“People speak different languages, because that’s how they are made.” Remy, age 5

“People speak different languages, because that’s how they are made.” Remy, age 5

Wow, it has been a looooong time since I last blogged.

I will start from today though, from now, November 12th, 2020.

And right now, I can share that it is not only possible to connect and create virtually with 3-6 year old humans in the Atelier, it is meaningful, compassionate, and inspiring.

There is still opening and closing rituals, music, stories, provocations, and just like being in person, there is sustained time where there is a flow of constructing, experimenting, and expressing (with music flowing and me, not talking.) And there is still Reggio Inspired Projects and the possibilities of expressing understandings in 100 Languages.

We began the school year with the provocation of Monarch butterflies and as they emerged and began their migration to Michoacán, Mexico, we moved from local to global. We moved from the simplicity that all living things migrate to the complexities of human migration.

Here is some documentation to connect you to the rigor, depth, and joy of our weekly one hour Atelier LIVE with Ms McLean.

To end this post, I leave you with a link and a quote.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an extraordinary Mexican artist who uses technologies to create art about human connection. In 2019, I took both PreK classes to his interactive exhibit that connected human heartbeats and fingerprints to beautiful pulsing lights and waves. It was transformative.

He recently creating mind blowing art interactions at the US/Mexican border.

If you have 17 minutes to spare, watching this video by Art 21, Rafael Lozano Hemmer “Borderlands” will surely move you. I hope it will also give you perspective on the importance of the thinking and doing that children manifest in the Atelier. Children, in fact, imagined, like Hemmer, ways to connect people, despite the complexities of pandemics or borders.

Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on the Importance of Telling Complex, Nuanced  Border Stories - The Texas Observer
Hemmer’s installation allowed people in both Juarez and El Paso communicate by manipulating and crossing search lights and speaking into microphones that worked as a sound tunnel.

What Hemmer has imagined and created is not so different than Delilah or Aliya, both in PreK4

“There is art on the ground on both sides of the wall, and people can talk about it through the tunnel.” Delilah

“”I made a big chair in the Middle of the wall so the kids from both countries can sit together to talk or read books. Kids holding hands together and dancing I also draw a tree house with a balloon and a big bear.”  Aliya B., PreK4

Delilah
Aliya, PreK4

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.”
— James Baldwin

I hope you will engage through leaving comments, wonderings, or connections below. In gratitude.

“Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what ‘needs to be’ in the face of what is. Optimism is not uncool; it is rebellious and daring and vital.” Ava DuVernay

“Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what ‘needs to be’ in the face of what is. Optimism is not uncool; it is rebellious and daring and vital.” Ava DuVernay

This year, when I asked kids if they knew who the Dr Martin Luther King was, I knew what I did not want to hear.

I did not want to look at faces of children ages 3-6 as they explained in detail that “I know about Martin Luther King, Jr! He was shot and killed. By a gun!!!”

I did not want to hear, “He is dead! He was killed!”

I did not want to hear, “My mommy/daddy knows about him”

This year, with our youngest students, my goal was to take a deep dive into the meaning of Dr Martin Luther King, and especially the relevance of his life and words to children ages 3-6 years old.

My goal was to explicitly talk about race.

My goal was that when they see his face that the thoughts they have might revolve around love, power, non-violent resistance, awe, Black hero, American hero, strength, optimism, and change.

And so, I began by introducing the concept of love.

I asked:

What is love?

What does it look like?

Who do you imagine?

How is love powerful?

What can love do or change?

A group of PreK3 children responded:

Collins, Age 3

“We love our Mommies” Brayden

“And we love our Daddies, our brothers, our friends” John

“It looks like when you paint and make it sparkly.”

Lucy, age 3

“True love. It means you get married. And we don’t bite anyone.”

Some PreK4 responses:

“Love is giving a hug, you can share.” Daylin , age 4

“You can make (draw) lines and colors of love.” Tinsley, age 4

“Love is Peace.” Jack B., age 4

“Love is true-ness and happiness.” Milo, age 4

Bryce, PreK

“Love is the bottom of the water that you don’t resist. It means love is like the water on the bottom of the heart.” Ethan, age 4

“Kindness is what you can do with love.” Sebastian

Some Kindergarten responses:

“You can love other people if you try. If you’re mean, other people won’t love you.” Eli, age 5

“Give love out. Go to that person. I love you. I like you. I want to play with you.” Aiden F., age 5

I had this conversation with all 100 plus children.

All this work has been further supported by Black Lives Matters in Education Week, a Black Lives Matter in Education teacher group at SWS, and of course Black History month.

Talking about Racism, Race, and Black Lives is not limited to February, however there is a wealth of great resources and workshops that pop up every February that enriches and expands perspectives.

From the Women’s Wave March

Black families live with the daily conversation of race and racism. White families struggle with talking about race or don’t. (Throughout this post are some wonderful resources.) The article below is really well written for families.

How to talk about racism with your children (for white parents.)

A group of SWS Educators attended multiple events through DC Educators for Social Change. One seminar that was extremely supportive in terms of materials, information, resources, and colleagues was Looking at Race through Early Childhood Picture Books.

For the past two years I have been urging teachers to look at the picture books in their rooms. I ask, What if the majority of your picture books that are out in your classroom  have protagonists that are majority of color?

How could this small act to your environment change the paradigm of race for your children?

Children of color would have the opportunity to be the characters in books that everyone loves and see themselves!

White children would fall in love with brown and black characters.

I started seeing glimpses of this when Black Panther came out last year. Seeing white children pretend to be Black Panther and love Wakanda alongside their enthusiastic black and brown friends was a first for me. Usually it was the Black children dressing up as White Super Heroes and entering into popular culture dress ups that were not inclusive of them.

Image result for wakanda

Attending this session of Race through Early Childhood Picture Books really broadened and motivated my studio project which encompasses Social Emotional Learning, History, Anti-Racist Education, Arts Education, History, Social Studies, Science (projection), and Regional Arts, and Making.

The next phase of this project went something like this:

“We’ve been thinking about love and what it looks like or does.

One of my heroes is Martin Luther King, Jr. He is so important we get a Holiday off to honor him. He is a Black American Hero.”

He said:

“Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.”

Do you know what an enemy is?

“A super hero has to have an enemy, so he can destroy him and save the world.” Kaleb

“An enemy is the bad guy.”

I clarified:  An enemy is a person who is always against and mean to someone or something.

What do you think this means? Would it be hard or easy to be nice to someone who was acting like an enemy? How do you turn an enemy into a friend?

This response was on the interactive board asking is it hard or easy to stand up for someone.

“I’m thinking about my family. You can hug people and talk to them when they are mean. It would be hard, but I’ll try.” Orly, age 4

“Laugh, and they will laugh back. And then they will be friends with you.” Aviv, age 4

“Be nice to them. Say I want you to be my friend. I want to play with you. I actually want to. And not fight.” Thulani, age 5

Braden, PreK3

“You can be my best friend. You don’t have to be mean.” Owen, age 5

“It would be hard not to be mean back.” Aiden M.

“You could say, Can you have a play date with me?” Minami, age 5

I began reading a few pages at a time of the book Martin’s Big Words. It is beautifully illustrated. The children were amazed to see Martin Luther King as a boy.

“He was a kid?” they often shouted out, when seeing the images of him walking by a whites only sign.

I stopped on one page and explained that a long time ago, the white people did not want to share any of the power with the brown and black people. In fact, only white men could make the rules. They didn’t share the parks, the schools, and the restaurants with the black and brown families. In fact, it was against the law. It was against the law to have all the children go to school together or even live together. Was that fair?

After each conversation or reading a few pages in the book at a time, we would draw, showing our thoughts on a photocopied picture of martin Luther King. I wanted his face to stay present as they explored their own thought through art making.

Children understand this idea of sharing power. After introducing this concept, when two children had a conflict, I would ask, are you two sharing the power? What can you do instead?

Each session in the Atelier/Art studio was layered. Reflecting back to the last conversation yet going deeper.

I added the quote, “Hate doesn’t take away hate. Only love can do that.”

For the children to ponder, I equated it to if someone is kicking you and being mean, and you kick back at them, then you have joined the meanness and made more kicking. What can you do instead? What if you see someone kicking a friend?

We ventured into what Standing up means.

Both historically, like Rosa Parks, but also within our school.

Another form of standing up and showing that Black Lives matter is through Art.

Renee Stout speaking at Phillips Gallery

I introduced Mural Arts as “Art for All the People.”

If I make a painting and hang it in my house, who gets to see it?

If I make a painting, and hang it a museum, when can people see it?

If there is a mural on the wall of big building, who gets to see it? When do people get to see it?

We watched video clips of DC Murals, time lapse of the process, and some clips about local mural artists like Aniekan Udofi.

“Hey, Ms. McLean, he’s black!” Christian, age 5, exclaimed with a huge smile.

More than 75% of artists in US Museum collections are white males. The NGA is even less diverse. (Article here). Similarly to exposing children to literature with pictures of black and brown characters, children must see the same robust diversity within the arts.

Signage from an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC!
Tracing projected lines.

I proposed that each grade level would make a mural of the message of Dr Martin Luther King. Children could use projections and or trace their drawings or MLK’s portrait. Just like Aniekan, we would lay down the black lines first.

Before each mural painting session, we revisited some ideas.

What is martin Luther King’s message that you want to share?

Even though the times are better, there are still white people who do not want to share power. What can you do? When is a time you did or didn’t stand up for someone?

What murals have you seen? Do they have a message? We read more books, we looked at more murals, we talked about love and bad guys, and we talked about Martin Luther King fighting the white people who would not share power without ever using his fists or weapons.

I shared that I too would like to be more like Martin Luther King, but sometimes I make mistakes.

Lily, age 3
Kate P., age 3

This led children to really open up and think about their actions.

Remi, age 3

“Even when we make a mistake, we can go back and try to make it better or fix the situation. And we also learn from these mistakes.”

Teddy, age 3

In the past month the news has shown us photos of politicians in blackface, the fashion industry marketing fashion with racist implications, and an article from Alabama in support of bringing the KKK to Washington, DC (to name just a few).

We must plant these seeds of love and knowledge of injustice now.

I’ve been accused of being an optimist. Honestly, I know that my power lays within art making and art education/teaching. I do believe that intentional holistic anti-bias and anti-racist education does make a difference. Standing up and speaking out through the 100 Languages.

A friend shared this Time Magazine with a theme on Optimism.

“In this project, we explore not only the idea of optimism but its representation. The literal visibility of the proverbial bright side. To me, that is the job of art. To meet us where we are and to invite us in—to think, to feel, to wonder, to dream, to debate, to laugh, to resist, to roam, to imagine. Art is worthy of our interrogation and is in fact an antidote for our times. For the vital moment comes when we each must understand that the social, political and historical connectedness born of traumatic experiences can and should transform to true, elongated engagement with one another.” Ava DuVernay

Currently at SWS, two groups of teachers are involved in book studies. One is White Fragility and the other book is Beyond Heroes and Holidays .

By exploring white supremacy culture through reading, discussing, and widening perspective, we all become stronger.

Three year old Lucy, made a connection when we were questioning if an enemy can change.

“It’s like the Grinch. He took all the presents and then he heard all the singing, and his heart grew. He gave all the presents back. He changed.” (My heart grew 10 times in hearing this metaphor she was able to construct and share, at age 3!)

I have so much hope.

And then Beck, age 4 asked,

“But Ms. McLean, When is he coming back?”

“He’s not coming back Beck. Martin Luther King died. But his message lives on through all of us.”

“Well, we should send all our pictures and words to his family then. They would like that”

A sparkle of optimism.

Noticing the note of each bird

The year started, well…big.

First there was an earthquake (in DC!?) and then there was a hurricane.

Then it rained. Not just rain, but RAIN, for a week. I believe that this all happened within the first 2 1/2 weeks of school.

The rain flooded the landing to the playground so much, workers were brought in.

 

The rain and the puddle did not deter fun. In between the lightening and thunder, the kids went out.

Room 11 (Ms. Ricks and Ms. Fineran even requested boots for this exploration.)

 

Water, the essence of survival. The joy it brings to every sense.

 

The qualities of water are soothing and invigorating, and exploration is endless. As an adult, great films , literature  and works of art rely on the many metaphors and qualities of water. One of my favorite films is titled Water.

While squeals of  delight mix with my  my often heard voice in the Common Area,  “What do you need to do when you make a big spill on the floor? Why do we need to clean up spills? Keep the water in the water table…”, the concentration, discoveries made , and social interactions are rich. The warm water is soothing. The funnels, pulleys, measuring cups, tubes, water wheels and marbles lead to the unexpected. This is the beginning of theory development. These moments connect to understanding concepts.

In addition to water, the Nature Play Space outside is a rich environment and never ceases to amaze me. Children create soundscapes;

 

Create rich make believe (birds with eggs game)

 

There are so many versions of King of the Hill games. When was the last time you spontaneously made up a game with friends, complete with rules and fantasy? This is complex stuff for any age disguised in play.

Testing physical limits while being connected to trees and stones is important. Children are drawn to this area, more so than the manufactured play equipment. And while the equipment is good stuff, the Nature Play Space allows children to move what they climb on into new configurations, expand, change and create.

I initiated this natural area after being inspired by so many creative outdoor spaces ( great blog from Australia about nature Play Let the Children Play and this 20 Ways to Creat Play Environments for the Soul ) so I wrote a grant and made it happen. Since natural materials decompose, we are often in search of fresh “tree cookies” and loose parts to keep this area vibrant. Feel free to contact me to add to the space.

Inside the school  additions and traditions in the studio and common area keep things evolving.

Small additions to the playhouse has brought big excitement this year ( I love a good hardware store and thrift store!)

A very special hand operated machine

The beauty of this pulley, is that you need a friend to collaborate with you.

A small tray with handles and a fiber woven tea set provoked an elaborate playtime. While this might seem banal, there was an intense amount of negotiating and agreed upon management of materials, as well as debated role playing. Freetime is an intentional part of learning and offers guidance to teachers, not only on social climate-but on what is interesting the children and what is difficult for them. You usually will find me scrawling on a clipboard while observing the children. Often I watch quietly, while other times I join in to offer support or a challenge to provoke  new thinking.

 

A new opened ended provocation allows children to “sew lines.” Doing this sewing works best with two, and I am thrilled by the way the children direct each other and decide where to place the needle to make a desired shape, Almost like looking at clouds, the children exclaim, It’s a rocket ship or It’s a car!  Everyday it gets more and more filled with color and line.

 

I finally bought the missing small piece of hardware that has expanded the piano play. A double jack! It is beautiful to watch the many interactions here.

 

While the next two experiences are not new in the studio, they are new to all our entering children. The snow globe collection and the whirly plate machine. I challenge any computer to elicit this kind of wonder, awe, and thought…

And the simple pleasure of painting during free time, choosing from multitudes of colors and varieties of brushes created these complex and organized representations. Sylvie’s palette is cool and breezy and notice the details like the bird flying above the two smiling figures.

 

Alex painted a Matisse like painting, filled with movement and brightness:

This year, the Kindergarten students spent their first few weeks in the art studio working at a furious speed to make ceramic pendants. Every year, Kindergarten children make a gift for all the new students in PreK and K. We created a ritual of gathering, all together, a circle within a circle to greet new faces (including all the staff), sing songs and  give kindness. We have this tradition in response to September 11th, and it is called Kindness Day (just click on Kindness Day to the left for the full explanation.)

It was the first year the Kindergarten created not only a ceramic necklace for a new child, but an identical one for themselves too.  This new idea was inspired by a conversation between Mr. Jere , Ms. Scofield and myself about upholding traditions while at the same time adding new layers of thought/intention.

What is kindness?

“Being polite” -Luke

“Making a card.” -Caroline

“Sharing” -Zaire

“When the Kindergarteners gave us a bracelet last year! I wear mine all the time. Alex is his name who gave it to me!” -Ava

“When you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?'” -Brooke

“Being nice and helping them to do stuff.” -Joseph

Ms. Cross led us in song, I asked each Kindergarten friend to say “Hi, my name is ________, what’s your name?” and then present the gift, Mr. Burst introduced all the staff, and we all closed by singing You are the Sunshine of My Life.

Look closely at the images. The earnestness of the intros and gift giving. The joy of community. Tenderness and pride. It is refreshing and hopeful.

 

I love this small moment captured between Emma in Kindergarten, and new PreK Tessa:

Adinath and Gabriel make their new friends Archer and Emmett laugh by pretending their necklace is some type of transmitter /phone:

New Kindergarten student Anja helps another  Kindergarten student Sophia:

The beginning of the year is about developing new relationships that nurture the spirit to grow and expand (kids AND adults.) It is about creating a safe and creative space that offers boundaries and room for risk-taking. It is about getting to know each child as an individual and as part of a group. It is about caring. That is what I felt I needed to share, more than the emerging projects.

The Prek children just started a project observing Swallow Tail caterpillars and representing their observations in their new sketchbooks. The Kindergarten children have begun a project about costumes, and have begun planning in their sketchbooks. I can’t wait to post these emerging projects in the next blog.

I will end this blog with a favorite bit of prose which truly explains what the start of a new school year is like. It is why this work is always filled with wonder, research, joy, challenge and surprise. It is a metaphor of The Hundred Languages of Children. Welcome to a new school year at SWS. I hope you will feel comfortable sharing your comments and thoughts. My intention is to blog every two weeks, so check back soon!

Each new year is a surprise to us.

We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird,

And when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream,

Reminding us of a previous state  of existence…

The voice of nature is always encouraging.

-Henry David Thoreau

Not a Remembrance

release

9/11 is huge for the staff at School-Within-School. We are located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The staff, on that day, has memories of chaos and fear (from our 3rd floor windows, it looked like the capitol was on fire, because the smoke from the pentagon had billowed in alignment with this monument.) Because we have binoculars on our window ledges, this mirage was brought to us by a 5 year old who yelled out, “Mrs. Ricks, I think the Capitol is on fire!”

window

Parents came bursting in the school, in tears; the streets were filled with evacuated workers, while helicopters and snipers hovered close by.

I remember at this moment, coincidentally, we had gathered the children together, and they were all singing a Native American song, heya heyo, oblivious to the world changing around them.

In response, we created Kindness Day. In advance we have the Kindergarten children make a beaded bracelet for each new incoming child or staff member. They attach their name and symbol, and wrap the gift. On September 11th, we gather outside. The Pre-k Children make an inner circle and the Kindergarten children surround them.kindness day

Our music teacher, Rachel Cross plays the guitar, and we ask each pre-k child to turn and face a Kindergarten child. This year, the Kindergarten children sang, “I will be your friend.” Many pre-k’s sang along. If you are lost and you need a helping hand, come to me, I will be your friend…

Then, the moment they all were waiting for, Kindergarten children introduced themselves, and gave the handmade gift to the new friend in front of them.

bracelet

Slowly the pre-K’s unwrapped their bracelets. Time almost stopped in this moment. Then the smiles glow.

After the ooohs and ahhhhs, they all joined in singing “Friends Friends 123, all my friends are here with me”. This year, we had the added joy of releasing 4 butterflies to fly off to Mexico. The children created butterflies by linking their thumbs and flapping their hands and chanted “Gotta go gotta go gotta go to Mexico.”  The butterflies literally danced in spirals upward until they were invisible to the eye.

Every year, I wonder, will this feel old?

Every year it feels new and rich.

Every year I feel tears brimming in my eyes.

Every year, I am struck by the excitement the Kindergarteners hold in their hearts in anticipation as they watch their younger friends unwrap the bracelet.

The returning Kindergarteners are humbled by this important task. Alumni students now in middle or high school often remind me, that this event is one that stands as a special moment in their lives.

Our 9/11 Remembrance is not that of our students’ remembrance. For them, it is Kindness Day. Sharing in a community moment of creating, giving, receiving, song and release. Faces captured in a photo at the moment the butterflies reached for the heavens exemplify the spirit of the day. One that will hopefully be their memory of 9/11, a memory that circles and spirals, just like those Monarchs, and  passed on, in kind.release