Perspective

Looking to give my mind something interesting and positive to focus on, I grabbed my sketch book. Then, in a change of perspective, I made some of today’s medications the focus of my morning artistic play and study.

The first cylindrical container was pretty simple. But the others? Not so much. It seemed impossible to translate what I saw with my eyes into an image on the page. I saw shapes, but was unclear how to create them on the page.

Perplexed, I returned to looking, comparing, and analyzing. I realized the shapes I thought I saw, weren’t accurate. And, to my surprise, the slightest change in gaze totally changed my perspective, and hence what my eyes saw. It makes me chuckle to say I was surprised. But, I was.

At this point I abandoned my pen, and employed my blue pencil to sketch in the various shapes. That gave me the opportunity to try, re-look, and try again. I was able to have some aha moments, and finally create something that was satisfying and relatively accurate.

Then it was time to add color. I experimented with the loose watercolor technique I’ve been reading about. It’s interesting that the lack of precision — when embraced in a sort of organic, unforced way — added to my enjoyment of the process, and, I think, gave me a better product.

So, yeah, perspective. It’s remarkably important — transformative, even. How I looked at those bottles — with my eyes, and my heart and mind — made a difference in how I saw them. It was amazing how much they changed with the each change in my perspective — no matter how small. Equally remarkable was how difficult it was for me to see with accuracy, and translate that accuracy onto the page.

Rarely does the first look tell us everything. It may give us an abundance of information, but it leaves a myriad of other things yet to be discovered. Looking at things repeatedly from different perspectives opens us to new ideas, realizations, discovery, wonder, and awe. Unfortunately, we are frequently so enamored with success, knowing, and getting things right, that we forget, skip over, and devalue the incredible power of inquiry, exploration, and discovery of the more.

So, let’s grab our blue pencils, notice, think, wonder, make mistakes, be kind to ourselves and others, and learn! I’m betting our art, thinking, and world will benefit.


The Magic of Three

For some reason I like groups of three. I often put patterns of three in my art. I find power in the sounds of three words strung together — Breathe, pray, trust. I chuckle as I contemplate a plethora of wonderful blueberries.

This week my threes showed up as reminders to feed my mind with truth, beauty, and positivity.

Did you know, the neuroplasticity of our brain allows us to replace negative thought patterns with more truthful and positive ones? We aid our brain in this task by focusing more of our attention and inner conversation on these new thoughts. So, in praise of the magic of three, and in my never ending quest to program my brain for health, happiness, and holiness, here are three thoughts from this week that are true, positive, and, I think, beautiful.

It’s always good to try, isn’t it? — Liz Steel

Yes, in art and in life. It’s always good to try. Try to be grateful. Try to be kind. Try to be brave. And perhaps most importantly, try, even when it seems unlikely you’ll succeed. What’s the worst that can happen? You won’t be able to do it — yet.

Liz’s book is finally out of my mail quarantine. I’m fascinated by her sketches. I’m equally fascinated by how difficult it is for me to translate what I see with my eyes into a sketch on my page. None-the-less, it was remarkably satisfying to try!

“We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart.”
 Brother David Steindl-Rast

I am a huge Brother David fan. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to his audio book The Grateful Heart as I drive from one place to another.

If you haven’t read or listened to Br. David, stop reading this, click on this link, and listen.

Did you go yet? His spirit, voice, and words are a blessing. “Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. … Look at the faces of people you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face.”

I’ve decided to document my grateful noticing . Last week I jotted down things for which I am grateful. This week, I’m collecting scripture verses that I’ve experienced as gifts.

You are a true warrior!
I’m putting all those dates into my calendar to pray extra for you.
A friend

When I received this text message, I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed. It was amazing, in the midst of my fear, angst, and fatigue, to be reminded of the truth — I am a warrior, and I’m supported by my warrior friends.

As I looked for a photo to add to this magic of 3 thought, I came upon many ways I am a warrior — prayer warrior, positivity warrior, cancer-fighting warrior, sword wielding warrior, creativity warrior, teaching and learning warrior. None of them felt right for this particular connection. Then I found this photo.

It’s from a visit to the PEM. A large piece of art, lit from within, hung in one of their exhibition spaces. That light cast intricate shadows of the art on the walls. It was beautiful to look at as I stood in the doorway. When I stepped into the room, the light hit me as well, casting my image onto the wall. It was awesome.

At the PEM, the light from the piece of art projected an accurate image of me onto the wall. This time the light of my friend and her words, projected an accurate image of me onto my own heart and mind. I’m grateful for her, and every other amazing person who walks beside me, light at the ready.

Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity

Curiosity, courage, and creativity have been my constant companions these past few months. These three emotions, mindsets, and actions — they seem to be all three — help me survive and thrive with cancer; increase my experience of joy, awe, and wonder; and facilitate and strengthen my making and learning.

I’ve been making a lot of art lately. Perhaps because I have more time and opportunities for mindful engagement, I’ve had a uniquely fantabulous experience as I create. I seem to be able to watch myself make art — almost as though I were watching someone else. The closest I can get to explaining it is to say it’s like metacognition for art and creativity. I’m present, curious, and aware of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what I’m feeling, what I’m noticing, and what I’m thinking. I gotta say, it’s fascinating.  

I’ve been primarily studying and playing with watercolor and various kinds of sketching. The other day I watched a tutorial video with Liz Steele over at Art Toolkit. Wow, she has a beautiful process and product. I’m fascinated by her use of watercolor to lay down structure, and her balance between precise thinking and loose relaxed lines and painting.  Before I even finished the tutorial, I grabbed my watercolors, marker, and a black and white photo of a church I love, and set to work.

My curiosity  — Would her method work for me? How will it go? How will I feel?  Might I do that? Can I adopt her loose line method? Can watercolor really give me that structure? — combined with my love of making, gave me the courage to try.

Is it perfect? No. Was it fantabulous to try? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes. Do I want to keep experimenting? Yes. Do I have more questions now than when I began? Indeed! Did I buy another journal to use for my urban and life sketching? You bet!

I’ve since subscribed to Liz’s blog, found Urban Sketchers, am waiting with anticipation for Liz’s book to make it out of quarantine, and am resisting the urge to buy any other books. There’s so much to learn!

My curiosity propels me, and, I’m noticing, helps me to engage with my process and art in an almost detached way. I’m less worried about trying new things, and when I make mistakes, I recognize them as opportunities rather than disasters.

Here’s an example. I’ve been making folded books to send to friends during the pandemic. As I flipped through one of the books, I saw the same quote on two consecutive pages – UGH! I didn’t want to redo the whole book, and I wanted to maintain the structure of a single sheet folded and cut in such a way as to create a folded book. What was I to do?  I took a breath and a moment to think and wonder “How might I … ?”

After a bit I realized I could cut the page, and paste in a piece of my collaging stash.

By approaching the mistake with curiosity, I was able to see it as an opportunity rich with potential and possibility. The problem opened my eyes to ideas I hadn’t previously considered, and encouraged me to make connections I hadn’t yet made. It turned out to be a happy mistake as I discovered a new way to create the books while adding color, interest, and a unique place for me to add art and inspiration!

Curiosity isn’t always all I need. There are times I am curious and still afraid. Just the other day I was working on my purposely wonky mandala-like designs. I had finished the design and inked in all the various elements. I loved it. My plan was to add color with the watercolor glazing technique — laying down light layers to create shades and depth of color. But, as I looked a the piece I hesitated. Dare I take the next step? Dare I follow through on my desire to try watercolor glazing? Dare I let curiosity lead me to take the risk of putting color to the paper — and possibly wrecking it. Eeee gads.

I did all those things, but not without first stirring up my courage. It’s remarkable, really, how much courage I sometimes need in order to do things, even, and perhaps especially, things I very much want to do. 

I made a few copies of my work so I could begin to experiment with the watercolors before placing them on my design. As I played with the colors, I noticed how they interacted with one another, and how they presented when placed together. It was fun, it taught me a lot, and it increased my confidence.

While experimenting and painting my actual piece, I was constantly stopping, looking, thinking, wondering. I looked from different angles — sometimes by changing the angle of the paper, and at others the angle of my head. I read an article that suggested the angled head posture is a sign of curiosity — trying to understand, to see in different ways, and to orient our ears in a way to gather more information. How cool is that? I laughed to myself thinking, ah, that is what I do when I’m listening or deep in concentration — nice to know it suggests I’m always curious and helps me learn.

My painting process was a blend of intuitive work and critical thinking. I was happy to have the time, quiet, and opportunity to experiment, notice, wonder, and learn. I was fascinated by my eyes growing ability to distinguish between very subtle differences in color. It was interesting to become aware of the things I saw, and didn’t see, each time I looked. It seemed my brain was able to perceive new things with each new look — things my eyes had already seen but my brain hadn’t been ready to process.

I’m super happy with my process, and product.

So, back to my wonderful companions — curiosity, courage, and creativity. 

Curiosity.

Curiosity encourages me to engage and persevere. The curious person is constantly asking questions, and looking to discover new things. I love when it opens the door to new ways of seeing by pushing me to ask questions like why? and why not?

Creativity.

Creativity births new ideas and opportunities as I problem-find and problem-solve. Creative thinking encourages me to make new connections and see possibility.  It encourages me to be open to new ideas, and enables me to create things and ideas that didn’t exist before. Creative thinking is crucial in our ever changing and increasingly complex world.

Courage.

Courage fosters my curiosity, creativity, and learning. With courage I am more willing and able to take risks, think, and learn.

My best work, learning, and enjoyment come when I am curious, courageous, and creative. If my best work, learning and enjoyment are championed by curiosity, courage, and creativity, so too for my students.

So I’m back to asking questions, and thinking about why, why not, and how might we?

Metacognition:

Do I encourage metacognition– even in Kindergarten? Do I teach them the word? What structures are in place in my learning environment that encourage my learners to value their own thinking — sometimes even over the solution?  When do they have the time to notice, think about, and document their own thinking? Perhaps even more powerful  — how do I discourage it? What are the subtle ways I value the end result over the process?

Curiosity:

Do I value and model curiosity? Am I teaching my students to wonder, ask questions, and strive for understanding? Do I provide time, opportunity, and my presence to their questions, wondering, learning, and understanding? And again, how might I unknowingly or unintentionally discourage questioning and self directed learning?

Courage:

Do I honor the fear my learners may feel — especially when they are deeply invested in learning or doing something? What strategies do I teach them to help them increase their own courage? Have I created an infrastructure in my learning space that can help them find the right level of challenge — neither too easy or too hard — so as to grow their courage? Do my learners and I celebrate mistakes, and actively search for learning and beauty within our mistakes? Am I courageous enough to allow my learners to fail? Am I creative and sensitive enough to help them learn from their mistakes and fail forward? How might I be foiling their attempts to strengthen their courage?

Creativity:

Do my students understand the power of creative thinking? Do I encourage dreaming, wondering, fantastical ideas? Is there time in the day for my learners to experiment, tinker,  and make? Am I encouraging creative thinking as well as doing? Are my learners empowered to find problems that mean something to them, and search for solutions? Am I patient, courageous, curious, and creative enough to find ways to allow my learners to find their own answers and way of doing things? Do I share my creativity without usurping theirs?

So much to consider. For now, I will let these thoughts ferment in the deep recesses of my mind. I’m on leave, and need to focus my energy on my health.

Birds, Photos, and Stories


It’s a beautiful quiet morning. The breeze is cool and lovely, and everything feels like gift.

As I sit, I notice a bird on the power line, silhouetted against the morning sun. I grab my phone and take a few photos. Intrigued by the images, and chasing the perfect one, I take a few more.

It may seem silly to pay so much attention to birds sitting on a power line. Really, what’s the draw?

At first the draw was art and possibility. The birds seemed like a perfect subject, with great possibilities for pen, pencil, or watercolor.

With each photo, I noticed more and more, and as I did, curiosity, wonder, awe, and delight joined the party.

The sun was bright white, and at first the scene appeared black and white to me. But, as I studied the photographs I took, I noticed blue. Blue?! I gazed upwards at the actual scene. Sure enough, there it was.

I took one more shot, and was gifted with the moon!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wp-1598193208239.jpg

At some point, connection and making meaning rounded out my morning party.

Curiosity, wonder, delight, and awe have been my constant companions these past few days. They’ve been filling my thoughts as I make art, and popping up in my research and reading as a colleague and I construct new curriculum. This morning they were present like faithful friends, encouraging me to photograph, study, consider, and enjoy these birds on the wire.

And, speaking of faithful friends — birds! They tweet their remarkable voices in the woods while I walk, and in the yard while I sit. They flit in and out of the garden, and even venture bravely onto the porch near my chair. And, just the other day, they blessed my art world in this Art Tool-kit video on sketching birds, and this remarkable resource by John Muir Laws.

When I first noticed the bird perched on the line this morning, I grabbed his image for the artistic possibilities. I thought he might fly off, and I’d miss the moment. But he stayed, and was joined by friends.

I’ve been working on breathing, and trusting life and God during these unusual days of the pandemic. That work, the birds continued presence, and my peaceful noticing, brought to mind the great spiritual His Eye is On the Sparrow, and the scripture of how important the small and seemingly insignificant sparrows are to God.

Birds, photos, and stories. I love when everyday things come together to tell a story.

I am held, seen, and heard.
I am loved.
Beauty is always present.
Hope is always warranted.
There is always more.
More joy, more surprise, more awe,
More beauty, more possibility, more reason to hope.
Look for the more.
It is here.
Expect it.
Accept it.
Live it.

There are endless stories to tell. Make them good ones.

Who Am I As A Writer?

What an interesting question. At first my response was, “I really don’t know. I just write.”

But, on further introspection, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t ever, or rarely, just write. I always write to understand, to teach, or to create the perfect moment. Often I do it to create a space of positivity, affirmation, encouragement, and hope, that can be returned to as often as needed.

Sometimes I do it for me. Sometimes I do it for others. But it’s always the same. It starts with an idea, or a need, and it moves forward through many iterations. It’s a lot like my art making. I do it for the fun of the experience, the process, the flow, and the product.

I write and create art to tell stories — for myself and others.

More and more I am discovering and experiencing the power of stories. I want to fill the world, or at least my little part of it, with stories of goodness, truth, beauty, courage, and kindness.

That is who I am as a writer, artist, creative. Heck that is who I am as a human being. Or at least, it is who I strive to be.

Here is a shot of the latest story I am telling myself, and anyone who needs to hear it.

There is joy and possibility even in the wonkiness. And amazingly enough, sometimes there is great joy and possibility. I am loving the wonkiness of the mandala — created purposefully — and I’m thinking of working on a series!

Notice, Think, and Wonder

I’ve been wondering how to transform the building portion of our social studies work into something that the girls can do if they are at home, or at school with restrictions due to the pandemic. And, I’ve been thinking of ways to see the need for change and the limitations of the pandemic as opportunities rather than road blocks.

Our social studies builds include many opportunities for collaboration, thinking, spatial reasoning, community building, engineering, imagination, and communication. Often we do them with wooden blocks filling our maker space with buildings that the Kindergarten architects and builders must travel between with careful purpose. At other times the builds are even grander as our maker space becomes a supermarket with life size walls, working doors, and handmade products, cards, cash registers, and shopping bags.

I decided to give the PLUS PLUS – 240 Piece Basic Mix blocks a try. They come in a small tube, and seemed to have a plethora of ways one could use them to build, create, and tell a story. And, since they are small, creations could be made at a desk, and easily captured by a photograph to share with one another if we are working remotely. I bought a set for myself to experiment as I constructed lessons and provocations for the girls.

I was excited as I dumped the 240 pieces onto my desk. I can only imagine the joy the girls will feel. I was happy that even though there are 240 pieces they can stay in a rather small space, and since they have flat sides they didn’t roll away from me at any time.

I started my exploration by simply playing with them, and seeing what I noticed along the way. It was a lot!

My first noticings:

What do I like? Trees. Let’s see if I can make one.

My first inclination was to use the rectangular nature to create a bottom square base. I’m not exactly sure why. I almost think i was distracted from the nature of the tree, by the nature of the blocks. But no worries.

I noticed plus plus printed on one side of the blocks. I considered turning them so as not to see them — I found them distracting. So might some of my learners. It’s a good thing to notice, honor, talk and wonder about, but also to encourage the possibility of breathing through — especially as one is in the playing mode.

The square base seemed like a logical starting point. But instead of giving me a place to start, it became an obstacle as the sides are all different and made building up from the base quite difficult. Dare I say impossible? Perhaps, I will, but just for now.

My fiinal noticing for this shape helped me as I moved forward. You really have to be willing to fail, notice, think, wonder, and start again with no fretting. It’s a basic design thinking principle. There was actually a course at the Stanford d.school entitled “Fail Faster” highlighting the idea of failing early and often. I love that we can begin encouraging some of our youngest learners — and ourselves — to embrace a basic tenant of design thinking through the use of block play.

Failing Faster and Noticing more:

After being mesmerized by the rectangles, I decided to focus on the tree. I wondered if I could make a circular trunk? Close, but not perfect by a long shot, and it seemed to become more wonky as I added more blocks.

I felt a moment of frustration and then reminded myself — “It’s play, Molly. It’s about discovery, learning, and joy.”

So I considered embracing the imperfections. What story could I tell if I worked with the imperfections instead of against them? What could I learn by just moving forward? I imagined animals that might live in the tree, or that the spaces were the knots found in the wood grain. As I began to have more fun, I become more proficient, I actually began to find a bit of flow.

This is a big noticing I think. Play is important. Discovery is important. Joy is important. We need to remember that as educators. We need to model it, encourage it, and celebrate it.

My tree:

I love my tree!

As I looked at it, I imagined a classroom discussion.

The comments could be negative: “It’s got a really short trunk, and not many branches.” “I’ve never seen a trunk like that. Why is your trunk multi-colored?” Positive: “Wow. That’s awesome!” Selfdeprecating “Wow. I could never do that!” Seeking information “How did you do that?”

I noticed that my creation which made me feel so good, could become something that made me feel bad, made others feel inadequate, or could be a source of continued joy, discovery, collaboration and learning. It’s all in how we talk about it. It’s critical that we give our students the language they need to engage in positive, collaborative, respectful, learning driven conversations.

Simple phrases like — I notice. I wonder. Tell me more. What if? How might we? — are great ways to collaborate and share ideas. Oh! I’m reminded of the great questions in James E. Ryan’s Book.

His questions encourage conversation, understanding, and teamwork. Wait, What? I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least …? How can I help …? What truly matters? If you haven’t read his book, you should. It’s easy reading, funny, and super insightful. Imagine if you and your students embraced his 5 essential questions in the classroom, and life!

What else could we do?

I loved the idea of creating letters or favorite words. Again it wasn’t as easy or straight forward as it sounds. It was important to remind myself to play, and to stick to the basic form I was after rather than chasing a very elusive perfection. After I created my letters in 2D form I worked to add feet and allow them to stand. Interestingly enough, the different letters required different types of feet in order to stand. And, even though I was successful creating feet for one didn’t mean I could immediately create another pair — even tho they were the same!

This brought me to some critical thinking. It’s vital that we find a way to share this with parents. Play is important. Struggle, failure, noticing, wondering, trying again are integral parts of designing, but also of learning in all its forms! I want to construct some sort of a fact sheet for parents that gives them the same phrases we want their children to use, and helps them understand play, and how they might enhance their children’s play and learning!

My last noticing and thought is, funny enough, I think I want to open each tube and remove the instruction sheet. I found it a hinderance to my play and discovery. It was quite prescriptive rather than inspiring. It’s unfortunate because the blocks have such potential. I found this video showing children playing with the blocks. It was inspirational, so I might direct parents to it at some point. But really I want to steer them away from the already done and encourage play, trust, try, do, learn!

Testing my theory:

Is play, trust, try, do, learn really the best approach? I decided to find a video that showed how to make a top. It was made by a kid, which was fantabulous. It was fun to watch, learn, and create. I learned a bit about how the blocks can fit together. But, I must say I was also left at a stand still. What could I do with those blocks? There is value in learning to make a shape I am sure, but I think there is a danger as well — of getting stuck, of thinking that is the way to go, of wondering if you need someone to tell you what to do.

So, yes, play, trust, do, question, learn. It’s the way to go! Now to embrace that as I notice, think, wonder and create spaces for block play and learning in social studies!

Lists

I’m part of a fab blogging community. This week’s invitation was lists. When you can’t write, or don’t feel like writing, write a list.

I didn’t immediately respond to the prompt. Instead I made books.

I sent them to a handful of friends. As I was putting them in the envelopes, my mind turned to random acts of kindness, and of others I could gift with these little books. Then I thought “Me! I want one.” So, in the spirit of being kind to myself, my name was added to the list!

Turns out I was making lists, I just wasn’t aware of it.

As I added color to the pages I thought, “OH! This book is actually a list … of sorts.” Then, while photographing and processing the photos for this post, I was struck by how blessed I am, and chuckled “Another list — gratitude.”

And just like that, I went from no lists, to several lists.

I’ll share the book, and simply encourage you to create your own list of gratitude. It can start as a very small list. But whether it is small, medium or large, be open to it growing. In my experience as soon as I begin to take note, and be grateful, I notice more. It’s as though my eyes and mind are more able to not only see, but to perceive, the plethora of blessings in each moment.

Gotta love lists!

I love these one page folded books!

Courage through Kindness

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Kindness makes a difference in the difficulties surrounding me — whether they be deeply personal, or impact the entire human race. Kind thoughts, words, and actions assuage feelings, soothe souls, and make things right, or at least, more right. On the other hand, unkind thoughts, words, and actions, make everything more difficult, and more dark.

I’m saddened by how remarkably easy it is for us as  humans to adopt attitudes, behaviors, and words that are unkind. Lately, to make matters worse, unkind acts seem to be more readily accepted, magnified, justified, and even cheered on in news reports and on social media.

Enough is enough.

I’m reminded of the scripture “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what ever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4) Kindness in thought, word, and deed, is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, so I am going to think and speak of them a bit.

Let me tell you about an act of kindness done directly for me. I got an email the other day with the subject “Have courage!” These three young friends learned I wasn’t well, and decided to do something about it. They wanted me to find courage — to fight, to win, to get well, and to be ok in the process. Their desire was kind. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

But, they weren’t done. They didn’t just wish me well, and encourage me to be strong. They chose to think and act with creativity and kindness, and actually send me courage! How fantabulous are they? The canvases are en route and I can’t wait to receive them and hang them.

Courage, love, and kindness coming my way!

These girls reminded me of Leon Logothetis. If you don’t know Leon, it’s worth your while to give him a look. His gig and mission is highlighting the good in humanity, and if you ask me, being a champion of kindness. His definition of kindness is: The act of truly seeing someone and making them feel less alone.

That is what these three girls did. They saw me. As my kindergartners would say “They REALLY saw you, Ms. James!” and they made me feel less alone.

I chose the title of this post — Courage through Kindness — to highlight the courage that I received through these lovely humans’ kind thoughts and deeds. But as I wrote the words, I thought “Kindness is a form of courage.” To choose to think and act in kind ways is courageous — and fantabulous. I am honored and blessed to know these three and their families. Their kindness and love is powerful. I trust their love and kindness — and they themselves — will only grow in might, beauty, and influence. Reminding myself of that fact, I release a bit of worry, and breathe a bit easier for the present, and the future.

Playful Learning, Reflection, and Possibility

Yesterday a fantabulous colleague and I presented — virtually — about maintaining play as a core learning resource as we move forward this school year. It was spectacular to dig into the research, and then enthusiastically share our findings and thoughts with one another. I never cease to be amazed by the power of play in our lives — whether we are kids or adults!

Classroom culture is a key component of play and playful learning. Collaborating with Maribel was the perfect example of that — she is a beautifully kind, joy-filled, and playful educator. Much of our time was spent laughing and saying “Oh yeah! And then we could do this …” Positivity, listening, sharing ideas, practicing “yes, and” and being willing to risk and play, made our time together super productive and enjoyable.

We talked a lot about our classroom culture. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How will it exist, change, or stay the same, if we aren’t together with our kids in the classroom.

How might we create — and help our students create — our classroom, culture, and community when we are separate from one another? Where are our bulletin boards to share art, ideas, work? How do we post our inspirational messages and quotes? If we are stripped of the comfort of our communal learning space how might we recreate it in our own individual homes? We’re all different, with different homes, different comfort levels regarding sharing, and different ideas of what is appropriate for school. How might we enable opportunities for equity and comfort within our own homes for ourselves, our students, and our students’ families?

We had so many questions — which felt a bit daunting — but we decided to look at them as opportunities.

As we speculated, I chuckled and mentioned Sesame Street: Elmo’s World News. Each of the muppet characters created their own cardboard set for the news cast. “Perhaps,” I suggested ” We could have our students make some sort of classroom background for themselves.”

“That’s perfect! Each student can create their own personal classroom at home. They’re doing that anyway, now they’ll actually make the walls,” said Maribel. “Everybody has boxes now. We don’t even have to buy anything!”

I didn’t have to buy anything, but I did have to rescue a box from the porch before the storm hit this week. So rescue I did. Then, in rescue mode, I noticed all the treasures hiding in my recycling bin. As Tropical Storm Isaias raged outside my windows, I got to work.

Occasionally the storm grew in intensity and pulled my attention away from the work at hand. But, for the most part, creating my walls occupied me so fully that I was granted a respite from any worry about the storm. I experienced flow of playful learning as I wondered, thought, researched, drew, painted, measured, cut, folded, looked, tested, and reworked. It was a great experience of the power of play.

I had so much fun creating, thinking, tinkering, and making. And I must say I learned a lot — about construction, possibility, perspective, and much more. Here are my homemade classroom walls.

All that’s missing is me!

I chuckled at just how much it is me. Even in the classroom I rarely if ever put colored paper or boarders on the bulletin boards. I want the student work to be the highlight and pops of color. I much prefer making things to using store bought things. I’m always intrigued by various types of design and engineering one can do with paper and paper like products, and I love making unexpected connections. Even my laptop stand and table were improvisations — a stack of canvases and my ironing board!

As I sat in front of my homemade classroom walls, and watched myself present for the virtual workshop, I was reminded of some of my Kindergarten learners who were anxious about this unusual method of being together. They were only able to join us on our synchronous calls if they were participating from within their cardboard box fort. We established a few rules, and it worked remarkably well. But, as I saw myself surrounded by cardboard I thought — Wow! Talk about a great equalizer. If I had thought about this in the spring we could have all been in our cardboard creations together.

As I created, I realized there are a zillion ways to use this for playful learning at any age or ability level. Here are some of my thoughts:

Differentiate the possibilities for age, ability, and purpose. Which of the following would you encourage?
* only color
* color and decorations
* words or sentences
Imagine the possibilities for learning through the play of making the background. Might you encourage engineering exploration and problem finding/solving?
* Add 3 dimensional elements – shelves, containers, doors, drawers, or a spinner.
* Create the 3D elements using found objects.
* Create the 3D elements from scratch.
* Create the 3D elements from a combination of found objects and from scratch.
Imagine the possibilities for assessment through the play of making the background. How might our learners show what they know and have learned with their background? I am finding a ton of thought provoking ideas for this from Tony Ryan’s Thinkers Keys.
* Create a background that represents a particular artist without specific artwork or name.
* Create a set to use for a video presentation showcasing learning.

A large part of my playful learning happened because I reflected upon my thought and working processes. Sometimes I think we as educators give the impression that fast work, done well the first try, is somehow the goal. But, I find it’s in the iterations, failures, research, struggle, and problem finding/solving that I experience the most joy, satisfaction, and learning. So, I’m going to encourage my learners to reflect and document their own process — including the ways they failed, and failed forward.

Enabling our learners to engage in reflection and documentation will add to their experience, and our understanding of them. Don’t let their age or ability stop you or them. There are so many ways they can document — photos, writing, recording videos. It’ll be great. I promise.

The Power and Solace of Creativity

I’m feeling quite ill today. Took my chemo meds this morning – so it is to be expected. It helps to rest in the cool, quiet, darkness of my room. While I do, with any energy I have, I pray, and think of ways to help myself find more strength, more joy, and more ease.

The first time I did cancer treatment, I kept a journal of all sorts of wonderful thoughts and prayers people sent me. For some reason it’s been difficult to do that this time.

None-the-less, I’ve made an agreement with myself to make an art journal of encouragement and beauty. So, I direct my thoughts to that.

What might help me now, and inspire me each time I turn to it? I am drawn to the power of words and images, so I set to work.

I carefully choose and craft the images and words. Repeatedly I read the words. I let their meaning and sound fill the space around me. I notice how they make me feel. I search for words that create the palpable sensation I seek. Then I string them together in ways that increase their power. My hands shake as I lay down the words and images. Interestingly enough, I’m able to breathe through that and actually allow it to form my drawing in ways that please me.

Do I still feel ill? Yes. But I also feel soothed.

The power of creativity – in thought, design, word, and deed – is strong. I think I will take my journal back to bed with me, and rest with it in my hands. I will imagine the sweet smell of beeswax and roses seeping out — bathing me in warm, luscious peace, as my sister and brother Saints sit and keep me company.