The Joy of Inventing

Recently heard in my classroom …

Miss James!

I LOVE inventing! Inventions are the BEST!

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


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

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

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

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







Yup, that about covers it. “WOW!”

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



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

It was amazing to experience and help facilitate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England and Holland


The Mayflower


Native American homesite


Once a Cloud-lover, Always a Cloud-lover

I was a raincloud for Halloween this year.

halloween cloud

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

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

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

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

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

She smiled, and we shared an exuberant high five.

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

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

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

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



Uri Alon TEDtalk regarding the cloud

The Cloud in the Classroom

Card Carrying Members

Sharing Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Kindergarten Creativity Does Not Disappoint!


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart, and mind, are full!

I Wonder …

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

I am super hopeful …

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


These are my practice, and inspiration pieces.


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

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


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

My rules for the project will be:

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

My suggestions will be:

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

My artists’ options and decisions will be:

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

My jobs will be many:

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

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

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




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

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

IMG_8329 (1)

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

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

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

IMG_8321 (1)

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

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

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

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

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


Imagination is not just an idle mental amusement,

not merely an activity without consequences in reality,

but rather a function essential to life.

(Vygotsky, 2004,  p13)



Vygotsky, L.V. (Jan-Feb 2004). Imagination and Creativity in Children. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 42, no. 1, January–February 2004, pp. 7–97. Retrieved from




Exuberance And Enthusiasm

  1. the quality of being full of energy, excitement, and cheerfulness; ebullience.
    “a sense of youthful exuberance”
    • the quality of growing profusely; luxuriance.
      “houseplants growing with wild exuberance”


  1. intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.
    “her energy and enthusiasm for life”


The maker using the blue tray is FULL  of exuberance and enthusiasm!!!  

I am so excited for her — and the rest of the class — as they become inspired by her brave and joy-filled, creative spirit.




Thanks to Google dictionary for the word information found above. 


Just Draw

Jojo — a friend and colleague — greeted me at the door of my classroom, “You have to come to my car. I have something for you.” She pulled a Strand bag out of the trunk of her car and handed it to me. “I was at the Strand, and realized you had to read this book. So I bought it for you.”

The book is Living Color by Natalie Goldberg.  I began reading it as soon as I got home. I’ve only read the introduction, but wow, I have to agree with Jojo. I do have to read this book!

This is from the introduction:

“But let’s get back to the feeling that you can’t draw. Don’t pay attention to your feeling. It’s giving you the wrong information. … And you’ve probably heard the rule: no erasing, no tearing up the paper. Accept the way it comes out. If you practice this acceptance, more will come out. Space and freedom will open up.  You won’t edit and crimp yourself before you begin to explore.” (Goldberg, N. (2014) Book. NY: STC Craft.)

I love that!

I have to read this passage to my kindergartners!

Yes, I know everyone says all kindergartners believe they’re artists. It’s not true. They don’t all believe that. Some do, but lots of them are really not sure they’re artists, at least not very good artists. They fret, and erase, and compare themselves with others they believe are better artists.

I wonder if I can read this to them on the first day?!?! *big smile*

No, I won’t do that.

I’ll wait — at least a day.  *wink*

Trust me, I am going to read this to them — sooner rather than later. But first I’ll let Natalie’s words inform me about my drawing, my understanding of art, and my sense of myself as an artist.

I just bought an art journal on my last trip to the art store. I didn’t have a plan for it, I just liked it, so I bought it. (I should tell you, I don’t think you can have too many art journals!)

Here it is with some of my favorite things — river rocks, and an awesome pencil and marker! It’s good to have things you love beside you as you begin to explore.


I’m excited, and just the slightest bit daunted, to begin my exploration of drawing without erasing or tearing out the page. I’ll have to keep track of my emotions and thoughts as I draw. They will be powerful to share with my students — perhaps even more powerful than my drawings.

It’s a plan! Wish me luck.


Classroom Setup 2017-18

Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of setup is “the manner in which the elements or components of a machine, apparatus, or system are arranged, designed, or assembled.”

I love to remind myself of this definition while I’m going about my classroom setup. I am designing a system in which I, and my students, colleagues, and parents, will work, create, play, and learn. If I’m any example, creating a classroom system requires a lot of thought, reflection, iteration, sweat, and muscle!

As I worked, thought, and sweated, I reminded myself of the truth about myself and my students. We are “rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent(Loris Malaguzzi quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2nd addition, p. 275). I also thought back to my MA research where I considered the environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence.

I read so many thought provoking things as I researched for my MA. I synthesized them in an article in Creative Education.  If I were writing my dissertation, or the article now, I think I might title it Managing the Classroom for Creative and Cognitive Excellence. I want my classroom setup to support creative excellence, and cognitive excellence. To do that, it has to include and support the 6 elements of Teresa Amabile’s KEYS I adapted for classroom management in Managing the Classroom for Creativity:

  • Freedom which enables and and encourages ownership, motivation, and engagement of all the learners.
  • Positive challenge which helps everyone know the tasks/skills they engage in are important and valuable.
  • Supervisory Encouragement which values work and thought, and encourages inquiry and exploration.
  • Work group support which encourages the generation and exchange of new ideas.
  • Easy access to sufficient resources.
  • Organizational Support of our shared vision and an infrastructure that enables and empowers everyone in my learning space.

I’ve finished my initial classroom set up, and am super happy with the result. There is more work to be done, but I’m ready for my learners to join me in the space.

In addition to including the 6 elements listed above, I worked on including more visibility this year. I was mindful of balancing beauty and utility. I wanted our work, vision, thought, prototypes, iterations and our creative and cognitive “mess” to be visible. It adds a richness to the space — telling our story while increasing curiosity, inquiry, wonder, learning, understanding, creativity and excellence!


Here are a few photos with my reflections.

Last year our maker projects where stored in a classroom cabinet. This year, some awesome maintenance people ripped out the cabinet, and I replaced it with this open shelving unit. The wall behind and beside it is covered with a large art piece my students made last year. (How awesome is that?!!!) The use of that artwork, the trays for student work, and the words on the front of the shelving unit let everyone know these things are valued and supported.



A second smaller shelving unit — on the coolest, gigantic wheels — keeps our tools neat and easily accessible. There’s opportunity for remarkable exploration and learning through the use of these tools.



The maker trolley has always been a part of the makerspace, but this year I am repurposing the back to hold more materials, and storing our large item bins in the open. I am hopeful this will increase use and understanding.



The two classroom easels provide opportunities for creative art experiences outside the regular art curriculum. The second is actually a double easel – fabulous for conversation and inspiration! I love leaving the dried paint on the easels. It adds an element of beauty and history to the space, and allows for freedom as one paints.

I’m thinking about the resources I have that might enable me to store paper beneath the easels — enabling the artists to be autonomous in their work. I have some ideas I’m going to try this week.


I love the connection between my learners’ art experience and mine (the watercolors are my work). I also like the suggestion of a connection between painting, shapes, blocks and building.



Print is plentiful and purposeful in my learning space. I want my students to read the room and learn. I want them to become more skilled at letter recognition and use, and to be inspired — to see, read, absorb, and live, what is important.



I love all the little print treasures in my space, so it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. However, I am enjoying this one quite a bit!  I wonder what it will evoke or awaken in those who see it. For me it stirs up joy, possibility, positivity, and continuing even when obstacles arise.



And this, partially hidden gem, out of the way of traffic, is a message from me, to me. “Be a superhero every day. The kids and the world deserve it!”



All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!



Whenever I write, I think of all the remarkable people I’ve read, talked with, and researched . I think about adding tons of links to each post. Instead, I offer my deep gratitude to all those who informed my research and learning,  and remind my readers there is a great bibliography at the end of my Creative Education article.