I Crossed My Fingers and Hoped for No Crying

I’ve been having my Kindergarten artists work in a sketchbook before they tackle the blank page of their final piece. I want them to get used to the artist practice of sketching without fretting, and without erasing. I want them to have the freedom to try all sorts of things without the concern that sometimes comes when they are creating their final piece.

They’ve been doing so much good work. They are filling the pages of their sketchbooks with a plethora of fantabulous experiments. Their faces beam as they show me their work, tell me if they love it or have more to add, and give me virtual high fives (which become high one hundreds) through the classroom D10.

This week I decided to try something new. No sketching. No exploration. No pencils. Just a sharpie, our big beautiful brains, awesome hearts, courage, and creativity! At least two colleagues chuckled and said “You are a brave woman!” I responded, “Nah! They can do it. I know they can. I’m going to tell them that!” I paused, and laughed, and then added, “And then, I’m going to cross my fingers, and hope for no crying!”

When art rolled around last week, I did just that. I started sharing that I have a sketchpad and often do sketches before I paint. But, other times I just use watercolor or pen and ink directly in my journal. As I spoke, I shared some pages from my hiking art journal. “That’s what we’re going to try today – no sketching, just being free and working directly onto our watercolor paper.” No one said a word, and since I’m on the D10 I can’t always read their facial expressions. I kept going forward. “You can do it. You’re amazing artists with big beautiful brains, awesome hearts, and lots of courage and creativity. … Are you ready?” Shouts of “Yes!” were music to my ears. With a huge smile on my face I said. “Awesome. Let’s get started.”

I led them through a few steps to create the shape of the face — complete with the asymmetry, unusual scale, and a crown we noticed in Sandra Silberzweig’s original piece. I encouraged them to follow along, but to also make decisions as the artist of their piece. Once we had finished the outline, I set them free to add details. I suggested they take time to look, and think as they drew.

The learning space was quiet as they created. I worked, and waited, with all my fingers crossed.

I am overjoyed to report that there was no crying! There was only excitement, enthusiasm, joy, and awesome art making.

Look! (There’s more, but I figured I’d just share a few.)

These young artists aren’t artists because I think they are. They’re artists because THEY think they are. They’re artists because they’re noticing, thinking, wondering, trying, making decisions, and creating their own art. They’ve embraced themselves as competent artists, and creative thinkers who can have ideas, think creatively, take risks, solve problems, and make great art. They are artists, they know it, and they’re loving it! So am I.

That confidence, and ability to think, and take a risk– without tears — doesn’t just show itself during art. It pops up often, and each time it’s a joy to experience. Most recently it was wonderfully evident in a homework assignment I gave them to record a video on flipgird,.

If you’re a teacher and you’ve never tried flipgrid, give it a go. It’s a great platform for you and your students to share ideas, comment on the ideas of others, be inspired, and help one another problem solve. When they record, my students practice oral literacy skills in a friendly pressure free arena. I smile each time I decide to redo my video and get the “You got this! Try again” message. A bonus is that flipgrid provides us with playful opportunities to add boarders, stickers, writing, and other fun ephemera to our videos and screenshots.

Pre-covid we did a lot of block building. When we build with blocks we play and learn. We think creatively, critically, and spatially — and we grow in our ability to do so. The somewhat transient nature of block building allows for lots of ideas, quick iterations, struggling, failing, succeeding, problem solving, learning, and sharing — all while having fun.

When Covid hit I looked for ways to to engage and grow my students imagination, creativity, courage, spatial muscles, grit and resilience through building. I wanted a building option that was compact, portable, open ended, and relatively inexpensive. I finally decided on Plus-plus blocks.

Now that I’m back — but remote — my challenge was how to share all of the greatness of our time together in the Kindergarten Makerspace making all sorts of cool block builds when we weren’t in the same physical space. I decided to give flipgrid a try.

I created a flipgrid homework assignment. I encouraged my students to play with their blocks, create things, and then record a video showing what they made, what they learned, and what they still haven’t figured out. I posted my own video in response to the assignment sharing some of my struggles and asking for their help.

Flipgrid Plusplus Blocks Assignment

The things they made were fantabulous.

Here are a few:
A baking bird – brown and white for brown and white sugar.
A statue – which when you add the baking bird to the statue now has moveable arms.
Two cars and a garage.
A rainbow bridge, a sidewalk, and a bracelet.
Saturn, Jupiter, the sun, and Momo and his magic wand.
An adjustable ring, a flag, a plane that transforms into an eagle.
A cookie and apple who become friends.
Flower and all the characters needed for the story of her escape.
A girl named Anastasia

But, what really struck me was the builders themselves. I saw those same awesome artists simply working in a different medium. They shared their ideas bravely. They offered suggestions. They asked and answered questions. They explained their thinking. And, they interacted with their blocks in ways I never imagined — crafting stories and making connections.

One of them said this: “I love these blocks. You can make anything you want with these. You can just get creative and make whatever you want, and make your own dreamland.These blocks are just wonderful.” She had a beautiful, satisfied smile on her face she talked and shared her creation.

As I watched the videos — leaning in to see things more closely, chuckling at their stories, overwhelmed by their awesomeness — I was reminded of an idea of Loris Malaguzzi – Children are strong, rich in potential, powerful, and capable.

Yes, yes! Strong, rich, powerful, and capable. It’s important that we know and believe this truth about children. And, it’s essential that we reflect this belief to them. Our best selves, and our greatest sharing and learning, happens within relationships of respect, awe, and love.

They are artists. Yes. They are builders. Yes. They are awesome and fantabulous. Absolutely. But mostly they are themselves, and they are strong, rich, powerful, and totally capable. I’m so grateful I get to know them, teach them, and learn from them.

The Currency of Hope and Beauty

Artist Ekua Holmes is planting 10,000 sunflowers, and changing her part of the world.

“Artists deal in the currency of hope,” Holmes said. “We deal in the currency of beauty, and our job is to reflect back to society what we see.” (Boston Globe, July 11, 2018)

Oh my gosh! YES!

As creatives — artists, thinkers, possibilitarians, musicians, writers, makers – we are about beauty.

We look for beauty. We find beauty. And when we cannot find it, we create it. We live in the realm of possibility — perhaps because of our belief in beauty and hope  — and we invite others join us there.

I love that idea! Beauty, hope, and possibility are my currency!

Then I thought: Isn’t this true of us as educators as well? Or, perhaps shouldn’t this be true of us as educators? Shouldn’t beauty, hope, and possibility be our currency as well?

Isn’t it our job to recognize the beauty, hope and possibility that exists in our students, our admins, our parents, and our selves? Don’t we, everyday, endeavor to find and illuminate the beauty, hope and possibility inherent in learning, struggling, wondering, failing, falling, persisting, discovering, collaborating, and simply being?

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Yes! Yes, we do.

Beauty, hope, and possibility. It’s part of us as educators. It’s our currency. It’s our strength.

Let’s embrace it, live it, and offer it to all those around us.

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!

 

 

 

Student Voice in Art

I enjoy Andy Warhol’s use of bold, sometimes unexpected colors in his photographic prints. Some of my favorites are his flowers and Marilyn Monroe. Oh, lol, and his pink cow on a yellow background!

I pondered many Warhol inspired art projects for my Kindergartners. I wanted the project to have Warhol’s repeated images and use of bold colors, but I also wanted it to be child and time friendly. After many iterations I decided I would have them use their hands as the repeated element.

The steps I decided upon were:

  1. Trace each hand, with some overlap in order to create spaces on the page, and then go over their tracing with sharpie markers of their color choosing.
  2. Use liquid watercolor paint to create the background – filling the different spaces with different colors.
  3. Place their hand-print inside each drawn hand. (Painting each palm with a color of their choosing.)
  4. Use colorful dots and rectangular pieces to create bracelets on each of their wrists.
  5. Finally, create something to glue onto the palms of their hands.

I was very happy with the process, and mildly happy with how my sample turned out. I wished I could be very happy with my sample, but no matter how I tried to change it, I couldn’t get it to a place I loved, so I decided to stop fretting, trust the process, and see what my young artists were able to create.

Soon after beginning someone expressed alarm, “I painted the watercolor on one of my fingers. I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?” All eyes looked to me. “No worries,” I said, “Look at the art Andy Warhol did. Does it look like he stayed in all the lines?” They responded with a relieved “No.”

Shortly thereafter, someone noticed a friend painting the inside of her hands. She seemed to have forgotten, or not really heard my instructions, or was just enjoying her process. “You’re not supposed to paint inside your hands with the watercolor! Right, Miss James? She’s not doing it right!”

The hand-painting artist looked up with a look of dismay. I took a breath and thought … What is really important here? Is it OK? Might she, and any other, paint inside the hands?

With that brief moment to think I realized what was important, and I said, “Well, I did say we weren’t going to paint inside our hands with the watercolor. But, do you think she is being inspired by Andy Warhol? Is she using bold, unexpected color? Is she making each hand different in some way?” They all responded, “Yes!” I smiled, and continued “I didn’t think about painting inside the hands with watercolor, so I didn’t do it. And, I didn’t suggest it to you. But, I think it’s a great idea. If you like it, give it a go. Let’s see how they come out.”

Everyone went back to work. As I walked around the room I was amazed by the beauty and depth in these Kindergartner artists work. It was far more lovely than mine. I told them “Wow! I love your ideas and your work. Painting the insides of your hands, and using so many colors for the background were really beautiful ideas! I think what you have created is so much better than mine. Thank you for sharing your ideas and art courage with me! I’m going to share your ideas with the artists tomorrow! (Art is done in half groups.)

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I could have easily said “No!” when asked if they could deviate from my process. I could have required them to work with my ideas, my thoughts, my creativity. But, I – we – would have lost so much if I had! Being clear about what was important – following the big ideas of Warhol’s prints, and finding our own artistic voice – I was able to let go, quiet my voice, and let their voices grow strong.

I’m so glad I did.

 

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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Dr. Seuss Creative Fun

Wacky Wednesday, by Dr. Seuss, inspired our creative fun today.  — Shoes on the wall, on the ceiling and under the bed. Worms chasing birds. Hoses, while split, still watering the lawn. — My students giggled, and eagerly shared each wacky thing they noticed.

They didn’t want to stop, but I told them “We must! I want you to have plenty of time to have your own wacky Wednesday fun!”

They were not immediately convinced. But, I assured them we would keep the book in our library, and they could read it as much as they wanted. Finally, they relented and moved to the chairs I had prepared.

I reminded them of our time together in yoga, when I invite them to take off their shoes and socks. “Now,” I said, “I’m not going to invite you to take off your shoes and socks. I’m going to tell you to take them off. We cannot do our wacky Wednesday creative fun unless you take them off.” Giggles and talking increased as they hurried to their cubbies and back again — with feet bared!

Paper was taped to the floor in front of each chair. Plastic egg cartons filled with paint, rested on paper towels. I encouraged them to guess what we might be doing.

“We’re going to paint with our feet!” … “Yes,” I said, “but how?”

“We’ll stick our feet in the paint!” … “Good guess, but no. We’re actually going to use a paint brush.”

“We’ll paint our feet and put them on the paper!” …”OH! Great idea, but no.”

“We’ll paint our toe nails!” … “That would be fun, but not today.”

They continued guessing, each building on the next. They were doing a lovely job thinking divergently. They showed some fluency, flexibility, and elaboration – each idea building upon the ones that came before, informed by my responses.

Finally, nearly jumping out of her chair, R. said “I know! We’re going to hold the paintbrush in our toes!!!!!” …. “YES!”

Laughter and conversation erupted in the room – making it nearly impossible for me to speak and be heard. I encouraged their enthusiasm, but asked them to do try to stay quiet until we began. They contained themselves, as best as they could, and after some brief instruction and encouragement, they began.

Some jumped in with both feet — pun-intended, lol — and used their toes to grip their pencil, and write their name.

feet writing

When M. finished writing she said, “That was hard. And it doesn’t look very good. It’s messy.” … “No way!” I replied. “That’s fantastic! You did that with your toes! How awesome is that?”

Was it as good as she could do with her fingers? No. But did that matter? Was that the right criterion to use to evaluate it? No! Her process and product  were remarkable. She gripped the pencil with her toes. Figured out how to create each letter in her name, and wrote them in a rather straight line! Perhaps most importantly, she showed great initiative, courage, and grit, and I wanted to acknowledge that for her.

Everyone joined in the fun — even me. My students were enthusiastic and joy-filled painters — quite willing to try, and try again.

feet painting

I was surprised by my reaction to the experience. It was hard! Hard to hold the paintbrush. Hard to figure out how to dip it in the paint. Hard to guide it on the paper. Just hard!

I did it, but I didn’t enter into the experience like they did. I think their were multiple reasons why. Each is worthy of my thought, consideration and remembering as I continue to work with my students, and for my own growth as a creative and an educator.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  1. My support of my students — in word and presence — is powerful.
  2. Time to practice and play with the tools and process before beginning is important.
  3. Embracing positive thoughts about ourselves as artists and learners is essential.
  4. Adopting the joy, freedom and openness of a beginner’s mind is helpful.

My students often return the favor and support me with their word and presence. Today I didn’t have the opportunity to allow them to support me. I also didn’t have the time to practice and experiment before beginning. But perhaps most interesting to me, unlike my students, I didn’t immediately embrace positive thoughts about myself or my process, and I didn’t adopt the the joy, freedom and openness of the beginner’s mind.

I can learn so much from my students. They are truly fantabulous!