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.
The Prek 3 Classes have emabarked on a project. The children started talking about “statues” a few months ago when I had them working on a collaborative wire sculpture in the studio. Their excitement about seeing sculptures and statues in Washington, DC got the classroom teachers and I planning a trip to the National Sculpture Garden. They already “owned” the sculptures in their neighborhoods and parks, we were curious on how they would own sculptures in a formal DC space. This documentation sheds some light and reflection on the ongoing experiences.
“From seeds” comes from a conversation that came about today when I was in the SWS garden harvesting vegetables and flowers to paint with Caleb, Franklin, and Boaz (PreK children).
The act of picking the produce or herbs or flowers develops a shared anticipation, as each child waits their turn to cut, pluck, or support a friend who is cutting.
It’s exciting, the bees are buzzing, the wind blows, the sun shines, or maybe it is raining. It is an act made with care. It is filled with sound and touch and friends.
Placing each tender newly harvested item onto a tray or basket to bring back to the art studio, there is a glee and a joy. Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking
and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate.
No, it’s purple.
Well maybe purple brown.
Where is that?
There! There! As a group, this act of looking, observing, debating, and choosing goes on for each pepper, tomato, zinnia, or radish.
It is slow.
It is purposeful.
It is a task that connects the children deeply to each nature item, even if they didn’t pick it. It connects each child to one another as they help, shout, whisper, and cajole their friend who is choosing a paint, that no, it really should be a light green for the stem. After this beautiful experience of harvesting, and collaboratively choosing a pallette of paint, each child gets to choose what they want to paint.
Since they themselves pulled the radish from the dirt, passed the radish from hand to hand while choosing a tub of paint that matches it, and then carried it all to the table…what happened next was a natural act. These small children, PreK children, naturally understood the beauty and nuances and began to paint. The Trail of Tears Bean on the vine gestured.
It was silent.
This is more than painting a still life.
This is connecting to life.
This week as millions marched world wide to stop climate change and met to discuss the health and future of our planet, I am struck by the importance of these small connecting moments in the garden with our young SWS caretakers of the urban garden at the entrance to our school.
Please read the conversation below. It speaks to a child’s understanding of interconnectedness, of consumerism, and in the end…that it all comes “from the seed.” We had this conversation outside, hands in the earth by the radish bed.
I wonder, if I did not take them out, if SWS did not have the vision and will to place a garden at the entrance to our school, if parents and staff did not have the passion and energy to volunteer and create and upkeep this plot, if our FoodPrints program did not exist, if the teachers did not have the values to get the kids in the mess and the dirt and the seeds…
would the conversation had ended at “…food comes from the store”?
It is science, it is art, it is literacy, it is nutrition, but it is oh so much more.
These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy.
Better than “dust to dust,”
our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.”
Please watch this 3 minute video. It is a love letter. This is the poem by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands that brought down the house at the UN Climate Summit today. It is moving in a way that you wouldn’t believe.
Dear Matafele (a love letter to a child)
Please linger in the garden with your child, or volunteer to cook, harvest, plant and water at SWS, in your community, or wherever you live.
Get a little dirty.
March, sing, dance, research, talk, touch, create.
Every small act.
We truly are interconnected.
We are all
(Thank you to Boaz, Franklin, and Caleb who inspired this post.)
This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.
look like lamps.
The snowflakes look like stars.” –Maya, PreSchool 3
For me, it is thrilling in the context of the work I do with children. This isn’t a slushy kinda cold season, this year it is frost and sparkle and whiteness from ice, snow, and salt that changes the entire space both inside and out. It is felt from toes to nose.
I recently watched an interview of Carla Rinaldi, one of the visionaries who helped develop the pre-primary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
She says, “School is an expression of the vision and values of a community.”
School as an EXPRESSION of vision and values.
This idea resonates deeply with me. In fact, since hearing this phrase I have co-opted it as my definition of school and my practice in the Atelier (and community) at SWS.
It allows me to quickly reflect and re-shift during the day. I can reflect, “Do my deeds, actions, and interactions express my values right now?”
What a treasure these words are.
So much of the planning and discourse at SWS is centered on an expression of values.
On December 20th, 2013 SWS celebrated Winter Solstice. This is a special ritual in our school. It is anticipated, talked about, and I am pretty sure will be a memory when the children leave our school.
Every year children begin in advance creating lanterns that transform the environment on the awaited day.
This year, children made photo transfers on recycled glass jars. The preparation and process was enthralling.
For the youngest children, it is difficult to explore how the light changes, the gradual creeping darkness is not apparent to them yet. Their memories of late summer evenings of light is difficult for them to remember.
So how did I explore with the 3 year olds? I made a cave. And in this cave (like a bear) we went. In this dark cozy place I read a book about light rituals around the world. Quickly each child became excited to talk about Christmas or Chanukah. I then introduced a very hard concept for the youngest children in our school. I asked each to hold the lantern and make a wish or say something kind about SOMEONE ELSE. At first it was really hard. “I wish for my Mom to buy me _____” was an oft heard phrase. With some support and further questioning children began to think of others near and dear.
Peyton: I wish my mommy has a good day.
Liam: I wish Santa brings my mommy and daddy presents.
Scarlett: I wish for mommy and daddy to play with me.
Lincoln: I love Nate.
Nate: I wish my family don’t get sick.
Winter, a hibernating time, is an optimal season to help children reflect in new ways. It is an ideal time to develop and practice capacities to broaden their thoughts.
The shared experience in the “cave” gave time and care to thinking about seasonal changes to a 3 and 4 year old’s world in a relevant way. Sinatra: Its scary when there’s no light. When it’s dark you need light. A ghost might be hiding. So the light makes you not scared.
The day of Solstice is almost epic in scope at SWS. It is shear beauty and light.
It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.
Everyone is in pajamas and the smell of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and maple syrup eminates.
In the studio, the annual Solstice Ceremony and Ritual occurs.
There is almost a reverence when the children join hands to make wishes, dance, give wishes, and receive a small pendant/symbol which reminds them that they are indeed a shining star in the universe. That they are connected and interconnected to each other, the community, their families, the natural elements, and the greater world
This year, when children returned after two weeks of holiday, the cold weather increased.
I continued the exploration of these great changes with the children, all the children.
In this fashion of learning, the one day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.
What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.
Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.
Winter, Solstice &
The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.
You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.
On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.
The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.
The winter is white and you have to put on your snow jacket, your snow boots, your snow mittens, and your snow hat. In the summer you just go out and play!
We make lanterns.
People put up wreaths on their doors. So when people walk by they can see the door is decorated.
-Myles T., PreK
We stay happy by playing inside. –Anias, PreK
Yeah, like we play Pass the Bean Ball. –Melin
On Winter Solstice you go in pajamas and celebrate the night and the sun.
And my Dad makes turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice. Does your family make turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice?
In the summer the plants come back to life.
-Bryce B., PreK
People decorate their homes with light.
Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.
Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.
I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.
People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.
Scarlet’s ice art : “I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3 The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.
“The years are changing. They go by so fast.”
And I for one am listening. This is the definition of school. What’s yours?
Just a few weeks to winter break, and more than anything it is the change in light that seems so important. Light and dark literally change life in Washington DC in December. Street lights are on by 6:00pm, and the playground is deserted. Dinnertime is dark and evening and morning are pretty darn cold. Routines change.
One ritual at SWS is our annual Solstice celebration. It is time to make the one project that is done every year, Lantern Creating. Of course, it is never the same lantern. That means this year the kids are creating the 15th different style lantern in the history of the school. Just because it is a product project, does not mean that depth is eliminated. So I take you on a journey of this process.
It starts with a self portrait. The kids did not have a formal chance in the studio to revisit looking at themselves yet and finding something new within their faces. This is always rich, just having individual mirrors creates experimentation and discovery! For many, there was a lot of conversations how to draw a nose. I had them use their hands and feel their nose bridge. This was the first time for many to touch and look and feel the wonders of something they don’t look much at, their own face.
This is Kenneth’s first time doing this type of work. He just stated at SWS a few weeks ago, and look at his concentration.
In each small group there was conversation about light and dark, day and night. I asked them what symbols they thought represented these opposites. I then asked children to choose to be “Kenneth Day” or “Kenneth Night” and suround their self portraits with these symbolic marks.
Archer chose to be light. This is him adding bees and insects. Because this is an all school project, it is thrilling to observe the pre-K’s intent as they do this very challenging symbolic thinking. At the same time, it is also thrilling to watch Kindergarten students who have had an extra year and a half in the studio (and life!) to tackle the same challenge.
The following part of this project is to think about which colors are day or night, light or dark. I asked the children to sort crayons into two categories which led to rich debate and thoughtful dialog.
“Yellow is a day color! It’s the sun!”
“No, yellow is the stars glowing!”
“White is a day color it’s clouds.”
“The moon is white it’s a night color.”
“In the day there is a blue sky, and the ocean in the summer is blue.”
“Blue is the night sky.”
It was discovered that perhaps it is all how you think about color that makes it what it “is.”
This conversation repeated with each small group.
I usually attend to color provocations on a separate day then line or drawing provocations. This is because I want the children to have the opportunity to dedicate each type of thinking without rush or stress. The richness in thought and choice is able to emerge when you have the luxury of time to ponder one at a time..
Since I assured children that this was no longer an observational self portrait but an artist becoming day or night, they were able to explore the feeling of color. Joseph, Kindergarten (above) makes his face a rich blue. A tree stands to the left, with no green leaves. To the right planets and stars and a firefly glow.
Jasper, Kindergarten (below) thinks about the light at night as richly colored and multi hued. As he chose colors he elaborated about planets , spaceships, and that the sun is still present in the solar system even when it is night.
Maya, Kindergarten (below) imagined fireworks, something you view at night.
Those who chose to “be” day also were thoughtful.
Zander, PreK (below) used the same bright green color to show leaves and his face. He added a bumble bee, something that is now a thing of the past season.
Matteo Z, PreK (below) uses color and line that shows the energy of the sun in his face.
While Claire, Kindergarten (below) also is day light, she adds some symbolic imagery like the green heart which looks very similar to a summer leaf.
Moving from an observational self portrait, to graphic representation of an idea (day or night) to the symbolic use of color offered intentional ways of thinking with media.
The next part, I always call the magic part. I asked the children to flip over their finished work and see how much of the drawing they could see through the paper. I asked them to hold it up to the light and asked how much light could get through. Since their drawing was to be turned into a lantern, it was time to transform the paper into translucent paper. Lanterns must have some way to let light shine through.
By brushing vegetable oil on the back side of the paper, an exciting thing happens. Katie is thrilled as she sees her “self” magically appear.
Below, Natalie, Brigid and Maya experiment to see if the picture can be seen on both sides at the same time.
The next part of the project is the adult part, hot gluing the transformed paper into a cylannder and onto a round piece of cardboard. Thank you to all my parent volunteers who took home cardboard to cut into circles or came in and tag teamed the construction.
The very last step is more social. Children sit around talking and socializing while stringing a beaded handle and gluing strips of plastic recycled newspaper bags as a tassel or wind catcher. A funny story: I asked one group “Does anyone know what beading is?’ One child replied and said : “Yes!” and stood up and play acted hitting or beating his own behind. I had a good laugh and assured him that we were doing a different type of beading!
Kiran as Day, Kindergarten and Jack as Night, Prek (above)
Kindergarten students as Night (above) used different approaches to color. Anja on the left chose deep, mostly cool tones to represent night, while Adinath on the right used warm colors to show the glow of things in the night.
There were some really overcast and dark days last week. So I used the opportunity to slip a small LED votive light into Gus’s, PreK lantern. The reaction was so gleeful from classmates Zuri and Eva that their jumping up and down created a photo blur (I think I joined them). I still posted it because you can see/feel the joy and energy that occurred. That small little flicker glowing in the child made lantern on a dark dreary day filled all of us with smiles, laughter and warmth.
Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry, “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and foot candles. Light is metaphor. Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light. ~Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider