A Reason to Make A Map

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.

Teach for Delight: Part 2

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.

New Blocks

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An educator friend was getting rid of her wooden Cuisenaire rods. She wondered if I might have any use for them.

Lovely colored, wooden blocks?!?!!! OF COURSE I can use them!

Happily, my students are as excited by new materials as I am! As I put them into containers yesterday, this conversation ensued:

Them: “What are they, Miss James?!!”

Me: “New blocks!”

Them: “New blocks?!?!!! For us?!!”

Me: “Yes!”

Them: “What are we going to make with them?”

Me: “I don’t know. What are you going to make with them?”

As others gathered — helping to put the blocks into the containers — conversations and gasps of delight erupted around me.

I love when excitement, joy, imagination, creativity, conversation, problem solving, and possibility surround me. And when it’s precipitated by wooden blocks saved from the trash bin, it’s extra special.

 

 

Sometimes a bread knife …

Sometimes a bread knife:

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Sometimes a saw:

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“Creativity involves coming up with ideas that work.” (Teaching for Creativity p. 14)

Sometimes the creativity arises from necessity. This was the case in my kindergarten class. I needed a way for me and my students, to cut, or saw, cardboard pieces and tubes. It had to be safe and easy to use.

Necessity, and creative thinking, yielded a super useful girl-powered tool. It just required me to look at things, think about them, and use them in a new way! With a little creative thinking, a common kitchen tool become something much more.

As they used the “bread-knife-saw” the following conversation ensued:

Students: “Oh come on, Miss James, this isn’t really a bread knife!!!!”

Me: “Yes it is! I cut my bread with it at home.”

Students: *silently stare me with looks of incredulity, amazement and delight*

If this were a graphic novel, or cartoon, the next frame would have shown the students heads exploding from this mind blowing experience and conversation!

I love when creativity evokes joy, wonder, even disequilibrium or disbelief. These feelings help to cement the moment  in our brains and hearts. Hopefully, these feelings and moments increase our future awe, fascination, and creative thinking.

 

Resources:

Beghetto, R., Kaufman, J. C., Baer, J., (2015). Teaching for Creativity in the Common Core Classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press,