Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.

 

 

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Borrowed Creativity

I found some fabulous origami paper at a local bookstore. I had no need for it, and didn’t have any origami plans. But, after picking it up and putting it down several times, I bought it.  I decided I didn’t need plans. It was enough that I liked it. If I actually folded the paper into origami, it’d be a bonus!

A few days later the allure of origami folding became too strong to ignore. It was time to collect my bonus. Without a second thought, I borrowed the creativity of others. If you’d like to join me in borrowing some origami folding creativity, check out these links for an open box, a vase, and a cube and octahedron made from sonobe units.

I’m always intrigued and amazed by the way a flat sheet of paper transforms into a three dimensional object through a series of folding and unfolding.

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My origami folding was a creative exploration, a fact finding mission, and a problem solving journey. Through it all there was intense focus, several missteps, flow, and joy. It was awesome.

I’ve often wondered what it is about making that jazzes my kindergartners so much.  This evening of origami folding gave me an inkling of an answer. What I experienced felt like what I see in my Kindergartners when they borrow my creativity in the makerspace.

My Kindergartners love making things. They enjoy working on their own as they follow their own paths. But, they are differently stoked when they borrow my creativity.  I think they experience what I did as I folded.

With borrowed creativity we are able to go places we can’t go on our own. My Kindergarteners and I aren’t lacking in ability or creativity. Instead, we are as yet unaware of this particular path and destination. By sharing and borrowing creativity we find new possibilities, new paths, and new destinations.

These new experiences are ours because others are willing to share their creativity, and allow us to borrow it.  This freely shared creativity is a gift, and I think, a sign of friendship and collegiality. By sharing and borrowing, we are — in one sense — made equals.

I am grateful for the generous creative beings who are willing to share their ideas with me. The new vistas, processes, and products, as well as  new experiences of myself are quite fantabulous. I think my kindergarteners feel the same way.

Long live generous creative sharers, and grateful creative borrowers!

 

 

Simple things

Simple things can be taken for granted and overlooked, or they can induce wonder and awe.

I recently purchased a manual crank pencil sharpener for my learning space. My girls like every aspect of this simple machine. They enjoy manipulating the lever that secures it to our table. They carefully spin the ring of holes to find the perfect fit for their pencil. They work together to help others sharpen their pencil successfully.

It sometimes takes a bit longer to use than an electric sharpener, but the time is time well spent. As they work and struggle to sharpen their pencils, they practice grit, perseverance, curiosity, and kind helpfulness. They strengthen the muscles of their hands and fingers. And, remarkably, they experience wonder and awe!

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The other day, one of them was chatting with me about the sharpener. I don’t recall our exact conversation, but at one point I took the sharpener apart. Perhaps I wanted to show her the insides, perhaps I was just emptying the shavings.

I was unprepared for her response. When the sharpening gears were exposed, she gasped. Her eyes were wider than I’ve ever seen before. She gently grasped the handle — as though she might destroy the wonder, or damage the machine. As she turned the crank, the gears rotated. She was glued to the movement and with hushed excitement said “Wow!”

 

20181025_092203-01I asked if she wanted to try sharpening her pencil. She said yes and began to work on replacing the cover. I encouraged her to sharpen it without the cover so she could observe what happened. Her astonishment and joy were palpable as she sharpened the pencil, adding to the small pile of shavings at the base of the sharpener.

 

I feel similar things when I use a standard wedge sharpener. I love watching the wood and paint sliced off of the pencil — with incredible precision. I like the crisp sharp point, and I marvel at the beautiful shapes of the sharpening scraps.

20181106_104023-01 Simple things. Big feelings. Important experiences.

I want to be mindful of these moments. Mindful in noticing them. Mindful in helping facilitate and provoke them. Mindful in finding small moments, and large blocks, in which we can play with simple things. Mindful about protecting and nurturing the wonder and awe of the simple things.

I think I will begin saving the sharpening scraps in our makerspace trolley. I’m hopeful they will intrigue and inspire my makers.

At the very least, they will bring me joy, and that’s a good thing.

Time will tell.

 

 

It’s All in How You Look at It!

I read to my Kindergartners everyday at lunch. It’s always an adventure in listening, laughing, noticing, discussing, wondering, and, frankly, making proclamations.

Yesterday one of the reads was Happy Dog Sizzles by Lisa Grubb. Part way through the story, the characters begin creating. Lisa used the term “junk” to describe the things used by her characters. She did not misspeak. In many ways, the items being used could be characterized as junk — a broken instrument, a broken lamp, an old hat.

As I read the word junk, one of my girls proclaimed, “That’s not junk!”

Me: “It’s not?!?!

Her: “No!” she replied emphatically. “That’s maker-stuff!”

Her voice seemed to call more of her peers to the page. All about the room there were echoes of agreement. “Yeah, that’s not junk. That’s maker-stuff!”

Me: (heart glowing with love and pride in their fantabulousness) “You know what? You’re right! It is maker-stuff!”

I read the rest of the book substituting maker-stuff for junk.

My Kindergartners are right. It’s all about how we look at it.

As I considered a photo for this post, I gathered up some things forgotten in the back of drawers, or placed in the trash/recycling bin — contact lens containers, a pebble from a walk, a bottle top, the inside roll from tape, an old marker lid, part of a security envelope, the top of a canning jar, a bent paperclip, and an old hair tie.

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With my Kindergartners words and emotions fresh in my mind, I interacted with these items, not as junk, but as items with untold potential.

I purposefully staged the photo. I considered each piece, and placed it carefully on a gold-lined dish. I created pleasant ribbon swirls. I arranged and rearranged the items several times until I was satisfied. Then I photographed and processed the image to emphasize the feeling of importance, beauty, and art.

My kindergartners were right. In our awesome hands — animated by our big beautiful brains, fantabulous imagination, and spectacular hearts — it’s not junk, it’s maker-stuff.

 

 

Fatigue, Eyeballs, and Flowers

I was home sick yesterday. It’s Saturday today, and I’m still home sick. Actually, it’s not so much sickness, as remarkably strong fatigue. Ever since my diagnosis and treatment, I have some days that I can do nothing other than sleep, or lie in a heap on the couch with a delicious cup of green tea before going back to bed to sleep! The fatigue is crazy-powerful. It makes me feel ill in many different ways. It’s annoying, but what can I do? Press on with relentless positivity, some kvetching, and of course some creativity!

Today’s a bit better, but yesterday even creative thinking, and artistic work, had me climbing back into bed. But as someone said “Earth without art is just eh. Go.make.art!” Or as I say, “Life without creativity and art is missing some serious joy!” So fatigue or not, art and creativity here I come!

I’m trying to figure out a design for a bathroom cabinet. I know it will contain the word LOVE in arts and crafts style lettering, as well as some as yet unknown number of arts and crafts style flowers. I thought about the project for a few days, and then began sketching the flowers. I’ve done them before but these will be mirror images of the ones I’ve done in the past. Sounds simple right? Yeah, not so much.

Yesterday I grabbed my grid paper and began sketching a plethora of flowers. Some of them looked a lot more like eyeballs than flowers! Eyeballs! That just won’t do! It cracks me up and frustrates me all at the same time. So I sketch on, immersed in my creative and artistic process.

  • Math — the shapes, the number of grid lines I’m using to create each flower, where the various shapes lie in relationship to the middle of the whole flower.
  • Freedom to make the shapes flow and a bit askew instead of mathematically perfect.
  • Deep observing — of the flower, the shapes, the sweep of the lines, the areas that are outside my original space.
  • The beauty of my pencil — how it feels in my hand, and how wonderfully it skims across the paper leaving my mark with great ease.
  • The process itself — think, try, think some more, look at it a lot, go away, come back, look at it again, rearrange, repeat.
  • And, finally there is me, my breath, my brain, my heart, and the joy and contentment I feel as I create, learn, make mistakes, try again, and eventually succeed.

This is my work from yesterday. Overcome at one point with how much they all really did look like eyeballs I pulled out my watercolors and brush, hopeful the color would help me see flowers. If nothing else I figured the watercolor would bring me joy.

Thankfully the watercolor worked wonders. The eyeballs transformed into  proper-looking flowers, and I transformed into a little less frustrated, little more happy and content me.20181005_140102-01

I want to share this process more and more with my students — in all areas of the curriculum. I want them to experience all I just experienced.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, and each time I have this revelation anew, I try to be mindful of my teaching practice and classroom management. Do I gift my students with time to process, think, create, observe, learn, fail, try again, rethink, and change their minds? Am I transparent sharing my own process with them? Do they know how many times my flowers look like eyeballs?

I try, that’s for sure. But, there is something really intrinsic to my process, that I am not convinced I provide for my students. Is it time to think? Time to be with one problem or project? Time to observe and learn about things on their own?

I don’t know. But, for sure there is something about being in the moment, something about the immersion, the peace, the struggle, and the whole process that I must continue to reflect upon, and bring to my students.

The Joy and Power of Making

The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.

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It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.

  • What color shall I use?
  • Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
  • Which yarn will I use?
  • Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
  • Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
  • How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?

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A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.

The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!

At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.

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“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.

“Would you string it for me?” she asked.

“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”

Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.

I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”

She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.

I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!

YAY!

 

Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

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Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

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Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

 

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 

My Watercolor Process

I’ve spent a good bit of time watercoloring these past few weeks.  Today, I decided to share my process with you.

Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting you adopt my process in its entirety. Just saying you might learn something from it!

  1. Take a 3 hour watercolor class.
  2. Learn some cool things.
  3. Fall in love all over again with watercolors.
  4. Head out for a hike and some plein air painting.
  5. Forget I am a beginner.
  6. Fail to remind myself — “”Bad art happens to good artists!”
  7. Experience angst — lots of angst.
  8. Nearly fall out of love with watercolors.
  9. Resist throwing everything in the river.
  10. Drive 5 hours.
  11. Sleep 8 hours.
  12. Go to church.
  13. Breathe.
  14. Eat.
  15. Nap.
  16. Do things that have nothing to do with watercolors.
  17. Catch sight of an unfinished painting.
  18. Give in to the allure, and bring the paints out of hiding.
  19. Paint with more wonder, and less judgement.
  20. Experience the joy of process and product again.

 

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Be The Revolution!

I just read the Genius of Play’s report on “Fostering innovation and Creativity through Play,” cohosted with the Smithsonian Lemelson Center at the National Museum of American History, April 25, 2018.

I love the questions, ideas, hopes, and dreams they express in their event press release, and their event report.

Their plan was to “explore how play serves as a catalyst for creativity and innovation.” What a great plan! Remarkably, they didn’t just explore on their own, for their own information. They invited experts (including me!)  to collaborate with them, and hosted a free event to share our thoughts. They even extended invitations to members of Congress, congressional staff, and staff at the Department of Education.

If you get a chance, read the report  and check out the Genius of Play website. Until then, I hope you are inspired by our definitions of play, and the conclusion to the Genius of Play report.

“What is play?”

“Play is joy – doing things that you love to do. And I think play changes over the periods of your lifetime. I also would say for young children, play is the work in how they live their lives.” (Jeri Robinson, Boston Children’s Museum)

“If it makes you happy … It can’t be anything but play.” (James McLurkin, Google)

“Play is a way of interacting with the world that is both fun and powerful. What makes play powerful is it allows our brains to be open and to explore possibility, entertain new ideas, learn and take risks, and learn that failing isn’t the end, but it’s really the beginning to start a new game, stronger and smarter.” (Molly James, Kent Place School)

“Play is anything that we see as open-ended and unconstrained in the hands of a child. And the tools can be anything: they could be toys; they could be robots; they could be books; they could be nothing; they could be out in the garden, but that’s all play.” (Vikas Gupta, Wonder Workshop)

Genius of Play Report Conclusion:

“The connection between play and invention is real but in order to see a correlation, children need to be allowed to flex their creativity through play. By bringing more play to the school curriculum, giving parents the confidence to play with their children, and helping our society understand and value the benefits of play, we can help children develop the qualities they need to become the next generation of inventors.”

Good stuff, right? It was an incredible evening, and the ability to reflect a bit more about it through the report is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure if the members of Congress, congressional staff, or staff at the Department of Education attended. At first that bothered me. But, now, not so much, because I think the most important people made it to the event.

Parents, educators, toy inventors, and others invested in creativity, innovation, and learning, filled the room. We are the people in the classrooms, museums, after school programs, and homes. In some ways it’s most important for us to hear the ideas, read the reports, and believe in the power and purpose of play and creativity in learning and innovation.

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I read a recent Ron Clark tweet which stated “As we start a new school year, I hope every teacher will take a moment to reimagine what education can and should be for every child. Be magical! Make possibilities a reality! #betherevolution”

I agree, let’s be the revolution our kids, and our world, need and deserve!  Let’s make play, creativity, joy, inventiveness, and innovation possible. We can do it. We can make them a reality in our learning spaces. We can give our students the opportunity to “flex their creativity in play.” We can help others experience and understand the value of play — for all of us.

Let’s stand in our power. Let’s be the magical creatures we are. Let’s be the revolution!

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A link to the report can be found on the Genius of Play website, along with a ton of great information and resources. Or, if you prefer, you can download a pdf of the report – Raising a Generation of Inventors: How Play Fosters Creativity and Innovative Thinking in Children.   

 

We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!