Hopeful

We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear
a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

-President Obama, excerpt from inaugural speech

 

I will run to people who are bad. I will talk to them and speak the laws and they will change.

-Super Running Boy, (Zander)  Kindergarten

It is a day of great hope.

It is the Inauguration day of President Barak Obama.

It is the day we remember and honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems like a perfect day to share some of the Peaceful Magical Super Heroes created by PreK, Kindergarten and 1st Grade children at SWS.

I began the New Year introducing the ideas of Martin Luther King, Segregation, Equality, Justice and Injustice, and Non-Violent protest.

 

I began by asking the children  “What do you know about Martin Luther King?”

The largest knowledge base from the children was he was shot, the next most common response was he was good and for peace, the third most common answer was there is a sculpture of him in DC, and the fourth most common response was a confusion of him and Rosa Parks.

 Only 3 children understood who he was. Two of those children were brothers.

 

In small groups, I began by saying “Martin Luther King was an American, he was brown skinned and he is one of my heroes”.

And then I told stories:

“A long time ago, in the United States of America, you are not going to believe this, all the brown skinned people, and tan skinned people had to live separate from the white and pink skinned people. It was the law, or the rules.

People were not allowed to go to school together, play together or live together.

It gets even worse!

The white and pink skinned people got all the best stuff. The brown and tan skinned people were not allowed to use all the good stuff.

It was unfair!”

 

And so went my retelling of history.

The children were flabbergasted!

“What, you mean I couldn’t play with  _______?!!!” (naming a friend in the group)

 

I even went on to share that I could have gone to go to jail because my children are brown skinned.

 

And so I continued…

 

I shared a portion of the I Have a Dream Speech.

 

I shared that people wanted to join Dr. King, however they had to make a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, weapons or fighting words.

 

“Sometimes I fight with my brother.”

“Sometimes my parents fight.”

 

 “Yes! ” I said, “this is normal; it takes a lot of practice not to fight. The important thing is to practice, and try, and think about what to do when you are angry.”

I told a story of brown skinned boys who sat down at a lunch counter and the restaurant would not serve them, because of how they looked.

I told the story of how Martin Luther King rallied people through his words and how they joined outside the restaurant and held hands, and chanted “This is unfair, equality now!” and how people used art and words and made signs.

And then bad angry people came and pushed them down, and said mean words and hurt them. But the people who were protesting did not fight back. They helped each other up and peacefully kept chanting, “This is unfair! Equality now!”

 

What really got the children is when I told them, “…and then the police came, and who do you think they took to jail? They took the peaceful people to jail! And when the peaceful protesters were put in jail they sang songs, like “This little light of mine” and “We shall overcome.

 Drawing By Elise, 1st Grade

 

And the word got out, that we lived in a country where peaceful people were pushed down and put in jail, and so more people joined the ideas of Martin Luther King,Jr.”

 Of all the things children knew about MLK, it was that he was shot. And so I told them how “he was speaking to the garbage workers, because they were not getting enough pay to feed their families even though they worked really really hard to keep the streets clean.

And someone who did not believe in all things fair and equality was violent and shot him. But, the amazing thing is, the work of Martin Luther King did not end when he was shot. People kept working for fairness, and soon the laws or rules were changed.”

The conversation was riveting with all groups of children.

Patrick said, “Wait, were the police all white that took the peaceful people to jail?”

“Yes.”

He looked at his skin, and looked up, “I hate being white.”

I assured him that he did not do any of those things from the past. That he was not responsible for what happened a long time ago. I reminded him that his maternal side of the family is from Columbia, South America.

“And my Dad is from Hawaii.” He seemed momentarily relieved. I was struck by his deep sensitivity and and sense of responsibility.

Throughout this project, parents stopped me to share that their children were coming home to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this project had meaning.

 

At this point I introduced their new project:

“First think about something you are really good at or love to do.

Next I want you to imagine, make-up, invent a super hero with super powers that includes what you love to do. You can have more super powers too, like super speed, or strength or even flying.”

 This might sound easy, but, I have a big challenge for you; your Super Hero selves have taken a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, just like Martin Luther King and all the people who believed in his words.

 That means you can make the world better, you can rescue, you can change bad guys, but no hurting or killing anyone…not even the bad guys!”

 (I have no issue with children killing or eliminating bad guys in their play or pretend. It is normal development for young children to begin to deal with good and evil through dramatic play. It is healthy for children to do this play, as it allows them a sense of control over all things bad. However, peaceful conflict resolution and non-violence takes great thought and practice. This project is to allow children to start the thinking and practice through narrative, art and metaphor.)

Below, Mira works on showing power in her drawing.

She loves making art, and so like many, her super power is activated through teaching:

Art Super Hero

I’m gonna fly and jump over roofs and teach people who want to be artists to do art. – Mira, PreK

 

The majority of PreK children jumped into this project with fantastical magical thinking. Ryan, for example included Santa Claus as the ultimate change agent:

Flying Boat Hopper

I can jump past heaven and into my boat. My boat has wings. I fly to Mexico to save my grandparents. I save them from evil bad guys. My boat shoots out Santa and his reindeer and the bad guys are not coming back ever. -Ryan, PreK

 

For Ainsley, she recently developed a new power over Christmas, she learned how to do somersaults. For her, her super hero was based in her new physical abilities:

 Somersault Super Hero

I do somersaults to make people happy. -Ainsley, PreK

Dorian’s Super Hero is also not separated from his real life self:

Dress Up Dorian

I dress up and do shows for people. They will feel happy. -Dorian, PreK

Harvey, who loves using the hammer, drill, and tools in the studio uses his “thing that he loves to do” to help others.

Super Strong Man

I will use my hands to make houses for people. -Harvey, PreK

Lucca, PreK, uses his powers to protect the force that protects him now, his parents. He does have the bad guy hurting himself as a by-product of his actions. This was not uncommon, with many PreK age children still needing to hurt the bad guys in some way (and this is completely developmentally appropriate.)

 Super Fast Man

I’m great at soccer. I go really fast with my super fast shoes. I jump really high to the ceiling and save my parents from the pointy ceiling. The bad evil vampire put them there. He bangs himself on the door when I climb up there. -Lucca, PreK

Levi has made the correlation that calming people can prevent bad decisions. This developmental leap is illustrated through his super hero that both rescues and transforms:

Super Levi

I fly to dogs that aren’t being treated well. I’m gonna stop the people from being mad. I will calm them. -Levi, PreK

PreK Dylan shows some deep thoughts about nurture and nature. His idea that maybe if you are in a place with “not so much mean stuff, you couldn’t be bad”, is deep.

 Lava Man

Lava Man makes volcanoes that scare away bad guys so that they would maybe go somewhere that didn’t have much mean stuff so they couldn’t be bad.

PreK student Tate also follows this theme of  changing bad guys. For him,  giving nice things, like a Yankees baseball cap to a bad guy. makes them feel good, thus facilitating change.

Super Tate

My shoe turns into 100 Yankee caps for the bad guys to feel good. The other foot makes Red Sox caps. First they’re bad and then they’re good! -Tate, PreK

 

Isabella uses the metaphor of sunshine in her illustration, connecting the iconic symbol with meaning:

Isabella Super Hero

I’m really good at riding my huge bike. I go fast. I go up in the air and give people sunshine. -Isabella, PreK

 

In addition to thinking, and inventing based on a concept. I showed children exaples of how illustrators show power through line and color. I challenged the children to make their picture really show it was an example of some type of super power, and not just a regular kid or scene. Below, Kindergarten students Carter and Matteo Z. are deep in focus as they tackle this new kind of task.

In Kindergarten, ideas began to expand. More children created super heroes that helped or rescued in specific ways. While there is a mix of children still deeply entrenched in complete magical thinking, I began to see the next stage of development emerging; more use of metaphor, understanding of fairness, change and inclusion of the greater community.

Flip Guy

I do backflips and catch up with bad guys. I will tie their hands behind their backs so they won’t punch me. I will take them to a spot and tell them to be peaceful and no fighting and no weapons. The change happens when I put a rainbow on them -Lane, Kindergarten

The idea of friendship as a gift of power transmission as told by Gus, is both fierce and gentle:

XStrado

I stomp on the ground as hard as I can and I put my hand out like a fist and a ray comes out. But no one can see it. If there is someone who didn’t know how to make friends they can make friends. -Gus, Kindergarten

Raigan loves to make string necklaces in the studio; her super hero bestows powers to others that allow them to travel:

Super Raigan

I make necklaces. My necklaces help people to go anywhere they want. -Raigan, Kindergarten

August, though in Kindergarten shows his understanding of non-violent protest by using signs and text to create  change. Even though he has not colored his sketch yet, the image is powerful to share.

 Speeding Ninja

I can run around the world putting signs everywhere, they might say, “No Fighting”. -August, Kindergarten

 

Zuri combines magical thinking and metaphor to illustrates in detail how her Super Hero will make change:

 Build Stuff

I’m gonna build a bridge tower around the bad guys with stars. The stars sprinkle stuff all over and they turn into good guys. -Zuri, Kindergarten

 

Super Michael

My powers will make the city grow back; houses, cars, streetlights, boats, trees, and grass. –Michael, Kindergarten

 

Lily believes in power of Art:

Super Lily

I’m going to make the world more beautiful. I’m going to make bad guys pictures. They will like them and turn to good guys. -Lily, Kindergarten

 

Electra already recognizes the power of reading. She also travels in time, therefor righting past wrongs:

Super Reading Girl

I can travel back in time.  I will read to bad people and they will be good. -Electra, Kindergarten

 

While for Evie, the healing powers of a Band-Aid prevail!

Hero Evie

I’m good at helping people. I have powers to fly to people who fell down. I help them with my powers and potions. It helps them get up and puts bandaids on them. -Evie, Kindergarten

 

(Lily, Evie and August will be returning to add color to their representations)

In first grade, many children were challenged by this assignment. By first grade the majority are aware of pop culture, advertising and movies that cast super heroes in a pretty reliable role of eliminating bad guys through violence. They had a harder time figuring out how to transform what they are good at into something beyond themselves. There was a less blurring of the lines between real life and imagination, which made the younger children’s stories flow more effortlessly. However their understanding of injustice and justice was more complex. Their ability to express themselves through visual media was more complicated.

Witnessing these subtle changes in thinking, representing, and creating is rewarding. It reinforces why having an Art Studio (in the context of Reggio Emilia Environment like SWS) in upper grades continues to be necessary and a vital force in developing 21st century thinking skills. Much of the work in the studio is about big ideas and how to construct/deconstruct and communicate through symbols and metaphors. 

Mason’s Super Hero shows his understanding that not all people are able to afford flying:

 I can make paper airplanes. I make an airplane that people can fly on for like $5. Cause it cost a lot of money to fly on an airplane. -Mason, 1st Grade

Dare Dog

My name is Dare Dog. I fly and I have a tail. I have three fingers. I fly around looking for people who need help, like if a kite is stuck in a tree or if you’ve lost your mom. I can magically make a path to them. -Dylan, 1st Grade

 

Super Emma Clare

I save babies if they get hurt. I fly down and pick them up. -Emma Clare, 1st Grade

Charlie creatively understands the power of humor to diffuse conflict.

Jokeman

I’m good at making funny jokes. If the bad guys laugh, they’ll be good. -Charlie, 1st Grade

 

Max uses his “thing that he loves to do”; skate, to teach others, like many SWS children. His thoughtful representation shows the intricacies of his ideas.

Super Ice Skater

 

I’m a super skater. I give ice skating lessons. I throw ice dust and the dust makes people better at skating. –Max, 1st Grade

Alden saves fireflies, a wonderful metaphor for preserving light and peaceful beings.

Fire Flyer

I’m good at studying fireflies. I’m gonna have a jet and when I see predators coming to eat fireflies, I’m gonna save the fireflies. -Alden, 1st Grade

Tillie had a simple idea that she illustrated graphically different from most of the children. Her tiny super hero is detailed in simple black silhouette. Initially when she added color, she had the blue sky only at the top of the building (a common idea that the sky is only on the top of a page.) I tried explaining that the sky is all around and she looked puzzled, so I scooted her out the front door of the school to observe how the sky actually surrounds a building all the way to the ground. She lit up with a smile and said “Ohhhhhh, I see that now!” There were a lot of these type of visual “aha” moments with the 1st graders as I encouraged them to take leaps in visual perception and expression.

 

Super Flipper

I’m gonna flip through the air and save people in trouble. -Tillie, 1st Grade

The next day, Tillie brought to school a Christmas present that her talented Uncle created for her for Christmas.

“See Tillie, now you have proof that you really ARE a Super Hero!”, I said.

 

Builder Man

When I see broken buildings I shoot them. When I shoot (the buildings), they come back to being a building. -Xavier, 1st Grade

 

First grade Ava’s Super Hero touched my heart. I often push her to try again and push through the hard parts. Here’s what she created:

Super Woman

I’m going to fly to people in a rocket ship and teach children how to make wonderful art. I have a grabber and I grab the art they don’t like. I get them to do it again. I don’t want them to give up. I give the art back to them and then they try once more. -Ava M. 1st Grade

 

And Anja combined the idea of conflict resolution through diplomatic talks with the addition of some magic dust!

Peace Lady

I’m good at making peace by talking. I can fly. I throw my peace sign dust and people stop having fights and can work it out. -Anja, 1st Grade

 

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today” at the swearing-in ceremony for President Obama today. Here is the last stanza: 

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky.

And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

(Light Sculpture By Xavier, 1st Grade)

 

 It occurs to me, that often it is indeed metaphor and magical thinking combined with reality that stops us in our tracks, and causes pause.

And causes understanding.

And causes wonder.

And sometimes change.

Not unlike the “I have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King.

Not unlike President Obama’s inaugural address.

Not unlike Richard Blanco’s poem

Not unlike the children’s work above.

They are practicing.

Still practicing.

And for that, I am thankful.

And hopeful.

 

 

 PS I am also thankful for Early Childhood Educator and friend Maureen Ingram who told me of her idea to do Peaceful Super Heroes with her 3 year old class. It inspired me to explore the idea in the studio at SWS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paths of light come in so many forms…

The 2012 new school year has been an exercise on how a community of people can truly make change. Personally, it has been both exhausting and extremely inspiring.

Using our new space, neighborhood and place based learning as a framework for planning curriculum this year, stretches me. So many concepts and questions have emerged.

(Ellie transforms the map of our school neighborhood)

While space, place and neighborhood are intertwined ideas,

for the PreK’s I am thinking and questioning how they observe and explore.

For my Kindergarten aged children, I am thinking and questioning around the idea of construction.

For the 1st graders, I am interested in how they become proficient in expressing and telling their stories and understandings through 100 Languages, provoked by the neighborhood we are inhabiting.

 

I noticed the children making gingerbread houses in Ms. Ricks class.

It’s the season of these magical constructions. Our very own Margi Finneran (assistant to Kindergarten teacher Margaret Ricks) is a White House Pastry Chef who creatively constructed the White House Gingerbread Garden! Take a look at this slideshow on Huffington Post! Margi will be sharing the experience with the Kindergarten classes who are expansively exploring the idea of construction this year.

 

I went with Sarah Burke’s class back to the construction site documented in the last post.So much had changed.

 

This time, each adult had a small group. After a period of silence each adult asked first, What do you see?

 

Amelia: There are no windows. The crane is inside the building

 

Fionn: A giant white crane waits for the cement truck to finish pouring cement and then the cement is dropped at the top.

 

Tessa: When the cement carrier, when it’s done, they bring it down.

 

Eva: The crane moves the big pot forward and backwards. Some are landing down and some are not.

 

Colleen: Cement is going down the white chute into a basket. It’s connected to a cement truck. I saw someone waving to us!

 

Mikal: The crane is moving the handle back and forth. And then it goes and stops and then it picks up another cement .

Mikal: I see a reflection of the crane in the mirror of that building.

 

Gus: They were fiddling around the bucket of cement.

 

Wesley: I see a little house.

 

Mira: I see one of the workers talking to another worker.

 

Then we asked, What do you think?

 

Mira: I think the workers are tired at the end of the day.

 

Zuri: I think the cement truck is going to empty out the cement.

 

Bella: I think those (beams) are for the building so they can build on the top.

 

Lane: I think they are thinking about safety. I think they are trying to be careful.

 

Mikal: I think when the crane moves, the bottom part goes back and forth.

 

And then each adult asked

What do you wonder?

 

Amelia: I wonder why they have all those poles.

 

Mikal: I wonder how they stop the cement. I wonder why the crane shows up in the window?

 

Eva: Are they going to have stairs? Or elevators? Or escalators?

 

Gus: What made the crane sway?

 

Bella: I wonder how they get the white posts through the next floor?

 

Michael: I wonder if the crane can hurt them (if they are wearing) with a hardhat.

 

Brian: I wonder if they are building a house or a school.

 

Remi: I wonder when the building will be done.

 

Mira: I wonder if the workers have to work a lot.

 

So why have many of the SWS teachers adopted this protocol for responding to visual artifacts or events?

 

From the Harvard Project Zero site, Making Learning Visible is this printed answer.

 

Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?
This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.

 

Too often adults ask What  do you see? and then the conversation is over. Or what do you like? Or Yes/No questions like: Do you see the cement truck? In which case the child says “Yes.” And the conversation is over.

 

One of the most difficult parts of inquiry based learning is thinking about good questions to ask and developing thinking and listening routines based around questioning for the children to engage in with and even without adults.

 

A powerful statement and metaphor came from Eva during the construction site visit:

Some of the children were having a hard time when asked
What do you think” and “What do you wonder?”

I suggested that if they just look and concentrate silently for a while, ideas would start coming.

 

“Just like you have to concentrate on the stones when you balance them!” Eva offered.

 

These types of moments let me know that the transdisciplinary approach of learning is working. She was able to connect balancing rocks to construct Stone Cairns in the studio to concentrating on inquiry during a classroom fieldtrip to a construction site.

 

“Where transdisciplinary learning is different from traditionally themed or integrated units is that students not only have an opportunity to work in depth, through  a range of disciplines, but also recognize, through practice and reflection, the innate value and challenges in applying a range of disciplines to a topic. This quite naturally opens important questions about thinking, and provides a perfect opportunity for students to realize that disciplines are constructed, are continuously changing and can be questioned.” Complete article here by Darron Davies

 

A small anecdote to the adventure, one of the consruction workers, Mr Ricky came over to talk to the children. He explained he had a radio for the crane operator.

“Are they listening to music up there?” asked Amelia. He explained the radio was for communication.

You can ask the crane operator a question, he volunteered.

“Well, are there girls up in the crane ever?”

Yes, many women work in a crane.

Thoughtful looks from all the girls as they imagined.

 

Back to the Gingerbread houses… I started to think about Hansel and Gretel and the metaphor of leaving paths when you go into the woods.

 

In the context of my work at SWS, the children, myself and the community are constantly going “into the woods.” The woods being the unknown, the wild, the untamed.

 

With the PreK children I have been curious how they explore and observe in the context of a project. There is still so much magical thinking that happens combined with reality for our youngest students here.

 

When Jere, Hannah and I took both PreK classes to the IMAX Monarch Migration film at Smithsonian, they sat in the theatre and reached out their small hands into the 3d images, into the air trying to catch the butterflies. It was beautiful.

 

Is the “unexpected” a vital component of exploration and observation for young children? Is it the necessary thing that keeps one searching (at any age?)?

(Riley becomes a butterfly)

 

Kay Taub, an entomologist and educational specialist brought her insects, specimens and expertise to the SWS Atelier/Studio.

Handing out live insects to two groups of twenty 4 year olds was definitely an experience of “going into the woods.”

 

Here are some of the photos documenting this riveting experience.

(That is a Leaf Bug!)

(That’s a Stick Bug, so fantastic.)

 

It was breathtaking (and at times nerve wracking) watching as crickets jumped, children exclaimed, and a few screamed. One child managed to suck his thumb while supporting a worm perilously close to his mouth!

 

I am wondering if the richness of the unexpected moments from this provocation will lead to deeper inquiry and deeper imaginings.

(Dylan, PreK)

I quickly segued into Solstice Lantern Making without fully revisiting these moments with the children. Solstice was nearing and it was production time with a deadline.

(Augie, PreK holding up translucent wings to light.)

I am thinking all these interactions will connect as long as a pebble path is laid down as we go.

 

I wonder what constitutes a pebble path?

This blog?

Documentation at SWS?

Revisiting experiences with small groups and reflecting/remembering?

Using a myriad of languages (the 100 Languages) that trigger new and deep understandings?

 

I asked the children, “Why do you think this year we are making lanterns that are inspired by Butterflies this year?”

 

Samuel, PreK, “We saw the movie!” (Monarch Migration)

 

Noah, PreK “I think cause we painted them with water paint.”

 

Amira, First Grade “There’s the Honey Vine so the butterflies were here (in the SWS school yard).”

Isaiah, PreK, “There was one in here! (the Art studio)

 

Levi, PreK, “Well, our Monarch died.”

 

Matteo Z, Kindergarten, “Last year we had butterflies (at our Peabody location) and now we are HERE, and the butterflies are HERE. I wonder if that’s why?

 

I think these responses indicate small pebble paths are being laid. I wonder how to make sure they are not in fact, paths made of breadcrumbs that will disappear.

 

School expansion means 127 lanterns this year. At first I had to engage in deep breathing. It is not in my nature to have everyone make and complete the same object by a deadline.

 

The nature of light took away my fears. The plastic bottles crackled, and some of them when being painted made a wonderful percussive sound.

Using transparent and translucent materials mesmerized all grades.

 

Maddie, PreK, “Mine is glowing!”

Aksel, PreK, “I think mine is glowing because the paints are magic.”

 

Fiona, “Look, which side did I draw on?” (When holding up the translucent paper the image replicates on the back side.)

 

Tillie, “Look how it looks with the body and the wings together.”

Me, “Oh you really thought about making the drawing go with the painted body. It’s very coordinated, do you know what that means?”

Tillie, “No.”

Me, “It means it goes together really well, without being exactly the same or matching”

Ms. Scofield (who had walked into the studio and sat down), “Like peanut butter and jelly!”

Me, “Yeah, but not all people would agree.”

Ms. Scofield, “Like peanut butter and chocolate!”

Me, “Yes!”

Tillie, Kiran and Sylvie, big smiles.

(Mikal’s Ninja Butterfly Lantern)

(Emma A.’s Lantern)

 

 

 

Sometimes it is not so academic. Sometimes threads are just so very sweet, shooting the breeze, and sharing life together. Although I would say Ms. Scofield’s example of peanut butter and chocolate to illustrate the word coordinated was pretty brilliant.

I tell all the children that 1000’s of years ago, people who lived near where we live noticed how dark it bexame at dinnertime, how cold the weather felt, they said, ” Oh no, all the flowers have died!”, and they noticed the leaves fell off the trees and died. But then, they noticed one tree stayed green. And they thanked Mother Earth for leaving the Evergreen Tree to remind us that Spring will come. And they did this by singing, lighting candles and decorating with pine. They did things to make their own light and warmth.

 

Through this story comes a sharing of their traditions and celebrations they know about.

While many shared their Chanukah and Christmas traditions, Dominic shared a moment quite different.

Dominic (PreK) shared a story of light.

“When I go to my grandpa’s farm, we have these hats with lights on them. We go out into the dark and we see deer. And the deers eyes glow.”

 

I asked many of the children to create “Shiny Happy Things” in addition to lanterns to hang from our teapots and trees around school, since most of the plants died. You can see from these drying pieces the generous spirit and care that went into making gifts for the school.

 

And some more magic happened with the experimentation of materials.

 

And then came December 21st. Our very special Solstice Celebration. Preparation seems a littlr crazy, but then the day comes and yet another transformation happens.

 

The annual Moon Ceremonies in the art studio fill my heart.

Some of the children’s Solstice wishes they shared around the moon:

 

My parents and family are always healthy.

That all of us here are friends forever.

I wish for joy and happiness for everyone.

I wish I can live with my mommy and daddy forever.

I wish that everyone’s light shines.

Even when we’re far away, my love is everwhere.

I wish to play with all my friends always.

 

As Louise Chapman, said to me, it’s like these good thoughts become contagious.

 

 

 

The weeks before Winter Break and the build up to our school Winter Solstice Celebration always brings much reflection. Half the year has come and gone. Am I being intentional? Am I doing enough? Is the work rich and meaningful? Have I overlooked something or someone? Where do I go next, while still staying connected to what we have done? What can I do better?

 

And then surprisingly and magically, small little spontaneous moments were left in the studio. Many times.

Translation: Dinosaur Village. Do not touch. I’m serious. Patrick, Xavier

#1

 

and

 

#2 a week later, built by Patrick, Xavier, Amira, Carrington

 

Many adults have walked by these small worlds, and exclaimed, laughed, or taken photos on their IPhones.

 

Dino Village has become viral, everchanging from grade to grade, group to group. After one of Ms. Scofield’s created a new Dino Village, some of Mr. Tome’s class stood in awe.

“Look what they did!”

“I wish we would have thought of that!”

 

 

It was a great opportunity to talk about how Patrick and Xavier started Dino Village, and it in turn inspired others, and then came back and inspired them!

It reminds me of the work of the artist, Slinkachu.  Slinkachu is a talented artist based in London (a former art director) who now creates tiny scenarios in public places, then photographs and abandons them – to be discovered by no-doubt bemused passers-by.

“The street-based side of my work plays with the notion of surprise and I aim to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes I set up, more evident through the photography, and the titles I give these scenes aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed,” 

 

Human beings have left paths of connection and understanding throughout civilization. From architecture, literature, inventions, musical scores, recordings, films, rituals, remembrances, paintings, to sculptures and research. It is when we as humans are at our best, when we search for meaning and purpose in the woods.

 

It is impossible to not be affected by the Newton, CT tragedy. It is darkness that is possibly too dark. I can only continue to be dedicated through work to making the world a better place in small ways.

 

Perhaps Patrick and Xavier and friends are aware of “the woods” in their lives, and perhaps they have figured out how to leave pebble paths for the rest of us. Pebble paths that won’t disappear. Pebble paths to follow, to be inspired by, or even to just notice.

 

This is important and good and beautiful.

I’m serious.

 

Happy precious New Year!

May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.

And may you notice the many small paths.

 

 

 

 

Flying Teapots and the Wonder of Transformation

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.

“Alien”

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.

Another change to this ritual is all the children were read the book Have you filled a bucket today?

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.

Yes it is.

but change is also Flying Teapots

and  the

Wonder

of

Transformation

 

Wade in the water

The Anacostia River, a Kindergarten Project.

The idea hatched from  Kindergarten teacher Alysia Scofield’s relationship with it, crossing it daily, venturing near it, on it, learning to love it. This major body of water running through DC is part taken for granted part wasteland and part beauty.

As the classroom teachers explore and document what the children know, their theories, the river and it’s history, water and it’s scientific properties, what lives in it, what grows in it and around it and above it, Shad harvesting and releasing, experimenting, ecology, pollution, their river collectons, geography and more, there is a different study also going on in the studio.

The sensory, the wonder,  and the poetic languages of water and of the river.

 

Just like the children, my primary relationship with the Anacostia River was from above.

The first encounter on Friday February 17th was enchanting, exhilarating and multi-sensory.

There was a cacophony of sound, texture, smells, sight, touch, sensation and feelings.

WATER  By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

When I was feeling the water it felt like it was soft

The river water, you could hardly feel it at all, like no texture

It sounded

Like a splash

Like a couple of little splashes

The water was going slowly. Tiny waves everywhere

The water was going this way

NO it was going that way

NO it was going North

NO that way

It was going both ways

I ran across it

Ripples

Like a tornado

When you step in it, small circles

Then bigger and then bigger

Slowly

There are so many circles

By Luke (The lower front shows a child putting his foot in the water and creating ripples)

MUD By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia

The ripples were like an upside down V

Blue green brown

My boots squooshed in the mud

It felt like squishy jello

I felt like I was walking in the middle of a mud monster’s home.

I was an ant walking in jello

It was so big

I was so small

I was stuck in the mud

Every footstep was hard

Deep sand

Like quick sand

My foot stuck like glue

Really the mud monsters were sucking my feet down.

 SAND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

I went in the deep sand

It felt like you were sinking

You could sink in to the passageway

To an imaginary castle made of sticks and mud

To a zombie house

To a magical fairy house

Or the the North Pole

Santa would ask,

Where are you from?

From DC

From the Anacostia River!

There is always the unexpected on trips like these. What we were not expecting was to witness Anacostia High School on fire. It proved to be huge part of this river trip.

By Eli

THE FIRE  By Lena, Bridget, Charlie, Emma, Patrick, Han

It was dark in the sky

It was foggy below

I saw the smoke

It looked like clouds that were

About to begin a thunderstorm

The air was black and misty

It looked soft but it’s not

It’s black

Like Smoke

Hhhuuuuh SCARED!

Some people were scared

Some people were not

And the fire?

What is the fire and smoke?

Red

Fire

Black

Smoke

Sirens

It sounded like a flashing sound

100 persons blowing a whistle

Like Han ringing the bells

By Stephen

FIRE By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

We saw a fire

So blazing hot

We could kinda feel the warmness

It had blackish grey smoke

Like the color of a sperm whale

The smoke was big

Like a giant

Like a planet

The very real was tempered by the very magical. Everyone encountered “The Castle” and a few “The Treasure Chest.”

By Joseph

CASTLE By Sylvie, Dominic, Alexander, Katie, Sophia

It had little rocks on the top

Like Squares

They felt rough and pointy

Like a porcupine

Like a cactus

Like thorny plants

Flowers were growing on the little rock squares

We stood on the top

Like a bird

Like a queen

Like being on a creature’s house

Like a guard fighting off people who were going to steal the gold and diamonds and copper coins and chocolate coins.

I saw seagulls trying to fly above us

I saw the stream leading to the Anacostia River

THE TREASURE CHEST By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington

It was in the water

In the dirty water

The Anacostia River water

It was gold

It was brown

It was brass

It had golden beads

We knew it was a treasure chest because it had a curve

It was stuck in the mud

Water was coming around it and making squares or rectangles

Inside it we imagine

A Key

A Crown

Diamonds

Earrings

Jewelry

Necklaces

Bracelets

Gold pieces

Rubies

Pearls

Carrington saw it first

Stephen thought it was just a piece of metal

By Jai

By Natalie

MUSSELS AND MUD By Josie, Natalie, Sophie, Bailee, Carrington

A little baby mussel

Like 50 of them

I put them in Ra’Kyia’s cup

They are not clams

They have food in them

You can eat from them

They live in the mud

It was really squishy

It was making a noise like sucking–your-tongue-noise

Squish squoosh squash

It got in my sneaker

When you picked it up it felt like

Soft and hard mixed together

Soft as a blanket

Soft like a cookie

Soft like a cushion

Soft like a pillow

Soft like a bed

You’re making me sleepy

By Emma

STUFF WE FOUND By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

You can find stuff

Like treasures!

Seashells

Rocks,

Phones,

River glass

Sticks

I think I saw an alligator

Motors

Mud

Water

Turn it into a machine

Turn it into a special sculpture

Turn it into materials for the Art Studio

RIVER STUFF By  By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The river has stuff in it that’s nasty

People throw it out

They throw their bottles in the river

They sit on a bench and drink and just throw it

I think they don’t have trashcans in the Anacostia River

The people were being careless

The birds and the animals feel sad

The ducks can’t live in the river,

They can’t go home

IN THE WATERBy   Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

There was a lot of trash in the water

Brownish

Mushy stinky

There was even a skittle wrapper in the water

Maybe they didn’t know they dropped it

Maybe their parents didn’t teach them

Seeing was so nuanced on this trip. Watching the children “look”  was like watching a dance performance.

By Sylvie (in the lower left side you can see how Sylvie represented a friend bent over and collecting)

The birds were as much a part of the river as the river itself.

BIRDS By Luke, Jasper, Stephen, Maya, Ra’kyia

They were making a sound

K-K-K-K-K-K

Flapping their wings

Like a door slamming

Up in the air like a plane

Like a phoenix

 By Kiran

By Zaire

THE TRAIN By Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The train was on the track

HONK-HONK

When it went past it was going DING-DING-DING-DING

It was as loud as

A police car

A motorcycle

The fire bell in School

It sounded like a building crashing down

By Dominic

By Bridget

By Emma

THE BRIDGE  Robert, Gabriel, Amira, Jai and Brooke

The water

It moved like an ocean

Under the bridge

The river looked crazier then the bridge

Because it moved like a crazy person under the bridge

The bridge was calm

But it looked like it was moving

Immersed in this project, I find myself singing water and river songs. Funny how so many are about letting go, forgetting, sailing off, rebirthing, and becoming new.

So I leave this post with songs in mind but within a context of discovery and joy, of memory and feeling, of hearing and seeing, of smelling and touching, of the very real Anacostia River mixed with the intangible sense of magic.

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

If you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

So Wade in the water

Wade in the water children!

“…they scatter memories behind them like breadcrumbs…”

Sometimes life can feel incredibly complex to break down into small digestable bits.

Many rich projects have been occurring in the studio during this time of my playing hookie from blogging. This causes me to feel overwhelmed on what to include. (I mean I’ve been told my blogs are too long already.)

Sometimes I can see this same feeling within my students.

A provocation can seem overwhelming, draw a self portrait, build a chair out of clay, draw your nightmare and tell me about it. A big part of my work is teaching others how to break down what they see, feel, think, or hear into pieces, deconstructing what seems insurmountable.

 

Some background of what you are seeing: The “Chair Project” emerged in Ms Burke’s PreK class. Winnie drew a picture of the tables and chairs to illustrate the job of “snack helper.”  The table had about fifty legs and the chairs were represented as circles on top of the table. Dimensional thinking is complex, let alone representing it with pen and paper as a four year old. Ms. Burke found it fascinating, and we discussed it. I suggested giving the children the challenge of creating a 3d chair out of clay, and returning to the drawing later. The photos above from the studio include Hannah Birney scaffolding or asking questions to provoke understanding that would facilitate overcoming the challenge,  examples of  chairs in different postions to help children understand how they are  constructed, and Zuri giving peer support to Matteo.

50 percent of the children began by making a flat “drawing” out of clay initially.

90 percent of the children struggled with creating sturdy legs and balance. What you see plus the wonderful quality of clay-you can smoosh it when it doesn’t work out, led to enormous leaps of growths.

About 20 percent of the children came up with their own strategies  for making the chair upright. Platforms, bucket chairs and a chaise lounge were some of the ways.

When the children  finally manipulated the clay and created an upright chair, I had a few figures from the play castle for testing stability. After children “tested” their chair with the fugure, they went off to have some studio freetime.

In one small group, all but one child was done. Fionn was working with great intensity to tackle his chair. When he finally had success, I commented on how he stuck with this project, even when it was hard. I placed Fionn’s chair next to the other chairs still on the table that had a small figure seated.

“WAIT WAIT! He didn’t get to put a person on his!” Michael exclaimed from the floor where he was playing with the wooden castle. I had no idea he was paying any attention at all. I was about to just pluck a figure off the neighboring chair, when Michael rushed up with the small figure he was playing with. “There!” He pronounced, placing the toy he was playing with onto Fionn’s chair.

That small moment of caring, of equity and of kindness struck me as not just kind, but incredibly giving. Memories like these remind me of the tiny gestures which make humanity grand.

 How do I hold on to these small moments?  How can I catch them, and put them in my pocket, to be retrieved and written down before I forget them? And then, when do I remember to share them, with the person who made the moment, or the small gesture?

“…I wonder how memories can be here one moment and then gone the next. I wonder about how the sky can be a huge, blue nothingness and at the same time it can also feel like shelter. ” p.175 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

After the chairs were fired in the kiln, I placed them on black paper and put up a stand so that black paper would be a backdrop for the chair. I wanted the children to see the negative space  black instead of the entire visual field around their chairs.

I wondered if the memory of mentally deconstructing a real chair and physically constructing a clay chair would support their dimensional thinking , allowing them to “see” and draw this complex object.

Mira’s chair with standing figure above.

I told the children that this was difficult for even grown-ups to do, and that they should expect to do a whole bunch of tries. That even grown ups have to do things a lot of times, and even then, it might still be difficult. As you can see from the above photos, the cognitive and tactile experiences paired with the expectation that it would take a bunch of drawings to figure it out, made for astounding development. I witnessed tremendous breakthroughs in this process.

 Dima

When it was discovered that a seat of a chair sideways makes a letter “L” shape, I showed everyone this finding.

This immediately made sense to Tessa (above)

Bella, below, was really trying hard to figure out how to draw her chair sideways. Her seat was a big circular shape, and the way she saw it, it was more from an aerial perspective. I know she was listening as I urged each child to notice that “L” shape on their own chair. When she didn’t find it, she added it to the bottom of her drawing as a bunch of “L” legs. Sometimes what you see doesn’t look like what others see. If you look closely, there is indeed a side view, just from a different perspective.

With each group, I left time at the end to reflect about what was hard or difficult as well as what they and or their friends figured out.

This intentional practice of teaching and modeling observation, critique and reflection is a way to make it a value or eventually an internalized practice for each child. At first it’s a little like pulling teeth, and then “pop” with ease and surprise great awakenings are verbalized.

Eva, throughout the process kept saying “I can’t do this.” I reminded her that “can’t is a bad word, but instead she could say, “This is hard! Can you help me?” She was however quite successful in in the end representing her chair, which she created on a base.

When we regrouped to reflect, Eva exclaimed poetically:

“If your brain looks into your creation,

Use the power.

And tell Mommy and Daddy, ‘You did it! Whoo Hoo!'”

I returned to transcribing the nightmare paintings. My goal was to complete this important process of writing down each child’s words with their paintings. I find these works by four year olds both brave and playful. While some children turned their nightmare into a dear friend like Simone,

or an element of power like Archer

 Ava S. expressed herself in an honest and touching way. I find her nightmare painting and memory as incredible evidence of the importance of  parents  protecting their child from even the  imaginary.

“Then he holds me by the shoulderss and looks me in the eyes and says,

We see things. Sometimes they there. Sometimes they not there. We see them the same either way. You understand?”

p169 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

The intensity in the studio is coupled with the free time children are able to take, time permitting. While sometimes project time will use up the entire slot, I try hard to be cognizant of the merits of free time as equally important to the teacher facilitated period, and make space for it. Some children live for free time, especially those who seek the social emotional release and joys of dramatic play. While they might “live” for this free time, it does not mean it is easy. Negotiating friends, time, space, place and materials takes a multitude of thought and self regulation. Even those who prefer to make something on their own or play alone often have to defend their choices- all important habits of mind.

Here are some memories caught and documented during free time.

 Lane over the past weeks has sought out the drum during free time. He keeps a repetitive and steady beat, and loses himself in the concentration and rhythm. A few weeks ago, he began rearranging chairs and stools to make a seat and platform for his playing. He was experimenting with many configurations independently. “Can I sit on this?” he asked, rolling over the clay trash container on wheels. No child had ever asked this, so I told him to go ahead. After some bustling around, I realized the steady drum rhythm had returned. When I looked, I could see that Lane had created a throne for his music making.

Sophie this week chose to use clay to make something for her free time. She spent a long time crafting a teeny tiny sculpture. While she was welcome to take a big wad of clay, she chose to make something small and precious. When she was done she handed it to me. “It’a a platypus.” I turned it around in my hands trying to figure out how to even put one initial on it. When I determined an initial would overwhelm her piece I told her, “Sophie, this is so small, I am unable to put your name or letter on it. Please remind me that you made it after it’s been fired.”

Sophie looked at me in alarm and said, “But Ms. McLean, what if someone ELSE makes a platypus?!”

 Robert and Gabriel chose to work together making copious amounts of meatballs and spaghetti. For a half hour they made tiny pinch pots and squeezed out clay through the extruder with great excitement and seriousness. It was an epic amount of clay pasta, and their engagement and spirits were so high. Was this a fleeting moment?  or a memory that one day, when they are grown and cook for themselves,  will slip into their consciousness like a small little jolt?

What memories do we control? How can memories be utilized as a learning tool in intentional connected ways? How accurate are memories in reflecting or re-experiencing events?

Mant times when I lead classes to a museum, there is no photography allowed of the objects. In these cases, I speak very seriously to the children. “It’s important that you sketch what is interesting or gives you ideas. Since photography is not allowed, these pictures in your sketchbook will be your memory for you to return to.” I was floored by the intensity I observed when I led Ms. Ricks’ PreK class to the Museum of African Art. The line quality and pen strokes conveyed materials, features and intricacies of art and artifacts.

In the art studio, Raigan tends to complete drawings with speed and little effort.In the Museum of African Art she was transfixed, staring closely as she slowly sketched. I never tire of the phenomenon of young children enthralled and engaged in an art museum. So many parents tell me their children won’t draw or aren’t interested in looking when in a museum setting. These very same children, with high expectations that they are competent and able , seem to float into a zone where the rest of the world disappears. They create images, ideas and connections which they know are important and can see are strong work.

Shaw

Will

Zander

Loic

Sometimes memory is important  just for the reason to share a moment that was delightful. The first week back after Winter Break, folk dancers came to share dances around the world. Despite having an audience of over 80 four to six year old children, the performance was interactive and entertaining and the hour long performance was a hit.  Thanks to Arts for Every Student and Class Acts, this program was free.

The hundreth day of school was marked  by the Kindergarten students with a lot of numeracy and ritual. This year, I joined each classroom with thousands of craft sticks, wire, glue dots, paper towel rolls, egg cartons and some foam bits and pieces. In both K classes the children were given the challenge of using each one hundred sticks in some kind of sculpture that they make in an hour. A beautiful chaos of “making” ensued.

While most kids consciously or  unconsciously gave up on the idea of incorporating one hundred craft sticks, Emma Clare was determined to use all 100 sticks. With shades on, she created a skateboard storage area on her sculpture (that woud be the sticks as skateboards placed tightly in a paper cannister.) Brilliant!

 

This exercise of exploring and constructing without a plan was filled with engineering and ingenuity. It was however lacking time, so I found myself in a mad rush of cleaning up the gazillions of materials which sprawled, before the kids missed lunch or the bus. When I was leaving Mr. Jere’s class, clutching various materials I heard my name being called and felt a small person quickly following me as I zipped around. “Ms. McLean, Ms. McLean” I hurriedly said “What?” and spun around to face Anja. “Thank you for setting that up in our class. I really like doing that kind of thing.”  I felt a wave of gratitude and a little shame for being so curt initially.

I happened to bump into Anja’s parents one afternoon and told the story. It’s not often that someone even thinks to thank you for the everyday work you do, and especially not a 5 or 6 year old. This memory truly stops me in my tracks, and illuminates the great power of a small heartfelt thank you.

Memory is closely related to observation and discovery. I took one group in the art studio and decided to see if they were interested in some water experiments. The Kindergarten classes are in the beginning phases of The Anacostia River Project. Because the first visit to the river was cancelled due to weather, there were no first encounters to rely upon.  My idea was to observe water in altered states and sketch afterwards. I was not certain at all.

Dropping a golf ball in the water. Adding oil to water. Adding water color paints to water. Adding salt to water.

Stephen

Maya

Jasper

Perhaps the memory of the experiment will connect to what they see when they visit the river at the end of the week. To my delight, this one group of children (Jasper, Stephen, Ra’Kiya, Luke and Maya) were eager and enthusiastic scientists. They each documented the shared process and sequence and ideas- their memory of the multi step experiment.

Memory is called upon as a coping mechanism.With children, both the joy and the pain must be revisited with support and care to gain a sense of stability and understanding. “Remember when you were left out of your friends game? How did you feel? How do your friends feel when you leave them out? What do you need to do?” Children spontaneously bring up memories of grief, from a relative to a pet. These are great windows into life. I recently attended a funeral of my uncle. The power of memory and story is not only essential to the grief process but to each and every individual as a human being.

Piper

How and what we remember informs our very being.

Last Friday, a former student, Eva Epstein who is now in third grade came to visit me. After a big hug she looked into my eyes and said, “Ms. McLean, I came into here (the art studio) and all the memories came flooding back!”

“We return to the places we’re from; we trample faded corridors and pencil in new lines. “You’ve grown up so fast,” Robert’s mother tell him at breakfast, at dinner. “Look at you.” But she’s wrong, thinks Robert. You bury your childhood here and there. It waits for you, all your life, to come back and dig it up.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

Slowly, I get to know each child, quite intimately. Helena often creates representations of her baby sister. The drawing above came about when I asked her, “What are you into? What interests you? What is something you think about?” My sister, she replied. When I asked her what her sister can do, she told me “crawl”. I bent a small figure in a crawling postion so she could figure it out.

 Previously, during free time she created her sister in her car seat out of clay.

There is an amazing way we, all people walk the earth. We bring our memories from home with us, wherever we go. They are invisible to others most of the time. For young children, they wear their memories  on their sleeves. The family memories bubble up and emerge. One moment they are playing happily and the next moment they think of their mommy, and briefly, the tears or yearning is vocalized. The next moment they are a part of a new group, building new memories, creating new pathways in their brains. Like Eva Epstein, who visited me, someday these memories will just bubble up. And define them.

“…every hour…, all over the globe, an infinite  number of memories disappear, whole glowing atlases dragged into graves. But during that same hour children are moving about, surveying territory that seems to them entirely new. They push back the darkness; they scatter memories behind them like bread crumbs. The world is remade.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr