New Blocks

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An educator friend was getting rid of her wooden Cuisenaire rods. She wondered if I might have any use for them.

Lovely colored, wooden blocks?!?!!! OF COURSE I can use them!

Happily, my students are as excited by new materials as I am! As I put them into containers yesterday, this conversation ensued:

Them: “What are they, Miss James?!!”

Me: “New blocks!”

Them: “New blocks?!?!!! For us?!!”

Me: “Yes!”

Them: “What are we going to make with them?”

Me: “I don’t know. What are you going to make with them?”

As others gathered — helping to put the blocks into the containers — conversations and gasps of delight erupted around me.

I love when excitement, joy, imagination, creativity, conversation, problem solving, and possibility surround me. And when it’s precipitated by wooden blocks saved from the trash bin, it’s extra special.

 

 

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Label Your Build

Labeling is part of every build in our classroom. Sometimes my request for labeling is met with a bit of grumbling. “Labels? Do we have to label? Why do we have to label things, Miss James?”

I always respond the same way. “Yes, you have to label things. Everyone find at least three things to label.” and “Why label?!?!!! You have to label things because when you label them, everyone else gets to know and understand your great ideas and creations!” Once they get over the need to stop building in order to label, and any hesitancy they have in their ability to write things that others can read, the labels begin popping up all over the build site.

Here are a few from this year’s Thanksgiving build.

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(bed, home)

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(bed, pillow, home)

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(food place)

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(person, Lilly)

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(mountain)

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(person)

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(crib)

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(trap door)

There’s tons of value in each of their labels. I can assess their phonemic awareness, and their ability to encode the sounds they hear. I get a deeper understanding of their thinking and building. And, perhaps best of all, they get to share their thinking and work with everyone who visits the build.

My favorite thinking shared this year (and mind you, they are ALL fantabulous and bring me great joy) was this one.

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(For you, Mayflower. This corn is for you.)

We learn that the passengers of the Mayflower stole corn from the Native Americans. At first, the girls respond with outrage. “That wasn’t very nice! Why did they do that? That’s mean!” I acknowledge their observations and feelings, agreeing that it does sound mean, and not very nice. But then, I encourage them to think a bit about what the passengers of the Mayflower might have felt — and what we sometimes experience in our own lives.

“How do you think the Mayflower passengers felt when they arrived?” I ask. “They were on the boat for 66 days. The Mayflower wasn’t very big and there were a lot of passengers.” My students are silent, clearly trying to figure things out. They begin to share their recollections and thoughts — “There were storms. People died. A baby was born. Maybe they didn’t have enough food. They were probably cold. Maybe they were hungry.”

One asks “Why didn’t they just ask the Native Americans for some food?”

“Good question.” I respond. “Why didn’t they?”

At first they are silent again. Then I ask them. “Did the Native Americans and the passengers of the Mayflower looked alike? Did they dress the same? Do you think they spoke the same language?” They quietly and thoughtfully respond “No.”

Now I am silent. For a moment or two I let them sit with that information. Then I ask them “How do you think they felt?” With a greater of empathy they respond, “Maybe they were scared.” I shake my head, “Yeah, maybe they were scared.” Wanting to bring the two ideas together, I continue “It wasn’t nice what they did. They shouldn’t have stolen the corn, but it’s good for us to remember they might have been afraid, and hungry, and didn’t know what else to do.”

When the girl made those bags of corn, she showed them to me. “I decided to make these for the Mayflower. I’m going to leave them by the boat so they see them. Then they can just have this corn, and not steal ours.” I responded, “That’s a great idea. I bet they’ll be happy to find it.”

There is so much I love about her thoughts and work. Kindness. Empathy. Problem-solving. Offering without being asked. Leaving it with a note — therefore forgoing a thank you. Believing this will help them, and keep them from taking your things — without telling them not to take yours. Lastly, I love that the build, and the labeling, allowed this student to show the depth her understanding, empathy, kindness, and problem solving. May she keep it, grow it, and use it all her days!

Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:

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Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.

The Joy of Inventing

Recently heard in my classroom …

Miss James!

I LOVE inventing! Inventions are the BEST!

(And yes, the bold, large font is appropriate as it conveys, I hope, just a bit of her enthusiasm!)

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Oh my GOSH!!! I loved the passion, zeal, and joy of this young inventor!

She’s right, you know, inventions are awesome and fantabulous!  They are the best because they allow, encourage, enable:

  • joy
  • passion
  • engagement
  • independance
  • collaboration
  • thinking
  • problem solving
  • sensible risk taking
  • failure, re-thinking, re-designing, re-making, and increased understanding
  • creativity
  • learning
  • love of making, exploring, and learning

I loved her enthusiasm, and I’m so glad she shared it with me. I am grateful for the reminder to search for, and find, ways to support freedom, making, play and inventing in my learning space!

 

 

 

WOW!

 

Yup, that about covers it. “WOW!”

Well, perhaps, “WOW!” and “Boy, oh boy, do I need a nap!”

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It’s the beginning of our Thanksgiving Build 2017. All of this block thinking and work happened in less than 20 minutes!

It was amazing to experience and help facilitate it.

Prior to beginning the actual build, we prepped the room and ourselves.

  • We decided on a good spot for the tables.
  • We checked to be sure we could still move about the room as we need to for other activities.
  • We counted tiles on the floor.
  • We did some research — watching videos, reading/looking at books, and discussing our finds and understanding.
  • We chose our groups (citizens of England and Holland, passengers on the Mayflower, Native Americans).

Finally we met for our first day of building. Before working with the blocks, we held a quick planning meeting. I acted as the scribe, and recorded their ideas. Each group excitedly generated an extensive list of things they would need in their area of the build. Often their ideas played off of each other. I worked to keep the group focused and positive, accepting all ideas, confident that we would discover and modify anything that might need to be changed as we did the build.

It was interesting to make the lists together. They were invested in the process and shared their ideas with enthusiasm, but at the same moment, they were straining against the confines of the table, chairs, and list making. Their desire to begin the build was visible, and when I set them free, the room erupted into a spirited burst of conversation and movement.

They talked to one another as they moved to gather blocks and tools. Sometimes one of them would think of something else they needed, and give me a shout — “Bears! Add bears to the list Miss James!” For now the lists are posted on our whiteboard. We’ll revisit them at various points of the build — to see what has been done, what needs to be done, and what needs to be added.

Many things have to remain in balance as the build progresses. Of course, the blocks themselves must remain balanced. Given the inherent instability of certain block formations, and the sometimes whirlwind like movement of kindergartners, this is often more difficult than it sounds. But, many other things are also always in a delicate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes precarious, state of balance.

As the build facilitator I want to encourage and enable student agency, freedom, discovery, and creativity. At the same time I want to infuse their creativity with the all important ingredient of usefulness. I work hard to encourage thinking, comparing, noticing, and rethinking, without discouraging their ideas and budding understanding. Sometimes this means I have to refocus my gaze and perception. I need to look at the build not as a product alone, but as a process. And, I need to consider what my students knew before beginning, what they are expressing with their work, and what is most important.

Keeping the social emotional energy balanced is imperative. The collaboration — both physical and mental — that occurs while creating in groups is huge! Sometimes we aren’t used to this type of work, and disagreements or power struggles ensue. These moments are often fraught with emotion, but once breaths are taken, the disagreements and struggles become awesome opportunities for conversation, learning and growth.

Another area of social emotional balance involves my comments and suggestions. I have to be aware of the times when my interjections are causing too much disequilibrium in my builders. I want them to think, to struggle and to reach new levels of understanding. I don’t want them to doubt themselves or their work.

So, back to their work. We will build until winter break. Things will be added, taken away, and modified. This is just the beginning. And a great beginning it is!

Remind yourself of their age, their task, and their timeframe. And be awed!

England and Holland

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The Mayflower

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Native American homesite

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Once a Cloud-lover, Always a Cloud-lover

I was a raincloud for Halloween this year.

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It was a hit with my students, the parents, and my colleagues. It was creative, not too hard to make, and best of all, made me chuckle, . (Thanks to Make It – Love It blog for the idea!)

The day after Halloween I happened to see one of my former students in the nurse’s office. We chatted for a bit, and the nurse mentioned how much she liked my costume. My former student said “A raincloud?” The nurse said “Yes, isn’t that great?” I loved my student’s response ….

“I thought you would be the cloud. You know, like the cloud we go in when we are learning.”

OH MY GOSH! The learning cloud. She got it, and remembered all the work we did last year with the cloud. It was a swoon worthy comment for sure!

I responded, “Oh my GOSH! What an awesome idea. That would have been fantabulous!!! Thanks so much for thinking of that. I love it.”

She smiled, and we shared an exuberant high five.

I left the office with a spring in my step, joy in my heart … and a curious question swirling in my brain.

“How might I show that the cloud on my head, is the cloud of learning of Uri Alon?” Answers flooded my brain — most cracked me up. That would be a costume that needed lots of explanations.

I may never actually be the cloud of learning for Halloween, but I am overjoyed that my former student thought of it, and shared it with me!

May she, and all of us, be lovers of the cloud of learning forever!

 

Resources:

Uri Alon TEDtalk regarding the cloud

The Cloud in the Classroom

Card Carrying Members

Sharing Peace

I read I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness to my Kindergartners, last week. The book has beautiful illustrations, and speaks of mindfulness, peace, and sharing peace, in ways my Kindergartners might understand.

I wanted to talk with them about sharing peace, being kind, and making a difference by doing so. I thought about how I might give them the opportunity to do it?

The main character of the book wears a fantastic peace hat. I’d love to put together some patterns to knit one, but for sure that wasn’t going to happen with my Kindergartners. But, she also wears a funky peace sign necklace. That was something my Kindergartners could make!

So, off I went in search of beads, peace medallions, and cording. I found some bright beads, easy to use cording, and a wooden disc I could make into a peace medallion. I enlisted my brother’s help to drill holes in the 25 discs so I would have time to print “peace” on each one and put a ring on it to make stringing go well.

I had on my peace necklace when I read — because I couldn’t read, photograph, AND make a necklace at the same time. My Kindergartners loved my necklace, and wondered if they would make one too.

“You will! But, we aren’t making them for ourselves. We’re going to make them, and then share them with a friend. Kind of like she did in the book, we’ll be ‘sharing our peace.’ So, do your best work. Make a necklace you love, that you think your friends will love too. When we’re done, we’ll gather around the pond (our carpet) and have a ‘sharing our peace’ circle.”

They were motivated. They worked thoughtfully and carefully. Many added designs to the peace disc.

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It took longer than I planned for them to finish. I didn’t want them to rush to finish, or rush to share. So I suggested we all wear our peace necklaces during lunch (being sure not to let them fall into yogurt or other messy food) and recess. This would give us time, I said “to infuse them with even more peace!”

After recess they eagerly joined me, around the pond, to randomly choose names, and share our peace with each other. They were awesome — thoughtful, kind, grateful!

I got peace shared with me as well. I wore the necklace throughout the day, and when I came home, hung it in my bedroom.

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It hangs down by the light switch. When I am mindful, I notice it each time I turn my lights on and off. This morning was one of those times.

It was a beautiful moment. I touched the medallion, took a breath, and remembered my sweet students sharing peace with one another and with me … and I carried it afresh as I went about my day.

I am excited to share that experience with them, and thank them for the gift of peace, and making a difference in my life!

Kindergarten Creativity Does Not Disappoint!

Wow.

My girls, the process, and me — we did not disappoint. Not one single bit! Look at the creative art products they made. Creative. Beautiful. Striking. Brave.

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They followed the rules, considered the suggestions, and bravely embraced their own ability to make good creative and artistic decisions. Although they all used the same materials, rules, and suggestions, their creative and artistic choices made each work unique.

It was an amazing experience for me! I worked hard to:

  • be cognizant of my words — and their power to teach and empower.
  • breathe and allow the girls to make their own decisions.
  • trust the decisions my young artists made — even if they were different than the ones I would make.

It was hard work! Some of the girls were a bit afraid to really jump in. One said she wasn’t going to do the watercolor. I said “Oh yeah, you are. It’s part of the process. Trust yourself.” She looked at me with big eyes, and didn’t respond. A few moments later she asked if she could get a drink. I chuckled to myself, fairly certain she was trying to escape. I replied, “Sure, you can get a drink. But come right back so you can start painting. Don’t run away from me!” She chuckled and said, “Ok.”

She came back quickly, and with incredible braveness, painted like a pro.

I am so impressed with all of us. I worked to create the environment that would support creativity, critical thinking, joy, trust and bravery. And my young artists … well, they were fantabulous.

I made sure to acknowledge their bravery, and the many times they used a technique that inspired me.

My heart, and mind, are full!

I Wonder …

…what my Kindergarten artists will think, do, and feel when we work on this art process and product.

I am super hopeful …

  • their big beautiful brains will be filled with ideas and wonder.
  • they will jump in with confident hope.
  • they will experience the joy and excitement I feel when I create art.
  • they will know they are artists who can make decisions about their art.

 

These are my practice, and inspiration pieces.

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After making the first piece, I tried another using the new stamp pads I bought for my Kindergarten artists. As I prepped the page, I wondered what it would look like if I added a piece of tape down the middle.

I like it, and am adding it as an option for my Kindergarten artists.

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The boarders are created using frog tape. It creates a nice sharp edge, and even more importantly, can be removed without harming the paper. The circles are stamps created from some tubes one of the students brought in. I cut them on our bandsaw so I’d have enough to give each artist a small stamper and a large stamper.

My rules for the project will be:

  • Everyone needs a boarder.
  • Circles are colored with crayons.
  • The background is filled with watercolor.
  • Sign your work! (Which, by the way, involves many artistic decisions.)

My suggestions will be:

  • Consider overlapping the circles and letting the circles extend beyond the boarder.
  • Practice stamping on a scrap paper so you feel comfortable working on your piece.

My artists’ options and decisions will be:

  • What colors will I make the circles?
  • What color will I make the background?
  • Will my background be one color, or many?
  • Do I want a piece of tape to intersect my paper – creating two pieces?
  • Where will I put that piece of tape? (The options are endless!)

My jobs will be many:

  • To show the artists that unexpected things (tubes from shoes, painters tape) can be used to create art.
  • To expose them to the idea of combining various mediums into one project.
  • To encourage them to think.
  • To empower them to make decisions about their art.
  • To explain the rules … and the options.
  • To enjoy my artists, their process, and their products.
  • To document their process and work.
  • To be open to their interpretation of the process.
  • To be willing to allow them to modify the process … depending on their interpretation, desires, and/or needs.

All my jobs are important, but those last two, they are paramount.

If I want my students to know they are artists, and to actually BE artists, I need to give them the freedom and respect artists need, crave, and deserve. If I want them to learn to make decisions, problem solve, wonder, and create, I have to give them the space, empowerment, and opportunity to actually DO IT!

 

 

Imagination

I never cease to be amazed, and amused, by the imagination of my Kindergartners! Here are some examples from the first few weeks of school.

Every year, the kindergartners regularly take what is, and transform it into what might be. This year is no different. The other day two of my girls excitedly exclaimed  “Look, Miss James!!! CAMERAS!”  First they used them — photographing anything that sat still — then they shared them with me.

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In a similar fashion, imagination filled our space with ringing phones. The K architects and builders had to get the building inspector (me) to come inspect their buildings prior to giving tours. Blocks and popsicle sticks were quickly taped together to create phones which rang loudly — often with shouts of “We’re calling you!!!!” — as they tried to get me to come review their building.

Imagination soars as blocks, objects, and ideas, are combined in new ways to create fanciful builds during our social studies work. Stories, even more elaborate than the building  itself, accompany each new structure  — “In order to get in, you have to use sticky shoes, climb up this tower, stand on the top, and LEAP to the balance beam below!”

They use their imagination as they struggle to understand the new, and its connection to the known. At these times they construct theories as to how what is, might have come into being. While playing in our sensory table, one of them said, “Miss James, did you paint this beans to look like cows?!”

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I almost burst out laughing – imagining myself painting each bean. I didn’t though. Instead I affirmed her observation “Wow those DO look like cows. I never thought of that!” Then we looked at the many different types of beans in the bin and marveled that the beans grow this way!

I always tell the Kindergarten parents their children’s imagining is important. It may be entertaining, but, it’s so much more. It’s powerful and valuable, and must be affirmed, encouraged, supported, and grown.

Imagination enables them, and us, to make meaning, understand, explore, investigate, test, and create new ideas and things. Strengthening the skill of imagining –the ability to think, see, conceive of, and believe in, things that are not before us — as well as strengthening our belief in its efficacy, is remarkably important.  It’s meaningful and necessary now, and for the future.

Imagination fuels our creativity. The great scientists and researchers, trying to solve any of the many problems facing us will not succeed without imagination. They must be able to imagine what does not yet exist — new ideas, new combinations, new structures. They have to be able to imagine a world without the problem they seek to solve — no more illness, hunger, loneliness, pollution, war, hatred, to name just a few. And, they have to imagine themselves conceiving of the solution.

While researching a bit for this post, I was thrilled to discover the article by psychologist Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, entitled Imagination and Creativity in Children. He writes:

 

Imagination is not just an idle mental amusement,

not merely an activity without consequences in reality,

but rather a function essential to life.

(Vygotsky, 2004,  p13)

 

RESOURCES:

Vygotsky, L.V. (Jan-Feb 2004). Imagination and Creativity in Children. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 42, no. 1, January–February 2004, pp. 7–97. Retrieved from http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Mail/xmcamail.2008_03.dir/att-0189/Vygotsky__Imag___Creat_in_Childhood.pdf