It’s hard to believe that I have not posted since November!
It’s not for lack of work. It’s because the projects, the creativity, the trips, the collaborations, have been expansive and mindblowing.
So much good stuff, that I have no idea how to edit down the myriad experiences and post!
Not a bad problem to have.
Instead, I am posting the last 2 days in the Studio/Atelier.
I provoked conversation with every small group (PK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten) using the same exact question:
Who does Washington DC belong to?
Each group, at each specific developmental range showed great thought, engagement, and care.
Through small groups, trusted relationships, and the SWS Reggio-inspired environment, the children have all learned how to engage in conversation. Even at age 3! School Within School is a part of a year long research project (with 9 other DC private and public schools) out of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero. The DC city-wide project is titled, Children are Washington DC Citizens.
I sent the documentation of these conversations to the project researchers and facilitators, Ban Mardel and Mara Krachevsky. Ben emailed me this morning:
I read the conversations and then shared them with my family, who of course, thought they were fantastic.
Confirmation that we all do have something to learn from young children.
I hope you will take the time to read the following conversations.
They are best viewed if you zoom in to 150-200 percent. (Sorry I crammed everything in a little tight)
The progression is Kindergarten, then PreK4, and then PreK3. They are best when read aloud.
Let me know what you hear, what you think, and what you wonder in the comment section below. Let’s extend these conversations…
Kindergarten Conversations PreK 4 Conversations PreK 3 Conversations Even after 20 years of doing this work with such young humans, or perhaps because of 20 years doing this work, I am both enthralled and humbled by the power of their reflection, connection, and expression. This work offers educators and parents an opportunity to see/hear themindfulness of young children.
I will spend time with the childrens’ thoughts and images. I will formulate more questions and interpretations. It (the documentation) is an opportunity to see the child individually and as part of a group/community. It is teacher research. It is progressive education. It is, as Emerson says, because we love each other.
This year at SWS, I have three new classrooms of children to interact with. For the first time we have two 3 year old preschool classrooms and one classroom with non-categorical medically fragile children.
Scarlett, one of our children from our first SWS 3 year old PreSchool program and Ayanna, who is in Ms. Maureen’s non-categorical class next door
Because they are located on the ground floor, many people have not had the opportunity to greet the possibilities that grow with these new populations.
In a Reggio context, this has been an opportunity to truly believe in the concept of the 100 Languages.
The idea that children are able to express themselves through 100 Languages and that teachers/facilitators need to be “Visual Listeners” to observe, understand and extend that conversation (especially non-verbal conversations) has always been a tenant that I embrace.
In the context of our new classes, the pre-school children do not necessarily possess the strongest ability of expression verbally and with the medically fragile children, the majority are non-verbal.
With the preschool children, my goal has been to engage the senses, develop their capacity to be in a small group that gives and receives, and the experience/environment to express themselves and their theories and for them to find value in this.
Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
“There’s something on the round carpet for you to see. Please walk around it, look closely, have a seat, and think about what it is.”
“It looks like a snowflake!” Abbey
“Green stripes!” Joe-Joe
“Green pictures!” Oskar
“A flower and the petals.” Miles
“Like the sun!” Emily
“It looks like a spider.” Coby
“I think it looks like a spider web.” William M.
“It looks like a diamond.” Elana
The previous week I had the children paint and asked them what they “saw” or imagined in a painting. Because of this, they returned to this type of thinking and few children noticed or verbalized that everything was green without prompting.
“There are 100’s of greens in the world, and we are going to hunt for them in the garden today.”
I attended a conference where a presenter shared that because of the extended time young children are spending on ipods, iphones, and other close range viewing screens- children are not developing full spectrum color sight as well as full long range distance sight.
As an artist and human this appalled me. To counter this possibility, the intention was to get the children to observe all the nuances of color outside, especially in our vibrant garden. After an exciting and intense green hunt, the children engaged in painting only in green. It also was an opportunity to introduce small brushes and small paintings, another way to make marks, learn to take care of paint colors, and have a shared experience in the studio.
“What do you think of your small green paintings?”
“This one (green color) is kinda blue. The dark green, it is melting all the light colors up.” William T.
“Mine is beautiful.” Jillian
“They look like the grown up paintings.” Simon
Continuing the provocation of nature and the garden, I facilitated embodying leaves and the concept of metaphor within the concept of the fall leaves and three year old children.
With the non-categorical medically fragile children I began a journey of non-verbal communication and relationship through materials and the senses.
My goal is to develop a relationship of caring and trust, a community of “makers” and an awakening of senses through projects and materials.
At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect? (Making musical percussive shakers)
The beauty of eye contact and a pat from a child who initially stayed across the room and by week three began to join me and “make”, observing a child realize they are making marks instead of watching others make marks, the reactions to cause and effect, the feel and sound of materials, the lightness of being when I began spontaneously singing to engage them in a new project, the non-verbal greetings of joy when I walked in by week four, the deep beauty and surprise of touch (both human and materials.) The richness in these small moments of connection is vast.
The continuity of the garden and nature explorations and inspirations continues with the Prek 4’s and Kindergarten classes.
I have such gratitude for the community (led by Jennifer Mampara and Nicole Mogul) in creating and maintaining the garden that greets every child, family member, friend, and visitor as they enter our school.
At a staff meeting last month, 2nd grade teacher Erika Bowman spoke with great admiration and awe at a community who makes it a value to create and grow a bountiful garden, the first year existence in new location.
For the PreK 4’s, all the project work has been about facilitating the development of visual voice to express their observations in the garden. Each small group picked a vegetable to touch, observe and then sketch. Before beginning each child was asked to observe their plant silently and think about something they noticed after looking really really really closely. Then we took turns sharing and listening, learning that listening to your friend is an important part of the curriculum. Listening to another child gives the group new ways of thinking, seeing, and doing. This is a practice that I want the children to value. Here’ a radish conversation:
“Whoa, there’s a pink thing down there!! Charlie B. “There’s spikes on the stem.” Liam “The leaves are a little pokey.” Priya “There are lines on the leaf.” Julia “The shape on the leaves is blurry like, wiggly.” Santino
One of the cabbage groups had a very interesting conversation that developed into theory building:
“I can see little holes in the leaves.” Myles T. “Caterpillar must have ate it.” Quinn “I see a bubble. It’s a bubble of water.” Melin “Why do you think the leaves have those bubbles?” Ms. McLean “I think maybe a bumble bee came. I think a bumble bee came and sting the leaf to make a bubble” Edwin “I think it’s juice that someone spilled.” Quinn “I think it’s bumble bee honey. I think a bumble bee ate the leaf, then licked it and the bumble bee made a juicy on the leaf.” Anais. “Yeah, I think it’s from a bumble bee licking it.” Myles T. In the following weeks children used their sketches from the garden with a corresponding photo of the vegetable and used paint to make an observational painting in the studio. This time the children had to be extremely observent not only about line and form but color.
Going through the same thinking process, children were asked to silently look closely and observe the color and then we went around the table and listened to each other’s observations. “The white on the leaf is cause the sun is shining.” Mason
The following week each group progressed to making Observational Art of the same vegetable, this time using materials. First they had to shop and collect materials. Next they had to arrange the pieces so it made sense using their photo, observational drawing and observational painting as a resource.
“Why do you have all the colors if we only need greens and red and pink ?” asked Gabriel. He had a radish and was a little disappointed when I asked him if his radish had all the rainbow of materials color that he had placed on his paper.
“Because then I would be doing all your thinking. You get to make your own decisions and this is how I can see your thinking. It’s hard but your brain will grow.” Ms. McLean
Before gluing, I ask children to place the obkects on the paper, allowing them to edit and change, unti shape, form and space begin to come together and make sense into the form of their vegetable plant. When I see they have solid ideas forming, I place the glue down for them to use. Because of this process, children usually continiue to add and delete objects as they observe nuances not noticed before.
Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding. “I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf? “Red lines!” Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
Children are learning to make visual metaphors by using objects to represent and symbolize real thinking and observations. This is no different then learning that letters symbolize words that can represent thinking and observations. This is literacy.
Cora’s cabbage Melin’s cabbage
Ava’s Swiss Chard
When looking at their representations, I avoid having children at this stage present their own work.
Here are the two “scripts” I give them:
“Please share what was difficult or hard about making this observational painting.”
(With the Materials Observational Art project, each child was asked to “read” the art of another child’s work in the group and respond,) “When you look at Ingrid’s Observational Art, what is it telling you she noticed.”
This intentional reflection practice encourages children to utilize visual thinking strategies (instead of “I made a stem.”), listening (the artist is eager to hear what his/her friend sees in his/her art) and another layer of observation development. It also illustrates the belief that every child has something to learn from another. Using the garden and nature as a provocation with all grades, (but with a different approach) allows for a continuity and collective understanding for the representations throughout the school.
The Kindergarten children were challenged to tackle symbolism and meaning through color and objects.
In this provocation, they were asked to make a plan for a collaborative sculpture where every color or image had to represent or symbolize something from our garden or nature experiences. These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.
Here’s Noah working on wrapping blue fabric around sticks he had painted yellow. “It represents the sun and the sky.”
As children progressed in making all the small symbollic pieces, the counter became a bounty and source of ideas.
Each week Kindergarten children returned to see visually what the next step was. Last week many of the small group sculptures were assembled. The process was truly an act of trusting the group, as the head became unbalanced and balanced as the children took turns drilling and adding pieces. An unintentional lesson was in fact Balalnce.
My sticks look like flat oranges. It represents oranges. –Lilah
I planned to do the stick. I painted it gold. The gold represents the sun. –Dorian
I made it be like an acorn tree. I painted it blue like water around the earth. –Aksel
I painted the head golden like hot lava. –Gabriel
I made the thing about some flowers that are in our garden. They are kind of colorful and they are are very soft. And they are small. The petals are warm. Flowers are important in nature because they are beautiful. –Anabel
I painted the golden part on the head. I was thinking of rocks. Some rocks are golden.
The acorns represent the sky, the blue acorns. The sky has clouds. The sun shines on it. –Sofie
I made flowers. They help bees and butterflies live. –Mira
Flowers make the world a beautiful place. –Willa
I did the sun. It helps flowers grow. –Dylan
I made grass. Grass is good for the world because it makes people walk on it. –Willa
I made a flower. Flowers help butterflies and bees. Butterflies make pollen. Bees make honey for us. If they weren’t alive we would have no pollen or honey. And then we wouldn’t be happy because if there was just plain yogurt, you would want honey in it. It doesn’t taste so good, if you mix it up with honey it’s good. -Ibby
I made some sticks that I painted yellow. It represents the sun. And the blue that I put on, represents the sky. –Noah
The red roses, they can grow good and live like if you water them a bunch they will be good. They will grow better. –Isaiah
The brown paint represents the dirt in the garden and also the earth. –Harvey
The carrots go in the dirt. –Eric
The necklace represents the rocks of the ground.
On top, the stick represents trees with berries.
It symbolizes a flower to the branch. I see a carrot tree, there also might be an acorn tree.
The purple is for the whole wide world to grow. If people die, the purple takes their spirit and buries them.
The flowers symbolize prettiness.
The jewels symbolize a shiny thing, like the sun shining down. It also makes music, like a jingly.
I no longer am teaching the older expanded grades of (this year) 1st and 2nd.
The growing pains of a Reggio Inspired school are , How do you keep the continuity, caring and intimacy of a small community, while at the same time expand to secure a vital future and create a new revolutionary model of public education?
This questions helped me to develop some small “interventions” to cross-fertilize the entire community through creativity.
The first small intervention I just recently tried, is inviting two first grade children to be studio assistants for an hour while I have a 3 year old group.
My first two friends were Kayden and Remi from Ms. Scofield’s class. I wanted them to experience being in a different developmental bracket, so I asked them to visit while a had 5 three year olds in the studio.
I broke their time in to two segments. Before I went to retrieve my three’s, I invited Remi and Kayden in.
“The three year olds have been exploring nature around the school. They have such wonderful ideas about the changing of the seasons and the leaves right now. However, you have the experience to illustrate and respond to their ideas, like an artist who does the pictures for another writer.”
Here are there responses.
They took this work seriously. They didn’t laugh or question the validity or ideas of the three year old children, they simply, responded visually. I will continue to explore the possibilities of these types of new interactions.
Last week many of the teachers attended a professional development at Washington International School, in conjunction with the DC-Project Zero (Harvard Grad School of Education Research Collaborative/Institute.)
One of the speakers, Ben Mardell said, “We can make children (young children) big or small.”
At SWS, our youngest smallest children are not considered small. We see them in big ways, as individuals and as part of the community.
The first ever SWS Yarn Bomb was the second intervention or act I facilitated to bring the community together in a creative cacophony of joy and color.
As I view the images of children/adults of all ages equally participating, it clearly makes visible the strength of honoring every individual at their current stage of development.
People stop by and ask me, How’s it going? What do you think of this big place? How’s the change? Do you like it?
This is a great experiment in expanding the heart. It is beating, it is warm, it is vigorous non-stop beating, it is at times exhausting, but it is, truly wonderous and just the beginning of a ripple of change. A ripple that will keep on moving outward, one heart at a time.
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.
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.
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.