Possibility and Fantabulousness in Quarantine

The other day a colleague shared a link about how to force a copy to be made of a google doc, sheet, slide, or drawing, when you attempt to download it. What a great idea! Now no one has to remember to make a copy, or risk changing your original by mistake.

While I was on the Shake Up Learning site learning how to do that, I clicked on a few other things I found interesting. My absolute favorite was her magnetic poetry board that featured small white rectangles with black lettered words, waiting to be placed on a retro mint green refrigerator! Oh my GOSH!!! So good.

After playing for a bit, I noticed she had a free mini course about how to make the magnetic boards. I wasted no time clicking on that link.

I listened, played, and created a magnetic board for my Kindergartners. It was lovely, but a bit too complicated. Back to the drawing board I went.

Finally I decided I’d create a board that had space to create sentences in the middle, while holding the words on the top and bottom of the slide. This would allow the Kindergartners to create the sentences by clicking and dragging.

I shared it as an optional assignment.

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When you are finished with your other projects, please consider teaming with me as an Official Tester of Our Kindergarten Virtual Magnetic Words Board.

I can’t come put magnets on your refrig, so I had to do it on the computer. I learned some new skills, and used them to make word “magnets” as well as a place for you to create sentences, poems, lists, or other things we haven’t yet imagined, on your computer.

This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m not sure how it will work for you on your device, or how much you will enjoy it. But I’d really like to know.

If you’re ready to be brave, resilient, I can do it Kindergartners, click here. Make a copy, and see what you can do. Try it for a few days. I’ll be waiting for your thoughts, and your sentences.

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I was sure they would except the challenge. But, I had no idea what I’d get in return. I waited, with hopeful anticipation.

Slowly their responses began filling my email inbox. They were great! Each one showed me the spirit, resilience, and all around awesomeness of the student who did the work.

Their sentences speak volumes about who they are, how they see themselves, and what they are experiencing and thinking. I gotta say, they filled my heart with joy! Take a look at a few:

Yes, yes indeed, I do feel all the love!

Fantabulous, right? I included a few words in their word bank that were a little less than positive – yell, cry, worries. I added them to honor and validate the reality that we might want to yell, cry, or be worried. They didn’t choose them — except to suggest — after a long line of things they do — love, laugh, imagine, and create — they don’t yell. That actually made me laugh out loud.

Curious to consider, but true none-the-less, this fantabulousness happened because of the quarantine.

Because we’re home and not together in our school, I needed to rethink how to do what I would normally do in our classroom. How could I give them open ended opportunities to create with words? How could I allow them to share themselves and their ideas? How could I do some formative assessment?

Living during this pandemic I have a bit more time, and am experiencing a good deal more stress. So what could I do? I could try to follow my passion to learn and create. So when this opportunity to learn and get caught up in the flow of creativity came my way, I eagerly embraced it.

I think this fantabulousness also happened because of all the work we put in together pre-quarantine. Not just the work to develop skills, but the work to develop relationships.

Everything about our time together — even now — is about relationships. Relationships with arms, hearts, and big beautiful brains, wide open to embrace each other and all we bring to one another.

We say good morning, inquire how the other is, look each other in the eye, and share our thoughts ideas and feelings. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. Our relationship is based on trust, love, openness to possibility, wonder, willingness to risk, and mutual respect.

For sure, that relationship allowed me to take a risk, do something new, and ask my students and their parents to join me in my experiment. Undoubtedly it gave them courage and freedom as well.

We remain apart, but at the same time together — together in all our fantabulousness!

Notice Small Things

“They world is full of ordinary moments, and when noticed they become special.” Ruth Ayers

The other day — well actually it was months ago, but saying the other day soothes my heart. I miss my Kindergartners! So please, join me in imagining that it was just the other day that I was with them, rather than nearly two months ago.

The other day, in my Kindergarten classroom, the girls were dismantling their Lego creations. I couldn’t find the tools Lego makes to take the bricks apart. Even if I could find them we hadn’t made the creations on the Lego plates, so the tools wouldn’t have been that helpful. So, instead of the tools, I gave suggestions of ways to get the bricks apart, and lent my fingers when their fingers reached a snag.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of my girls working with incredible focus and intensity. She was getting her blocks apart like a champ! I wandered over for a closer look, and noticed she had created her own tool. She didn’t ask for help. She problem solved all by herself!

She was using a paperclip as her handmade tool!

I immediately abandoned any thought of the pre-made tools, and began sending everyone who asked for help to this sweet and ingenious girl. Each time I did, I said, “C figured out a way to make a handmade tool. Go ask her to teach you.” And, each time I sent a girl her way, she humbly and quietly showed them what to do.

Day two of Lego dismantling began with requests for paperclips. I recalled the one C had used the day before was small and silver, so I quickly found the small silver ones and handed them out. They didn’t work. I thought perhaps C had opened them the blocks a bit before she used the paperclip, so I suggested trying that.

From across the room, C noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She came over and said “They aren’t the right paperclips, Ms. James.” To which I responded, “They’re not? I thought you had the small silver ones.” To which C replied, with incredible patience and complete confidence. “Yeah, but not those.”

I think perhaps at that point I laughed. “Not these?”

‘No” C said, as she took the container from my hands.

She moved the paperclips around, clearly looking for something specific. I still wasn’t sure what she was searching for. Then I saw it! The day before I had borrowed several paperclips from a colleague. They were thinner than the silver ones we typically used, and they had tiny lines on them.

“See, Ms. James. These are the ones that work!” C said with a smile. “Oh my GOSH!” I replied. “I didn’t notice that, C. Thanks so much for showing me.”

Small things. They really are important. I’m glad I noticed C’s creativity and ingenuity, but if she hadn’t noticed the small things about her tool — the things I had overlooked — my noticing would have been much less.

She taught me a great lesson about being in the moment, present, observant, and focused. I love C and all my girls. They never cease to amaze me.

Hope and Create

Recently, I received an SOS — an invitation to be part of a group of bloggers making and experiencing magic by sharing our stories. I love their idea that “the magic of story happens when a story is released into the world and it wraps around someone’s heart.” Fantabulous, isn’t it? I hope this bit of my story wraps around someone’s heart bringing a sweet song of hope and peace.

Sometimes, being is difficult, because life is difficult. That is not to suggest in any way that being and life are not glorious, mysterious, and wonderful. They are! But, sometimes, there is uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and pain, amidst the glory, wonder, and mystery, and that can be burdensome.

This year has had some wearying moments.

I have an incurable — but totally manageable — form of cancer. I am well, I really am. I am strong, brave, beautiful, fantabulous, and very loved. And yet, sometimes, it gets the best of me. It has been becoming more active over the last few years. And that, as well as how it makes me feel – fatigued, sometimes ill and unsafe — has been hard to manage.

Did I mention wearying? Yes, I did. Part of me whispers “It bears repeating — weary.”

But even for the weary there is hope. I love Pope Francis! Listen to a few things he has said recently about hope.

“Hope does not disappoint!”

“Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us this very night.”

And not only hope, but creativity as well.

“I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty. It’s a time for inventing, for creativity.”

I am doing my best to breathe, and to live the words Pope Francis speaks to me, and to us. Let us live in the moment, even in uncertainty — with hope and creativity.

Start Small

I want so much to engage in the creative, to blog and share all my thoughts, to find that space of peace and flow that creativity brings me. And yet, I am experiencing feelings of tiredness, anxiousness, and worry, and these seem to keep me from being able to do any of that. Even as I sit at the keyboard, my head hurts, and my eyes well with tears.

But, I encourage myself, as I do my students.

“Just do something. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be you.”

So I thought I’d just start small, and share my new art teaching board.

Nice right? At other times, it’s the barn door to my bathroom. Makes me chuckle, because I often joke that my bathroom — with its easily cleaned tile floor — is my art studio for messy projects.

My students haven’t finished the project. They’ve actually only received the part one video, but they are already sending me messages and photos via their parents. One mom remarked, “I love watching her. The whole time she’s working, she’s talking to you.”

My heart is full.

New Tools, New Mindset, New Possibilities

Phew it’s been a stressful couple of weeks, and it looks like it may be a while before things even out. Thank goodness for creativity and the opportunity to play in my studio. I love getting into some creative project, experiencing flow, learning new things, observing, trying again, and just playing. It’s really an incredible blessing for me. It brings me joy, magnifies the positive, and lightens the negative. (By the way, my studio is wherever I happen to be!)

I picked up some Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons a few weeks ago, and threw them in my bag when I headed to DF for my cancer check up. I packed a back with all sorts of art supplies figuring it would help me zen out a bit, and not fret quite as much about whatever news I got. I was right!

Ok, back to the watercolor crayons. I haven’t used them very much, but after just a couple tries, I”m super intrigued by them. I recently came upon the advice to sketch everything, everyday. It seemed like a perfect way to use the crayons. I’ve adopted the advice as part of my daily practice. Being that I can sometimes have rather high expectations for my work, and a bit of a harsh inner critic, I decided to enhance my daily practice advice. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Sketch everything.
  • Don’t sweat the results.
  • When possible give those watercolor crayons a try.
  • Notice, think, wonder.
  • Breathe, smile, nap.
  • Repeat.

So, another day, another sketch. I decided to use the crayons to sketch, and then watercolor, one of my hiking photos. It was an interesting process — the physical, as well as the mental and emotional ones.

I photographed my progress at various points — just crayon, some watercolor action, the finished product. It was fascinating — still is — to see the piece at the various stages. They each have their own feel with different things to notice, wonder, and appreciate.

As I mentioned before, I’m intrigued by the crayons and how they work. I’m always amazed by watercolor paint. It’s incredibly forgiving, yet at the same time somewhat difficult to manage. There is so much more for me to learn about watercolor — how it moves, what is possible, how to remove it, how to add it, the different possibilities that are present when the paint is wet, and when it is dry — to name just a few. Sometimes I think I need to learn more in order to better understand it and control it, at other moments I think I need to surrender more to its will and just see what happens. Both are valuable approaches.

My brother was telling me about John Marin and the number of times he would paint the same scene. Marin has some beautiful work, that I think (hopefully he would not be insulted) I might be able to aspire to doing. Not as well as he did perhaps, but with the freedom he had, and the willingness to start again, and again, with a beginners mind and heart.

Mr resistance, or perhaps reticence and mild fretting, always surprises me. It’s difficult for me to embrace a beginners mind with regard to my product. I’m working on that. I think the sketch something every day idea will help me.

It’s funny isn’t it, that I experience some fretting over the same things I ask my K girls to do everyday. Right? Every day – usually many more than once — I ask my K to take these risks, try, enjoy the process, and to not fret quite so much about the process or product. As I type this I’m realizing I need to encourage myself to respond to my own angst, and my own process and product, they way I respond to theirs. I tell them not to fret, to just try, to not worry, to see their work and process as courageous and beautiful – and I completely believe and mean that when I tell them. And then, when I look at their work, I look with eyes and mind full of love, respect, admiration, and joy-filled expectation and surprise. That is the way I must interact with my work as well.

I’m facing my art shelves as I sit here. The newest painting is there amidst many other experiments, investigations, playing, and painting. It’s nice to look at it from afar, among all the other painting. It does give me a sense of space, of growth, and of possibility.

In the spirit of John Marin, and a great book I’m reading – Living Color by Natalie Goldberg – I may have today’s sketch and watercolor be worked from the same photo. But, perhaps more action and shape oriented, with unusual colors. Might I be able to convey other feelings? Might I enjoy the process? What will I learn? No idea. But, for sure, I’m going to approach it with a new mindset, and equally sure, I will have fun.

Tell Me More

I recently did a free-paint art project with my students. The only requirement was to paint something on the paper using the paint colors they had mixed during our color mixing activity. They love to paint, and being able to use colors they created intensified their enjoyment.

I moved around the room snapping photos, chatting with the girls, and putting finished works on the drying rack. On one of my passes I captured this.

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I was intrigued by the horizontal lines. I loved the structure and the contrast between the flowers organic shape and the horizontal lines.

After a bit of time I returned to this same artist. She was focused. She didn’t raise her head but continued to look and add, look and add.

Her work was so different than when I last saw it. I was intrigued. I loved it even more now then before. I wasn’t sure what was behind the flower, but I liked. I snapped a photo, and told her how cool I thought it was.

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She stopped painting, gave it one more look. and then with a gigantic smile and complete clarity, she looked up and said.  “It’s a flower growing in a library.”

Me: “Oh, wow … it is!!! That’s fantabulous!”

I snapped another photo, and continued the controlled chaos that art clean up sometimes is.

Afterwards I realize I missed an opportunity. I missed an opportunity to take a breath and a moment to let her tell me more.

Did she have that idea from the beginning?

Did it just happen?

Did her work remind her of a library?

Does she have a library with a flower in it?

So many questions. So many opportunities for connection, affirmation, wonder, relationship, joy, learning.

For some time, I fretted about not giving her that time.

Now I see it as a lesson and an opportunity for me to learn and grow as an educator and human being. And, I breathe easy remembering her focus, intensity, experience and smile. She was content.

I’m Taking That Home

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I’m making a pile of things I want to remember when I go to work. Gloves, scarf, hat, sunglasses, and paper towel rolls.

I almost recycled the paper towel rolls. But, as I held them in my hand, I flashed back to my classroom on Friday. This sweet, quiet, creative Kindergartner pointed to her bag and said “I’m taking that home, Ms. James.”

I looked down, and for a split second wasn’t sure she was talking about. Then I saw it — a paper towel roll. For another second I wasn’t sure where she got it. Then it hit me. We wipe tables after snack and lunch. The Kindergartners are each responsible for their own clean up. Her table must have finished their paper towel roll, and she, quick thinking lucky duck, had collected the roll.

She repeated. “I’m taking it home.” And, after a pause, explained, “I’m gonna make something with it.”

I said, “That is awesome. Can’t wait to see it.”

Clearly it’s time for more paper towel rolls in Kindergarten.

Magenta and Naples Yellow

I took some time to breathe, and make art in my art journal today. It was pretty fabulous.

My first few tries and marks were quite uninspiring. It’s part of the angst of having an art journal — those uninspiring or downright dreadful attempts. Sometimes it keeps me from working, or, I work but resist trying new things. Thankfully, today, I was able to set my angst aside. I covered my less than pleasing attempts with a lovely layer of white gesso, and, as simple as that, I was ready to go again.

I picked medium magenta, quinacridone magenta, and naples yellow from my acrylic paint box. Definitely not my typical color palette. Magenta, yes. Shades of magenta, sure. Naples yellow? Nope. Naples yellow and magenta? Big fat nope. But today, for whatever reason, the colors spoke to me, and I listened.

Then, I sorted through my collage stash looking for colors, words, images, or texture that worked with the colors on the page. I placed papers on the page, squinted, tilted my head, rearranged, and thought.

Eventually I made my choices — a mustardy yellow-brown page with mismatched fonts spelling possibility, a pinkish lotus flower, and a quote about failing. I went through the same process with the chosen papers – placing, adjusting, tearing, squinting, looking, and thinking. After a while, I was satisfied.

I loved the darkness of the water surrounding the lotus flower. But, I definitely needed another splash of darkness to tie that water to the rest of the work, and create a bit more balance. As with my initial work, my first attempt at adding darkness was less than pleasing. No worries, add a bit more collage. Perfect!

What about abstract lines and squiggles? I’d just seen someone play with them in their art journal. I liked the look, and it seemed a good and simple way to accomplish my goal.

Turns out I was wrong. It is fabulous, and it’s a good idea, but it is not easy — at least not for me. Who knew how difficult it can be make relaxed lines and squiggles? Certainly not me.

I’m going to do some “squiggle study” so I’m more prepared in the future. But for now, I forged ahead, and hoped for good things. I decided to include words in and with my squiggles. I allowed the natural flow of handwriting to inform my squiggle practice.

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I’m not completely satisfied with the result, but I like it quite a bit. And, perhaps more importantly, I am intrigued by the process, and enjoyed all the making, thinking, creating, and reflecting involved.

What I first noticed was that the uncharacteristic choice of naples yellow opened the door for the possibility paper. Then, the lotus flower in the intensely dark water encouraged me to add the black marks. My inability to make the marks the way I wanted caused me to add words and word-like doodles. As I looked, wondered, worked and reflected, I noticed more, and had more aha moments. Here are a few of my reflections.

POSSIBILITY – Possibility, and my openness to possibility, started and sustained the process.

LOTUS – What a great image. The color was lovely – a beautiful blush pink against that intensely bold dark water. Drops of water always fascinate me, so having them on the lotus was a bonus. And, everything the lotus stands for — growing from the depths of darkness, strength, movement, beauty — is fantabulous. I’m a big fan.

LOVE – The first word I wrote in my word-like scribble was love.Funny enough it didn’t seem to matter if the word could be read. Simply having it present made everything else possible. That seems true in my life as well.

ALL THINGS — All things are possible. All things, even those that seem impossible.

FAIL. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER. — That is just spectacular. There is so much to ponder in those three sentences. And, goodness gracious, there are so many things at which I should willingly fail, fail again, and fail better.

FEAR — As I thought about failing, and fear, my first thought was  — release fear. But, as I sat with that, I realized sometimes I really need to just embrace fear, and perhaps even be willing to simply coexist with it in peace.

CREATIVITY — My choice to be creative — to stretch beyond my comfort zone, try new things and risk failure — opened me to a myriad of experiences, joy, and realizations.

I love this stuff. It’s so very interesting. I could go round and round — possibility, love, fail, fail again, fail better, be fascinated, look, learn, see the possible, do the possible, do the impossible — and then start again at any one of those points.

Possibility is everywhere, and creativity is always an option. My plan is to seize, create, or just be peacefully open to possibility and creativity, with each breath, gaze, and thought.

Favorite Time of the Year

There are a lot of awesome times and moments each year. This is one of my favorites.

Finger knitting has begun.

They are SO into it. And, I am SO into them being into it!

I love their joy, enthusiasm, determination, and willingness to help each other. And I love being present to experience, document, knit with them, or help when needed or asked.

Those are my feet in the 3rd photo. Smaller and less central to the action than their fingers, hearts, and brains, but present none-the-less.

I love the image, and the reality.

I am present. I am still me. But somehow, they have become larger than me. Their agency, their work, their presence, is strong, beautiful, and grand.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling that I am not adequately explaining this experience. I have written, deleted, thought, written again, deleted again, and written once more as I try to more cogently describe the reality of these moments in time.

I have gotten closer, but still feel I fall short. It is as though there is something magical I just cannot express. And yet, it isn’t magic. It’s us.

Hmmm … perhaps that’s it. 

It isn’t magic. It is us. And yet, we — and our relationship and interactions — are extraordinarily marvelous, and delightfully fantabulous. I will continue to think, to write, and to re-write. But, for now, I will embrace the magic that is me, that is them, that is us.

 

Every Time

Teaching is not an easy job. It’s a great one, but certainly not an easy one.

Each day of teaching is a mix of incredibly awesome moments — joy, discovery, laughter, learning, negotiating, helping others, finding problems, brainstorming possible solutions, experimenting, exploring, being inspired – as well as frustratingly annoying and energy sapping moments.

In each moment it’s possible for us to be our best selves. Possible, but not simple or easily done.

I’ve been experiencing some of those difficult moments lately. Painful, frustrating, make me want to quit kind of moments. And then — thankfully — I got an unexpected, and lovely reminder that I shouldn’t quit.

One of my girls ran back into the classroom after being dismissed, and handed this to me. “Here. This is for you.”

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I love you too, my sweet, strong, and courageous girl.

This is why I work as hard as I do. This is why I am constantly learning, and why I always work to improve my practice. This is why I endure the angst and frustration.

I do it because I love these young humans. I do it so I am always prepared to help them – every time.

Thankfully, my mighty wee ones reach out and help me as well – every time.