Nourishing Me and My Creativity

I love walking out into my backyard and picking food to eat. In the middle of the summer, I take it for granted. But, now, as the nights have a chill, and autumn is deepening, I relish each visit to the garden.

I marvel at the beautiful colors — who knew all the shades our tomatoes could be? Peachy, yellow, orange, pink, red, and many colors in between. And the chard — such a rich green with brilliant orange yellow stalks. We have other vegetables through the summer, but these are the ones that have held on the longest. I have been enjoying them with my eggs each morning.

I’m encouraged by how the plants persevere through hardship. The chard was hidden beneath zucchini plants that grew to an enormous size. When we finally removed the behemoths, the chard was there, a bit worse for wear, but still there. I’ve been watering it, admiring it, and encouraging it to grow. Amazingly, it’s producing beautiful new leaves. The tomatoes are nearing the end of their growing cycle, but even amidst the browning leaves, they continue to generate flowers, and ripen their fruit.

Oh and our figs! The tree is absolutely spectacular this season. Actually more like a bush than a tree, filled with ridiculously richly color leaves. There are also many many figs. The question is whether or not they will ripen. My fingers are crossed.

I’m enjoying some of the lovely green joy of the garden in the house as well. Basil, cilantro, and mint adorn a southern facing window sill.

If you’re looking to start some sort of indoor growing fun check out Back to the Roots. Their products are 100% guaranteed to grow. I have yet to make tea with the lemon balm, but the basil and cilantro have been delicious additions to many meals. One of my favorite recipes is this lemon basil drizzle by Rebecca Katz.

Now for the creativity. Have you ever heard of Bruno Munari? I discovered his work years ago through my study of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Designer, artist, and author, I find him fascinating. I’ve used Munari’s Zoo, and Le Machine di Munari with my Kindergarten learners with great process, result, and joy.

Today my inspiration came from his book Roses in the Salad.

I recalled this book as I was wondering what I might do with the zillions of green tomatoes that may not ripen on the vine. I love the images, ideas, words, and delight found in the book.

So, looking for something to distract myself from my head, eye, and chest ache — and always open for some good delight and creativity — I popped out onto my back porch and picked one small green tomato from the vine. Back up to my studio space, I harvested a browning leaf from my peace plant and set to creating stamps. I cut the tomato in half, and cut the stem horizontally. Did you know that the stem of the peace plant has a hole running along its length? I was pleasantly surprised.

I tested a few marks. They were crude, but they definitely suggested flowers. The stem printed multiple times reminded me of lavender. Encouraged by what was taking shape on the paper, I dropped some color into the tomato flowers, and painted in a few stems and leaves. The final splashes of paint mimicked the stem printed lavender, and added a bit of whimsey.

Tomorrow, if the rain has stopped and I’m feeling better, I’m going to harvest some chard — to eat, of course, but also to see if its stem yields interesting marks. I may have to bring a basket with me. There are a plethora of things in our gardens. I’m betting there are tons of fantabulous mark making items waiting for me to find them.

For now, I’ll resist the urge to go out in the dark with my flashlight.

Munari’s Zoo

I discovered Bruno Munari while attending a conference for educators at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. Munari – an Italian artist, designer and inventor, and writer of children’s books, – is loved by Reggio educators. I use Munari’s Zoo and Munari’s Machines in the classroom with great results!

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I enjoy using Munari’s Zoo at the beginning of the year. After a read aloud, we surround ourselves with paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, yarn, pipe cleaners, hole punches, and various other art supplies and tools – and set about making an animal to populate our classroom zoo (bulletin board).

Munari’s book starts with several amusing signs, so we all create a sign for our animal. This year the signs were mostly identifying our animal and the artist that created it. But, sometimes we add signs with instructions. This year there was one sign warning readers – “do not pull the lion’s tail!”

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It’s a fabulous exercise. The students are engaged – working hard without feeling strain or pressure. The spirit in the room is light and joyous. Conversations abound between the students, and between students and teachers. It’s a great way to get to know each other and to do some authentic assessments.

Are the students brave? Do they jump in, or hang back a bit? Do they have many ideas that they share and implement? Do they look to their friends or teachers for ideas? Do they need a little extra encouragement and love? Are they leaders – helping friends? How are their fine motor skills (holding pencil, scissor, manipulating tape, pipe cleaners, cutting, drawing)? Do they know the sounds letters make? Can they stretch out words? What do they hear as they stretch out the words? Do they have an efficient motor plan for their letters? Do they use upper case, lower case, or a combination of both?

The challenge involved is positive and self-regulated. The students are intrinsically motivated to create, and caught up in the excitement of seeing their work displayed, even the most timid writers stretch out words to make their sign. The open-ended nature of the assignment allows the children to self-differentiate. Some students make one animal, some make many. Some use materials they are familiar with, while others experiment with some of the less familiar materials. But, one way or another, everyone succeeds at the task.

This project is an easy, and safe way, to give the students control over their work and learning, and therefore increase their sense of agency, early in the school year. My instructions are simply to make an animal, and a sign to accompany it. They decide if the animal will be real or imaginary. They determine the form, color, and size of their animal. They choose the materials they will use to create it. They decide what their sign will say, and write it (with as little or as much help as they need). Finally, once done, they choose where to place their animal on the board as we create our class zoo.

And, very importantly, I do my best to limit my “interference” and simply listen, question and encourage. For instance, the animals at the top right are peacocks. One has to use their imagination and enter into the mind of the child – as best we can – to see how they are all wonderful representations of peacocks – although not ones we might have imagined. But, notice the color, the beginning structure, and the use of the yarn to represent all the color of the peacock feathers.

I even purposefully limit the amount of help I give them as they write. I try to help them hear the sounds in the words, and encourage them to represent each sound. But I resist my adult urge to “tell them” how to write it. By limiting my “help” I allow them to think, struggle, problem solve, experiment and come up with their own solutions. By doing so, we (they and I together) strengthen their skills, increase their ability to persevere, expand their vision of themselves and their abilities, and (hopefully) positively impact their future work and thought.