It’s All in How You Look at It!

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

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

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

Me: “It’s not?!?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Fatigue, Eyeballs, and Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware and Tools in Kindergarten

I’m always thinking of tools I can bring in to the Makerspace for my students to experience, and learn to use. I’ve brought bread knives to use as saws (always using clear and easy to remember rules, and always supervised by an adult), carpenter pencils and pencil sharpeners, tri-squares, mechanical rulers, mechanical tape measures, and levels.

This spring, as we began our supermarket build, I decided to enrich our world with nuts, bolts, machine screws, adjustable wrenches, phillips head screwdrivers and square head screwdrivers. When my students entered the Makerspace and noticed the new things sorted into our maker-trolly, they immediately began experimenting, asking questions, and sharing thoughts.

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Not all of them knew what the wrench was, or how to use it. I quickly swore those who knew how to use the wrench, to strict secrecy. I told them they had to keep it a secret for one week. If by Friday, the others hadn’t figured it out, they could teach them. But, until then, they had to let the others use their big beautiful brains and experimentation to discover it on their own. Many figured it out, and any that didn’t were happily taught by those in the know.

They loved using the tools and the hardware. Sometimes they would put the bolts/screws, washers, and nuts together using their fingers as the tools, at other times, they used the wrenches and screwdrivers. Our first foray into using them in the build was when they realized they could plunge the bolts/screws into the foam shelf they had created.

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This required me to help them because the foam as actually a bit too thick for the size bolts/screws I had purchased. Cognizant of how impossible it was for them to succeed at this task on their own, I began thinking of specific projects that didn’t require so much help from me.

I came up with two.

The first  was an art project. I thought creating people with articulated arms and legs would be a fun way for them to learn about the nuts, bolts, and washers. It required a good bit of thinking, risking, imagining and creating as well as significant manual dexterity and work.

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We talked a bit about how to use the hardware, and what was possible because of it — movement, and tightening the arms and legs into particular positions. We also discussed the possible pitfalls — poking yourself with the pencil that you used to make a hole for the bolt, making the hole too close to the edge thereby ripping the cardboard piece, and putting the bolt on backwards which would make hanging it darn near impossible because it was too far from the wall.

They were fantabulous workers, thinkers and creators! They were careful about positioning their holes, and making them. They persisted — counting out their hardware, changing bolts if they put them on backwards, and taking the time needed to accomplish their personal visions for their people.

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And gosh, did they imagine and create! Mothers with babies, a girl in a tuxedo, Draco Malfoy, girls with 3-D curly hair, a baby sucking a binky, and designer boots are just a bit of what they did.

Here are some of their people hanging in our art gallery:
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The second project was creating sturdy shelves for the supermarket. By now they were pros at using the tools and hardware. With intensity and proficiency, they worked together to secure the shelves to the boxes. One climbed inside to install the washer, and tighten the nut. Another worked from the outside, holding the bolt in place to allow it to be tightened.

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Meanwhile, the girls developed their own use for the tools and their skills. I loved all they thought of doing.

As they played with the hardware, they discovered many interesting configurations outside the normal purview of nuts and bolts. One presented me with this:

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Me: “Thanks! What is it? How do I use it?”

Student “Well, it could be jewelry … (significant thought) … or it could just be a fun              rolling toy!”

Me: “Indeed it could! I love it.”

Finally as they progressed even further in their comfort with the tools and hardware — and their belief in themselves as capable of doing anything necessary with them —  they enlarged their scope of projects. Seeing me unboxing two new sensory tables, one of my girls noticed the bolts, nuts and washers.

Student: “What’s that, Miss James?”

Me: “New sensory tables.”

Student: “What are you doing with them?”

Me: “I’m going to put them together.”

Student: “I can help!”

I love that she declared her ability to help. She didn’t ask! She knew I would accept help, so she just jumped in as my furniture building colleague! It was awesome!

I am particularly fond of this photograph as it captures the truth of the moment. The tip of the sneaker in the left hand corner is mine. I like that it indicates my presence, but the hands holding the tools are the hands of a 6 year old girl! That is one empowered girl!!!

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“Rock on with your fantabulous self, my girl. Rock on!”

Kindergarten Creativity Does Not Disappoint!

Wow.

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.

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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!

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.

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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.

 

Beauty

There were so many beautiful things to see at the museum. Spectacular paintings, sculpture, metal work.

This was the most beautiful.

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No, not the statue, or the paintings, or the stunning gallery — the woman and child huddled together.

They entered the gallery with quiet interest. The woman carried a folded stool which she casually opened out of the way of any traffic. I thought perhaps it was for her. I was wrong.

The girl scanned the gallery with a bit of child-like enthusiasm — notebook and pencil clutched in her hand. They whispered to one another. The woman moved the stool slightly, and the girl took a seat, opened her notebook, and began to sketch.

Their faces gazed up and down — contemplating the artwork of the gallery artists, and creating new work in the notebook.

The woman was always present — sometimes whispering, sometimes watching, sometimes gazing at something in the distance. The girl worked — her face buried in the notebook — for as long as I remained in the gallery.

For me, the beauty in that relationship far outweighed the beauty of any piece of art. I am not sure I can adequately explain why. But, I will try.

The girl was young and completely captivated by the art in the gallery and on her page. I don’t know if she was recording what she saw, or being inspired to make her own creation. It doesn’t matter so much to me. It was her joy, her passion, and her intentness that drew me.

And then the woman. She served as such a beautiful counterpart to the young artist. Everything she did appeared to encourage, empower and support the girl and her creative endeavors.

I hope to always be a beautiful counterpart to others. Might we all be!

 

 

 

Creating and Curating Their Own Creativity

We frequently visit our school art gallery. We go armed with sketch books and pencils — ready to sketch anything we can see from within the gallery. Sometimes this is art, sometimes each other, and sometimes things we notice through the windows.

Most days our conversation goes like this:

Them: “Miss James, can we take off our shoes?”

Me: “You may — as long as you understand if we have a fire drill you are going outside without your shoes.”

They always agree, and I always cross my fingers that we don’t have a fire drill! Typically, once their shoes are off, they stow them under a shelf in the gallery and happily get to work sketching.

On this particular visit, the removal of their socks and shoes fueled their imagination and provided a unique medium for their creativity.

As I walked about the gallery. I came upon this …

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Returning a few moments later, I found this …

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And, finally, a bit later, this …

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I love their creativity, collaboration and inclusion. Did you notice the number of shoes and socks increased in each photo? Each time someone asked to join, the original artists expanded their work to include their friends.

In the last photo, they are working together to collect the signatures of all the artists who contributed to their “double-flower art.”

I love that the freedom I gave them — to take off their shoes and wander the gallery in bare feet  — resulted in such beautiful, examples of their powerful and joy-filled agency and creativity! I never cease to be amazed how such simple things — though profound when you think about it — as time, space, freedom, trust, resources (bare feet, socks and shoes, pencils and sketch books) and agency, allow these young creatives to do their thing.

They are fantabulous.

 

Student Voice

This is always one of my favorite Kindergarten collaborative art pieces.

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I create some sort of stencil and we all (students, teachers, PS Director, Admin. Assistant, and Head of School)  use our hands and fingers to fill the stencil and create the piece of art.  This year I chose a flower with hearts inside.

I cropped the photo so the children’s names are not posted on the blog. The canvas is actually rectangular. The top has the year and the bottom has all the participant names.

Every other time I wrote our class rules on the canvas, and used the hand and fingerprints as a way to “sign” our promises to each other. “I will work hard. I will play fair. I will be kind.” They are super important things I want my students to remember and live.

But this time I didn’t do that! I happened to do yoga with them the day I finished the canvas. We did a relaxing yoga, finishing lying down, hands touching, saying our affirmations.

We are safe. We are sound. We are well. We are whole.

We are lucky. We are brave. We are joyful. We are fantabulous.

We are great. We are kind. We are smart. We are not the same.

We are strong. We are awesome. We are good. We are nice. 

We are joy. We make friends. We are relaxed. We like each other. 

Lovely right?

My students’ words were in my brain as I wrote their names on the canvas. As I considered how I might place the rules, I realized a more powerful statement for them to remember might be their own words of affirmation! Then they would be “signing” their own greatness. Saying “Yes!” to all the wonderful words of affirmation that they created during our yoga time.

 

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No need for my voice to always be the one speaking!

I hope, when they say the affirmations in yoga, or see them on the canvas, they feel empowered, strengthened, and joyed, by their own words and thoughts. It is a small thing, but I believe giving voice to their voice, highlighting it in my classroom,  will teach them that power, peace and affirmation reside within themselves as well as in others.

Inviting Kindergartners Into My Process and Musing

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My hands will soon be covered in paint –  like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!

It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.

The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!

I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)

I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.

And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.

But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.

As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.

Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:

  • How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
  • How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
  • How might we provide inspiration?
  • How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
  • How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
  • How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
  • How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
  • How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
  • How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?

I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….

 

Note:

My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams.  Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?” 

My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!

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Hiking Art – Part 2 – Using the Wind

14114866_1464197210263831_6637948970428154399_oOur final hiking day in NY included a jaunt into the Ausable River across from Copperas Pond, and then a rather lovely hike to Cobble Lookout. I found a nice seat – lightly shaded, good view – and broke out the paints and paper. Much like other days, the wind was gloriously present.

I’d done art with my Kindergarteners were we supplied the breath to move the paint around the page. Inspired by that, I decided to see if I could let the rushing wind move my paint.

Much like the leaf painting, it was more difficult than I imagined. The wind was gusting at times, but seemed unable to combat the inertia in the domes of watercolor that sat on my page. I was surprised!

I tried more water in the paint, but the small domes still seemed impervious to the wind. Very interesting!

I thought it was a combination of inertia, and the small surface area of the paint. Even though the wind seemed very powerful on my skin, it didn’t push strongly on the drops of water and paint.

So, I stopped trying to control how the wind impacted the paint and paper. I did my best to give the wind full rein. I placed the watery paint onto the page, and lifted the page into the wind. Thankfully, my grasp was firm, because the wind whipped the page about like a kite! The wind won the inertia war (if that is what it truly was) and the paint moved about the page – small bits splashing onto my hands and legs.

I quickly ran out of water in my brush reservoir – as clearly I was using the brush in a much different way than anticipated! I filled it with water from my water bottle, but ended up spilling more than I got in the pen. Providentially, the water fell into a perfectly formed indentation on the rock where I sat. A natural water holder! I was able to wash my brush, and get enough water to make the paint wet and moveable.

Using that indentation in the rock really added to my experience.

  • It made me feel more immersed in, and connected to, nature.
  • It opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround me – sometimes within reach – that may go unnoticed.
  • It encouraged me to embrace “what is.” There was some very fine gravel at the bottom of the indentation which transferred to my paper. The first time it happened, I gasped! Then I remembered something I had read, or heard, about Jackson Pollock. Bits of things sometimes ended up as parts of his work. That made me chuckle and helped me breathe as I thought “Oh! No worries! It’s just like Jackson Pollock!”

After letting the wind do quite a bit of work. I sat with the piece and watched it as it dried. I looked out at the view and noticed the grey rock, the green trees and the blue sky. I decided to fill in the unpainted areas with grey, green and blue – in that order – as I saw them sitting there.

When I got home I set about finishing this piece. I wanted to add some sort of detail, and words. I had been thinking of using parts of a John Muir quote that had been in my mind for days.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir)

I loved how much the painting reminded me of a map, or the view you might see from the summit of a mountain. I hesitated about adding the words, fearing I might wreck the work I had already done.

But, I decided they had to be added! I love that quote. It blesses me each time I recall it when I am out in nature. It increases my breath and my ease. Plus the wind’s freshness had actually created the painting! How could I not acknowledge it?

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” Climb mountains … peace flows … like sunshine …winds blow freshness and storms energy … cares drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir, as per me)