How it started. How it’s going.

In March of 2020, I hastily grabbed books and the turtle for what I thought would be a few weeks of remote teaching. That didn’t go like that. In June of 2020, I had a few days to pack up years of collecting, archiving, materials, tools, paints, a little hoarding, thrift store finds, treasured objects, kids art, and lots of started kid projects (this part makes me so sad, because they had to go in the trash) into boxes because our 920 F Street building was to be gutted and transformed in the next 18 months. I had to do this during covid restrictions so all the volunteers who help me massively with staying focused and organized were barred. Somehow, most of the Art Studio was somehow packed up. I didn’t see any of it for 14 months. After 18 months of teaching live virtually from home, I entered the SWS @ Springarn, (off of 26th Street, NE) “swing” space, and my temporary Atelier for the year. I gasped. I groaned. I took long epsom salt baths, and used many bandaids. 4 days later, the Atelier began to emerge.

The environment is the Third Teacher (Parents and Teachers being the other two), and while most folx recognize nature and outdoor spaces as a great teacher, the indoor spaces are often not seen this way. There’s a lot of “classroom” aesthetic that is sold and promoted that has no soul or even beauty. It doesn’t tell the story of the past, the present, and leave space for the children and adults to co-create the culture of the space as it emerges and informs the future. When I walk into your space (home, office, classroom, studio) what does it say? What values does it speak. What are the children hearing the space say as they enter?

Welcome to Ms. McLean’s Atelier for children in PreK3 through First Grade.

I am so sad that no family and friends are allowed to wander in, volunteer, or hang out due to covid restrictions. I so value the spontaneous and planned infusions of perspectives, ideas, emotions, and just plain old getting to know each other that happens when the doors are wide open and family enters. I hope that through this blog, you can at least be a fly on the wall or even be moved to leave a comment or question.

How we enter the Atelier. We usually gallup on imaginary horses, although Kindergarten and First Grade seem to ride cheetahs, dragons, unicorns, and all kinds of hybrid creatures. This is intentional. Moving your body is directly connected to activating the brain and raising serotonin to elevate well being and joy.

We stop outside the doorway. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 jumps and to the rug.

And then we read the visual schedule. Because just like the kids, I like to know what’s coming.

Project Meeting. Children arrive in small groups of 5-11 children. No matter the age we start with the Project Meeting. In these 10 minutes a provocation is presented, materials may be modeled, a book may be read, a video clip or image might be shared, we might dance to music that is connected through genre, culture, or lyrics. We often do a Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routine. There is always a conceptual thread that connects and interconnects with the home, school, classroom, and the bigger world.
Relationship, connection, and kindness is where we started. What does kindness look like and feel like at home, school, and the world? Why does it matter? How do we fix our mistakes when we are unkind? How can we practice kindness?

Create. On the schedule, this “Create” time refers to responding to the project thread/idea/provocation. It might be learning a new media, or it might be “visible speaking” or sharing your thinking through making, it might be an individual response, or it might be a collaboration. It may be starting, returning, or finishing something from the previous week. It might be experimenting or planning an idea.

Create time in relation to project work is rigorous in a beautiful expansive way. And along the way, I am listening, observing, and taking notes of aha moments, strengths, mistakes, challenges, and explorations. I am noticing dispositions and small moments of understanding and connection.

Free Time. Free time is like gold. Children are often surprised that they can feely decide to create something to take home (project work usually lives on in the Atelier, to inform curriculum and conversation)

“I want to make a camera.” Remi

Play is foundational to social emotional well being, exploring, practicing the imagination, creating stories, games, rules, and small worlds, trying something new, processing complex feelings, even traumas, negotiating, finding some alone time or making friends, and creating new worlds. After extended periods of being apart, this togetherness of a new family of friends and adults can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Throughout Free Time I am able to observe and support interactions that are sometimes divine and other times difficult and complex. Trust is developed. The learning and growth is never to be underestimated.

Using the visual symbol makes giving the signal of flicking the lights off for clean up time a known thing. Children have been helpful, and even when they get distracted, their generosity in helping a friend or myself clean up is a common occurrence.

Reflection and Sing Goodbye.

We typically begin reflection with a quick guided routine to think about project work. Usually guided by prompts, What do you remember talking about first, What materials did we use? What was tricky about this? What was interesting or fun? What might we do next week in connection to the project? What do we need to work on as a group? How did we get along? What do we need to practice? Where did you prefer working? Sometimes we look at a collaboration together and share connections and appreciation. Sometimes we each share one thing we did during Free Time that was special. I usually reply “Yes, when you made that game up, you were an author, creating stories and characters.” Or “Yes, you were an engineer, designing a structure.”

We always sing Skinamarinky dinky dink I love you to end class. One is never too old too sing in unison a love song with funny words. To make a ritual of sweetness that can be dependably found at the end of every Atelier/Art Studio.

To that matter, we are never too old for making time to practice and find space to grow capacities of expression, compassion, imagination, transformation, and perspective taking. In this time, in this space- this is how it’s going.

Please leave comments and questions on the blog post. I’d love to be in conversation despite being separated.

The Intent, the Process, and the Beauty

 

This post is a continuation of my last  post The greatest small gift,  (March 6th.) I like to think of it as a continuing conversation or an opportunity to share documentation in a different “language.”  It is my  hope that through the two posts a deeper and fuller understanding of my work with young children is better understood and valued. More importantly that  project work  and children’s work is better understood and valued.