A while back I wrote about adopting a practice of writing a haiku poem each day, I haven’t written one poem a day. Some days I haven’t written any, and some days I’ve written more than one. I’m embracing my practice as it is so that I can find joy in it and continue.
I love the process of writing the poems. I’m not following all the rules of haiku, but I am maintaining the 5-7-5 beats for each poem or stanza in my poem. Finding words to fit the form is getting easier, but occasionally I still struggle to express myself in the form. At those times I head to thesaurus. Searching for a new word that has the needed number of syllables and the right meaning and feeling is enjoyable — I may even be enlarging my vocabulary!
As I write I’m working to be true to what I’m experiencing and noticing, but also to be positive and optimistic. I’m happy to report that I find great joy and encouragement as I reread the poems. I’m remind of happenings, pleasantly surprised by the rhythm, and encouraged by the meaning.
A few readers have asked me to share some of my poems and the poems my Kindergartners create. I haven’t introduced haiku to my Kindergartners yet. I think in the next few weeks, It might make sense to bring it into some of our work and thinking together. Once I do, I’ll share their work. For now, here are a few of mine — seven, actually, simply because I like the number.
RAIN (written in the depth of our drought) What’s that? Is it rain? Window thrown open, I melt in the lusciousness of rain.
MORNING PAUSE Wake, sit, breathe, and pray. Mind and body run away. Gently call them back
Hands on heart, I breathe. Inhale, exhale, up and down. Cultivating peace.
Repeat as needed. Notice, accept, and breathe on. Held in prayers and peace.
AMAZING THINGS Believe it, it’s true. Amazing things will happen. Make room, lots of room.
MORNING Drat the pencil’s dull Shavings accidentally Fall upon the floor
REPROGRAM I am courageous I am peaceful. I am loved. I am safe and well.
Reprogram your brain. Create new neural pathways. We have the power.
PHEW, YAY! Worked out yesterday Feeling it today Celebrate new strength
THEY’RE HERE My spot’s invaded by giggles, joy, and chatter, My Kinders are here.
It’s amazing how difficult it can be to write sometimes. It’s been feeling super tough to write as the summer comes to an end and the school year starts up again. I was shocked when I looked at my blog and realized I haven’t posted in over a month!
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, instead, I often have too much to say. With so many thoughts swirling in my brain and competing to get to my fingers as I write or type, I end up getting a bit discombobulated. I wonder how to fit everything together. My brain becomes a bird distracted by all the shiny things around me and I end up running off after a new idea. I lose the train of thought that brought me to writing.
This morning I had an epiphany. Perhaps I’m not giving myself the opportunity to say what I have to say. I haven’t developed a practice that allows me to get my thoughts out of my brain and onto the page with any regularity. It reminds me of the feeling I have when I see a friend I haven’t seen in ages and I seem to lose the ability to finish sentences. Instead I speak in fragments as my thoughts trip over each other in their rush to leave my brain and be birthed into our time together.
I need to write more often. Might it be possible for me to establish a practice of daily reflection?
I feel myself begin to break into a sweat. How will I put one more thing into my day? Eeee GADS! Now you want to be a writer and write EVERY DAY!?!?!?!
Yes, I am having a moment of panic.
But, taking a deep breath, I remind myself I AM a writer. I have things to say. I have things I want and need to say. Not every writing needs to be profound. It just needs to capture whatever has captured me in that day or moment.
I like that. I like the connection to joy and beauty and awe. I think this practice will bear fruit in many ways in my life.
Now to let it happen.
And, in the spirit of having a plethora of ideas. I’m wondering where might I carve time out of our K day for me and my Kindergartners to take a moment and just write — as fellow writers!
I recently read about starting a daily haiku writing practice. I offer my gratitude to the person who suggested it because it’s a fab idea. And, since I cannot remember who they are or where I read it, I also offer my apologies. Hopefully they’re feeling a cosmic ripple of gratitude and happiness right now.
It seems many people have adopted a daily haiku practice for various amounts of time. I enjoyed this post by Daryl Chen and this TEDx talk by Zezan Tam. Their witnesses about their haiku writing practice were inspiring and encouraging, and removed any doubt about whether or not I should embark on this journey of a daily haiku.
I’m imagining a few moments of haiku play each day. Perhaps it will happen first thing, but I’m not going to force it. I chose a notebook small enough to carry with me so I’m free to find moments — wherever they may be in my day — that best serve joy, reflection, observation, word play, writing, peace, breath, and me.
I’m on my second year of my daily affirmation and art journaling, and want to continue that. I envision the haiku play as a complimentary practice. I’m hopeful the haiku will be a way to notice the good, and express gratitude. Zezan Tam said his haiku practice also helped him grow in courage and humility. I’ve been thinking a good bit about those two things as well. I’m excited to see how the haiku practice might help me be open to increased courage, learning, and growth.
I’ve done two haiku poems since my Daily Haiku poem. Lest you think my process as I play and write is a rather direct line from idea to poem, I share this image.
My process is, instead, quite circuitous — filled with pause and mental fermentation. This morning, I got up before the rest of my family, grabbed my notebook, pencil and pen, and headed downstairs. I put on some water for tea, and did a bit of stretching, breathing, and praying. As I moved, I felt my spine adjust and my muscles warm and soften. It was a moment I wanted to remember with gratitude, so I sat to write. I jotted some phrases — counting syllables as I went. No poem yet. I got up, cut vegetables and began to cook them. New possibilities came to me, so back to the notebook I went. I was up and down a few more times as I fashioned the mix of words, beats, rhythm, meaning, and feeling that made me say “Yeah, that’s it.”
After much writing, thinking, counting, and speaking. I settled on the haiku poem you see above. Funny, as I type it today, I’m not as pleased with the passive voice ending. So, here I share Day Begins #2.
Day Begins #2 In. Out. Up and down. Body and breath move as one. Peace and ease emerge.
I love this practice and play for me, but I also think it could be amazing for my Kindergartners as well. Earlier this summer, I read Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into a Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. (A great book, by the way.) A haiku practice seems to fit right in with some of their ideas.
Just like me, my Kindergartners don’t have to write profound haiku poems — they just need to explore, play, and write. The 5-7-5 pattern gives them the opportunity to do a great deal of thinking, persevering and creating. Just imagine them playing with words! They will have ideas, count beats, think of new words and new ideas, rephrase, ask for help, give help, count again, and write!
As I thought of my Kindergartners playing with Haiku, I thought they might simply repeat words. They could use any words — as long as they follow the 5-7-5 pattern and enjoy the process. I came up with this as an example.
Then I listened to Zezan Tam’s TEDx talk and laughed out loud. He shared this poem as he explained the basic pattern of the Japanese haiku poem.
Haiku five, five, five, five, five se-ven, se-ven, se-ven, se- five, five, five, five five
How fantabulous is that? Perfect for Kindergartners!
What if they just use their names? The Kindergartners know and love their names. This might make it easier to find, count, and write the Haiku beats. How awesome to use your own name to practice phonemic awareness, orthographic mapping, and poetry. To help them out, I might make up three lines of Elkonin-like boxes — big enough to write in – following the 5-7-5 pattern.
My most recent thought?
“OH! We can have a classroom Haiku Board!!!!”
Me Molly, Molly, Mol James, James, James, James, James, James, James Molly, Molly, Mol
Kindergarten Haiku K poets unite! Count and own your words and beats Haiku soon you’ll share.
I love the PEM. It always has at least one exhibit that inspires me. I take photographs, get ideas for art with my Kindergartners, and gather lots of creative fodder.
This time, it was a solo visit, so I contemplated all the things I might do once I got there. For sure there would be photographing, noticing, thinking, wondering, and of course visiting the gift store. As an aside, it’s funny how I always visit museum gift stores even though I continue to be disappointed by their lack of connection with the museums, and their overall — in my humble opinion — lack of creativity.
I had been playing with the “don’t look away from what you’re drawing” sketching method in the morning. And, I had recently come upon this thought.
As I work at my drawings, day after day, what seemed unattainable before, is now gradually becoming possible.
Vincent Van Gogh
My mini watercolor journal sat next to the paper with my sketching. There’s so much that intrigues me with that method, and the loose sketching and painting school of thought. The PEM would surely have something I could sketch. There’s much I want to learn about the empty page, and its relationship to what I’m sketching.
Did I have the nerve to take it to the streets? Could I silence my own inner worrier? Could I put aside anything others might think of me or my work? Could I invite my inner artist to come out and play, and actually accept the invitation? Turns out, I can. But, I get ahead of myself.
I spoke to myself. “Maybe it’ll be fun. You like fun! Be like van Gogh and work on your drawings day after day. Just like for him, new things will gradually become possible.”
And then the kicker.
“How can you ask your Kindergartners to do something you’re unwilling to do?”
As I said that, I recalled my Kindergartners and all our affirmations, as well as my unwillingness to accept their reticence or resistance to trying something new or daunting. I took a deep breath in and out, and reminded myself of our affirmations: I have a big beautiful brain. I have an awesome heart. I can do hard things. I am brave. I am kind. I am a fantabulous artist. With another deep breath, I put my mini watercolor journal and permanent art marker in my bag, and set off for the museum.
You have to take some chances in order to grow.
Arriving at the PEM, I asked one of the museum staff what was the one exhibit to see if I were only going to see one. Without hesitation they suggested I check out the fashion exhibit. Here’s an arted-up photo of my first stop.
I spent time sketching here and at another part of the exhibit. In this one, I stood to the side, out of the way of any museum traffic. For my second sketching session I sat in the seats placed in the middle of the space. Sitting in the seats felt like a big win, and it felt good! I spoke the truth to myself. What anyone else thinks really doesn’t matter, and if they have questions or anything to say, I can explain what I’m doing.
This morning I found time to add watercolor to my sketches. As I did, I experienced worry about possibly messing it up. I chuckled and reminded myself it’s hard to mess something up that already is quite messy just by virtue of what it is. I realized my real worry was how I would manage having to see something I was unhappy with each time I opened my journal. Curiosity, love of making art, and the prospect of fun and learning won me over.
I sat on my couch with a cup of tea — careful not to dip my brush into the tea instead of the rinse cup — and painted. It was fun, and I like the result.
I thought about all sorts of detail I might add. My inner worrier, and my inner artist declined. One because she didn’t want to mess it up. The other because she thought it might not go with the otherwise loose look of the piece.
As I cooked my breakfast I thought, “Hmmm. Might I mask most of the image, leaving only the one figure that had a good bit of detail in the exhibit, and add some dots and detail with splatters of paint?” I grabbed some scrap paper out of the junk draw and did a really relaxed masking, followed by some splattering of paint.
I like how the splatters add detail without clashing too much with the sketching method.
There’s a lot reflect upon as a teacher.
It’s not always easy to go against your inner worrier, or accept an invitation to play — even when you’d really like to do so.
Van Gogh’s quote is true for much more than drawing.
It’s valuable to know you aren’t the only one feeling the way you are feeling.
It’s valuable to know that others have succeeded.
It’s good to have time to circle back — after you’ve had time to think — and work a bit more.
It’s important to have many opportunities to work and grow your art, understanding, and confidence.
I’m going to think about this — not just for art, but certainly for art. I’m excited to see what possibilities will make themselves known.
Sometimes, when things seem grey, or we can’t quite see as much as we’d like, we give into fear or stress. When we experience the lack of clarity, and the feelings that come with it, we often embrace it all as truth, and begin to tell ourselves a story filled with greyness, uncertainty, and melancholy.
The good news is we can do something else.
First, we can simply breathe, be, and notice. As we sit, or stand, with open hearts, minds, and eyes, we may notice that beauty, joy, or peace are present in this space that first seemed only grey and uncertain. As we can take another breath, we can acknowledge whatever is there. If we are open to the possibility, we might even express gratitude for what is.
We may not see a blessing in front of us. We may not feel at ease or peaceful. Sitting in the moment, breathing and being open and grateful may appear to be failing us. When that happens we can reassure ourselves, no matter how we feel, it’s helping. It’s science. It’s the way we are built.
Finally, we can remind ourselves that tomorrow is another day, and we’ll get there. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. Tomorrow will come! And when it does, it will be different from today. Let us hold onto the hope that it will be filled with many good things.
Here’s to experiencing the beauty and gift in the grey, and soaking in the awesomeness of a new day filled with light, color, life, and joy.
Have you ever captured wonder? Ever been (lovingly) slapped in the face with awe?
This day it was the wonder of this sky.
I’ve driven this dirt road many times. Sometimes I notice the dust and unevenness of the road. But today I was present to this. Or perhaps more accurately this was present to me — calling me to look, to see, to breathe, and to be open to the wonder of the ordinary. I snapped a picture in my mind, and with my camera.
My brother and I hiked, chatted, and pointed out various things to each other. I’m blessed to have him as my hiking partner. No matter how many leaves I notice, or how many times I say “Oh, look at that!” he never tells me “You know we just saw that last week.” or “You said the exact same thing 5 minutes ago.” He, too, is open to being in the moment, present to the wonder, joy, blessing, and amazingness of nature.
We walked and noticed new paths, and different vistas. And we sat. Exploration is super. Hiking is a joy. But sitting, sitting is absolutely necessary! It reminds me of Savasana in yoga. It’s a few moments, intentionally taken, to allow ourselves to experience who we are in the moment, to notice what our practice, our hike, our noticing, our awe, has produced in our bodies, minds, and spirits. It’s a time to rest.
We always find at least one lovely spot to sit. Sometimes we chat. Sometimes we photograph or paint. Sometimes we just rest in the awe of the present moment.
Ginny Graves wrote — in A Healthier Life (Real Simple Special Edition 10/21)
Positive emotions, like awe, love, and gratitude, suffuse your body with an uplifting sensation that can make you feel more at peace with yourself and at one with the world.
Mindfulness might help you train your brain to be less worried and more buoyant.
I love the idea and believe it to be true. Another day I’ll find the science to share with you. For now, I just share my experience.
My brother and I practice mindfulness as we hike. Sometimes it’s in mindful walking, sometimes it’s being present to the sights, sounds, and smells that surround us as we move. Other times it is the discovery of something we hadn’t yet seen. And always, it’s the sitting, and soaking in the space.
Look at all the shades of green. The plethora of plants. The amazing reflections in the water. This was a day for breathing and allowing the awe that I felt, and the almost magical bigness of the space and moment hold me. It’s funny to speak of it in that way. But that is the experience. It is being in the presence of something greater than me, of being surrounded by beauty. As I sit there I don’t know how to describe it other than being held, supported, with space to just breathe and be.
Another day at the same spot, I captured my wonder by looking deeply and using watercolor to capture a tiny bit of nature in my mini hiking journal. It’s funny because watercolor is something else that fills me with wonder and awe, and draws me deeply into a place of mindfulness. After painting I captured the moment to keep with me.
This is, for me, the image of an day well spent. Hiking shoes off. My feet in the green bed of clover at the bottom of the step on which I’m sitting. My view captured on the mini watercolor journal I carry with me. Looking at this image brings me back to that moment. I feel the joy I felt as I looked at all this in front of me. I see the brilliant green that stretches out in front of me, and I hear the water gurgling over the rocks. Amazing the wonder that can be held in an image, on the page, and in my heart and mind.
I couldn’t get out to hike the next day. Instead I brewed a big cup of matcha and sat in the quiet coolness of morning. I flipped through some photos from previous hikes. I took them with the intention of having watercoloring inspiration.
I decided to use this image of a small patch of flowers. The wildness of overlapping leaves, a plethora of different plants, and flowers popping out all over drew me. I liked the wildness — somehow it seemed like sweet cacophony of beauty. Is it possible for a cacophony to be sweet and beautiful?
As I sipped my tea, and zoomed in on the various areas of the photo, I was brought back to that moment in nature. I revisited the many different shades of green in the leaves, the darkness of the shadows and the soil, the textures, and the pops of color. I played with the paint and water mixtures, noticing how it moved on the page. As I did, I felt my breath and my spirit ease a bit. I painted and sipped tea in joy-filled silence.
I found myself in an unusual emotional space at the end of this school year. I had the same bittersweet feelings about my students and I leaving one another. But, I also had rather strong feelings of angst, frustration, stress, and honestly, just overall ick. Top it all off with the perception that I couldn’t shake the ick, but instead was somehow stuck in that grey, disgusting, frustrating, depressing, putrid space.
How’s that for an image?
So, what’s an educator to do when she finds herself in that spot? Choose a new story.
Kindra Hall says “In life, the most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves.”
If I were in the audience when she said it, I might have jumped up and yelled “Preach it, sister!”
Ah, but how to do that? It seemed the story I was telling myself was quite true. It certainly felt true. And, in some very real way, it was true. But was it the whole story? Was it the only story? Was it the story I wanted to choose to tell myself about the year, or me, or teaching, or the world? No, no, no, and no, it certainly was not.
Well then, what was that story? What was the truth I was overlooking, or not highlighting as the star of my story? What is the story I want to tell myself about this year, and perhaps about every year?
It is a story filled with love, triumph, learning, and inspiration. Listen as I tell myself (and you) the truest stories about this year.
One night this spring, I just broke down. Crying, I said “I don’t know what the matter is.” My brother paused and softly said “It’s been a hard two years.” It has indeed. I did cancer treatment – during a pandemic. I didn’t teach or coach for what seemed like forever. I felt awful more than I felt good during my six months of treatment. I taught Kindergarten virtually after spring break – that’s a remarkable new level of exhaustion. I took a 200 hour yoga, SEL, and mindfulness course as I recouped over the summer. I returned to the classroom in person this school year with a compromised immune system, no antibodies, masks, seating charts, tons of new tech, and tons of new teaching load. For sure it’s been a hard two years.
And yet, at the same time, and for many of the same reasons it’s been a year of triumph, grace, gift, and amazing strength, love, and overall fantabulousness. Let me explain.
I did cancer treatment, during a pandemic, with drugs that compromised my immune system more than it already was. I did it! Not by myself, mind you. I did it with the help of the amazing docs, nurses, and researchers. I did it with the love and support of family and friends. We did it! Me, and my tribe, did cancer treatment during the pandemic, and lived to tell about it with smiles and deep gratitude to God.
I taught Kindergarten — virtually! Not by myself. I did it with the help of many beautiful, kind people who helped me, encouraged me, affirmed me, and sometimes sat with me while I cried. And I didn’t just do it. I did it well. I proved that distance is not a deterrent to learning or to relationship. It’s an opportunity to rethink, to collaborate, and to figure out ways to make it amazing.
Fall of 2021, I returned to my Kindergarten classroom with a compromised immune system, no antibodies, masks, seating charts, tons of new tech, and tons of new teaching load, in a year that was difficult, exhausting, and taxing to the best of us. I returned. I struggled. I ideated and iterated. I breathed through a lot. I imagined possibility and I worked to bring it to pass. I entered into relationships with my Kindergartners and their parents. Together we created a year of learning, joy, discovery, and creativity. Together we created and lived a year of triumph!
At times this year was fraught with stress and anxiety. Unwilling to have that be our experience of the year, we worked together to fill the year with joy, peace, affirmations, breath, and mindfulness. As those dear sweet Kindergartners wept — missing their parents, unsure of what their friends where feeling — we breathed together. Sometimes I held their hands, and did the affirmation and breath practice while they simply stayed with me. I trusted that their mirror neurons would do their job and calm them by simply observing my practice of self-regulation. At other times the Kindergartners were the ones reminding me to breathe and practice mindfulness of doors, or helping their friends with affirming thoughts and suggestions of ways to proceed. They embraced their classroom jobs of peace person and positivity proclaimer and daily led their peers through mindful, beautiful moments of breath, affirmation, and peace. They even asked if they could increase their having a holiday job to include leading their friends in two yoga poses each morning. They also took their practice home and shared it with their families and friends. I know, because parents regularly shared their amazement and gratitude with me.
As I gathered my thoughts for this post I went through the notes from this year, as well as ones I’ve saved from years past. These add weight and validity to my stories. They strengthen the positive neural pathways in my brain.
Thank you for creating a warm, peaceful, exciting, artistic, free thinking and child driven classroom.
You are a warrior queen — determined and victorious!
Remember what an inspiration you are to so many.
You encouraged her to try new things no matter how scary they seemed. You taught her to not be afraid to ask questions.
We appreciate your fantabulousity.
I’m not the only educator who had a difficult year of triumphant teaching and learning. I’m not the only creative one. I’m not the only amazing one. There are so many others. I hope each educator that reads this post, takes the time to carefully choose the story you are telling yourself. Make it about your triumphs, your discoveries, the lives you’ve changed, the relationships you’ve forged, the difficulties you have overcome. Make it the best and truest story about yourself, who you are, and what you do.
With gratitude to God and all the amazing people who encourage me to be me, and who help make what I do possible, I say, “I am capable, and strong. I have a big beautiful brain and am always learning. I am kind. I am brave. I can do hard things — and regularly do. I have an awesome heart. I make a difference. I inspire others. I am deeply loved. I am, and always will be, fantabulous. My year was not easy, but it was amazing.”
Post Script: If you’re anything like me, it may feel a bit uncomfortable to say all these things in such a public way. It may even seem somehow improper to do so.
But, the truth is it is completely proper, and absolutely necessary!
We must treat ourselves as we would a good friend or colleague. We acknowledge their foibles and the times they have fallen short, but we champion their fantabulousness and all their victories, and gains. We tell them the stories that help them understand who we know them to be. We tell others those same stories and more — because they are valuable stories — to tell and to hear.
Please tell your amazing stories! I’m happy to listen if you want to share them in the comments. But feel no pressure. Just tell them to yourself and at least one other.
Gosh it’s been a long time since I posted anything. I’ve crafted several posts in my mind, saved photos that I wanted to blog about, and sat down at the computer. But, my brain was mush attending to the plethora of items on my end of school year to do list. Finally I have a moment where I feel I can write. I think it might be because my topic makes my heart, mind, and eyes, brim over, and I need to let it out in words and witness.
It was time to make my end of the year gifts. Actually it was almost past time to do them in order to give them to my students before they left. I headed out to the store with my brother to buy photo paper, picked up some cute triangular sheets of paper that I thought might make nice cards, and hurried home to start the process. The gifts are ABC affirmation cards — 26 letters in the alphabet plus two cover cards means 28 cards per Kindergartner. 23 Kindergartners means I had to cut out 644 cards. It was Sunday night. I was giving the gifts on Wednesday morning. Can you say, “Oh my gosh?!?!?!” Perhaps you already have.
As I waited for my brother to print the cards, I thought how cool it would be to make an origami box that would fit the cards perfectly. Surely someone had figured out how to do that. They had. Here’s the video I used — with gratitude to the creator! And how cool is it that it involves using the math? (Yes, yes, I carry my math-loving-nerd card with great pride.) Thankfully, I had paper at home that would work for the project. Now I wasn’t silly enough to make a top and a bottom. I would never have slept if I did that. Instead I made a bottom, and then used the triangular sheet of paper to craft a sleeve that went around the box and served as my card as well.
My Kindergartners listened intently as I told them about the gift. They accepted the gift as though accepting something very special. I loved that, and was struck by how carefully they opened them. They flipped through every card. Some read them on their own, some with a friend, and others asked me to read them to them. When they finished reading them, they looked at me and asked “Can we make some?”
Make some? You want to make some?!?! I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I said “Of course you can!” Their next question was “Where can we get this paper?” referring to the photo paper I used. “Oh,” I replied. “I don’t have any of that here. But I have white index cards, and I have these colored post-it notes.” They gathered up their supplies and started writing and drawing. They made cards for their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. One worked on many cards. “What can I write for D? I am …. Hmmmm… What’s something for D, Miss James?” I thought a moment and said “Delightful!” She liked the suggestion, and worked on. She took some post-it notes home to finish her deck.
The next day she came in, and handed me this.
She said, with a smile, “Here you go, Miss James. It’s for you” I opened it to find this. An deck of affirmation cards — one for each letter of the alphabet — made and gifted to me by one of my fantabulous Kindergartners.
How remarkable, right? I gift them. They are inspired and feel empowered to do their own work, to create their own cards, to affirm people in their lives. And then, they gift me right back. It’s all a gift — the opportunity to be together this year, choosing to gift them, experiencing their reactions, living our relationships, feeling their power, and receiving the sweet gift of these Kindergarten handmade cards from A-Z.
My Kindergartners returned from a special the other day, and after counting I presumed one of them had stopped at the nurse. Moments later she came into my classroom, arms wrapped tightly around the leg of the specialist teacher. Turns out she had gone to the bathroom as the specialist brought the Kindergartners back, and ended up alone in the other building. She remembered how to get back to our building, but without a teacher, was locked out. Thankfully, a colleague was opening the door as she arrived and found her, shoulders lifting and falling with her tears, hands sweating with work and worry.
She and I talked — with the other Kindergartners — and breathed many breaths together. It helped to debrief and to breathe, but I could tell it wasn’t enough. I abandoned my original lesson and said “Hey Kindergarten! For social studies we are going to take a field trip.” Gasps and questions filled the air: “We’re going on a field trip? Wow! Will we take a bus? Where are we going?” Even the student who had been lost was intrigued and a bit excited. When she discovered that she was a much needed part of the field trip, she breathed a bit deeper — distracted and empowered by her role.
I told them it was a walking field trip, and we were going to explore the school a bit. First we walked to the stairwell at the end of the hall. The door has a latch that requires you to push the latch down with your thumb while simultaneously pulling on the handle. For adult hands it is quite easy, for Kindergartner sized hands it requires some thinking, and problem solving to make it work. Some could make it work with one hand, others used two to accomplish the task. As each was successful, she ascended the stairs and waited for the next part of our field trip.
As we continued to the next building I asked the Kindergartners to notice the many things they were passing. I told them we would be making a map when we finished our field trip and they would need to remember the important bits to add to their map.
We entered the next building, and again examined the door to determine how we might get out if we needed to do so without a teacher. The first student pushed and pushed on the handle to no avail. Then another said “It says to push the green button!” Another said “Yeah, I knew it said that.” I acknowledged their knowledge but pointed out that sometimes, when we are nervous we have a much harder time reading, so it’s good to have a simple memorable way to remember what to do. We decided “Green for go!” was a good reminder.
Once outside again, I asked the Kindergartners to look around and think. Where are we? Where do we usually go? Where else might we go? What would be the best place to go? They noted that we usually go one way but we would come to a locked door. They commented that we could go to the Upper School and the Kaleidoscope playground by going another way but didn’t think that would be helpful. I encouraged them to keep looking and thinking. Finally they decided to try yet another way and realized it took them to our Kindergarten playground. I asked what they might do when they reached the playground if they weren’t with a teacher. They thought, and talked, and finally decided they could knock on the window to get a teacher’s attention.
Them: “Can we try it, Miss James?” Me: “Sure! But wait for me to get inside, then carefully knock on the window to our classroom. Best to knock on the wood around the window. It’ll be loud and you won’t risk breaking the glass.” Them: “Ok!”
There was lots of whispering and watching as I jogged down our little hill towards our learning space. I looked back as I neared the door. Their eyes watched me intently as they stood in their line encouraging one another with “Not yet. .. She’s almost there…. We can do it!” I think I may always have that vision of them burned into my brain. Such small humans, with such big hearts, brains, and courage.
As I ran into our learning space, I yelled to a colleague, “Don’t open the door for my class! We’re working on a problem!” Entering the room I sat down and waited for their knock. I didn’t have to wait long. The knocks were loud and clear. I came to the window, listened as they told me what happened, and then let them in through our outside door.
Once inside, my fantabulous Kindergartners became cartographers. Each, in their own way, documented the information they felt was important about how one might get from the other building back to our learning space. As they finished, the cartographers eagerly explained their maps to me before asking with great delight if they might take them home. One asked if I knew how other maps were folded. When I told her I did, she asked if I could fold hers like that. I did my best, and with a big smile, she safely tucked it into her pocket.
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.