There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.
I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.
This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.
But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.
Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.
So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post:
Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt
By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.
The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.
Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.
I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.
But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
They were flabbergasted.
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin
The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”
The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”
And so I signaled, to go back the other way.
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened… First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd. Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.
And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed: Sasha F.’s sketch
The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.
The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.
A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.
I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher, someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.
I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.
With sincere thanks and best wishes,
Press Representative / JAG Entertainment
4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato
Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.
The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”
I love the lights. I unapologetically love the visual bliss this season brings. I could do without the barage of advertisements, mailings, and catalogs that bombard me to buy stuff. It’s a lot of paper to put in recycling. The advertisements geared towards children often sicken me. Gender-specific everything saddens me.
And then there is the disturbing trend to market computers to children as young as infants like in the case of the ipad bouncy seat!
Despite all this consumerism, I love the collections of paintings and objects I’ve accumulated from my travels that surround me, my new boots bought online, and treasured gifts from friends.
This blog is about an ongoing project called Objects and Meaning. It is the perfect antidote to the season as we admire, buy and succomb to all the stuff around us.
This project idea came about because I am enrolled in a year-long course (with Kindergarten teacher Mr. Jere) with The Smithsonian Museum of American History called Pass it Forward Teacher Institute. This Institute encourages Object Driven Curriculum to teach History. My challenge is to take this older elementary and up process and make it relevent to young children. (Ms. Hannah was thrilled with the ideas Jere and I proposed and has joined in this exploration.)
In both Hannah and Jere’s Kindergarten classroom, children talked about collections, made a collection box, and in each classroom approached personal collections in a unique way.
I saw the children thrilled with their boxes of collected stuff. But, do children see collections outside of their own personal stuff?
I tested this question by asking the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they are walking into their home. I asked them to look around their home but NOT go into their bedroom or playroom. What collections do your family have? What collections would I see if I came in their home for the first time?
It was hard.
“My family doesn’t have any collections.”
I heard this in every small group.
“Look in your kitchen, your family room, where you eat, even your closets. I believe every family has collections.”
Slowly the light came on! Children began to figure this provocation out and SEE.
Gabriel M. was really stuck. Finally with some scaffolding questions, he said, “I got it!” Dylan sat for a long time, maybe a half hour. “My family does not have any collections, they don’t have any stuff they picked up and collected.” His definition was defined by going on nature walks and “collecting.” Once I explained that collections can be found, bought, or received he immediately got it! “My family has a collection of glass bottles.”
How often are children interpreting questions in a way that makes them stuck? Once Dylan and I had the conversation, he immediately visualized a collection in his home. The awareness to see a collection of others (in this case their family) is a form of empathy. The noticing of the other, their lives, likes and interests can be observed if you take the time to notice.
I decided to read Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to kickstart the children into a deeper provocation concerning Objects and Meaning. This book would be the first foray into history. It begins, “She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”
The book tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to America. The shovel is a constant on every page from farming, to keeping the food and home warm due to the shoveling of coal into the stove, to helping her in a flood, to clearing a skating rink. The shovel is present through marriage, mid-life, old age and the death of her husband, and birth of her children and grandchildren.
The book ends with the opening line, “”She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”
The children were absolutely spellbound by this book.
I then handed the children a sheet of paper with two rectangles.
I instructed them: “Right now you are going to pretend. You must leave Washington DC immediately and move to another country. Your family and pets will come with you. Your parents have packed your clothes, food, and water.
What is the one object you will choose?” and after you do that, “What is the one object you think your parent/parents will choose?”
Some children knew immeditely what they would choose, while others thought long and hard. Thinking about what their parents would bring was even more difficult for many of the children. I decided to share this exercise at Thanksgiving Dinner in my home this year. I excplained The Miss Bridie premise and asked my family, “What would would you take as your one object?” Some guests said, I just don’t know. My son immediately said, “My guitar, I could earn money, bring people music, and keep busy.” My husband said “…for survival, my GPS watch”, my daughter said, “Surprisingly, I would not pick something sentimental, I would choose something useful to help us out, like a rope.” My 81 year old father said, “All my photos and work are on a cloud that I could retrieve. So, I think I would choose something from when me and your Mom first began our relationship, an early photo album.” My mom said, “Hmmm, I just don’t know.” About 20 minutes later she said, “I got it! I would bring a deck of cards!” I said, “I think I would bring Grandma’s rolling pin. Mom let me have it when I left for college. It has moved with me on every move and made may deserts and breads. And it has multiple uses.” My daughter looked at me, “But what about your rocking chair.” Hard decision…
Try it out with your family or friends. it made for a wonderful dinner conversation.
The next progression of this project was, drum role please…ART STUDIO HOMEWORK. Children created a special folder for transporting the work. It built anticipation and excitement. Their homework was to get their parents to do homework. The following text and paper went home with each child:
KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK & THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER.
Dear Families of Kindergarten Children,
As part of the Collection Project we are also thinking about objects and what they mean.
I read the book Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel By Leslie Conner (in the Studio.) It is the story of a young woman who chose one object to bring to America in 1856.
The children then thought about the one object they thought they would bring and filled out a sheet with a picture and words.
I also asked them to think of the one object their mom or dad would bring. Once again they illustrated and wrote the words.
Now I am asking you to do the same exercise.
*Please fill out the enclosed sheet. Please draw a picture and write the words of the one object you would take and the one object you think your child would take.
You may choose to have one parent fill it out or two.
Please do not ask your child what they chose until after you have filled out the paper.
(Please note that it is assumed you would have your pets, necessary clothes, food, and water packed)
PLEASE RETURN THIS HOMEWORK IN THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER. Your child will bring it to the studio, where we will share the enclosed sheet.
There will be more “HOMEWORK” coming home in this folder. Please take the time to be a part of this project as we delve deeper into the idea of collections and objects.
Ms. McLean, Atelierista and
As you can see, each child signed the homework, letting the parents know it was from them and me.
I am proud to say, there was 100 percent participation. OK, I did chase down a few parents, but the children did a phenomonal job engaging their parents in the project. I even heard their was a facebook post devoted to the stress this was causing the parents!
When all the parent homework came in, I created an interactive documentation board, so kids could engage in analyzing the data and share what their parents drew and wrote.
“I think my parents are right. Even though I didn’t pick it. I think I would take my stuffed dog.” Aksel
In small groups they learned how to categorize the data. What a great opportunity to use some math and science skills.
“We don’t know what our parents would bring.”
“Lots of people guessed a lot alike, they guessed wrong. But, it’s still interesting.
It’s hard to choose what objects you or your parents would bring. It’s hard to choose because there’s lots of different stuff you like and your parents like.”
“I DID NOT GUESS had the most symbols.”
“I DID NOT GUESS has the most symbols and MY PARENTS DID NOT GUESS had the 2nd most symbols.”
“My parents guessed what I would take because I sleep every night with baby.”
As more groups met for small group conversation the board became increasingly filled. In the end, Ryan expained the conclusion of the gathered data. “Most kids did not guess their parents, and most parents did not guess their kid’s object, but some parents guessed their kid’s.” He even decided that he preferred his parent’s choice for him to choose even better then what he had chosen.
But the heart and the soul of this project emerged from the conversations that occured.
For some groups, they began to understand values within their family:
“I guessed my mom would take her phone, but she said, “I can always get a new phone, but I can’t get a new baby book.”
“My parents would take pictures so they can always remember me as a baby.”
“It’s hard to guess what your parents would bring cause they have so many things that are special to them.”
“I said my dad would take his Kindle, but he would take his Viola and because it’s really old and he can play it even though he doesn’t play it so much cause we are busy.”
“Out of this group, 5 of your families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
“So they can see me when I was a baby and laugh.”
“Samuel’s dad wrote why:
“A book of our family pictures. These tell us a story of who we are and where we came from. Through pictures we remember stories of time together, and recall the loved ones who have passed.”
“How come your parents did not choose fancy cars and Diamonds to bring?
“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.”
“Yeah, it’s special stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s like stuff to remember your ancestors.”
Many families chose books or literature as their object:
“Why do you think two family members of this group chose books?”
“Because you can read to make your mind grow!”
Another realization that surfaced was the value of choosing something that was connected to “creating” :
“How is what Noah’s mom chose, (a blank book,) and what Sophia’s dad chose, (a mandolin,) and what Isaiah’s mom chose, (a rolling pin) alike?”
“They all are using their hands!”
“To make music!”
“They all are making something!”
Many children realized their parents knew them better then maybe they know themselves:
“I noticed many of your parents chose different objects then you chose for yourself. What do you think?”
“I think they’re right, I would take my bird because I like my bird better. I always sleep with him at night.”
Sometimes I meet with children at the end of the day. They are tired. Sometimes the practice of actually having a conversation must be implicitly discussed for success.
Conversation is a learned value. When a small group I was meeting with was having some issues listening to each other respectfully, I stopped everything.
“We are having a conversation. The expectation is when you finish speaking; you stop and listen to your friends. What I am seeing is some people speaking and when they are done they start playing or disrupting others. The cool thing about a conversation is you get to learn so much from your friends. It’s a back and forth.” Ms. McLean
“Ohhhh, it’s like the golden rule!”
At that moment the conversation shifted with focus and respect to include religous and cultural values.
“That’s true Maddie. Except in a conversation it is so great because you get to know and learn all these new things from another kid.
Like from this group I learned about all of you AND your families!
Maddie, thanks to listening to you, this group knows your mother would choose to take her Ketubah.”
Does anyone know what a Katubah is.”
“Well, it’s the paper that says your married.”
“It’s even more special. It is a very beautiful document with lots of designs on it and swirly letters. Like your Mom drew it. It is a special paper you sign when you get married if you are Jewish.”
“I’m not Jewish.”
“No, but today we learned Maddie is. Some people are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other religions. And now everyone in this group learned something new from Maddie.”
“I am Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Years.”
Issa explained his Mom chose her meditation beads. When I asked him to tell about meditation beads, he explained simply they are very very special.
“I can tell you about meditation beads!” said Sonora, “You close your eyes and breathe and think of one thing, and you hold the beads like this. It is relaxing. And then a bell rings and you open your eyes and you are like calm.”
Tali’s Mom chose Shabbat candles and so Tali explained why to the group. “It’s like we have a holiday every Friday night. It’s on Saturday too. If we had to move somewhere there might not be Shabbat candles. And it is very special and important to light the candles.”
In this last conversation, the purpose and reason of Atelier/Studio learning and this project in particular became incredibly clear. In the following small group, a shift occured and the conversation was about people who had died. I was moved by the intimacy of the conversation, especially with Harvey and Eric sharing some difficult memories. Suddenly, objects weren’t of worth because of their advertising, but because of the connection to a person, or a memory.
I wrote Harvey’s Mom and Dad an email. I did not want to share any personal information that might be considered private.
I am cutting and pasting our correspondance.
Subject: Something Harvey said
A small group of children were having a conversation with me, that became very serious, yet appropriate. I am pasting the conversation below, because I would like to include it in documetation for the Objects and Meaning Project.
I want to find out if this is ok with you before I include it as a part of the documentation. I will respect what you decide.
In each small group, conversation took very interesting turns. Many of my questions revolved around values. I was surprised at things children understand and often brought up; life, death, monetary value versus emotional value, religion, culture.
“Many families in this group chose things that do not cost a lot of money. Many families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
“To remember people.”
“So you can remember family from before. Like if they died.”
“I have a picture of me and my pet before she died. She was a great pet.”
“I have a photo of my great great grand daddy. He went to the hospital and then he died.”
My Dad’s brother died because he was taking drugs.
What are drugs?
Like medicine except it’s really bad for you.
There’s a picture of all my cousins and me and Uncle Bernie. He died and he was in a blue and gold coffin with a cross. My cousins have that picture but then they made copies for all of us.
From conversation 12/3/13
Here’s The Craig’s response. Please click on it to make it larger.
I am honored to be surrounded by such inspirational children and adults. Brave and beautiful. Honest and thoughtful.
I feel closer and know more about every child and family who participated in this work. The children in turn also know. And all this came about by taking the time to think about what objects mean to the child-self and the adult-self.
Turns out that in this period of excess, in the end, the important objects are about relationships- for surviving, enjoying, enduring, inspiring, connecting, calming, and remembering- even when it is difficult.
We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear
a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
-President Obama, excerpt from inaugural speech
I will run to people who are bad. I will talk to them and speak the laws and they will change.
-Super Running Boy, (Zander) Kindergarten
It is a day of great hope.
It is the Inauguration day of President Barak Obama.
It is the day we remember and honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It seems like a perfect day to share some of the Peaceful Magical Super Heroes created by PreK, Kindergarten and 1st Grade children at SWS.
I began the New Year introducing the ideas of Martin Luther King, Segregation, Equality, Justice and Injustice, and Non-Violent protest.
I began by asking the children “What do you know about Martin Luther King?”
The largest knowledge base from the children was he was shot, the next most common response was he was good and for peace, the third most common answer was there is a sculpture of him in DC, and the fourth most common response was a confusion of him and Rosa Parks.
Only 3 children understood who he was. Two of those children were brothers.
In small groups, I began by saying “Martin Luther King was an American, he was brown skinned and he is one of my heroes”.
And then I told stories:
“A long time ago, in the United States of America, you are not going to believe this, all the brown skinned people, and tan skinned people had to live separate from the white and pink skinned people. It was the law, or the rules.
People were not allowed to go to school together, play together or live together.
It gets even worse!
The white and pink skinned people got all the best stuff. The brown and tan skinned people were not allowed to use all the good stuff.
It was unfair!”
And so went my retelling of history.
The children were flabbergasted!
“What, you mean I couldn’t play with _______?!!!” (naming a friend in the group)
I even went on to share that I could have gone to go to jail because my children are brown skinned.
And so I continued…
I shared a portion of the I Have a Dream Speech.
I shared that people wanted to join Dr. King, however they had to make a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, weapons or fighting words.
“Sometimes I fight with my brother.”
“Sometimes my parents fight.”
“Yes! ” I said, “this is normal; it takes a lot of practice not to fight. The important thing is to practice, and try, and think about what to do when you are angry.”
I told a story of brown skinned boys who sat down at a lunch counter and the restaurant would not serve them, because of how they looked.
I told the story of how Martin Luther King rallied people through his words and how they joined outside the restaurant and held hands, and chanted “This is unfair, equality now!” and how people used art and words and made signs.
And then bad angry people came and pushed them down, and said mean words and hurt them. But the people who were protesting did not fight back. They helped each other up and peacefully kept chanting, “This is unfair! Equality now!”
What really got the children is when I told them, “…and then the police came, and who do you think they took to jail? They took the peaceful people to jail! And when the peaceful protesters were put in jail they sang songs, like “This little light of mine” and “We shall overcome.
Drawing By Elise, 1st Grade
And the word got out, that we lived in a country where peaceful people were pushed down and put in jail, and so more people joined the ideas of Martin Luther King,Jr.”
Of all the things children knew about MLK, it was that he was shot. And so I told them how “he was speaking to the garbage workers, because they were not getting enough pay to feed their families even though they worked really really hard to keep the streets clean.
And someone who did not believe in all things fair and equality was violent and shot him. But, the amazing thing is, the work of Martin Luther King did not end when he was shot. People kept working for fairness, and soon the laws or rules were changed.”
The conversation was riveting with all groups of children.
Patrick said, “Wait, were the police all white that took the peaceful people to jail?”
He looked at his skin, and looked up, “I hate being white.”
I assured him that he did not do any of those things from the past. That he was not responsible for what happened a long time ago. I reminded him that his maternal side of the family is from Columbia, South America.
“And my Dad is from Hawaii.” He seemed momentarily relieved. I was struck by his deep sensitivity and and sense of responsibility.
Throughout this project, parents stopped me to share that their children were coming home to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this project had meaning.
At this point I introduced their new project:
“First think about something you are really good at or love to do.
Next I want you to imagine, make-up, invent a super hero with super powers that includes what you love to do. You can have more super powers too, like super speed, or strength or even flying.”
This might sound easy, but, I have a big challenge for you; your Super Hero selves have taken a vow or promise of non-violence or no fighting, just like Martin Luther King and all the people who believed in his words.
That means you can make the world better, you can rescue, you can change bad guys, but no hurting or killing anyone…not even the bad guys!”
(I have no issue with children killing or eliminating bad guys in their play or pretend. It is normal development for young children to begin to deal with good and evil through dramatic play. It is healthy for children to do this play, as it allows them a sense of control over all things bad. However, peaceful conflict resolution and non-violence takes great thought and practice. This project is to allow children to start the thinking and practice through narrative, art and metaphor.)
Below, Mira works on showing power in her drawing.
She loves making art, and so like many, her super power is activated through teaching:
Art Super Hero
I’m gonna fly and jump over roofs and teach people who want to be artists to do art. – Mira, PreK
The majority of PreK children jumped into this project with fantastical magical thinking. Ryan, for example included Santa Claus as the ultimate change agent:
Flying Boat Hopper
I can jump past heaven and into my boat. My boat has wings. I fly to Mexico to save my grandparents. I save them from evil bad guys. My boat shoots out Santa and his reindeer and the bad guys are not coming back ever. -Ryan, PreK
For Ainsley, she recently developed a new power over Christmas, she learned how to do somersaults. For her, her super hero was based in her new physical abilities:
Somersault Super Hero
I do somersaults to make people happy. -Ainsley, PreK
Dorian’s Super Hero is also not separated from his real life self:
Dress Up Dorian
I dress up and do shows for people. They will feel happy. -Dorian, PreK
Harvey, who loves using the hammer, drill, and tools in the studio uses his “thing that he loves to do” to help others.
Super Strong Man
I will use my hands to make houses for people. -Harvey, PreK
Lucca, PreK, uses his powers to protect the force that protects him now, his parents. He does have the bad guy hurting himself as a by-product of his actions. This was not uncommon, with many PreK age children still needing to hurt the bad guys in some way (and this is completely developmentally appropriate.)
Super Fast Man
I’m great at soccer. I go really fast with my super fast shoes. I jump really high to the ceiling and save my parents from the pointy ceiling. The bad evil vampire put them there. He bangs himself on the door when I climb up there. -Lucca, PreK
Levi has made the correlation that calming people can prevent bad decisions. This developmental leap is illustrated through his super hero that both rescues and transforms:
I fly to dogs that aren’t being treated well. I’m gonna stop the people from being mad. I will calm them. -Levi, PreK
PreK Dylan shows some deep thoughts about nurture and nature. His idea that maybe if you are in a place with “not so much mean stuff, you couldn’t be bad”, is deep.
Lava Man makes volcanoes that scare away bad guys so that they would maybe go somewhere that didn’t have much mean stuff so they couldn’t be bad.
PreK student Tate also follows this theme of changing bad guys. For him, giving nice things, like a Yankees baseball cap to a bad guy. makes them feel good, thus facilitating change.
My shoe turns into 100 Yankee caps for the bad guys to feel good. The other foot makes Red Sox caps. First they’re bad and then they’re good! -Tate, PreK
Isabella uses the metaphor of sunshine in her illustration, connecting the iconic symbol with meaning:
Isabella Super Hero
I’m really good at riding my huge bike. I go fast. I go up in the air and give people sunshine. -Isabella, PreK
In addition to thinking, and inventing based on a concept. I showed children exaples of how illustrators show power through line and color. I challenged the children to make their picture really show it was an example of some type of super power, and not just a regular kid or scene. Below, Kindergarten students Carter and Matteo Z. are deep in focus as they tackle this new kind of task.
In Kindergarten, ideas began to expand. More children created super heroes that helped or rescued in specific ways. While there is a mix of children still deeply entrenched in complete magical thinking, I began to see the next stage of development emerging; more use of metaphor, understanding of fairness, change and inclusion of the greater community.
I do backflips and catch up with bad guys. I will tie their hands behind their backs so they won’t punch me. I will take them to a spot and tell them to be peaceful and no fighting and no weapons. The change happens when I put a rainbow on them -Lane, Kindergarten
The idea of friendship as a gift of power transmission as told by Gus, is both fierce and gentle:
I stomp on the ground as hard as I can and I put my hand out like a fist and a ray comes out. But no one can see it. If there is someone who didn’t know how to make friends they can make friends. -Gus, Kindergarten
Raigan loves to make string necklaces in the studio; her super hero bestows powers to others that allow them to travel:
I make necklaces. My necklaces help people to go anywhere they want. -Raigan, Kindergarten
August, though in Kindergarten shows his understanding of non-violent protest by using signs and text to create change. Even though he has not colored his sketch yet, the image is powerful to share.
I can run around the world putting signs everywhere, they might say, “No Fighting”. -August, Kindergarten
Zuri combines magical thinking and metaphor to illustrates in detail how her Super Hero will make change:
I’m gonna build a bridge tower around the bad guys with stars. The stars sprinkle stuff all over and they turn into good guys. -Zuri, Kindergarten
My powers will make the city grow back; houses, cars, streetlights, boats, trees, and grass. –Michael, Kindergarten
Lily believes in power of Art:
I’m going to make the world more beautiful. I’m going to make bad guys pictures. They will like them and turn to good guys. -Lily, Kindergarten
Electra already recognizes the power of reading. She also travels in time, therefor righting past wrongs:
Super Reading Girl
I can travel back in time. I will read to bad people and they will be good. -Electra, Kindergarten
While for Evie, the healing powers of a Band-Aid prevail!
I’m good at helping people. I have powers to fly to people who fell down. I help them with my powers and potions. It helps them get up and puts bandaids on them. -Evie, Kindergarten
(Lily, Evie and August will be returning to add color to their representations)
In first grade, many children were challenged by this assignment. By first grade the majority are aware of pop culture, advertising and movies that cast super heroes in a pretty reliable role of eliminating bad guys through violence. They had a harder time figuring out how to transform what they are good at into something beyond themselves. There was a less blurring of the lines between real life and imagination, which made the younger children’s stories flow more effortlessly. However their understanding of injustice and justice was more complex. Their ability to express themselves through visual media was more complicated.
Witnessing these subtle changes in thinking, representing, and creating is rewarding. It reinforces why having an Art Studio (in the context of Reggio Emilia Environment like SWS) in upper grades continues to be necessary and a vital force in developing 21st century thinking skills. Much of the work in the studio is about big ideas and how to construct/deconstruct and communicate through symbols and metaphors.
Mason’s Super Hero shows his understanding that not all people are able to afford flying:
I can make paper airplanes. I make an airplane that people can fly on for like $5. Cause it cost a lot of money to fly on an airplane. -Mason, 1st Grade
My name is Dare Dog. I fly and I have a tail. I have three fingers. I fly around looking for people who need help, like if a kite is stuck in a tree or if you’ve lost your mom. I can magically make a path to them. -Dylan, 1st Grade
Super Emma Clare
I save babies if they get hurt. I fly down and pick them up. -Emma Clare, 1st Grade
Charlie creatively understands the power of humor to diffuse conflict.
I’m good at making funny jokes. If the bad guys laugh, they’ll be good. -Charlie, 1st Grade
Max uses his “thing that he loves to do”; skate, to teach others, like many SWS children. His thoughtful representation shows the intricacies of his ideas.
Super Ice Skater
I’m a super skater. I give ice skating lessons. I throw ice dust and the dust makes people better at skating. –Max, 1st Grade
Alden saves fireflies, a wonderful metaphor for preserving light and peaceful beings.
I’m good at studying fireflies. I’m gonna have a jet and when I see predators coming to eat fireflies, I’m gonna save the fireflies. -Alden, 1st Grade
Tillie had a simple idea that she illustrated graphically different from most of the children. Her tiny super hero is detailed in simple black silhouette. Initially when she added color, she had the blue sky only at the top of the building (a common idea that the sky is only on the top of a page.) I tried explaining that the sky is all around and she looked puzzled, so I scooted her out the front door of the school to observe how the sky actually surrounds a building all the way to the ground. She lit up with a smile and said “Ohhhhhh, I see that now!” There were a lot of these type of visual “aha” moments with the 1st graders as I encouraged them to take leaps in visual perception and expression.
I’m gonna flip through the air and save people in trouble. -Tillie, 1st Grade
The next day, Tillie brought to school a Christmas present that her talented Uncle created for her for Christmas.
“See Tillie, now you have proof that you really ARE a Super Hero!”, I said.
When I see broken buildings I shoot them. When I shoot (the buildings), they come back to being a building. -Xavier, 1st Grade
First grade Ava’s Super Hero touched my heart. I often push her to try again and push through the hard parts. Here’s what she created:
I’m going to fly to people in a rocket ship and teach children how to make wonderful art. I have a grabber and I grab the art they don’t like. I get them to do it again. I don’t want them to give up. I give the art back to them and then they try once more. -Ava M. 1st Grade
And Anja combined the idea of conflict resolution through diplomatic talks with the addition of some magic dust!
I’m good at making peace by talking. I can fly. I throw my peace sign dust and people stop having fights and can work it out. -Anja, 1st Grade
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky.
And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.
(Light Sculpture By Xavier, 1st Grade)
It occurs to me, that often it is indeed metaphor and magical thinking combined with reality that stops us in our tracks, and causes pause.
PS I am also thankful for Early Childhood Educator and friend Maureen Ingram who told me of her idea to do Peaceful Super Heroes with her 3 year old class. It inspired me to explore the idea in the studio at SWS.
Birthdays, solstice, anniversaries and New Years are such wonderful triggers for reflection, memories and storytelling. While many make resolutions, I tend to think about experiences that have inspired my thoughts and actions. Returning to these memories or ideas provide me with a path for forward motion.
For five or six years I have hung words from The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) on the studio door at SWS. I often reread them as they deeply represent my beliefs. I wish I wrote them. What I can do is actualize them.
Yesterday, I took the Kindergarten students, teachers and parents on the annual trip to Baltimore to the AVAM. It is my favorite museum and favorite place to introduce others to. For this post, I will share the powerful AVAM words from my studio door, with images from my work/life.
AVAM’s Seven Educational Goals
1. Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.
Images from visit to the Folger Theatre Costume Shop with room 9 Kindergarteners.
2. Engender respect for and delight in the gifts of others.
3. Increase awareness in the wide variety of choices available in life for all…particularly students.
4. Encourage each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths.
5. Promote the use of innate intelligence , intuition, self exploration, and creative self-reliance.
This happened a few days ago. During free time in the studio, Winnie (PreK) asked “Why are there letters on the bells? I explained that the musical scale has letters that go C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C and it was the same thing they sing up and down with Ms. Rachel in Music. She said,”Wait, say them again.” As I did, she arranged the bells in order and played them. I went about my own thing, and awhile later came upon this…
6. Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.
7.Empower the individual to choose to do that something really, really well.
EmmaClare wanted to making something that flies that she could carry like a purse.
Tremendous words of wisdom. For all. I am so thankful for the American Visionary Art Museum.
“He’s not afraid to show kids failing,” says Willem’s friend Tom Waburton, a fellow animator. “He’s not afraid to show that bad things can happen and good things can come out of that. There’s something underneath everything he does.”
That something is…humanity, perhaps? Compassion? Psychological strife? Or maybe it’s something simpler, like Willem’s explanation of how he writes for children as though they are all wise souls.
“Adults and children,” he says, “are members of the same species.”
“It’s one of those sentences that means nothing and everything, depending on how you read it. (The author who revels in a small fan base by Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 1/7/2012)
It means everything to me.
Call them not your children. Call them your builders. -The Talmud
These words really resonated with me. As I revisited my personal work in my grown up studio this weekend, I could see that my work informed me of my thinking during diverse periods in my life.
Artist as mark maker. As a mark maker in the specific moment they are creating. Artist as archiver. It is why artists are so dangerous to repressive regimes. Artists mark time in powerful symbolic ways, reacting, speaking expressing.
This idea makes me think of the listening I do every day.
With 4, 5 and 6 year olds.
Are they not also marking time in the territory they are in right now?
The following is the path behind, through and around one of the current PreK projects. As long and wordy as this documentation is (and I apologize for this), there is so much more to consider. I hope you will join in “listening” to what is often invisible.
I am posting a sampling of the transcribed work. There was not one that was better than another. Each piece marks the territory where each individual child has landed, right now. It is deepened by the context of being in a small studio group, where ideas are experimented, disseminated, constructed, shared and exclaimed over.
I was thrilled with Gaia’s verbal description for getting bigger or getting fat as “make more big.” Gaia’s first languages are Spanish and Italian. Her taking a risk and telling me a story in English in which she came up with verbal strategies to be heard is quite remarkable!
Hearing Artist Carrie Mae Weems speak after I wrote this, I would like to add another question:
Why is this work/research so very important? At this moment? In this territory? Right now? With young children?