Bigger and Better than Ourselves: Humility

I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.

I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.

This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)

Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.

Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
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Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
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Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight. 
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Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
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Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.

From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…

(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
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At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at  the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
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The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
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The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
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The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
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Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?

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Humility.

Simple Definition of humility

 the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble

When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.

Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste. 
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
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The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”

Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”

Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.

A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
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And why is humility important?

 

Ever wonder about injustice?

Ever wonder about creation?

Ever wonder about relationships?

Ever wonder about the environment?

Ever wonder about invention?

Ever wonder about the unknown?

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Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.

I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed. 
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“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”

IMG_3976Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting  or complimentary colors.
IMG_4028(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)

I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…

Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.

Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.

They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way. 
IMG_3560Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.

(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name  your skin?”)
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Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
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I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.

Here are some of the awe-filled results:

Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking:  “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
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This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
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This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
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This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
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Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.

This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.

This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.

This also connects to play.
IMG_5734(Sensory exploration and play with rainbow spaghetti)

IMG_5239 (Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)

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I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.

“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”

And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”

Why?

Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.

It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with.  These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
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And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?

Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”

Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
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Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.

IMG_4659(There’s Mr. Jere playing the moon sax with the children during the Solstice Moon Ceremony in the Atelier)

Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
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and replaces it with creative capacities 
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 to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
IMG_4508IMG_4496Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
IMG_4411Bigger and better than ourselves.

Focusing on love.

In August, most of our school met for a retreat. At one point, we were asked to go around the table and share our intention for the school year. When it was my turn, I took a big risk, and I said, “This year, my intention and goal is to teach, learn, and encounter all the ups and downs with love. Not just the hippy part, but the hard, gritty, difficult part.”
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For 20 years I’ve been researching young children, creativity, and wonder.
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For eight years I have taught a Graduate University class called Art and Science-Developing Creativity at The Corcoran College of Art & Design/George Washington University.
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Research is in my favor here.
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Businesses want creative curious people. Think tanks want creative curious people. Scientists need creative curious people. Look at this article link here!
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Alas, policy only slides deeper into forcing children younger and younger to spend their formative years in a fixed mindset being coerced to decode and read long before they have had the experience to comprehend ideas, problems, relationships, and the world around them.
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Love.
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This is not a flaky word.
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Love is extremely difficult. It takes practice, passion, commitment, and grit when applied to any instance…sharing, mistake making, idea forming, friend making, conflict resolving, exploration, imagination, conversation.
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Without the source of love, there is no reason to keep on trying, to create something, solve something, learn something, get up after a fall.
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Often in life we are required to love a person (our children, our spouse, our sibling, our students, a neighbor), so in need of support that they act unloveable. Where does one build the capacity?
And what does this have to do with the Atelier, School Within School, with children, with collaboration, with wonder, with the 100 Languages?
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I would say everything.
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In the studio “can’t” is a bad word. A disabling word. What can you say instead? I need help, this is tricky, what do you think, how can I, what is not working here, can someone lend a hand, any ideas how to solve this?
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What else is a bad word: Good Job! The children are living life, not performing. What does one say instead?
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You worked really hard, how do you feel? Tell me about this? How? Why? When? What?
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What part was frustrating? How did you figure out how to solve the problem? What do other people think? What makes you say that? What are you thinking of next? What do you need to practice? You must feel really good, you stuck with it, even when it got hard!

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What else is a bad word?
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Scribble scrabble. There is no such thing.
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Easy peasy. No such thing. If it is that easy then you are not growing.
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I know that, I know everything, I’m an expert. (said the 5 year old)
No person knows everything. Life and school would be so boring if you knew everything. We are all researchers here learning together. Different people have different areas that they are very strong in. Together, we learn from each other and strengthen each other. Some grown ups spend many years researching things, we invite them to share with us so we can learn from them. We also learn from our friends who are children.
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This is love.
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Recognizing mistakes. Leaning in to the unknown. Asking questions because it is rewarding and awe inspiring as opposed to answering the question correctly. Listening, observing, watching, admiring, and loving those around us in our learning groups.
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Sometimes this is painful. Sometimes this is joyful.
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Let us be a witness to these moments instead of being a fixer.
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Let us facilitate the language, the environment, the hands, the mind, the body, and the heart to develop equilibrium in this spinning complex world.
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When a child is afraid to make a mark on a paper because they are afraid of making a mistake, this is the opposite of love. When a child is afraid to answer the query, What do you think?, because they are not sure what the “right “ answer is, this is the opposite of love. When a child doesn’t try something new, because it’s different, that is not love. This is fear.
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The studio is a place where children practice, express, and communicate in 100 ways.
IMG_0986Conversation in the Atelier with 3 year old Sebastian:
Sebastian: “Ms. McLean, you need to let those butterflies out of the glass, so they can fly home to their families.”
Ms. McLean: “They are called specimens. A scientist found them dead, and instead of letting them just stay on the ground, they carefully put them in glass so we can look closely at them.”
Sebastian: “Well then they need to go to a Dr. so they can get better. So they can go fly out the window to their family”
Ms. McLean: “They are dead Sebastian”
Sebastian: “When will they be done being dead?”
Ms. McLean: “They already died honey.”
Sebastian: “Why?”
Ms. McLean: “I don’t know, they probably lived their whole life, and then got old and died.”

And they they do this hard; with me facilitating, in an environment that provokes curiosity, awe, tenderness, rigor, and satisfaction.
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Let’s give our children the gift of failing, of asking for help, of finding delight in the surprise of life and making.
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Let’s give our children the time to experiment, practice, and make visible their wonder of the world around them.
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Let’s nurture this type of love that does not need an external reward to feel fulfilled,
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for the fulfillment is in the experience,
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in the doing, in the thinking, in the imagining, in the making.
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Love.

I am not alone in my research.

Ron Ritchard (Harvard Researcher, HGSE, Project Zero ) has written a new book, The Cultures of Thinking,  on these very ideas, he calls it “the residuals of learning.”
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Vygotsky called learning in this context Zone of Proximal development, and Howard Gardner talks about Multiple Intelligences.
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Loris Mallaguzzi, Reggio Emilia Visionary and founder,  writes, “We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of relationships — relationships not only between people but also between things, between thoughts, with the environment.”
IMG_1199To which Milo M. responded, “I’m a vegetarian.”

Let us give our children these opportunities so they can be justice seeking, wonder filled, problem solving, curious, creative, compassionate, and risk taking humans.
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This year I’m focusing on love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Not afraid of the dark

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 End

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!

Waiting for the moon

Actually, I am staying up late tonight to see the full lunar eclipse on this Solstice Eve.

I have until 3:00 am to wait for the moon, what a perfect opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Solstice and share images from the SWS Solstice Celebration on Friday, December 17th:

The Moon Ritual in the Art Studio

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Singing and tent raising in room 12

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The drama and expertise of cookin’ panakes, waffles, bacon, sausage and more…

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and quiet moments,

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even the stuffed animals took some quiet time in the beds made by kindergarteners.

As I reflect on the SWS  Solstice Celebration, and await the full Lunar Eclipse this evening, I am struck once again by the affect of wonder in our lives, young and old.

(First snow in DC happened during school last week)

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“Wisdom Begins in Wonder” -Socrates

Wonder and creativity often get discounted in education, especially public education. I recently wrote a short essay as a guest blog. Here it is, Picking up feathers, and other thoughts on creativity by Marla McLean.

On the eve of the longest night of the year, I am filled with gratitude and hope. The problems and despair in the world are overwhelming. It is not too hard to get swallowed by the darkness. Somehow witnessing wonder (in whatever form)  diminishes the fear.

I thank all my “teachers” of 2010. They came in the form of young children, co-workers, friends, family, SWS family, bloggers, my college students from the Corcoran, my studio mates, the teachers and admins in Lima, Peru.

They also came in the form of rain and snow, sparrows, squirrels, my dog,  mountains, oceans, and the rainbow swirl of oil found on asphalt during a city summer. Books, music, art, and the kindness of strangers. The great energy of Washington DC and Silver Spring. Both mistakes and discoveries were my teachers, as well as discomfort, frustration  and contentment.

A rock, a beam of light, a feather.

If it’s possible  to see the sun and moon align this evening on the Winter Solstice (the first since Dec 21st 1632!), I imagine it’s possible to wonder all types of possibilities right into existence.

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Happy Solstice and Happy New Year to all.

Indestructible Wonder

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life”

Rachel Carson

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“We have to let it go. It probably feels like it’s in jail.” David, age 5

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A few days ago, I had a group of Kindergarten children in the studio. We were discussing different ways to use color in our sketches. Since they had sketched magical creatures of the garden, we were discussing how to make colors “glow”.

Owen was particularly excited about the possibilities of line and color. He kept adding to his picture while narrating what the line or color represented. Suddenly he looked up an exclaimed.

“We’re writing stories by drawing a picture!”

I will follow Owen’s lead in this post and use pictures to tell some of the stories from the studio over the last 2 weeks:

PreK’s invented over 40 colors for the use of all the students at SWS

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With the the new paint colors, and photographs of school memories, the preK’s painted their first observational paintings.

When the anatomy of mark making meets paint- the wonder of watching unfolds…

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Melora

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Each child exhibited their visual thinking strategies. For some it was all about choosing just the right colors and enjoying the qualities of swirling the paints together on the paper.

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For other, some representational brush strokes to show a fish or a butterfly  or flower was pleasing.

P1080800George however, blew my mind. He methodically painted a solid black background, using brush strokes.

P1080834He then added the green lily pads in the foreground by using the the brush in a different way, as seen in the below photo.

P1080832He used another green to represent the lifted lily pad leaves, and finally added white petals of the lotus, with detailed yellow dots in the center. I just sat and watched from a chair with my mouth hanging open. Watching a young 4 year old deconstruct and then recreate an image is a rare thing. Creative thinking and the brain continues to be a complete wonder to me.

P1080843Fascinating…

and then from observing thinking to making visible the magic in the imagination-

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Lilah'sWormWhile searching for gnomes and fairies, Lilah found a worm.

lookingAnd then there were some sightings of little creatures, for some.

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And then to the studio to sketch what might be living in and among the garden.

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Slide4Slide1Slide2The following week, we looked critically at color.

How can you use color to make something “glow?”

We looked through books of illustrations, and the children returned to their sketchbooks to add color.

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In the book, The One Hundred Languages of Children, there is an essay about the importance of the use of light and projection in Reggio Schools. The essay observes that many adults go through their day, not noticing or experiencing the light, shadow, transparency, translucence around them, and how it transforms and changes places and objects. It  states that this is quite a shame to be missing out on such an important element that is vital to our lives. The following story brings me much joy:

Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4P1080821Every day. Indestructible Wonder.