And despite being on this planet for quite a while, and teaching in public school for 20 years, there is still a newness, a joy, a surprise, great gratitude, and hope that comes with each day.
This Solstice, (a very special SWS yearly tradition), we wanted to go deeper. We wanted to immerse the children and ourselves into the exploration of darkness as beauty.
We intentionally sought to change the paradigm. The season of the darkest days as delight. A time of coziness, discovery, joy, and reflection as opposed to complaining that it is cold, wet, and dark .
And so I share with you the transdisciplinary, polysensorial, and magical moments of these darkest days. May you find this documentation of children and the darkness symbolic and relevant.
Simultaneously, while exploring the dark, children were creating lanterns. This year, they made Fairy Lanterns.
The lanterns were not a one time make it take it. We read stories of how Fairies are caretakers of the earth. We learned that fairies are part of one of the 4 elements: air, water, fire, or earth. We learned that fairies live all around us, yet, in a magical world that is separated from us by an invisible door.
Using painter tape, allowed children to make the “invisible door”, which they removed to reveal their lantern’s fairy and light.
The multi-step artistic thinking, paired with exploring the dark in the studio and classroom, books of solstice history, fairy tales, and fiction with characters who encounter the dark, led to children developing their own relationships with darkness.
Popular culture inundates children with images, movies, books, advertising, and shows that exalt light as good and beautiful, and dark as evil and unattractive. How do these small daily doses of messaging affect one’s perspective over a lifetime? How does it affect a community and society over time?
“Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born” (Quote from The Winter of Listening by David Whyte)
The Winter of Listening by David Whyte
No one but me by the fire, my hands burning red in the palms while the night wind carries everything away outside.
All this petty worry while the great cloak of the sky grows dark and intense round every living thing.
What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.
What we strive for in perfection is not what turns us into the lit angel we desire,
what disturbs and then nourishes has everything we need.
What we hate in ourselves is what we cannot know in ourselves but what is true to the pattern does not need to be explained.
Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.
Even with the summer so far off I feel it grown in me now and ready to arrive in the world.
All those years listening to those who had nothing to say.
All those years forgetting how everything has its own voice to make itself heard.
All those years forgetting how easily you can belong to everything simply by listening.
And the slow difficulty of remembering how everything is born from an opposite and miraculous otherness.
Silence and winter has led me to that otherness.
So let this winter of listening be enough for the new life I must call my own.
We must take the time to linger in the beauty of darkness.
Through conceptual constructs such as darkness, children are given space to create culture as a community.
We are intentional in developing a culture that nurtures, questions, morphs, interconnects, and gives value to curiosity, inclusion, and expression.
Exploring meaning in life, searching for beauty, experiencing wonder, developing perspective, practicing kindness, expressing through 100 languages, and slowing down and listening are all tenets of our rigorous curriculum.
Nothing without joy.
Everything with gratitude.
As we enter into 2019 with our beloved community, we are reminded that no matter the difficulties in life, we are planting seeds in dark fertile ground together
And as Aviv says:
Happy New Year. It is a joy and privilege to share the journey with all of you.
This year is likely to be the coldest Washington, DC has perhaps ever experienced.
look like lamps.
The snowflakes look like stars.” –Maya, PreSchool 3
For me, it is thrilling in the context of the work I do with children. This isn’t a slushy kinda cold season, this year it is frost and sparkle and whiteness from ice, snow, and salt that changes the entire space both inside and out. It is felt from toes to nose.
I recently watched an interview of Carla Rinaldi, one of the visionaries who helped develop the pre-primary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
She says, “School is an expression of the vision and values of a community.”
School as an EXPRESSION of vision and values.
This idea resonates deeply with me. In fact, since hearing this phrase I have co-opted it as my definition of school and my practice in the Atelier (and community) at SWS.
It allows me to quickly reflect and re-shift during the day. I can reflect, “Do my deeds, actions, and interactions express my values right now?”
What a treasure these words are.
So much of the planning and discourse at SWS is centered on an expression of values.
On December 20th, 2013 SWS celebrated Winter Solstice. This is a special ritual in our school. It is anticipated, talked about, and I am pretty sure will be a memory when the children leave our school.
Every year children begin in advance creating lanterns that transform the environment on the awaited day.
This year, children made photo transfers on recycled glass jars. The preparation and process was enthralling.
For the youngest children, it is difficult to explore how the light changes, the gradual creeping darkness is not apparent to them yet. Their memories of late summer evenings of light is difficult for them to remember.
So how did I explore with the 3 year olds? I made a cave. And in this cave (like a bear) we went. In this dark cozy place I read a book about light rituals around the world. Quickly each child became excited to talk about Christmas or Chanukah. I then introduced a very hard concept for the youngest children in our school. I asked each to hold the lantern and make a wish or say something kind about SOMEONE ELSE. At first it was really hard. “I wish for my Mom to buy me _____” was an oft heard phrase. With some support and further questioning children began to think of others near and dear.
Peyton: I wish my mommy has a good day.
Liam: I wish Santa brings my mommy and daddy presents.
Scarlett: I wish for mommy and daddy to play with me.
Lincoln: I love Nate.
Nate: I wish my family don’t get sick.
Winter, a hibernating time, is an optimal season to help children reflect in new ways. It is an ideal time to develop and practice capacities to broaden their thoughts.
The shared experience in the “cave” gave time and care to thinking about seasonal changes to a 3 and 4 year old’s world in a relevant way. Sinatra: Its scary when there’s no light. When it’s dark you need light. A ghost might be hiding. So the light makes you not scared.
The day of Solstice is almost epic in scope at SWS. It is shear beauty and light.
It started this year with an all-school community meeting with songs of light and love, with children sharing what light means to them.
Everyone is in pajamas and the smell of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and maple syrup eminates.
In the studio, the annual Solstice Ceremony and Ritual occurs.
There is almost a reverence when the children join hands to make wishes, dance, give wishes, and receive a small pendant/symbol which reminds them that they are indeed a shining star in the universe. That they are connected and interconnected to each other, the community, their families, the natural elements, and the greater world
This year, when children returned after two weeks of holiday, the cold weather increased.
I continued the exploration of these great changes with the children, all the children.
In this fashion of learning, the one day iconic snowman picture is not what happens.
What happens is the expression of the culture and values of SWS.
Theories are developed. Materials become metaphors for the changing landscape all around. The cold is not just viewed from the inside as spectator.
Winter, Solstice &
The earth turns and gives the sun to other places and gives the snow to Washington, D.C.
You have special things like cinnamon rolls and apple cider.
On the shortest day, when it’s dark, you give love and you are nice.
The sun goes to Chinatown. The earth tilts away. It feels freezing.
The winter is white and you have to put on your snow jacket, your snow boots, your snow mittens, and your snow hat. In the summer you just go out and play!
We make lanterns.
People put up wreaths on their doors. So when people walk by they can see the door is decorated.
-Myles T., PreK
We stay happy by playing inside. –Anias, PreK
Yeah, like we play Pass the Bean Ball. –Melin
On Winter Solstice you go in pajamas and celebrate the night and the sun.
And my Dad makes turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice. Does your family make turkey meatballs for Winter Solstice?
In the summer the plants come back to life.
-Bryce B., PreK
People decorate their homes with light.
Every year me and my family gather ‘round and sing the Holly Song.
Some family traditions are different then others.If you are British you celebrate Chanukah. If you are not British you celebrate Christmas or Kawnzaa.
I celebrate all the Jewish Holidays, like Chanukah. I’m Jewish not British.
People don’t put up regular lights like light- bulbs. They put up lights that are beautiful.
Scarlet’s ice art : “I see glass, water made of ice.” Joe Joe, PreSchool3 The world is felt, explored, observed, and yes EXPRESSED.
“The years are changing. They go by so fast.”
And I for one am listening. This is the definition of school. What’s yours?
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.
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?
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?”
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!”
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
#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.
Happy precious New Year!
May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.
The darkness of this time of year, is actually our guide.
How do I greet and introduce this shift of our natural world with my young children that I share the bulk of my time with in the SWS Art Studio?
It is all to easy to shut out the natural occurrences with modern technology and a blind eye. With ritual and reverence, playfulness and curiosity, the journey into the darker days of the year become meaningful.
When K teacher Jere Lorenzen-Strait sent me a link to an exhibit The Bright Beneath, at The Smithsonian Museum of natural History, my heart skipped a beat. A resident artists was invited to explore bioluminescence through kinetic art installation. The two of us became fascinated by the idea that light and energy can occur where there is no sun, in the deep dark depths of the ocean. Together we went on a recognizance mission to see what it was all about. We were blown away. We quickly planned to bring the children with their sketchbooks to this trans formative space. We had a sense that this multi-sensory environment would engage and sustain them and prayed it would be a slow and quiet day at the museum, so that they would have time. To prep the children on the day of the trip, I asked them to think about representing something really difficult: movement, change of color, form, light and sound in their sketchbook.
Joseph, above represented movement using undulating lines, while Katie stood up and danced the movement with her whole being immersed in the dark dramatic light, sound and color of the installation (below).
The children pointed, pondered, worked alone as if in a bubble, or worked with a friend collaborating on how to sketch this enormous idea. The children were rapt for an hour, in fact, we had to stop them so that we could free up the space for the rest of the museum patrons. Several adults and school groups commented on the children’s intense creativity and attention. They were surprised at the children’s focus.
This trip filled my heart. It was values, belief and pedagogy made visible. Children indeed possess deep and thoughtful insights and must be given the time, respect and materials to document their ideas. This trip also was an illustration on how multi-sensory arts education is the great equalizer. Looking at this group, no one would know who has a hard time sitting in a chair, standing in line, or answering a question. All children were engaged in higher level thought and practice. Just beautiful.
The dark alters how we see things. Shadows are long. The overcast sky creates new hues. So with this in mind, I collected some favorite materials for some of the preK children to experiment with. I wanted them to see things in an changed state. While the end result would be creating a kaleidoscope of sorts, the process was the illuminating aspect of the provocation.
With the longer darker days come the opportunity of spending time inside creating, constructing, and reading. I grew up in Rochester, New York where it was cold and grey six months of the year. I attribute that environment in shaping my love for creating and imagining. As a child I spent hours taking things apart, playing under tables and creating small worlds, and noticing the light whenever a beam glowed in my bedroom.
With teacher Margaret Ricks and her PreK class, we walked to the US Botanic Gardens to see the extraordinary natural small world and trains created by Paul Busse of Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Kentucky. His attention to extreme detail and fantastical creations makes me imagine him sitting for hours surrounded by leaves and berries and small light.
Despite the beauty and wonder, there is also a small bit of darkness. All these small creations possess the allure of fairy tales with their horrors that the protagonist must face and overcome. It is important for children to understand that adversity is a part of life, and it is through overcoming, that the self’s story begins to emerge. Here is a wonderful article to check out that speaks to this importance, and not just for children: once upon a time… we lived happily ever after
While Paul Busse’s miniatures make you marvel, here’s a link to a family that created their own life size fairy house as their home: Man builds fairy tale home. What a wonderful story of truly building your dreams.
After the botanic gardens we walked across the street to the Reflecting Pool with old bread to feed the birds. Just like in the fairy tales, Ms. Ricks warned the children of falling in, and that she was not planning on swimming that day. The joy and amazement that was elicited through this act of interacting with wild birds was exhilarating.
I am not afraid to admit that I scare easy. Sounds in the dark, nightmares, scary movies effect me deeply. In the studio, taking a cue from the sunless sky, I started a conversation with some small groups of children. Willa told me about the sounds she hears in the night, but her parents told her it was the radiator. Dreams were recounted filled with monsters, bad guys and characters from popular tv. I read There’s a Nightmare in My Closet and There’s Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer.
With one group of PreK children I brought out black paper for them to create their own nightmares. Fionn exclaimed “I’m going to ask my mom for dark paper to paint with!” just thrilled with this project.
With a Kindergarten group I explored the same subject, this time using a coated paper, that reveals line/color as they scratched away at the dark surface. Their stories revealed their more advanced language and development. Both groups equally were drawn into the provocation of sharing their nightmares.
Dominic’s Nightmare-age 5, December 2011
I think there’s a poison ivy monster under my bed who drinks poison. I had a dream about it.
The poison ivy monster had two arms and I ran away from him.
He trapped me and then when it was morning time, my daddy shouted,
and my dream was over.
Robert’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011
My nightmare is a zombie and is has 1,2,3,4,5,6, 7 heads! It’s a seven-headed zombie monster. I am on top of his head. I don’t want him to find me. The car, motorcycle, skateboard and scooter are all crashing into the monster because I have a controller. I never fall off. They turn into one transformer and then the monsters fall because they really are sand monsters
I jump down before they fall.
Amira’s Nightmare- Age 5, December 2011
I am sleeping in my bed and I hear the monster. I wake up and I get my lasso.
The monster appeared quite suddenly. I call my mommy and daddy.
Then my bed starts roller-skating. Mommy and daddy pick me up and got me out.
My bed hits the monster and the monster starts to cry. My nightmare says, “What did you do to me?”
I said, “Well, see how fierce I am!”
My monster said “See how many heads I have?” Then he started being fierce again.
Then mommy and daddy said, “Look how fierce WE ARE!”
Then the monster started shooting pellets. But, I turned his body off.
The very last day of the 2011 school year is marked by a lovely tradition at SWS, our Solstice Celebration. The entire community wears pajamas, cooks pancakes and bacon, cuts fruit, creates projects that respond to light and dark, enjoy a concert by Rachel Cross and her husbund Henry and friend John, and everyone attends a moon ritual in the art studio.
Here’s the rockin’ trio. What started out as a civilized concert turned into a joyful dance party.
Every year I lead the children through the Moon Ritual. I recreate the studio space and selectively choose music to create a whole body mind spirit shift. The golden moon, created by children 5 years ago hangs in the center of the space flanked by the children’s newly created and flickering lanterns. The overhead projectors create lightscapes of drama. Furniture is removed. By grace, it was a dark day outside, so it was especially dramatic.
The ritual takes them through singing songs (This little light of minds and I will be your friend), dancing to the song Dancin’ in the Moonlight while holding crescent moons that changed into smiles, frowns, tambourines and hats, and a recitation with movements of Oh Look at the Moon poem. Most importantly, I guide them through thinking about the darkness and the changes in the natural world. I place a simple necklace of a moon around each child’s neck as a memory and give them a kiss on theri head and say Happy Solstice. I ask them to embrace the darkness instead of being grumpy or bored by creating, dreaming, playing, thinking, examining, singing, dancing and making their own light. While holding hands we made wishes for the darkest days.
“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
― Patrick Overton
Wishing everyone a Solstice Season of stories, memories and warmth. Embrace the dark and make some light!
Just a few weeks to winter break, and more than anything it is the change in light that seems so important. Light and dark literally change life in Washington DC in December. Street lights are on by 6:00pm, and the playground is deserted. Dinnertime is dark and evening and morning are pretty darn cold. Routines change.
One ritual at SWS is our annual Solstice celebration. It is time to make the one project that is done every year, Lantern Creating. Of course, it is never the same lantern. That means this year the kids are creating the 15th different style lantern in the history of the school. Just because it is a product project, does not mean that depth is eliminated. So I take you on a journey of this process.
It starts with a self portrait. The kids did not have a formal chance in the studio to revisit looking at themselves yet and finding something new within their faces. This is always rich, just having individual mirrors creates experimentation and discovery! For many, there was a lot of conversations how to draw a nose. I had them use their hands and feel their nose bridge. This was the first time for many to touch and look and feel the wonders of something they don’t look much at, their own face.
This is Kenneth’s first time doing this type of work. He just stated at SWS a few weeks ago, and look at his concentration.
In each small group there was conversation about light and dark, day and night. I asked them what symbols they thought represented these opposites. I then asked children to choose to be “Kenneth Day” or “Kenneth Night” and suround their self portraits with these symbolic marks.
Archer chose to be light. This is him adding bees and insects. Because this is an all school project, it is thrilling to observe the pre-K’s intent as they do this very challenging symbolic thinking. At the same time, it is also thrilling to watch Kindergarten students who have had an extra year and a half in the studio (and life!) to tackle the same challenge.
The following part of this project is to think about which colors are day or night, light or dark. I asked the children to sort crayons into two categories which led to rich debate and thoughtful dialog.
“Yellow is a day color! It’s the sun!”
“No, yellow is the stars glowing!”
“White is a day color it’s clouds.”
“The moon is white it’s a night color.”
“In the day there is a blue sky, and the ocean in the summer is blue.”
“Blue is the night sky.”
It was discovered that perhaps it is all how you think about color that makes it what it “is.”
This conversation repeated with each small group.
I usually attend to color provocations on a separate day then line or drawing provocations. This is because I want the children to have the opportunity to dedicate each type of thinking without rush or stress. The richness in thought and choice is able to emerge when you have the luxury of time to ponder one at a time..
Since I assured children that this was no longer an observational self portrait but an artist becoming day or night, they were able to explore the feeling of color. Joseph, Kindergarten (above) makes his face a rich blue. A tree stands to the left, with no green leaves. To the right planets and stars and a firefly glow.
Jasper, Kindergarten (below) thinks about the light at night as richly colored and multi hued. As he chose colors he elaborated about planets , spaceships, and that the sun is still present in the solar system even when it is night.
Maya, Kindergarten (below) imagined fireworks, something you view at night.
Those who chose to “be” day also were thoughtful.
Zander, PreK (below) used the same bright green color to show leaves and his face. He added a bumble bee, something that is now a thing of the past season.
Matteo Z, PreK (below) uses color and line that shows the energy of the sun in his face.
While Claire, Kindergarten (below) also is day light, she adds some symbolic imagery like the green heart which looks very similar to a summer leaf.
Moving from an observational self portrait, to graphic representation of an idea (day or night) to the symbolic use of color offered intentional ways of thinking with media.
The next part, I always call the magic part. I asked the children to flip over their finished work and see how much of the drawing they could see through the paper. I asked them to hold it up to the light and asked how much light could get through. Since their drawing was to be turned into a lantern, it was time to transform the paper into translucent paper. Lanterns must have some way to let light shine through.
By brushing vegetable oil on the back side of the paper, an exciting thing happens. Katie is thrilled as she sees her “self” magically appear.
Below, Natalie, Brigid and Maya experiment to see if the picture can be seen on both sides at the same time.
The next part of the project is the adult part, hot gluing the transformed paper into a cylannder and onto a round piece of cardboard. Thank you to all my parent volunteers who took home cardboard to cut into circles or came in and tag teamed the construction.
The very last step is more social. Children sit around talking and socializing while stringing a beaded handle and gluing strips of plastic recycled newspaper bags as a tassel or wind catcher. A funny story: I asked one group “Does anyone know what beading is?’ One child replied and said : “Yes!” and stood up and play acted hitting or beating his own behind. I had a good laugh and assured him that we were doing a different type of beading!
Kiran as Day, Kindergarten and Jack as Night, Prek (above)
Kindergarten students as Night (above) used different approaches to color. Anja on the left chose deep, mostly cool tones to represent night, while Adinath on the right used warm colors to show the glow of things in the night.
There were some really overcast and dark days last week. So I used the opportunity to slip a small LED votive light into Gus’s, PreK lantern. The reaction was so gleeful from classmates Zuri and Eva that their jumping up and down created a photo blur (I think I joined them). I still posted it because you can see/feel the joy and energy that occurred. That small little flicker glowing in the child made lantern on a dark dreary day filled all of us with smiles, laughter and warmth.
Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry, “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and foot candles. Light is metaphor. Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light. ~Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider