Teach for Delight: Part 2

I had a parent teach conference the other day. As we talked about the many ways the Kindergartner had grown and blossomed, the mom said “Her handwriting is the one thing I think can still use work.” I chuckled, agreed, and then said “But — and I mean this in the best possible way — I think her handwriting hasn’t improved because she doesn’t care about it. She isn’t invested in it.” Now it was the mom’s turn to chuckle. “Oh yeah, you’re absolutely right. She just wants to get it done so she can move on to something else.”

As I went about my day that stayed on my mind. I recalled this post of mine — Teach for Delight. How might I infuse our handwriting work with a bit more delight? Even saying it sounds funny, but I’m sure there is a way. Here are some of my first thoughts: practicing words they love, writing to people they love, writing sentences and phrases they love, writing jokes, making name tags, decorating their cubbies and the room. The possibilities are endless. I just need to embrace the idea that interest and delight are important and possible — even with handwriting — and then set to making it happen.

I thought about teaching for delight again last week as I prepared for art. My curriculum has many fantabulous inspiration artists, coupled with processes and products that are Kindergarten friendly and appropriate. The Kindergartners enjoy art, and their products are beautiful. But, I was sensing that there was just too much structure for them at the moment. They needed the freedom to simply and completely play. They needed an assignment that allowed them to embrace the process and product with the smallest amount of outside interference possible.

I thought and thought. What artist might we use? How can we do it in the time allotted? How might I structure it so that their process and product would be enjoyable and satisfying? I quickly landed on finger painting as the process. But, how to elevate it a bit to show them, and others, that their work is indeed art? That was a sticking point for a bit of time. Finally, I decided I could help by taping a boarder on their paper, and by trusting them as artists.

With a good bit more thinking, I had the process and rules in place.
* Each artist could choose up to 4 colors.
* Each artist must do at least one practice piece, but could do a total of three.
* Each artist would be kind to themselves and others by:
not touching their face or hair,
not touching their friends,
walk with clasped hands when walking around the room.
* I will prepare a tray, paper, and a paint holder/plate for each artist.

When I announced the project, there were audible gasps and expressions of delight. They listened intently as I explained the process and rules. They were patient, but clearly wanted to get started right away. I told them I would let them know when we were nearly half way through the class so that they could know they should begin working on their final piece. They all agreed that they understood, and had no questions, so I began handing out supplies.

Each artist placed their tray — lined with construction paper — at their spot. They placed one 9X12 inch practice sheet on top of the tray, and one underneath the tray. If they wanted to keep their practice sheets they placed their initials on the back. If they wanted to donate it to the maker trolley for everyone to use, they left the page blank. Then, they picked up their paper plate and stood in line for paint. Their choices were deliberate and purposeful. Each artist was clear about the colors they wanted to work with for this project. Once they received their colors they began creating.

It was interesting to watch the various ways they chose to interact with the paint. Some worked with one color at a time. Others worked with a few at a time. Some worked with one finger. Others worked with both hands, covering the paper — and their hands — with color. On some pieces the colors were distinct, on others the colors melded into one.

I wandered around the room, stopping at each artist’s work to comment on what I noticed. I frequently said “Oh! That is lovely! What a great idea. I never thought of doing that!” I also asked “Are you finished?” Most of the time, the artists responded to my question with a definite “No.” I was committed to allowing this to be a moment when I taught for delight, and to respecting the fact that this was their piece of art and delight, not mine, so each time I responded, “Okay.”

Sometimes that’s a difficult place for us to stand as educators. But, it truly doesn’t matter if I think it’s beautiful. It matters that the artist thinks it’s beautiful, and it matters that I respect that. The only time I intervened was if I thought the paint was so thick that it might crack off the page, or if artist’s hands were dripping wet after washing and were likely to destroy their paper or process.

The results — in both process and product — were remarkably varied and beautiful.

The delight they experienced helped them to be more invested in the process. Being invested in the process helped them stay on task. Seeing, experiencing, and supporting their delight helped me to breathe a bit more, which allowed for there to be increased relaxation and ease in our learning space. All in all, it was lovely, and served to reinforce my believe that teaching for delight is essential.

You Are Loved

My Kindergartners have been choosing a name from the kindness cup each morning. They make something for the person they choose. Sometimes they ask me to help get the person away from their desk so they can leave their messages secretly. Other times they leave them in each other’s cubbies.

Today, as I gathered my things after a very long day, I saw this in the cubby nearest my closet.

What a gift.

I hope the Kindergartner who was gifted this gem felt its power. I did.

I’m grateful for this act of kindness. I’m grateful it was left behind today and I got to see it. And, I’m grateful for the reminder that kindness doesn’t stay with the one to whom you give it, but instead, reaches out to bless others.

What’s the Goal?

And just like that, she’s done.

As I finished putting her together, I thought, “She looks pretty good, not perfect, but pretty good.” Since my inner critic was in a talkative mood, I engaged. “True, but is perfection the goal?” I wasn’t being sassy. I was genuinely inquiring. We were both quiet for a bit.

Then I noticed the words “think of all the beauty.” I didn’t specifically pick them to be part of this piece. They fell out of my box as I was choosing other things. But, I noticed them. And, I let them speak to me. Once they spoke, I knew they were the answer, and I knew I had to figure out a way to include them in this piece.

That’s the goal. Think of all the beauty — in art, in life, in ourselves and others. Think of all the beauty.

Learn, be, create, enjoy, and think of all the beauty. Notice it. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Celebrate it. And, preach it.

So, my art and I sit here and preach on. Think of all the beauty.

Making Friends with my Inner Critic

The other day I got to go to the infusion suite and get some monoclonal antibodies — to, fingers crossed, help protect me against any Covid infections. As I got ready to go, I loaded up my backpack with things I might read or do to help me relax while I was there. A couple books, a magazine, a small notebook, a few favorite pens and pencils, my phone, and my rosary all made the cut.

As I was settled into the waiting room, I pulled out my copy of Creative Acts for Curious People. I was intrigued by Act #1 by Charlotte Burgess-Auburn. She suggested the act might help to silence my inner critic a bit. Or, perhaps more correctly, help us work better together. Too often, our inner critics are constantly evaluating instead of allowing us to experiment, play, and create without judgement. We want our inner critic’s opinion, but it’s often helpful if we first have the opportunity and freedom to just look, see, think, do, and make without continual critiquing.

Charlotte tasked me to find someone in my field of vision, and then draw them. To avoid conflict with my inner critic, I was to draw the person without looking away from them at my paper, and without lifting my pen from the paper. As I waited to be called in, I glanced about the waiting room to find a subject. I sketched for just a few moments, but quickly stopped, as It seemed too intrusive for me to focus on one person, without looking away for any length of time. I put my notebook and pen away, and waited for a more opportune time to try again.

Once in my recliner and little personal space in the infusion room, I pulled out the book and notebook again. I couldn’t see anyone else, so I looked about my space to see what else I might attempt to draw in the way Charlotte suggested. I decided on the shelf that sat next to me, heaped with supplies the nurses gathered just in case I had an allergic reaction.

I sketched, doing my best to find my place on the page, as well as try to figure out how to create the shapes of the various items, and the space between and behind them, without lifting my pen from the page. I was using a rather small notebook, and one of the most challenging and interesting things to accomplish was figuring out how much space I had left on the page.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the drawing. It was no masterpiece for sure, but it resembled what I was trying to capture. I tried once more — including the IV machine and plug. Again, I was quite pleased with the result.

It may look like nothing to you, but I can pick out the various items. A purple roll of tape, a blue elastic, bags of stuff, the IV pole and machine, the blue plug and grey cord plugged into the electrical socket next to the sockets for plugging in your USB should you want to charge your phone, and the slatted divider between my section and the next.

I enjoyed the process and the product. For some reason it allowed my creative inner self and my inner critic self to be friends – kind to one another, learning from one another, rather than competing. As I looked at my sketch a bit more, I was struck by the looseness of the work. It was a feeling I’ve been searching for — and being eluded by — in my art and sketching. I’m going to try this more often when I’m out and about! Today I gave it a go with a small nativity set I have keeping me company on my window sill.

Again, it’s not a masterpiece. But, it is recognizable. To quote my brother “I knew what you were drawing when I looked at it.”

When you have a moment, give this creative act a go. Don’t fret. It’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to teach your things, help you make friends with your inner critic, and be fun. If you do give it a try, let me know how it goes.

I’m wondering if this is something I can try with my Kindergarten artists and how I might best present it to allow them to have an equally positive experience. If I try it with them I’ll be sure to write about it.

By the way, when I looked at my first photo in this post, I noticed the 10 speed press symbol. I looked it up to find out more. It’s part of the Crown Publishing Group. I include the link as you might enjoy giving it a look. I’m checking out their online magazine Taste, chuckling at these two seemingly competing ideas — We’ve underestimated Sprinkles and Roast Your Greens – Even the Delicate Ones.

Talent? Or, Play and Process?

I embarked on some spring cleaning the other day. To my delight, amidst the piles of things to go through, I discovered a few Barnes and Noble gift cards. The best part is, they still had money on them!!! (By the way, are you wondering why I’d be delighted to find a gift card with no money on it? I wouldn’t be as delighted as I am now, but I’d be happy, because they are nice substitutes for palette knives, and they’re free!) The cards had enough money on them that I was able to buy a cooking magazine for my mom, a magazine about Johnny Cash for my dad, and a Keto bread baking book for my brother. Today I bought some ingredients we needed to make wheat free keto bagels! Can you say “Oh, my, GOSH!?

But I digress.

This is what I bought for myself.

The cover gave me a great idea of how to combine two art projects into one that I think will have my Kindergarten artists quite enthralled. But, the inspiration doesn’t end there. There’s a ton more inside, along with — like it says — artist papers and interactive pages. How can you contain yourself? Go buy it now! And, alas, no, I won’t get a commission if you purchase this magazine. I just think it will make you happy, and give you ideas for more creativity and art in your life, and that would be fantabulous.

After flipping through the book, I marked a few spots with paper clips, and set to work on a project of torn paper collage. This particular collage was small in scale, and relatively simply in form. The artist used one set of torn paper to create a background, and then another to create a person in the foreground. Her work was amazing, and her paper choices were great – one particular choice made me laugh out loud it was so awesome.

After reading her instructions, and studying her work a bit more, I pulled out my paper stash, and began picking papers I might use in my art. For my background, I chose papers with text from a handwritten and printed. I allowed my choices to be a combination of purposeful and random. I moved the papers around until I was satisfied with the layout, and pasted them to my base.

I went back to my stash to find the papers I wanted to use to create the image of the girl. I picked out a few different ones, placed them next to one another, and imagined them as the various parts of the girl. I ripped a few and tried them again next to one another. I rejected some as others came together into a pleasing semblance of face, hair, and body. I looked at my compilation from various angles. I re-ripped and re-placed. I added my own twist to the form of the girl so that I could see words I had purposefully chosen to have in the background. I lost track of how many times I said, “Hmmm, I wonder … ”

Finally I got to a stage that was photo-worthy. I want to remember how I placed her so as not to lose that inspiration as I continue to think. I’m loving the way it looks now but I’m also pretty sure there is more to come. This stage is lovely, but it’s also a bit safe. There’s a lot of wondering and thinking I’m going to have to test out before adding it to my work.

Do I want to do an acrylic wash on the background?
Do I want to add a color to the edges of the ripped pieces making up the girl? What color?
What facial features do I want to add?
Do I want to keep it as a card, or cut it and frame it?

I shared this image with a friend. She said, “You’re so talented” Then, she chuckled and said, “How come you’re so talented?” She’s the second person to tell me how talented I am in as many days. I should probably take it as a sign to embrace, accept, and celebrate the talent I have been given. And yet, at the same time, I want to point out that I don’t think I’m that much more talented than anyone else.

What I am is super willing to try, and try again and again. I sit with things, look at them, take them apart, and wonder about what I notice. I love to play. Sometimes I play just for the fun of it — not noticing anything I learned until later. Other times I play in order to discover if there are new ways to do things, or ways to synergistically combine things, or ways to switch things up to make something even better.

So, am I talented? Yes. Am I crazy talented more than everyone else? No.

Everyone is creative and artistic — yes, even you! And, everyone can be more creative and more artistic. You just have to take a breath and give it a go. Put in the time, the thought, and the energy. Have fun, play, and trust the process.

This happened …

I love when my teaching days are filled with moments of wonder, awe, and delight. To be clear, I think there are many such moments that pass by without any big noticing on my part.

Not so this week and last. These moments were palpable and beautiful. I had my girls work with acrylics on 30×40 inch canvases. I only had two weeks to finish the project so I divided the canvases into 4 sections. Each artist worked on a piece of art nearly 15×20. This in and of itself is magical — though not without bits of angst as some artists ignored the boarders placing their paint in their neighboring artists work. We did our best to remove any errant paint. I think sometimes I was more annoyed than the offended artist. So I breathed and stepped back into the joy of the moment.

First they practiced various line types on large sheets of paper using permanent markers. Then they grabbed brushes and with incredible bravery began making the lines on the canvas! Here are three of the canvases. We did six.

A few of the artists were moaning after just a bit of work. “I don’t like mine. It’s terrible.” I refused to accept their defeat, telling them they could not make that judgement. They were amazing artists, and kind kindergartners. Would they ever say that to one of the other kindergarten artists? They both replied “No.” I continued with no softness. “Then do not say it to yourselves! Do not be so unkind to yourself. Do you have a big beautiful brain? Do you have an awesome heart? Can you do hard things?” To each question they nodded. “Then believe in yourself, use them, and do this hard thing!!!”

Here are their masterpieces.

Two of the artists were absent so they still must add color, but the others have finished. As they removed the tape boarders, their amazement at their own work was evident. It was a moment of delight for us all.

Is it too much to ask that my days always be filled with wonder, delight, and awe? I think not. I must just change my focus to see it, and do my best to facilitate it.

Six Impossible Things

The other day my Kindergartners and I were all feeling a bit out of sorts. All manner of things seemed to be wrong in our bodies, minds, and hearts. It seemed to be a steady stream of young ones coming to me to say (among other things) “My head hurts. My nose hurts. I miss my mom. I miss my dad. She was sassy to me. That was mean. I can’t do it. I’m tired. I don’t feel good. My belly hurts.” Their hurts and wonkiness were poking at all my hurts and wonkiness.

I realized we all needed a moment to regroup, and hopefully find a bit of ease and release from this ick that seemed to have settled on and in us. So, before we did anything else I said, “Hey Kindergarten!” They responded “Hey Miss James.” as they each did their best to give me their eyes, ears, brain, and body. Looking around and making eye contact with each one, I continued. “I’ve been noticing that a lot of us aren’t feeling so good. Would you be willing to do a little breathing with me?” We do breathing, mindfulness, and mindful movement with some regularity so it wasn’t a totally unusual request. They were willing.

We took a moment to become aware of our breath, to find a comfortable seat and a comfortable place to rest of our hands. I asked them with each inhale to imagine breathing peace and ease into any spot in their bodies, minds, or hearts that felt less than good — maybe it felt tight, or painful, or just kind of wonky or icky. Then I asked them to imagine exhaling the ick with each out breath. “Perhaps,” I suggested “you might imagine the pain or difficulty turning into sparkles or beautiful flowers as we exhale.” After we took a few breaths like this, I asked them to shake their arms and hands, imagining the last bits of ick, coming off their fingertips like glitter.

I’m not sure what I said as we finished, but one sweet Kindergartner with ginormous eyes, looked at me and said, “But it’s just our imagination, Miss James.”

I hesitated for just a split second, and said “You are absolutely right! It is our imagination. But, our imagination is amazing, and powerful, and beautiful.” Those big eyes were locked with mine, and I know all the others were watching and listening intently. “Our imaginations are powerful. They help us believe in ourselves. They help us do things we didn’t think we could do. They help us have fantabulous ideas of things to create, and make, and do, and say. Our thoughts make a difference!”

I could tell she wasn’t completely convinced so I mentioned something I knew they would all understand. “Have you ever been afraid at night? Have you ever imagined there’s something scary in your room? It seems so real, right? And the more you imagine it, the more real it seems. Even when your parents come and show you every thing is good and you’re safe, sometimes your imagination is still talking to you, making it hard to believe them.” There were nods of agreement. I continued, “Well our imagination is just as powerful for good things, too! When we imagine the pain and ick and wonkiness leaving our bodies, minds, and heart, sometimes it helps it to actually leave.”

As I drove home that day I was thinking about how amazing it would be to be able to figure out a way to teach the Kindergartners about the power of their brain, their thoughts, their imagination. I wanted to teach them about the connection between our brain and our bodies. I wanted to figure out ways to teach them about the fact that our brains have a tough time distinguishing between what is happening to us, and the stories we are telling ourselves.

As I was brushing my teeth that night, I noticed this magnet. It’s been on my mirror long enough for it to have lost some of it’s umpf. But this night I read it with the conversation fresh in my mind.

Yes! Practice. We must choose to believe, and we must practice. We must use our imagination to help us believe “impossible things.” The world is in great need of belief in impossible things — or, maybe it’s just me. Belief that God loves me, is with me, is working for my good — even amidst the craziness of life these days. Belief that I am making a difference, every day — even when I don’t feel it. Belief that I am deeply loved — even to the extreme that I read in a saved note from a dear friend “Everybody loves, Molly.” Belief that life is good, all is well, and all will be well. Belief that hope, and faith, and joy, and peace, and beauty is possible.

I’ve moved the magnet to my side table. I look at it and remind myself — yes, life is tough, yes, it’s not easy to believe all those things or a myriad of other “impossible things.” But, it is possible!

So, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, I’m practicing my positive, hopeful, faith-filled thinking — believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast as often as I remember. I’m trusting it will rebuild the muscles of my faith, my trust, my joy, and my relentlessly positive mindset.

Then, after breakfast, I’m imagining, believing, and affirming way more than six impossible things for all those in my learning space.

Yes, you can read!
Of course you can do it. Try.
What do you think? Yes, you absolutely can add those together.
The monkey bars? Yes, you can do it.
Imagine it happening.
Close your eyes. See yourself doing it. Now give it a go.
I know you’re afraid. That’s ok. Do it anyway.
Yup. I’m right here. Nope. You don’t need my help. You can do it.
Didn’t do it yet? It’s ok. What did you learn? Can you try again?
You did it!

Share Your Gratitude

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

It’s been a long few days with my Kindergartners. It seems like I was constantly having to bring them back, constantly having to ask for their attention, constantly having to scold them in some way. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t actually constantly. There were many moments of marvel, joy, laughter, love, and all around fantabulousness. Those beautiful moments far outnumbered the frustrating angst filled ones. And yet, those moments that were less than I hoped for, those moments when I was less than I hoped to be, weighed heavy on me. I struggled to figure out what I might do, and how to get both them, and me, back on track.

With that on my mind and heart, I headed to my coaching gig. As I entered, I ran into a friend. “Hey!” I said, smiling under my mask. Seeing me she said, “I’m sorry, I just have to …” as she reached in and gave me a hug. I laughed out loud as we embraced before hurrying off to be with my HS athletes.

At the end of the night I popped over to say goodbye and my friend handed me a bag and a lovely vase of flowers. “What’s this?” I asked. “Just a little something to say thank you.” she replied. I thanked her, and gave her a tight squeeze as we got her daughter to take a quick photo. Then, we were both on our way.

My way included having to wait with some athletes whose parents hadn’t yet arrived. I was tired and none to happy to have to wait. But wait I did, and as I waited I opened the bag, read the card, and looked at the gift. In the card, my friend detailed the first time she met met me. She was late to pick up her daughter and I waited, outside, with her daughter. I made sure she got into the car alright, and pleasantly said hello before heading off for the night. She told me how much that relatively small act meant to her. The note, the flowers, and the gift — You make a difference. That’s all. — touched my heart and mind. They were the one grateful thought that allowed me to see the truth, take a breath, and find some peace.

How amazing, right? Her gratitude for my waiting with her daughter came at the moment when I was miffed at having to wait, in my exhausted state, with someone else’s daughter. Her acknowledgement, affirmation, and gratitude for the difference I make in the lives of others — with the smallest of acts — was the one grateful thought I needed. Her gratitude, shared with me, helped me to see the truth, helped me to take a breath, helped me to be present — present to truth, to opportunity, to joy, to peace. As I took a breath, I turned to the athlete still waiting. Instead of expressing any impatience, I simply chose to enter the moment with another human being. The peace and joy were much nicer than the angst.

Later that night, I realized I had received another grateful thought at the very beginning of the day. If you notice in the photo, there’s a bit of a yarn chain nestled in front of the flowers. That was a gift from one of my Kindergartners. I taught them how to finger knit a couple weeks ago. First thing in the morning, Jay came into our learning space, and came to me, as she does every morning, to greet me. It’s a routine I treasure. Today she held the finger knitting up for me to see. I told her it was beautiful. She said, “I made it for you!” I responded, “Thank you so much!” as I placed it on my neck.

That finger knitting chain stayed on my neck all day. I forgot about it until I got home and looked in the mirror. Seeing it, I realized my sweet Kindergartner had shared a grateful thought with me at the very beginning of our day. I love that her grateful thought had rested close to my heart all day. As I placed it by the other gifts for a photograph I again took a breath, embraced the truth, and experienced peace and joy.

Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Never hesitate to express it. Your gratitude — for yourself, your life, and towards others — may be the one thought of gratitude needed to find peace and joy.

Language of Encouragement

I read this:

“We speak a language of encouragement.”
(from the introduction to Creative Acts For Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg)

The language of encouragement. How cool is that?!

So, I made this:

I liked it. But it needed more. Perhaps I could add the language of encouragement.

I looked at it for a a bit. Then, I spoke the language of encouragement to myself. “You can do it. You are talented. You are creative. No worries. Take a breath or two. Test it out, and then go.”

So, I did.

It’ll be hanging in my classroom, as a reminder. Feel free to pop in when you need a reminder, or a phrase.

Let’s create a language of encouragement movement. Let’s develop and speak the language of encouragement to ourselves, our learners, our colleagues, our admins, our athletes, our families, the world. We can do it!

Creative Thinking in Kindergarten Mathematics

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children. I wrote about creative thinking in mathematics. I spoke as a Kindergarten teacher, but advocated for creative mathematic thinking for all. One reader thought it might be better if I had emphasized the Kindergarten piece of my thinking. At first I misunderstood and stood my ground that creativity in mathematics is good for all. She explained her thinking, telling me that so many people think that one can never be creative in Kindergarten math in particular because there are so many facts they must learn, or because they are only Kindergartners.

Oh my gosh! Only Kindergartners???!!! She is right. Many people underestimate the amazing potential, big beautiful brains, and remarkable thinking abilities of Kindergartners. So, I revised my article, and share it here.

I’m always looking for ways to bring creativity into my Kindergarten classroom.  Why?  There are a plethora of reasons, but here are my top three:

  • It makes the day more enjoyable for my students (and for me).
  • It increases my students’ motivation, engagement, understanding, and learning. 
  • It helps my students develop mindsets and understandings about themselves, the subject matter, rules, and the world, which will allow them to make extraordinary contributions to our world as they continue to grow and learn.
  • It allows me to have a deeper understanding of who my students are as mathematicians.

One of the subject matters I work to infuse with creativity is math.  Before you faint, let me reassure you.  Math is a domain that is filled with facts, rules, and precise procedures.  I love math facts.  I respect and appreciate mathematical procedures.  I enjoy the challenge and struggle of solving a well-conceived and difficult problem.  Additionally, I understand that Kindergarten is a time to grow in mathematical understanding and skills. 

At the same time, I am intrigued by all the ways creativity is an inherent and essential part of mathematics – including Kindergarten mathematics.  Creativity has the power to enhance my Kindergartner’s mathematical learning, understanding, and joy. It also gives me a powerful vantage point from which to observe and come to know them as mathematicians. Providing my Kindergartners with the opportunity to be creative allows them to show all they know rather than just what I happen to ask them. It works the same for all learners – regardless of their age. 

Let’s consider something basic that my Kindergartners are working on these days – how to break apart and build numbers to ten. If we break any number into two parts, or build with two parts, there are that number +1 ways to make it.  For instance the number four can be made five different ways.  I’m sure the answers come quickly to mind: 1+3. 2+2. 3+1, 4+0, and 0+4. 

But, are there really only +1 ways?  Or are there only +1 ways because we are living within the constraints of addition, positive, whole numbers?  What if we allowed any mathematical operation, fractions, and negative numbers.  The possibilities for how we make four explode exponentially!  Increase the number of parts, and the possibilities become endless. 

As I wrote the article I wondered about mentioning negative numbers and Kindergarten in the same breath. Could they really understand them?

Then, one day, this happened.

This is one of my Kindergarten mighty mathematicians. She was hanging out with me after school waiting for after care. Let me tell you how this moment of learning came to be.

She enjoys writing on the D10 whiteboard and this day said to me “Look, Miss James!” I turned and saw her work. She had written: 100-200=0 Her face beamed with a look of discovery. I took a breath and scanned my brain for how to explain. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hmmm. Are you sure? What is 100 take away 100?”
Her: “Oh. Zero.”
Me: “Yes! So do you think 100 take away 200 would be zero, too?”

She thought and wasn’t able to come up with an answer that satisfied her.

Me: “Let’s work with smaller numbers, okay?”
Her: “Okay.”

I handed her 4 counters.

Me: “You have 4 counters. I ask you for 5. What would you do?”
Her: “I’d give you the 4 I have.”
Me: ” Awesome. But, would I have what I need?”
Her: “No. But it’s all I have.”
Me: “Yes, I know. But I need 5. If I were buying them from you, and paid for 5, how many would you still owe me?”

She thought for a bit.

Her: One?
Me: Yes!

We moved to the board to begin writing the number sentence. I explained to her that when the number we are taking away is more than the number available we add a minus sign in front of the number. That means we don’t have all that were taken away, or we owe that many.

Her: Oh!

The smile of discovery had returned to her face. She began trying other numbers as I stood by her ready to accept the counters and support her as she thought, questioned, wrote, and grew as a mathematician. Finally we returned to her original number sentence 100 take away 200.

Me: So. What is 100 take away 200?
Her: Minus 100!
Me: You got it!

This photo was the second day. She did the work on her own. I don’t mean to suggest that she totally gets negative numbers. What I do mean to suggest is it’s possible, and it’s good, to be willing to step into those areas that seem unreachable, and think creatively how to make the reachable.

We are mighty. Our learners are mighty. Creative thinking is good. Mathematical thinking is good. Creative mathematical thinking is quite fantabulous — even, and perhaps especially, in Kindergarten