“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” Falling in love with Nature (Part 2)

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” Falling in love with Nature (Part 2)

Mama Miti Children’s Book
Watch “I will be a Hummingbird” short here.

The possibility of flight

A strange thing happened this September…no Monarch eggs or caterpillars were to be found on the Milkweed plants in the Peabody school garden. Every year, this is an important ritual. In fact most of the SWS teachers are part of the International Monarch Teacher Network.

I was truly disappointed.

Then, one afternoon, Margi Fineran (room 11 assistant teacher) asked me what the caterpillars were crawling all over the parsley in the children’s garden.

I did a little online research and came to the conclusion that they were Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

I took some in the studio. I was a little nervous. The Monarch life cycle I understood. I went to intensive trainings so I would not harm them, and in fact support their migration. With the Swallowtails, it was a whole new experience. However, it was just the provocation I needed to start the new PreK children thinking about looking closely, observing, and representing their thinking.


I took home those caterpillars every weekend. Of the four I took in, three went into a chrysalis. Instead of hanging from the top, like the Monarchs, the Swallowtails made a “string” around their waist to support themselves while they transformed.

To me they look like some kind of magical seahorse.

It was weeks before I noticed a change in their appearance, indicating it was almost time to emerge.

And then it happened.

Never underestimate the large effect a small moment can make.

Since I had no idea what to feed the Swallowtail butterflies once they emerged, each was released within 4-6 hours of it’s arrival. There would be no observational drawings for weeks at a time, as I did with the Monarch’s. I felt an urgency to release them so that they would survive.

Here is release 1:


For release number two, I asked for some help from Kindergarten friends:


For the final and third release, I asked my PreK friends for help:


There is such profound joy and exhilaration in releasing these small winged beings into the universe. It is the feeling of your heart swelling. It is a collective brief moment shared by all present. It feels like a big gift. When you are there in that moment time changes-as if nothing else exists, but the possibility of flight.

As I post these photos I am smiling.

Natalie left this image on the Buddha Board, a temporary water painting that evaporates. How wonderfully narrative it was of the fleeting experience.

Back inside school, looking closely and becoming observant continued to evolve as a project for the PreK’s. Now, I wanted them to use a new media, paint. This time, instead of using a live caterpillar, they chose from photos I captured during the field trip to the Arboretum. There were so many steps to take. Choosing the colors with thought and care and then following the many protocols for using the paints, brushes, easel and paint cart.  Children have such capacity to rise up to expectations when they are trusted to take on new roles and possibilities.

Ava’s representation


The next preK journey in looking closely, will be observing and using  diverse materials in a new way.

There is no discovery , awakening, or understanding without first possessing the ability to think and see and smell and hear and imagine through observation.

How often is thought unnoticed in a representation by a child? We as adults also need to be observant, and practice this skill, or we might certainly  miss something important.

These projects (all projects) and this journey continues. Being observant is in fact a life long journey. But let us celebrate and maybe even see something we did not before through the children and their work.

The Kindergarten children have been on another trajectory. Last year, I noticed how much the then PreK children reveled in transforming themselves. Their stories and play, use of scarves and materials during free-time was complex and innovative. “What if? “I asked mr Jere and Ms. Scofield, “The children designed, created and sewed their own costumes in connection to something in your classrooms?”

So, we brainstormed. Each class has a special story they have been dramatizing in multiple ways. In Jere’s class, it is Chicken Little. In Ms Scofield’s, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. Using narrative, voice, movement and discussion, each class is deconstructing and acting out literature in a meaningful way.

I invited a costume designer as both a provocation and as an expert. Then, the studio work began:

Henny Penny design by Emma Clare


Carter designed a raccoon costume.

This project is truly challenging. The children not only have to draw themselves as the likeness of a character, but, they have to think about if the design can work realistically as a costume, based on the advice of our specialist Ms. Celestine.

Design for the character named Jonathan by Kiran


Jai designed a Chicken Little costume.

Chicken Little design By Zaire

Foxy Loxy design by Henry

Raccoon costume by Han

Each sketch and rendering offers multiple insights into learning.  In the studo and in connection with the classrooms, interdisciplinary and multimodal thinking is intentionally developed.

I am aware, that I have taken on a huge endeavor. Each child will be constructing these costumes…not me and not the parent.

Just like those Black Swallowtail caterpillars I took inside, there is a whole lot of unknown mixed with the known. I am indeed a little nervous. And like I did for those caterpillars, I intend on creating an optimal environment. I also will provide nourishment for growth (the kids are planning, talking, and  hands on learning how to sew independently.)

It is my deepest hope mixed with intentional work that those Swallowtail caterpillars that I knew little about in the beginning represent the metaphor needed for the emerging project work-  the gradual magic of transformation.

And with hard work, the possibility of flight.






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

Before and Afters many times over


I have always been fascinated by before and after images, from fashion magazines to home improvements. I find it especially captivating to view in my school and other schools.

Teacher Tom and his community in Seattle created an amazing outdoor  area in a small space. Take a look. I am going for a water pump with gutters next Fall. And then there is the Blog “Let the children play“. Check out all the amazing outdoor spaces created (ok so there is no before and afters, but it does inspires one to think of their own possibilities for future before and afters.)

In the spirit of before and after.. the Peabpody Outdoor Play Space finally became a reality. Thanks to funding support from Capitol Hill Community Foundation and human power from parents and children, it is a huge success.

Ok, first the before.


This is from the quarry where I bought the stones (in Rockville, MD,  perfect town name.)


This is Laila and Dad Kevin, meeting me over spring break to bring “tree cookies.”


Thanks to Jeff, Miles’s Dad for sawing and delivering bamboo over break.bamboo

Here’s the gang that helped unload my car, wash the stones and help lug them to the area. (Special thanks to Henry’s Mom, Laura and Lucas’s Mom, Charlotte for meeting with me before school to get this project going.)

rocks1 rocks3rocks4 rocks5

The first day I did a guided discovery of the new area with every class and staff member of both Peabody and School-Within-School at Peabody. Mainly safety, storage, and boundaries (i.e. no weaponry due to the sheer volume of kids playing at the same time with 3 foot pieces of bamboo.)

The rules are what you can do:

Construct construct


Make Musicnature2


What can I say, but this is rewarding to watch. Plus it is all renewable and easy to upkeep.

Rachel Cross, our music teacher says it’s like witnessing all of humankind’s firsts, i.e. first wheel, first bridge, first crutch, first fire…she is so right!

I’ve always believed that all it takes is one small action to create change, and this is ever changing.natureafter

Another before and after happened in the art studio. Bianca’s Dad and Uncle took a simple line drawing that I sketched and put into Bianca’s folder, and then made it a reality.

curio1 curio after

Here’s some amazing photos of the magically created Studio Curio. Bianca helped the entire time during installation, even when I offered her alternatives. It was just touching to see her serious relationship with her Dad Charles, and Uncle Stewy, not to mention how hard and precise a worker she was. Heartfelt thanks again!

cherriesMy last before and after is the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms. It is a ritual to have an annual SWS Cherry Blossom Picnic and celebration directly across the street in Stanton Park. Even though this year, we returned from spring break to find most of the blossoms fallen, it was a breathtaking day of beauty, fresh air and genuine community. We are really lucky to live in a place where flowers fall from the trees once a year, but even luckier that the SWS community will jump into the park with all the paraphernalia at a moments notice.(Photo credit to Tony Milatello for the picture of Sara and Chiara)

paint3 paint2

picnic cherry1


And I would be remiss if I did not mention that Camille/Nolan’s Mom, Susan allowed a group of 8 from SWS to invade her home (until almost 10pm!)

with making flowersbranches, glue guns and japanese paper to create the “cherry blossoms” for the annual 13th School-Within-School Jazz Gala and Auction. Please link on and buy tickets, it is a fabulous evening that makes our school’s vision a possibility.


I am sad to say that this is the first year in 13 that I will miss the event. I have a wonderful excuse… I have been asked to be a keynote and a presenter at the RedSolare (Latin American Reggio Emilia) conference on Creativity and Children, in Guadalajara, Mexico. I am looking forward to meeting a new community of progressive educators and forming new relationships that are sure to inspire.

En diálogo con el pensamiento creativo del  niño(2)

I like the idea that my work/art  provokes  non-stop cognitive/ creative before and afters in my brain. For this, I am thankful. paint5