I’ve been having a difficult time in one of my relationships. I’ve felt frustration, anger, disbelief, and annoyance. We need to figure out a way to resolve our disagreement, find a way to coexist, and even more so, to be our best selves together. So far, we haven’t found that sweet spot.
Yesterday, so tired of the discord and associated feelings, I remembered the loving kindness meditation practice. I pulled out my Breathe For Change manual to remind myself of the statements they suggested, and began.
I placed my hands on my heart, and connected to my breath. I used my imagination to create a space of warmth and love, where I could see myself — and even experience myself — as being safe, well, happy, and loved. I sent myself the loving kindness wishes: “May I be happy. My I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be free.” I stayed in the space for a bit, repeating the words, seeing it in my my mind, feeling it in my body, and expressing it on my face.
Our brains and minds are incredibly amazing and complex things. They allow us to imagine, create, and feel things — even things that may be different from our current reality. And, unbelievably, our brains don’t know if we’re actually experiencing it, or simply thinking about it. Years and years ago, I started saying one of Thich Nhat Hanh meditations “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile. Living in the present moment. What a wonderful moment.” It’s amazing, when I am feeling a bit off, how the simple act of smiling seems to release happiness chemicals into my brain.
So back to the loving kindness meditation.
The B4C folks added a level of imagination which I find to be fantabulously helpful. “Imagine a door opening at the bottom of each foot, and breathe whatever is not helping you out through those doors.” It’s so funny, my doors aren’t always the same doors. Sometimes they are large and grand, sometimes shaped like a hobbit door, sometimes tiny little things. I’m not sure why. But, they are always beautiful, and the thought of opening them to release the ick brings me joy.
So, I opened the doors in my feet, and imagined various things that weren’t helping me. Some of them flew out easily and seemed to become tiny flowers as they left. Other things got caught in the corners, and needed a bit more encouragement to leave.
Then I brought to mind the person with whom I’m experiencing the difficulties. I imagined them in my minds eye, and began the loving kindness meditation. First I reminded myself that, just like me, they want to be happy, safe, healthy, and free. Then I sent them loving kindness. “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be free.” I repeated it several times imagining myself actually saying it to them, and imagining them experiencing all those things.
Will this make our difficulties go away? Probably not. Will it change my brain and how I respond to this person? Will it bring me more peace and less of the angst I’ve been feeling? Will it help me to be my best self? I hope so, and I trust in the science that assures me it will.
So with another breath I use the power of my creativity to imagine possibility. With each breath, each thought, each moment of loving kindness, each choice to hope, I will bring what is possible to life.
I’m finally taking a moment to write. As I sit wondering what to share, the sweet smell of freshly cooked waffles is finding its way into my space. “Mmmm, waffles.” quickly becomes “PIE! I can share another piece of PIE!” I hope you’re hungry, and ready to enjoy a delectable piece of PIE – Picture-book Inspiration and Encouragement.
Today’s PIE has been baked by the talented Skye Byrne and Nic George – The Power of Henry’s Imagination. The ingredients in this delicious PIE #4 are Henry, Raspberry (Henry’s beloved stuffed rabbit), Henry’s grandpa, the mailman, love, and the incredibly flavorful ingredients, Henry’s imagination and creativity. Henry and Raspberry do everything together — until the day Raspberry goes missing. Henry can’t find Raspberry anywhere – and no amount of looking seems to help. Henry’s grandpa tells him there’s only one thing to do — “Imagine Raspberry is with you!” Clearly, Henry and his grandpa love each other very much. So, given the advice, Henry does just that.
The illustrations in the book are lovely. They’re a delightful mix of photographed items and hand drawn images. The illustrations and wonderfully crafted words encourage us to imagine along with Henry — and perhaps into our own lives. The Power of Henry’s Imagination is a beautiful story, and a scrumptious piece of PIE just begging to be shared.
Henry’s imagination is awesome — and as the title suggests powerful. For me, what makes it so powerful is his willingness to enter into the process. He doesn’t just sit and think about Raspberry, he goes about his days as though Raspberry is with him. Raspberry and Henry go on adventures together. Henry goes on the adventures in the physical world. Raspberry adventures through Henry’s mind, heart, and imagination. These imaginative experiences brings joy, peace, and much less fretting into Henry’s life. It’s amazing, really.
Perhaps as you’re reading this you’re thinking. “Oh, come on. This is a made up story, and it’s about a kid and his stuffed toy. What does this piece of PIE have to do with me in my life?” It’s a good question — especially when the situations we find ourselves in often feel more real, more important, more fraught with anxiety and possibly dire consequences than the simple losing of a beloved toy.
Amazingly enough this piece of PIE has a LOT to do with us and the situations that cause us to feel things like worry, stress, anxiety, fear.
The neural pathways of our brains are strengthened by use. The ones we use the most transmit information the fastest. If you’ve ever hiked, or spent time by water you’ll recognize this phenomenon. The paths that most people walk are cut deeper, and are easier to notice and follow. The ones that are less traveled — by humans, animals, or water — are harder to find, and following them is much more difficult and time consuming. So, if we spend a good bit of time fretting, reminding ourselves of our fears, or the things that cause us to feel worried, those are the neural pathways that get strengthened and become easier to to travel. Happily that is also true of the pathways that might bring us joy, peace, and ease.
Our imagination and creativity — much like Henry’s — are remarkably powerful. The essence and power of imagination and creativity is the ability to bring something new into existence — new thoughts, new ideas, new emotions, new things. We imagine what is possible — or perhaps, we open our minds to the possibility that something else is possible. Noticing a new possibility, we choose to believe — crazy as it may sound — that this new thought, reality, option, item, emotion, possibility might be able to become a reality. Then, we open our hearts, minds, and lives to this possibility, and actively work with our creativity to bring it into existence.
For instance when I’m feeling anxious, I entertain the possibility that I can feel peace and joy — even in the midst of whatever is causing me to feel anxious. Then I work to make the possible real. I might become aware of my breath, my emotions, my thoughts. Deepening and slowing my breath is a physiological way to ease my feelings of anxiety. Bringing a smile to my lips and recalling a time I was, or a way I can be, calm, peaceful and happy, begins to allow my anxious feelings and thoughts to dissipate. The smile, and my imagination begin to feel and be real. Might there still be a reason to be anxious, sad, whatever I am experiencing — yes, of course, but my imagination is allowing me to create space, to create possibilities for moments of peace and joy. And as I do so, my brain is creating those neural pathways. It’s a remarkable thing.
And, it’s not just imagination creating thoughts and emotions — powerful as that might be. It’s also imagination creating ourselves — or perhaps allowing ourselves to see the possible and to begin to live it. When my students repeat our affirmations “I have a big beautiful brain. I have an awesome heart. I am kind. I am brave. I can do hard things. I am fantabulous.” I want them to hear it — from me and themselves — and to begin to see it, to feel it, to know it in their imaginations, and then to begin to embody in their very selves and lives. Repeating these phrases changes their inner landscape — strengthening the neural pathways that help them be their most fantabulous selves.
And, wait, there’s more. Imagination and creativity is what allows us to do all sorts of beautiful, new things each day. How might I show my love more fully? How might I help my family, or my neighbor? How might I listen differently, react differently, and therefore get a different response? How might I envision my students as their best selves? How might I include parents in new ways as partners in the learning journey with their children? How might I use what I learned yesterday to create an even better lesson for my students today? How might I set up my learning space?
And, as I run through all those “How might I?” (which by the way grow in power when they are able to become “How might we?”) I am struck by perhaps the greatest quest for my imagination and creativity. How do I want to show up today, every day, wherever I am? And, how might I do that?
Yes, Henry’s imagination and creativity is powerful. My imagination and creativity is powerful. Your imagination and creativity is powerful. How might you use it to increase the love, joy, beauty, fantabulousness of your life and the lives of those you touch.
I read The Power of Henry’s Imagination with my students at the end of the year this past year. After I read it, we talked about our imaginations. We talked about these questions: Have you ever used your imagination? Have you ever used it like Henry did — imagining something to be real that isn’t yet real? Then, I asked them to think all the way back to the beginning of the year. What did they not know how to do, or not yet believe about themselves? Had they used their powerful imaginations to help themselves accomplish their task, or believe something about themselves. All of them had. Their answers were amazing.
(To honor the students I’ve kept their spelling in their sentences.)
“At the beginning of kindergarten I did not know how to wite lower cace but I amagend that I cod now I can”
“At the beging of the year I had to amgin colering in the lines now I can.”
“I was shy so I imagined. Then I made new friends.”
I was, and am, blown away by their answers.
This year I’m going to use the book earlier on. I want them to know, think about, and use their imaginations and creativity to be their best, most fantabulous selves from the very beginning. And, I want to do the same as well.
Where Henry and Raspberry ever reunited? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Or perhaps just continue to use your imagination, like Henry, and have many great adventures.
A colleague of mine — who is equally enthralled with imagination, curiosity, wonder, and creativity — shared this article with me. It’s a nice article, with things that made me go “Hmmm…” as well as ideas I definitely want to work with my girls.
My only tsk moment happened when I re-read the article for this post and noticed the subtitle is “Three strategies for helping upper elementary and middle school students develop their mind’s eye.” Perhaps the author thought lower elementary and early childhood children don’t need to have strategies to stir their imaginations. Perhaps she thought her strategies were beyond their young minds.
My experience says nothing could be farther from the truth! (If you’ll allow me to be a bit hyperbolic!) My Kindergarteners enjoy using their imagination, and they benefit from language that values and encourages it, as well as strategies to use it in new ways in their learning and life. So, that said, I hope all grades will give the article a read.
The author of the article, Diana Rivera, studies imagination in the field of psychology. Who even knew you could do that? I think it’s fabulous, but I had no idea! Now that I do, I’m going to be doing a bit more research!
Anyway, I like her suggestions for “stirring students’ imagination.” I will definitely be using her thoughts to enhance my own practice of stirring my students’ imagination. But first, I allowed her ideas to stir my imagination!
I was prepping a read aloud and connected project. I love the Gus Gordon picture picture book — Herman and Rosie. and had decided to use that for my read aloud. I discovered this amazing AUSLAN online reading of the book. If you do nothing else, watch the video, and read along with the book as it shows in the background. It’s really a joy.
I wondered what to do as a project. I’m not one for specific “do this” kind of projects, and everything I thought of left me a little blah. Then I received and read Diana’s article.
Dare I just let the girls use their imagination? Did I trust them, and me, and the process that much? What if it didn’t work out? What if they were disappointed?
I took a breath, or more precisely let out a big sigh, and thought “What’s the worst that can happen?” They may not enjoy my idea. They may not be able to imagine anything they would like to create. I may be disappointed in myself fi I cannot help them imagine, create and have fun. I may have to say, “”It’s an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t work out as planned — at least not on the first try.”
So with really nothing to lose, and lots to gain, I decided to give it a go!
It was fantabulous!!! At first they seemed a bit perplexed as I explained the project.
Them: “What are we doing for project?”
Me: “We’re going to use our imaginations and think of what we might create that has a connection to Herman and Rosie.”
Them: “But what are we going to make?”
Me: “I don’t know! We have to think about it. Use your imagination. What can you think of in your brain that we could make?”
Them: silence …
Me: “It could be anything. Maybe we want to imagine a place we’d explore and make a map like the one in Herman and Rosie. Maybe we like to sing so we’d make something for singing.”
One of them: “Maybe we can make musical instruments!”
Me: “That is an awesome idea. We can make musical instruments!
Them: “Musical instruments? We can make musical instruments?!”
Me: “Sure. Let’s give it a go.”
It was a beautiful day so we moved outside to our play area. Several girls crowded around the table and set work. As they worked they had to also problem solve how to keep the papers from flying away — it was beautiful because of a rather strong breeze.
The first to make a guitar brought it to me.
Her: “How do I get inside it?”
Me: I was stumped. “Get inside it?”
Her: “Yeah,” she said, as her fingers moved along the string lines she had created, “Inside it. So I can play it.”
Me:”Oh! You want strings?!!”
Me: “Wait right there!” I hurried inside to get a pack of rubber bands and some more cutting tools.
We worked together to decide on the number of strings she wanted, and the number of strings that could fit on her guitar. We problem solved — adding popsicle sticks for strength and stability — when the strings caused the guitar to bend in half. Finally we basked in the glow of a mini working guitar.
As she strummed it, she looked at me and said, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll make a guitar pick.”
She wasn’t alone in her imagining and creating. Several others created instruments too. Many of them created guitars and my original young guitar inventor was able to act as expert and help them.
One of the next days as she was dismissing, she popped her head back into the room and asked “Why are so many people making guitars, Miss James?” “I’m not sure, but I think it’s because they really liked your idea, and your guitar.”
She didn’t say anything, just looked at me.
I continued, “What do you think? Do you think maybe you inspired them to create guitars?” A smile I will remember forever illuminated her face. She shyly shrugged, and left the room, aglow, saying “Maybe!”
Perhaps, along with asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” I should have also asked “What’s the best that could happen?”
Several remarkably wonderful best things that could happen were shown to me by all my creators — most especially the smiling, glowing girl.
We can imagine things and create them.
We can help each other.
We can inspire one another.
And best of all, we can learn that we are inspiring!
The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.
It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.
What color shall I use?
Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
Which yarn will I use?
Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?
A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.
The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!
At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.
“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.
“Would you string it for me?” she asked.
“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”
Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.
I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”
She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.
I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!!!
“Rock on with your fantabulous self, my girl. Rock on!”
I’ve been thinking a lot about finding time in the day to “give” to my learners — time for them to make and invent, time to think creatively and critically, time to think about possibility, to experience joy, energy, challenge, freedom, and agency. It’s not so easy to find, but I just kept thinking and wondering.
I noticed I sometimes have small pockets of time in morning meeting. Not a lot of time for sure — maybe 5 minutes — but I thought I’d see what we could do in that time.
I searched around for LEGO bricks in the classroom, and found quite a few. I took out most of the pieces that suggested any thing in particular (trees, people, wheels). I hoped by doing that to have the creation be more open to possibility, and the imagination of each maker, and less led by the ideas of the LEGO makers. I found a basket that made it easy to send the bricks around our morning meeting circle, and eagerly anticipated our work together!
By the way, we hadn’t used our LEGO bricks in some time, so they were in a need of a wash. I loaded them in a mesh bag, and washed them on the top shelf of my dishwasher on a cool setting. Worked great! Thanks to all the people who posted things online about ways to wash them.
The first two times we gave it a try, we worked together to create one structure. We each picked a lego, and added it to the structure as we passed it around our morning meeting circle. Here’s our first creation.
Sometimes the girls were quiet, watching each other add their brick. Other times they kibitzed about where to put the brick, or shared with a neighbor what it might be.
When we finished creating the structure I placed it — with a pencil — next to a clipboard reading “Our morning meeting invention might be … ”
Over the next few days, the girls continued to think about what the structure might be — not what it is, but what it might be — and when they had a moment, they added their ideas to our lists.
The girls loved creating together, and writing their ideas one the lists. In the process we all got to practice and grow in many ways. We
used our imagination.
thought creatively and critically.
were open to possibilities.
were flexible when our friends accidentally knocked a piece off, and replaced it in a different spot.
acted as individuals, and as a team.
practiced handwriting, and encoding our thoughts into words so others could read them.
were resourceful — figuring out how to create something with a small set of bricks.
worked on our communication skills — as we created, as we talked about the creations later on, and as we shared our ideas.
enjoyed each other and the process.
It may seem like there is no time in your day to allow your students to invent, create, make, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and enjoy. Don’t believe that. Be open and observant. When you notice a moment or two in your day, give it to your students, and yourself, as moments of possibility.
Often times this is my mantra: “Small moments. Small creations. Big impact.”
Give it a go. Grab the moment! Your students, and you, deserve it.
By the way …
If you find a moment and do something, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you did, and how it went.
If you find a moment and have no idea what to do, ask a colleague, or leave me a comment. I’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas.
if you look at your schedule and say “Molly does NOT know what she is talking about. My day is packed, and there is NO WAY I can do one more thing!” leave me a comment. Maybe we can look at your day together and find some time.
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?!!”
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.
Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.
Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of
research and learning
pro-typing and iterating
the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution
My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.
Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences. Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.
I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food? Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?
So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.
This person did it for me this build:
I don’t recall any other student making a person with three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.
She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.
Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”
She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:
Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.
Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable — until it happens.
With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.
I never cease to be amazed, and amused, by the imagination of my Kindergartners! Here are some examples from the first few weeks of school.
Every year, the kindergartners regularly take what is, and transform it into what might be. This year is no different. The other day two of my girls excitedly exclaimed “Look, Miss James!!! CAMERAS!” First they used them — photographing anything that sat still — then they shared them with me.
In a similar fashion, imagination filled our space with ringing phones. The K architects and builders had to get the building inspector (me) to come inspect their buildings prior to giving tours. Blocks and popsicle sticks were quickly taped together to create phones which rang loudly — often with shouts of “We’re calling you!!!!” — as they tried to get me to come review their building.
Imagination soars as blocks, objects, and ideas, are combined in new ways to create fanciful builds during our social studies work. Stories, even more elaborate than the building itself, accompany each new structure — “In order to get in, you have to use sticky shoes, climb up this tower, stand on the top, and LEAP to the balance beam below!”
They use their imagination as they struggle to understand the new, and its connection to the known. At these times they construct theories as to how what is, might have come into being. While playing in our sensory table, one of them said, “Miss James, did you paint this beans to look like cows?!”
I almost burst out laughing – imagining myself painting each bean. I didn’t though. Instead I affirmed her observation “Wow those DO look like cows. I never thought of that!” Then we looked at the many different types of beans in the bin and marveled that the beans grow this way!
I always tell the Kindergarten parents their children’s imagining is important. It may be entertaining, but, it’s so much more. It’s powerful and valuable, and must be affirmed, encouraged, supported, and grown.
Imagination enables them, and us, to make meaning, understand, explore, investigate, test, and create new ideas and things. Strengthening the skill of imagining –the ability to think, see, conceive of, and believe in, things that are not before us — as well as strengthening our belief in its efficacy, is remarkably important. It’s meaningful and necessary now, and for the future.
Imagination fuels our creativity. The great scientists and researchers, trying to solve any of the many problems facing us will not succeed without imagination. They must be able to imagine what does not yet exist — new ideas, new combinations, new structures. They have to be able to imagine a world without the problem they seek to solve — no more illness, hunger, loneliness, pollution, war, hatred, to name just a few. And, they have to imagine themselves conceiving of the solution.
not merely an activity without consequences in reality,
but rather a function essential to life.
(Vygotsky, 2004, p13)
Vygotsky, L.V. (Jan-Feb 2004). Imagination and Creativity in Children. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 42, no. 1, January–February 2004, pp. 7–97. Retrieved from http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Mail/xmcamail.2008_03.dir/att-0189/Vygotsky__Imag___Creat_in_Childhood.pdf
Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of setup is “the manner in which the elements or components of a machine, apparatus, or system are arranged, designed, or assembled.”
I love to remind myself of this definition while I’m going about my classroom setup. I am designing a system in which I, and my students, colleagues, and parents, will work, create, play, and learn. If I’m any example, creating a classroom system requires a lot of thought, reflection, iteration, sweat, and muscle!
As I worked, thought, and sweated, I reminded myself of the truth about myself and my students. We are “rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent” (Loris Malaguzzi quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2nd addition, p. 275). I also thought back to my MA research where I considered the environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence.
I read so many thought provoking things as I researched for my MA. I synthesized them in an article in Creative Education. If I were writing my dissertation, or the article now, I think I might title it Managing the Classroom for Creative and Cognitive Excellence. I want my classroom setup to support creative excellence, and cognitive excellence. To do that, it has to include and support the 6 elements of Teresa Amabile’s KEYS I adapted for classroom management in Managing the Classroom for Creativity:
Freedom which enables and and encourages ownership, motivation, and engagement of all the learners.
Positive challenge which helps everyone know the tasks/skills they engage in are important and valuable.
Supervisory Encouragement which values work and thought, and encourages inquiry and exploration.
Work group support which encourages the generation and exchange of new ideas.
Easy access to sufficient resources.
Organizational Support of our shared vision and an infrastructure that enables and empowers everyone in my learning space.
I’ve finished my initial classroom set up, and am super happy with the result. There is more work to be done, but I’m ready for my learners to join me in the space.
In addition to including the 6 elements listed above, I worked on including more visibility this year. I was mindful of balancing beauty and utility. I wanted our work, vision, thought, prototypes, iterations and our creative and cognitive “mess” to be visible. It adds a richness to the space — telling our story while increasing curiosity, inquiry, wonder, learning, understanding, creativity and excellence!
Here are a few photos with my reflections.
Last year our maker projects where stored in a classroom cabinet. This year, some awesome maintenance people ripped out the cabinet, and I replaced it with this open shelving unit. The wall behind and beside it is covered with a large art piece my students made last year. (How awesome is that?!!!) The use of that artwork, the trays for student work, and the words on the front of the shelving unit let everyone know these things are valued and supported.
A second smaller shelving unit — on the coolest, gigantic wheels — keeps our tools neat and easily accessible. There’s opportunity for remarkable exploration and learning through the use of these tools.
The maker trolley has always been a part of the makerspace, but this year I am repurposing the back to hold more materials, and storing our large item bins in the open. I am hopeful this will increase use and understanding.
The two classroom easels provide opportunities for creative art experiences outside the regular art curriculum. The second is actually a double easel – fabulous for conversation and inspiration! I love leaving the dried paint on the easels. It adds an element of beauty and history to the space, and allows for freedom as one paints.
I’m thinking about the resources I have that might enable me to store paper beneath the easels — enabling the artists to be autonomous in their work. I have some ideas I’m going to try this week.
I love the connection between my learners’ art experience and mine (the watercolors are my work). I also like the suggestion of a connection between painting, shapes, blocks and building.
Print is plentiful and purposeful in my learning space. I want my students to read the room and learn. I want them to become more skilled at letter recognition and use, and to be inspired — to see, read, absorb, and live, what is important.
I love all the little print treasures in my space, so it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. However, I am enjoying this one quite a bit! I wonder what it will evoke or awaken in those who see it. For me it stirs up joy, possibility, positivity, and continuing even when obstacles arise.
And this, partially hidden gem, out of the way of traffic, is a message from me, to me. “Be a superhero every day. The kids and the world deserve it!”
All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!
Whenever I write, I think of all the remarkable people I’ve read, talked with, and researched . I think about adding tons of links to each post. Instead, I offer my deep gratitude to all those who informed my research and learning, and remind my readers there is a great bibliography at the end of my Creative Education article.