy city! Wait, it went away!
Where did it go?
“In a culture obsessed with measuring talent, ability, and potential, we often overlook the important role of inspiration in enabling potential.
Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Inspiration may sometimes be overlooked because of its elusive nature. Its history of being treated as supernatural or divine hasn’t helped the situation. But as recent research shows, inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.” –Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.,
Co-founder of The Creativity Post; Author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined
If you are inspired, you love something. That something is what allows you to override the difficulties and setbacks, the mistakes and frustrations. This love of something/inspiration is the necessary foundation for perseverance to occur when the work is hard.
These rooms filled with collections began before museums existred in the 15th century. After looking at objects as having meaning with their families, I wanted to present the experience of how people have historically looked at objects and have access to objects.
A trip was planned to go to The Walters Museum to view their Cabinet of Wonder. I began to ask hard questions again. Instead of What is love? It was What is wonder, What is Curiosity? What do you think a Cabinet of Curiosity or Wonder is?
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Isaiah: Something you open up and there’s stuff inside. Can we open it?
What is “wonder”?
Maggie: It’s when you think inside your head about something that you love.
Mira: I don’t think you love something you wonder about because if you are curious you don’t know about it. So you don’t love it, yet.
Can we make a Cabinet of Curiosity ourselves?!!
That’s a really interesting idea.
How about if you start by thinking of a time you were outside of Washington, DC. Think about an object of wonder from somewhere you visited. It can be something you saw, found, or bought that you would NOT encounter in DC.
Willa: I was in the woods. I don’t know where but it was outside Washington, DC and I found this leaf with yellow and orange and I brought it home.
Mira: I saw a jellyfish n Florida
Ainsley: At Cape Cod Beach, a wave.
Maggie: A dead snail in a seashell in New York, where the Statue of Liberty is.
Ibby: A sand dollar at the beach house, I don’t know where but I’ll ask.
Noah: I saw a dead shark at the beach.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Rowan: A cabinet and you wonder what’s inside of it.
Audrey: A drawer.
Dominic: A place where you can keep all your treasures.
Lusa: A cabinet you open and wonder what it is for.
Tate: You guess what’s inside it. If you don’t get it right, you don’t open it.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Isaac: It means you go in it and it feels fun and there’s all kinds of delicate stuff.
Percy: It’s a tunnel and it has weird weird stuff and you wonder in your brain what it is.
Collette: I think it has toy Barbie’s and a toy museum.
Jordan: Maybe it has dinosaur bones.
Lucinda: I think it has tiaras and crowns.
What is wonder?
Evan: Wonder is something you see and you really like it but you don’t know what it is.
Sonora: Wonder means you know something but you don’t know what it is.
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Ryan: A room with lots of collections.
Eric: All different stuff from old times.
Tali: I think it’s like a place where you keep really cool stuff. Wondering is thinking about the cool stuff you see.
Hazel: I think a Cabinet of Wonder is where lots of people wonder, What’s in it?
Eric: Yeah, like people say, “What is this?”
We are going to go see A Cabinet of Wonder or A Cabinet of Curiosity. What do you think this might be?
Aurora: When you open a cabinet and you wonder about it a lot.
Gabriel M.: I think it’s something you wonder about, you just think.
Liam: It means you don’t have any idea what’s in the cabinet.
Samuel: I think it’s a person inside a cabinet.
Madeline: If you heard there was something inside the cabinet and you didn’t know what it means, you wonder what it’s about.
Gabriel: Curious is Wonder!
(At the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD)
The Kindergarten children went on the road trip to The Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD.
While there, children went on a scavenger hunt, picked three objects to sketch (to later be written into classroom “Wonder Stories,”) engaged in a strory-telling circle inspired by the objects around them, and were read books about mummies and armor as they sat surrounded by the real objects.
They LOVED this.
Each child found inspiration that resonated within from the walls of the Cabinet of Wonder.
Children, parent chaperones, and teachers returned from the trip with ideas, excitement, and enthusiasm. We also came back with rich resources to take this project in divergent directions.
I explained that travel used to be just for a very few rich people. Most people never left where they lived. That meant, if you were born n Washington, DC, at a time before museums, you would not see a Palm Tree or a desert. You would only see the geography and culture of the people who you lived with. Unless you had the opportunity to visit a very wealthy person’s Cabinet of Wonder.
Prior to the trip, the children were already planning to create their own Cabinet of Curiosity. The children pulled out their sketches of an object they saw, collected, or bought when traveling outside of Washington, DC. These objects range from Grandpa’s old toy collection on a shelf in Pennsylvania to tall buildings with TV screens in NYC to an outdoor shower in North Carolina.
Wanting to put this in a context to make them aware also of Georgraphy, the children have begun a new strand of this project. They mapped where their personal object of wonder is located on a map in the studio.
What is a map?
Liam: It’s something to find out where something is.
Madeline: It shows you different countries and cities.
Gabriel: To lead you where you want to go.
Samuel: Sometimes you get what you want. Like treasure. It shows you with arrows. Like a pirate map.
Benjamin: It helps you how to get home.
Looking at the map and noticing the land and water, Isabel added this: There’s less where we can stand and more where we can drown.
Rowan: If you want to go to a jungle, you might want to look at a map.
Tate: A map is so if you get lost or if you wanna see where the world is.
Riley: A map is to look ahead.
Lusa: To see where you are.
Only two children out of two classes knew where to find a location on the maps.
Percy new exactly where Idaho was. He told me he has a map puzzle so that’s why he knows. The other kids were very interested in how far Idaho was. With hints, eventually all the locations were found. A world map was added because several children had objects of wonder outside the US, like Audrey, Ryan, Madeline. and more.
Most children are growing up with GPS devices as their maps. How does this effect the concept of mapping and the related lessons that Geography brings?
“Students aren’t learning subjects such as geography and history as teachers spend more time on math and reading to accommodate standardized tests, said Roger M. Downs, a Pennsylvania State University geography professor.
As “classroom time becomes an even more precious and scarce commodity, geography, with subjects such as history and the arts, is losing out in the zero-sum game that results from high- stakes testing,” Downs said in a statement released with the results.”
“Geography “provides the context for understanding many of the complex social, political and economic relationships that exist in our world,” said Garrison.”
Having the maps has created cross-fertilazation for all children using the studio.
Every group seems to question and interact with the display of maps. Just last week a three year old said to me, “…hey, why do you have these planets on the wall?”
The individual Objects of Wonder are now a blueprint for creating a Kindergarten Cabinet of Curiosity.
Similar to the Fairy house project, with more complexity-the children are slowly developing what steps to do next as they begin to visually represent in the context of the 15th-17th Century phenomenon.
Repurposed cigar boxes, some broken apart are being transformed.
For many, it means following plans to create and determine background colors that makes sense for the object.
Using clay, representations are being made and added as a three dimensional object to fit inside the cabinet. Scale, correct use of craft to ensure the clay objects are strong, and thought to making the clay clearly express their idea are just some of the challenges the children are facing.
Percy making the log home he stayed in when in Idaho with his family. Kamrin working on representing a wall of stuffed animals of every sort he saw in Virginia. Lilah trying to figure out how to create the outdoor shower she saw. The children who experienced the ornate cabinets and chambers filled with cabinets at The Walters Museum are also using mosaic and gold and silver paint to give their cabinet a historic design. Every child has to manage where they are in the project, what materials they need, how to use, care for, and clean up the materials, what to do next, and what to do when something falls apart, or just doesn’t work out.
Love in learning is not an “extra”. Children who are motivated will push themselves to persevere in all domains of learning when they have the drive to do so. Isn’t that the same for adults?
“A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love”
(I would also say in the school context, A caring provocation will unlock a room inside the people you love and teach.)
The act of teaching, parenting, and being in a relationship is the ability to provoke both understanding and expression.
How often have parents said to me, “My child never tells me what they did all day. How do you get them to do this?”
Here’s some examples from the article
“How did you feel during your spelling test?
What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?
Did you feel lonely at all today?
Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?
And I never ask my friends: How are you? Because they don’t know either.
Instead I ask:
How is your mom’s chemo going?
How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?
What’s going really well with work right now?”
This article concludes by saying
“Questions are like gifts – it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become. “
That’s because when I asked the PreSchool children, What is love?, Miles’ response summed up the above text.
I love the lights. I unapologetically love the visual bliss this season brings. I could do without the barage of advertisements, mailings, and catalogs that bombard me to buy stuff. It’s a lot of paper to put in recycling. The advertisements geared towards children often sicken me. Gender-specific everything saddens me.
And then there is the disturbing trend to market computers to children as young as infants like in the case of the ipad bouncy seat!
Despite all this consumerism, I love the collections of paintings and objects I’ve accumulated from my travels that surround me, my new boots bought online, and treasured gifts from friends.
This blog is about an ongoing project called Objects and Meaning. It is the perfect antidote to the season as we admire, buy and succomb to all the stuff around us.
This project idea came about because I am enrolled in a year-long course (with Kindergarten teacher Mr. Jere) with The Smithsonian Museum of American History called Pass it Forward Teacher Institute. This Institute encourages Object Driven Curriculum to teach History. My challenge is to take this older elementary and up process and make it relevent to young children. (Ms. Hannah was thrilled with the ideas Jere and I proposed and has joined in this exploration.)
In both Hannah and Jere’s Kindergarten classroom, children talked about collections, made a collection box, and in each classroom approached personal collections in a unique way.
I saw the children thrilled with their boxes of collected stuff. But, do children see collections outside of their own personal stuff?
I tested this question by asking the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they are walking into their home. I asked them to look around their home but NOT go into their bedroom or playroom. What collections do your family have? What collections would I see if I came in their home for the first time?
It was hard.
“My family doesn’t have any collections.”
I heard this in every small group.
“Look in your kitchen, your family room, where you eat, even your closets. I believe every family has collections.”
Slowly the light came on! Children began to figure this provocation out and SEE.
Gabriel M. was really stuck. Finally with some scaffolding questions, he said, “I got it!” Dylan sat for a long time, maybe a half hour. “My family does not have any collections, they don’t have any stuff they picked up and collected.” His definition was defined by going on nature walks and “collecting.” Once I explained that collections can be found, bought, or received he immediately got it! “My family has a collection of glass bottles.”
How often are children interpreting questions in a way that makes them stuck? Once Dylan and I had the conversation, he immediately visualized a collection in his home. The awareness to see a collection of others (in this case their family) is a form of empathy. The noticing of the other, their lives, likes and interests can be observed if you take the time to notice.
I decided to read Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to kickstart the children into a deeper provocation concerning Objects and Meaning. This book would be the first foray into history. It begins, “She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”
The book tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to America. The shovel is a constant on every page from farming, to keeping the food and home warm due to the shoveling of coal into the stove, to helping her in a flood, to clearing a skating rink. The shovel is present through marriage, mid-life, old age and the death of her husband, and birth of her children and grandchildren.
The book ends with the opening line, “”She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”
The children were absolutely spellbound by this book.
I then handed the children a sheet of paper with two rectangles.
I instructed them: “Right now you are going to pretend. You must leave Washington DC immediately and move to another country. Your family and pets will come with you. Your parents have packed your clothes, food, and water.
What is the one object you will choose?” and after you do that, “What is the one object you think your parent/parents will choose?”
Some children knew immeditely what they would choose, while others thought long and hard. Thinking about what their parents would bring was even more difficult for many of the children. I decided to share this exercise at Thanksgiving Dinner in my home this year. I excplained The Miss Bridie premise and asked my family, “What would would you take as your one object?” Some guests said, I just don’t know. My son immediately said, “My guitar, I could earn money, bring people music, and keep busy.” My husband said “…for survival, my GPS watch”, my daughter said, “Surprisingly, I would not pick something sentimental, I would choose something useful to help us out, like a rope.” My 81 year old father said, “All my photos and work are on a cloud that I could retrieve. So, I think I would choose something from when me and your Mom first began our relationship, an early photo album.” My mom said, “Hmmm, I just don’t know.” About 20 minutes later she said, “I got it! I would bring a deck of cards!” I said, “I think I would bring Grandma’s rolling pin. Mom let me have it when I left for college. It has moved with me on every move and made may deserts and breads. And it has multiple uses.” My daughter looked at me, “But what about your rocking chair.” Hard decision…
Try it out with your family or friends. it made for a wonderful dinner conversation.
The next progression of this project was, drum role please…ART STUDIO HOMEWORK. Children created a special folder for transporting the work. It built anticipation and excitement. Their homework was to get their parents to do homework. The following text and paper went home with each child:
KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK & THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER.
Dear Families of Kindergarten Children,
As part of the Collection Project we are also thinking about objects and what they mean.
I read the book Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel By Leslie Conner (in the Studio.) It is the story of a young woman who chose one object to bring to America in 1856.
The children then thought about the one object they thought they would bring and filled out a sheet with a picture and words.
I also asked them to think of the one object their mom or dad would bring. Once again they illustrated and wrote the words.
Now I am asking you to do the same exercise.
*Please fill out the enclosed sheet. Please draw a picture and write the words of the one object you would take and the one object you think your child would take.
You may choose to have one parent fill it out or two.
Please do not ask your child what they chose until after you have filled out the paper.
(Please note that it is assumed you would have your pets, necessary clothes, food, and water packed)
PLEASE RETURN THIS HOMEWORK IN THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER. Your child will bring it to the studio, where we will share the enclosed sheet.
There will be more “HOMEWORK” coming home in this folder. Please take the time to be a part of this project as we delve deeper into the idea of collections and objects.
Ms. McLean, Atelierista and
As you can see, each child signed the homework, letting the parents know it was from them and me.
I am proud to say, there was 100 percent participation. OK, I did chase down a few parents, but the children did a phenomonal job engaging their parents in the project. I even heard their was a facebook post devoted to the stress this was causing the parents!
When all the parent homework came in, I created an interactive documentation board, so kids could engage in analyzing the data and share what their parents drew and wrote.
“I think my parents are right. Even though I didn’t pick it. I think I would take my stuffed dog.” Aksel
In small groups they learned how to categorize the data. What a great opportunity to use some math and science skills.
“We don’t know what our parents would bring.”
“Lots of people guessed a lot alike, they guessed wrong. But, it’s still interesting.
It’s hard to choose what objects you or your parents would bring. It’s hard to choose because there’s lots of different stuff you like and your parents like.”
“I DID NOT GUESS had the most symbols.”
“I DID NOT GUESS has the most symbols and MY PARENTS DID NOT GUESS had the 2nd most symbols.”
“My parents guessed what I would take because I sleep every night with baby.”
As more groups met for small group conversation the board became increasingly filled. In the end, Ryan expained the conclusion of the gathered data. “Most kids did not guess their parents, and most parents did not guess their kid’s object, but some parents guessed their kid’s.” He even decided that he preferred his parent’s choice for him to choose even better then what he had chosen.
But the heart and the soul of this project emerged from the conversations that occured.
For some groups, they began to understand values within their family:
“I guessed my mom would take her phone, but she said, “I can always get a new phone, but I can’t get a new baby book.”
“My parents would take pictures so they can always remember me as a baby.”
“It’s hard to guess what your parents would bring cause they have so many things that are special to them.”
“I said my dad would take his Kindle, but he would take his Viola and because it’s really old and he can play it even though he doesn’t play it so much cause we are busy.”
“Out of this group, 5 of your families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
“So they can see me when I was a baby and laugh.”
“Samuel’s dad wrote why:
“A book of our family pictures. These tell us a story of who we are and where we came from. Through pictures we remember stories of time together, and recall the loved ones who have passed.”
“How come your parents did not choose fancy cars and Diamonds to bring?
“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.”
“Yeah, it’s special stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s like stuff to remember your ancestors.”
Many families chose books or literature as their object:
“Why do you think two family members of this group chose books?”
“Because you can read to make your mind grow!”
Another realization that surfaced was the value of choosing something that was connected to “creating” :
“How is what Noah’s mom chose, (a blank book,) and what Sophia’s dad chose, (a mandolin,) and what Isaiah’s mom chose, (a rolling pin) alike?”
“They all are using their hands!”
“To make music!”
“They all are making something!”
Many children realized their parents knew them better then maybe they know themselves:
“I noticed many of your parents chose different objects then you chose for yourself. What do you think?”
“I think they’re right, I would take my bird because I like my bird better. I always sleep with him at night.”
Sometimes I meet with children at the end of the day. They are tired. Sometimes the practice of actually having a conversation must be implicitly discussed for success.
Conversation is a learned value. When a small group I was meeting with was having some issues listening to each other respectfully, I stopped everything.
“We are having a conversation. The expectation is when you finish speaking; you stop and listen to your friends. What I am seeing is some people speaking and when they are done they start playing or disrupting others. The cool thing about a conversation is you get to learn so much from your friends. It’s a back and forth.” Ms. McLean
“Ohhhh, it’s like the golden rule!”
At that moment the conversation shifted with focus and respect to include religous and cultural values.
“That’s true Maddie. Except in a conversation it is so great because you get to know and learn all these new things from another kid.
Like from this group I learned about all of you AND your families!
Maddie, thanks to listening to you, this group knows your mother would choose to take her Ketubah.”
Does anyone know what a Katubah is.”
“Well, it’s the paper that says your married.”
“It’s even more special. It is a very beautiful document with lots of designs on it and swirly letters. Like your Mom drew it. It is a special paper you sign when you get married if you are Jewish.”
“I’m not Jewish.”
“No, but today we learned Maddie is. Some people are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other religions. And now everyone in this group learned something new from Maddie.”
“I am Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Years.”
Issa explained his Mom chose her meditation beads. When I asked him to tell about meditation beads, he explained simply they are very very special.
“I can tell you about meditation beads!” said Sonora, “You close your eyes and breathe and think of one thing, and you hold the beads like this. It is relaxing. And then a bell rings and you open your eyes and you are like calm.”
Tali’s Mom chose Shabbat candles and so Tali explained why to the group. “It’s like we have a holiday every Friday night. It’s on Saturday too. If we had to move somewhere there might not be Shabbat candles. And it is very special and important to light the candles.”
In this last conversation, the purpose and reason of Atelier/Studio learning and this project in particular became incredibly clear. In the following small group, a shift occured and the conversation was about people who had died. I was moved by the intimacy of the conversation, especially with Harvey and Eric sharing some difficult memories. Suddenly, objects weren’t of worth because of their advertising, but because of the connection to a person, or a memory.
I wrote Harvey’s Mom and Dad an email. I did not want to share any personal information that might be considered private.
I am cutting and pasting our correspondance.
Subject: Something Harvey said
A small group of children were having a conversation with me, that became very serious, yet appropriate. I am pasting the conversation below, because I would like to include it in documetation for the Objects and Meaning Project.
I want to find out if this is ok with you before I include it as a part of the documentation. I will respect what you decide.
In each small group, conversation took very interesting turns. Many of my questions revolved around values. I was surprised at things children understand and often brought up; life, death, monetary value versus emotional value, religion, culture.
“Many families in this group chose things that do not cost a lot of money. Many families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
“To remember people.”
“So you can remember family from before. Like if they died.”
“I have a picture of me and my pet before she died. She was a great pet.”
“I have a photo of my great great grand daddy. He went to the hospital and then he died.”
My Dad’s brother died because he was taking drugs.
What are drugs?
Like medicine except it’s really bad for you.
There’s a picture of all my cousins and me and Uncle Bernie. He died and he was in a blue and gold coffin with a cross. My cousins have that picture but then they made copies for all of us.
From conversation 12/3/13
Here’s The Craig’s response. Please click on it to make it larger.
I am honored to be surrounded by such inspirational children and adults. Brave and beautiful. Honest and thoughtful.
I feel closer and know more about every child and family who participated in this work. The children in turn also know. And all this came about by taking the time to think about what objects mean to the child-self and the adult-self.
Turns out that in this period of excess, in the end, the important objects are about relationships- for surviving, enjoying, enduring, inspiring, connecting, calming, and remembering- even when it is difficult.