Noticing the note of each bird

The year started, well…big.

First there was an earthquake (in DC!?) and then there was a hurricane.

Then it rained. Not just rain, but RAIN, for a week. I believe that this all happened within the first 2 1/2 weeks of school.

The rain flooded the landing to the playground so much, workers were brought in.


The rain and the puddle did not deter fun. In between the lightening and thunder, the kids went out.

Room 11 (Ms. Ricks and Ms. Fineran even requested boots for this exploration.)


Water, the essence of survival. The joy it brings to every sense.


The qualities of water are soothing and invigorating, and exploration is endless. As an adult, great films , literature  and works of art rely on the many metaphors and qualities of water. One of my favorite films is titled Water.

While squeals of  delight mix with my  my often heard voice in the Common Area,  “What do you need to do when you make a big spill on the floor? Why do we need to clean up spills? Keep the water in the water table…”, the concentration, discoveries made , and social interactions are rich. The warm water is soothing. The funnels, pulleys, measuring cups, tubes, water wheels and marbles lead to the unexpected. This is the beginning of theory development. These moments connect to understanding concepts.

In addition to water, the Nature Play Space outside is a rich environment and never ceases to amaze me. Children create soundscapes;


Create rich make believe (birds with eggs game)


There are so many versions of King of the Hill games. When was the last time you spontaneously made up a game with friends, complete with rules and fantasy? This is complex stuff for any age disguised in play.

Testing physical limits while being connected to trees and stones is important. Children are drawn to this area, more so than the manufactured play equipment. And while the equipment is good stuff, the Nature Play Space allows children to move what they climb on into new configurations, expand, change and create.

I initiated this natural area after being inspired by so many creative outdoor spaces ( great blog from Australia about nature Play Let the Children Play and this 20 Ways to Creat Play Environments for the Soul ) so I wrote a grant and made it happen. Since natural materials decompose, we are often in search of fresh “tree cookies” and loose parts to keep this area vibrant. Feel free to contact me to add to the space.

Inside the school  additions and traditions in the studio and common area keep things evolving.

Small additions to the playhouse has brought big excitement this year ( I love a good hardware store and thrift store!)

A very special hand operated machine

The beauty of this pulley, is that you need a friend to collaborate with you.

A small tray with handles and a fiber woven tea set provoked an elaborate playtime. While this might seem banal, there was an intense amount of negotiating and agreed upon management of materials, as well as debated role playing. Freetime is an intentional part of learning and offers guidance to teachers, not only on social climate-but on what is interesting the children and what is difficult for them. You usually will find me scrawling on a clipboard while observing the children. Often I watch quietly, while other times I join in to offer support or a challenge to provoke  new thinking.


A new opened ended provocation allows children to “sew lines.” Doing this sewing works best with two, and I am thrilled by the way the children direct each other and decide where to place the needle to make a desired shape, Almost like looking at clouds, the children exclaim, It’s a rocket ship or It’s a car!  Everyday it gets more and more filled with color and line.


I finally bought the missing small piece of hardware that has expanded the piano play. A double jack! It is beautiful to watch the many interactions here.


While the next two experiences are not new in the studio, they are new to all our entering children. The snow globe collection and the whirly plate machine. I challenge any computer to elicit this kind of wonder, awe, and thought…

And the simple pleasure of painting during free time, choosing from multitudes of colors and varieties of brushes created these complex and organized representations. Sylvie’s palette is cool and breezy and notice the details like the bird flying above the two smiling figures.


Alex painted a Matisse like painting, filled with movement and brightness:

This year, the Kindergarten students spent their first few weeks in the art studio working at a furious speed to make ceramic pendants. Every year, Kindergarten children make a gift for all the new students in PreK and K. We created a ritual of gathering, all together, a circle within a circle to greet new faces (including all the staff), sing songs and  give kindness. We have this tradition in response to September 11th, and it is called Kindness Day (just click on Kindness Day to the left for the full explanation.)

It was the first year the Kindergarten created not only a ceramic necklace for a new child, but an identical one for themselves too.  This new idea was inspired by a conversation between Mr. Jere , Ms. Scofield and myself about upholding traditions while at the same time adding new layers of thought/intention.

What is kindness?

“Being polite” -Luke

“Making a card.” -Caroline

“Sharing” -Zaire

“When the Kindergarteners gave us a bracelet last year! I wear mine all the time. Alex is his name who gave it to me!” -Ava

“When you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?'” -Brooke

“Being nice and helping them to do stuff.” -Joseph

Ms. Cross led us in song, I asked each Kindergarten friend to say “Hi, my name is ________, what’s your name?” and then present the gift, Mr. Burst introduced all the staff, and we all closed by singing You are the Sunshine of My Life.

Look closely at the images. The earnestness of the intros and gift giving. The joy of community. Tenderness and pride. It is refreshing and hopeful.


I love this small moment captured between Emma in Kindergarten, and new PreK Tessa:

Adinath and Gabriel make their new friends Archer and Emmett laugh by pretending their necklace is some type of transmitter /phone:

New Kindergarten student Anja helps another  Kindergarten student Sophia:

The beginning of the year is about developing new relationships that nurture the spirit to grow and expand (kids AND adults.) It is about creating a safe and creative space that offers boundaries and room for risk-taking. It is about getting to know each child as an individual and as part of a group. It is about caring. That is what I felt I needed to share, more than the emerging projects.

The Prek children just started a project observing Swallow Tail caterpillars and representing their observations in their new sketchbooks. The Kindergarten children have begun a project about costumes, and have begun planning in their sketchbooks. I can’t wait to post these emerging projects in the next blog.

I will end this blog with a favorite bit of prose which truly explains what the start of a new school year is like. It is why this work is always filled with wonder, research, joy, challenge and surprise. It is a metaphor of The Hundred Languages of Children. Welcome to a new school year at SWS. I hope you will feel comfortable sharing your comments and thoughts. My intention is to blog every two weeks, so check back soon!

Each new year is a surprise to us.

We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird,

And when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream,

Reminding us of a previous state  of existence…

The voice of nature is always encouraging.

-Henry David Thoreau

So much. So exciting. So scary.


After a small summer break from blogging, I am back.

I felt a bit overwhelmed on where to start, so a list came to mind.

It is always amplified, this idea of seasons and cycles for a teacher.

The end of the year is filled with urgency, rituals and release

(That’s our cd release/exhibition/parent appreciation celebration at The Atlas Theatre)

The summer is filled with ample sleep, sun, reflection, rejuvenation and exploration.

peru2(That’s my daughter and I in Ollantaytambo, Peru)

The new upcoming school year is filled with ideas, goals, and the known and unknown.

So here’s a list.

The things I will miss most from school year 2009-2010:


Louise Chapman:

Although she lives down the street from SWS, I will miss her daily presence in my life. She deserves this wonderful time, for travel, family, music, art and hopefully visiting us.

The Exiting Kindergarten Students:


Here are some self-portraits from the exiting class. Each class had such individual and group personality. I think these acrylic paintings evoke their spirit.







The outgoing families: Keep in touch!

On the last week of school, Laila’s Mom (Thonya) and Grandmom  (Rebecca) gave me the gift of studio office workplace renovation, with lots of SWS volunteers in tow like Scott Montrey, Nikki Territo, Laura Marks and more.   Here’s a picture of Melissa Brisbane modeling my new space. If anyone ever saw my desk before…actually, you couldn’t see the desk.

new desk

What the summer gave me:

With summer came travel, art and family. My trip to Peru reminded me of the importance of experiencing wonder and the awareness of being out of my comfort zone. Both are vital to growth for all human beings.




With summer came a full house, and I was reminded of the joy and tenderness that occurs with a full home. It is very similar to the joys and tenderness of the studio. The mess and chaos make way for conversation and relationship.

family group

In my personal studio I was reminded of the necessity of time within the process of creating and constructing, the highs and lows of frustration and elation during the process, and the need to express oneself.

McLean_Marla_3 McLean_Marla1detail

Things I look forward to with anticipation for school year 2010-2011:


The Garden Lady. She was erected and planted with a little help from my friends. I will post her “after” shot in a few weeks.

The Story of Food:

flowelady handsOur whole school provocation. I am excited about the SWS Reggio inspired approach in conjunction with this idea, the garden, the food, the collaborations…

My Pre-K Students who are now K students:

I posted the Bird Machines, which highlighted their amazing thinking and risk taking, but I neglected to highlight a year-end experience that left me gleeful.

When Ms. Rick’s class let me have their newborn chicks in the studio to sketch, a magical thing happened. They were positively musical and energetically hopping and dancing. The peeping and chirping was so intense, it became the focal point of conversation. Spontaneously I asked, Well, how could you show all the peeping and movement with your pen?




The kids just blew me away with their “making visible the invisible.”

Wow! Like I said, can’t wait to return to these kids with such great vision.

JereJere Lorenzen-Strait:  The new teacher on the block is not so new. He was a student teacher at SWS and stayed connected both professionally and personally after his time here. How exciting to have a new collaborator!

The new incoming families and children:  Always a combined sense of joy and worry, as I get to know the names, faces and new community that will become my daily life.

Energy, time and space:


Despite the constraints and schedules that exist within a system, I will continue to explore how energy, flow, space and time affect children (and myself/staff) as we navigate the school day.  It’s both a challenge and a fascination.

New possibilities and provocations:  Once again a combination of joy and fear. There’s always a part that’s a little scary that comes with the new.


So much. So exciting. So scary.

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