The greatest small gifts

Last month I attended a tremendous conference in San Francisco called  Educating for Creative Minds: Using Brain Science to Ignite Innovation and Imagination.

From the conference I have a long list of books to read and pages of notes to refer to, and inspiration and knowledge to keep me busy for a long time.

I will be referring to speakers and ideas from this conference in this and subsequent blogs.

“We are unable to  measure creative and divergent  thinking in a standardized way. Nationally, we teach what we can measure so we can teach it.”

“I can force you to pass a test and memorize, I cannot force you to write Hamlet.”

“Everyone has to become creative. If you want to be managed, you are not employable. Necessary traits for creativity and entrepreneurial qualities are; active engagement, resilience, agency to believe you can do it, original ideas, passion, empathy, uniqueness, alertness to opportunity, friends, confidence,  and global competency.

Here’s how traditional schools kill these traits and qualities:

Demand everyone to be the same

Rank them

Reward and punish accordingly so children can lose interest, confidence and curiosity.

And don’t give them time to play and explore.”

“We treat Reggio, Montessori and Waldorf as boutique education. Progressive education is a NECESSITY.”

-Yong Zhao, Phd

In this blog, I want to share and convey the depth and intention of the work in the studio, and implications for learning and developing creativity.

I am trying a new approach, two short videos.

 

Here’s video one, Developing Authentic Creativity , an overview of what many weeks of work looks like on the Shad and Insect project in the studio.

 

Here’s video two, Engagement and Ability., an opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a moment in the studio, an opportunity to see what it is really like.

 

I’d love to get feedback on your thoughts, what you see, and the effectiveness of sharing children’s work through video.

Just a quick end-note.  In the studio, the Shad fish project  was introduced in January. Kamrin, (pictured below) completed his wire Shad fish mobile this week. He finished, and went off to explore freely in the studio. About 3 minutes later, he came running back to me, gave me a big hug and looked in my eyes and said, “Thank you Ms. McLean”, and ran back to his free-time. The importance of honoring each child’s ability individually through daily interaction and relationship can never be underestimated. These are the greatest small gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

Paths of light come in so many forms…

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

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

(Ellie transforms the map of our school neighborhood)

While space, place and neighborhood are intertwined ideas,

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Gus: They were fiddling around the bucket of cement.

 

Wesley: I see a little house.

 

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

 

Then we asked, What do you think?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And then each adult asked

What do you wonder?

 

Amelia: I wonder why they have all those poles.

 

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

 

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

 

Gus: What made the crane sway?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Remi: I wonder when the building will be done.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Yes, many women work in a crane.

Thoughtful looks from all the girls as they imagined.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

(Riley becomes a butterfly)

 

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

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

 

Here are some of the photos documenting this riveting experience.

(That is a Leaf Bug!)

(That’s a Stick Bug, so fantastic.)

 

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

 

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

(Dylan, PreK)

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

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

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

 

I wonder what constitutes a pebble path?

This blog?

Documentation at SWS?

Revisiting experiences with small groups and reflecting/remembering?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Levi, PreK, “Well, our Monarch died.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Using transparent and translucent materials mesmerized all grades.

 

Maddie, PreK, “Mine is glowing!”

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

 

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

 

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

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

Tillie, “No.”

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

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

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

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

Me, “Yes!”

Tillie, Kiran and Sylvie, big smiles.

(Mikal’s Ninja Butterfly Lantern)

(Emma A.’s Lantern)

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

Dominic (PreK) shared a story of light.

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

 

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

 

And some more magic happened with the experimentation of materials.

 

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

 

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

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

 

My parents and family are always healthy.

That all of us here are friends forever.

I wish for joy and happiness for everyone.

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

I wish that everyone’s light shines.

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

I wish to play with all my friends always.

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

#1

 

and

 

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

 

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

 

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

“Look what they did!”

“I wish we would have thought of that!”

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

This is important and good and beautiful.

I’m serious.

 

Happy precious New Year!

May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.

And may you notice the many small paths.

 

 

 

 

Flying Teapots and the Wonder of Transformation

In the Spring of 2012, when I realized that our school was really leaving our historical Peabody building for a barracks type  temporary building , I had to summon all reserve positivity.

OK, I said, we will transform our new school space into the extraordinary. I shouted this from the rooftops until I became a believer. The first inspiration came from the site STREET ART UTOPIA We declare the world as our canvas. Teapots filled with plants and buildings covered in flowers.

I sent out a call “…collect teapots this summer, scour garage sales, your basement and thrift stores.”

This image and call to action became the metaphor that became a mantra, especially during the challenges, We are growing a school!

The action gave us something to do when there was nothing else we could do as we waited for our new space to be ready for occupancy.

Now I will back tread showing you a quick visual of the reality of this move:

First the furious packing in June. It was hard to pack the moon.

This is July 20th, when I thought maybe I could come in and set up in the new space:

It was August 20th when we were allowed to move in, but oops, none of our furniture and boxes were there.

The district called in some movers, but it was the SWS staff and volunteers who literally made the move happen. One of the most heard questions was, “Does anyone have any ibuprofen?” We were some sore staff and volunteers. More importantly we were some visionary staff and volunteers eager to make an empty space home.

Here’s August 28th:

When the children finally entered, it all became a beautiful dream:

Thanks to Adrian (Bella’s father in Ms. Burke’s room) the original counter and hideaway space, that was made in 1994 by parent Mike Ryan was uninstalled, stored and then retro fitted to the new space. He also did the same with the studio curio shelf made 3 years ago by parent Charlie Territo and his brother. In addition to retro fitting, I asked him to raise it up so the coveted hideaway space could also accomodate our 1st graders without them banging their heads!

The spirit of the studio has come alive, with experimentation, conversation, creation, inquiry and new friends.

While most of the things that make the studio home could come to the new space (Racecar the turtle, the snowglobe collection, the moon, the materials, the hideaway space and soft stuffed dog, the piano, light table and overhead projector, many of the natural collections, most of the furniture,) I did have to forgo the beloved playhouse. Not a day goes by when a small friend asks me, “Ms. McLean, where’s the playhouse?”

The small bits of disappointment make way for great opportunities to transform. By embracing change as a thing of wonder, a climate of empowerment takes over. The sky is the limit.

Which takes me back to the teapot story.

My faith is humanity was overwhelmingly overflowing on beautification day. It was the weekend before school started (and the grounds were just an empty mess.)

The tasks I led were getting rocks from a quarry and the teapot project. J.T. (Carly’s dad in Ms. Burke’s room) and I met bleary eyed in the morning at Irwin Stone in Rockville and had a blast choosing and hauling rocks. Special thanks to his father-in-law for the truck loan. Whatever wacky idea I came up with, Nicole Mogul (1st grade mom to Sylvie) somehow made it happen.

 

After hauling the rocks (JT went back a 2nd time!) it was time for the teapot planting and hanging!

It was a cacophony of lids and kids and pots, flowers and rooted vines, toddlers to grandparents scooping pebbles and dirt. It was what makes a heart beat with great joy and gratitude.

Such a joyful entry.

With the project came a provocation…what should be done with the teapot lids?

I proposed to small groups, that they should think of ways to transform the lid into something else. And that their ideas could be turned eventually into a mosaic sign or piece of art for our new school.

In this group I asked each child one at a time, to select a lid and then tell the group what they wanted to change it into.

They then were asked to pretend their finger was a pen and draw the lines that would transform the lid. Sometimes other children made suggestions or added lines. They all were able to envision what was not there, First in their minds as the artist and also they were able to see the imaginary lines their friends had drawn.

One of the 8 Studio Thinking Frameworks/Habits of Mind (From the book Studio Thinking, from the Harvard School of Education/Project Zero) is Envision, Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece. If you know me or have followed my blog,  I intentionally teach/facilitate through this body of work and research.

In the image above, Tayen chose a lid that looked like a roof. He drew the walls. I prompted, what else could you add? Soon windows, and a door were drawn by his finger. I asked his small group if there was anything else. They imagined chimneys and a garden and front steps.

Building on the habit to Envision, one is able to develop the capacity to solve problems, think out of the box, invent, and  discover new possibilities. This is not just an artist’s tool, but a tool for humanity.

The next step for the children was to select a lid and take it to the table. This time they would use black line marker and first draw the lid as it really exists.

They then were to change or transform it by adding lines. Color pencils were added as their ideas progressed.

The initial step of observing the lid and representing it, with it’s detail, shape and color was challenging since they also were envisioning the change simultaneously.

Emma (first grade) transformed her lid into an insect. She noticed the handle looked like a leaf, which she represented clearly, plus it looked like a nose for her insect.

Observe, Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.

This is another Studio Habit of Mind that is intentionally developed through projects and which requires persistance and practice. Once again it is a habit of mind that offers not only great possibilities but limitless joy. A child who is observant is a child who is curious and never bored.

“Alien”

When everyone was finished we met on the floor to share the work. The practice of looking at work is intentional. It is never good or bad, or I like it or it’s pretty. In this instance I utilized another technique from Project Zero/Harvard School of Education.

I See I Think I Wonder is a tool for talking about art and other interesting things that develops the habits of inquiry, curiosity and observation.

First children are asked what do you see? They are encouraged to start their observation with the words, I see.

Above, responses to Adinath’s lid transformation were “I see flowers on the cheeks.”  “I see a rectangle body.”

Then I think. “I think it’s a person.” “I think it’s a flower person.”

Then finally I wonder. “I wonder who that person is” “I wonder if it’s a boy.” “I wonder if the person is a kid.”

While his image was clearly a person, it is interesting when a  drawing is more ambiguos.

In one case, the image was thought to be a pullman rail car, a caterpillar, and a bench. This was a tremendous opportunity to talk about how often the artist has an intent but the viewer sees something completely different. I exclaim how intersting this makes the world, facilitating a culture of questioning and risk taking.

This  approach alters the dynamic of “getting it right” to “thinking and looking deeply.”

 

I learned another lesson from these first groups in the new studio.

The architectural open-ness, while visually and symbolically designed to be inviting and a part of the whole school, also is not conducive to small group discussions. There was so many distractions at one point Patrick (1st grade) said, “I don’t know who to be paying attention to. Them?” (he pointed to 2 staff in the kitchen) “Them?” (He pointed to the bathroom, echoing with sounds of children and teachers. “Or her?” (A 1st grader walked by shouting out greetings)

“You should have put a door in.” Said Emma.

I told them thank you and that they were absolutely right.

I rigged up some curtain panels. While not soundproof, they are a sign to the folks in the hall area that there is a conversation happening. It also psychologically offers a more intimate and calm space.

Together we are growing this school.

And together we will continue old traditions while transforming or changing them in ways that are meaningful. On September 11th SWS celebrates Kindness Day. Please reference this past post to understand the history “Kindness Day.”

In past years, all new incoming children to SWS received handmade gifts from the returning students. This year, since we all are in fact “new”, I initiated that each child would make a gift for another child, the fun part being, they won’t know who until kindness day.

Another change to this ritual is all the children were read the book Have you filled a bucket today?

It was recommended to me by my mother in law, and it has been a great provocation for actions, conversations and thought.

The premise is, that all people walk around with an invisible bucket. When you do something thoughtful or nice to or for another person, you are a bucket filler. When you are insensitive or mean, you are a bucket dipper. When you bucket dip, your bucket does not get filled. Bucket dippers are usually unhappy and in need of their bucket filled.

This simple analogy offers a way to reflect on how you are in the world.

This year, each child is making a necklace/sun catcher/overhead projector image as a gift.

Elilie, who is a new incoming 1st grader to SWS proclaimed. “Kindness Day is when you fill a lot of buckets!”

Each project that happens however small or large, is layered with potential for learning experiences.

In this case, the kindness gifts not only are a way to be bucket fillers, but an opportunity to explore and experiment with light, transparency, color and translucence. This idea of light as a method for communicating understandings and expression is one of the Reggio principles of 100 Languages.

Olivia’s unicorn gift

As I  reflect on the past weeks of furious change  and transformation of the Logan Annex  Barrack into the School-Within-School at Logan Annex I am humbled by this tremendous community. At times this work can feel overwhelming, but you wake up each day with great optimism and walk through the flying teapots just to enter our school. It is just a big rainbow of hope to me. We’re growing a school!

As I observed the children creating their kindness day gifts, I realized there was a kind of glow happening with each group.

This intense glow happened after they created their drawing on artist acetate and then brought it to the overhead projector.

There were private moments of seeing their tiny drawing take up a whole wall, there was the experimenting of layering images on top of images. Oh and then there was moving the images and distorting them, adding other objects, looking at the shadows of the hands.

But what was most powerful to observe was being able to see their very “being” embodying the wonder of encountering a transformation.

It is the expression of an epiphany, of learning, of joy, of relationship.

It is to me a challenge to catch this moment in my hands and then return it to each child when the work feels hard and the wonder feels far away for them.

We’ve heard it all: Change is good. Change is hard. The only constant is change.

Yes it is.

but change is also Flying Teapots

and  the

Wonder

of

Transformation

 

Not afraid of the dark

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Dominic’s Nightmare-age 5, December 2011

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

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

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

and my dream was over.

Robert’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011

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

I jump down before they fall.

Amira’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011

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

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

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

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

I said, “Well, see how fierce I am!”

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

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

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

The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This”

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

 

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

 

Today, however, I want to show

 

gratitude through images.

 

beautiful moments,

small and large

private and public

hard earned through perseverance

spontaneous gestures

independence

help from friends

help from family

exhilaration

quiet

togetherness

chaos

making

flow

solitude

the lit fire

connection

joy

love

 

Embrace this idea:

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

“this” would not be possible.

 

This is creativity.

 

Thoughtfullness.

 

The data gathered is called humanity.

 

Trust.

 

It is the force that makes life remarkable.

 

Not always easy.

 

But remarkable.

 

 

In full gratitude,

Marla

 

Binoculars above and walkie talkie below

(Katy, PreK first self portrait)

The surprise of translucent transformation.

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

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

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

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

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

Not always easy

but remarkable.

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

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