Imagination

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.

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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?!”

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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.

While researching a bit for this post, I was thrilled to discover the article by psychologist Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, entitled Imagination and Creativity in Children. He writes:

 

Imagination is not just an idle mental amusement,

not merely an activity without consequences in reality,

but rather a function essential to life.

(Vygotsky, 2004,  p13)

 

RESOURCES:

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

 

 

 

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Classroom Setup 2017-18

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!

 

NOTE:

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.

 

 

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The Blank Page Revisited

I’ve written several times about the blank page – once about my own experience and then another time about my Kindergartners working to overcome the blank page.

Even so, I still struggle with the blank page. It fascinates and attracts me – enticing me with its beauty and possibility — while simultaneously intimidating and mocking me!

I love making art – letting other’s art inspire me, exploring new mediums, or creating beautiful things for myself and others. I’m pretty talented. But again, wow, sometimes I’m stymied by the blank page. It pokes at me — like a sneaky bully — with angst and doubt, and keeps me from doing what I might.

My mind is always searching for connections between seemingly unconnected things, and the other day that trait helped me have an epiphany that helps me overcome my own blank pages.

The first part of the connection is a note and bracelet gifted me by one of my K students:

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I love that note and bracelet. I am even thinking how I might have a more permanent bracelet made that says “Imagine possibility!”

The second part of the connection was a quote on a friend’s Facebook post:

“Stop worrying about what might go wrong and get excited about what might go right!”

Ding, ding, ding!!! All of a sudden I got it!

I AM good at imagining. I imagine wonderful opportunities and ways of accomplishing them when I’m building with my kids. When I’m imagining art possibilities, I revel in all sorts of fabulous, positive possibilities. I enjoy imagining things I might make, as well as new ways to do things.

But when gazing upon the blankness of the page my imagining begins to change. Instead of the joy-filled optimistic possibility thinking, or the enthusiastic fun of trying new things, I imagine all the things that could go wrong. And, just like my more hopeful, lighthearted imagination, my fretting, angst-ridden imagination is powerful and thinks of many possibilities. Only problem is, these possibilities include the numerous things I do not want to happen!

This epiphany helped me as I worked on the door design I am creating. I did research. I prototyped. I discarded methods and color combinations that didn’t work. I refined the methods and color combinations until I was quite pleased. Finally, I mustered up my courage and took control of my own thinking.

Instead of allowing my imagination to travel down the dark path of doubt, doing it’s beautiful creative process to imagine all that could go wrong – destroying my hours and hours of work – I chose to get excited about what might go right! I imagined the fantabulous things that might occur – in my learning and in my actual product.

Sometimes I’m not able to come up with the actual possibilities because my thoughts of what might go wrong are so strong. In those times, I determine to embrace the excitement and possibility of what MIGHT go right — even if I’m not sure what they might be.

So one day, as sat in my workshop space, my door stared at me, daring me — or begging me, depending on your perspective — to come continue to work. With determined resoluteness, I accepted the challenge! I pulled out the colors, chose my brushes and began working.

It was a bit stressful for a moment, but as I worked, the stress eased and I developed a process that worked well. After just one flower was painted, my imagination was freed! I began to imagine — and believe — all the things that might go right. It was remarkable how interesting — intoxicating even — it was!

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I am now super excited to be in the process, and see where this will end up. I’ve made mistakes. But, I’ve chosen to breathe through them and let my imagination and process make good things happen. My fingers are crossed this will stay with me for future blank pages.

I’m wondering — imagining — how I will use this information with my students. I am certain there is something profound to share with them. My mind is already at work.

Now to await the marvelous, mysterious connections sure to come, and to become excited about all that may go right — for myself and my students.

Our Door

“I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.” (Andy Goldsworthy)

I don’t know how Andy Goldsworthy does it – in a couple of ways! I have no idea how he makes the art he does. It’s quite spectacular. And, more importantly for my thoughts today, I have no idea how he deals with the transience of his work. It’s remarkable to work for so long on something just  to have to fade away.

I felt a bit of that as I took down the final vestiges of our supermarket build. The last thing to go was the door.

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I kept it up a few days after the girls left. It seemed odd, in some ways, to feel such a connection to the door. But I did. Funny, even writing about it feels me with emotion.

That door was a part of our classroom for months – first in our thoughts, imagination and conversations. Then in uncompleted form, forgotten it would seem, on the side of our build. Still later, in our day-to-day exploration, experimentation, and work to build it. And finally, as a working door, providing the only access to the main part of our classroom.

We went in and out of that door a zillion times! We marveled at it. We kibitzed with it – trying to make the hinges more stable, and prototyping different handles. And, we just lived with it.

Perhaps that’s it. Andy sees his art and creativity as a statement of transience. He creates it as such and in some way revels in the transient nature.

I, however, did not.

I knew the supermarket would only be up for a short period of time. But, I didn’t enter into the relationship with the girls and the build with transience as my goal, or even as my understanding. Each day we entered into the now of the build, the some time of our imaginations, and the ever deepening forever of our relationships with each other.

That door held deep meaning. It was the way we entered into a lovely, safe, joy-filled space in the classroom. Perhaps even more important, it was also a way we entered more deeply into relationship with each other. We imagined hard, thought hard and worked hard to get the door up and functioning – and that drew us together as a community.

I laughed at myself a bit as I looked at the door, standing alone in the classroom. What good is a door with no walls? Why would someone keep up a door to no where?

But, as I thought I chuckled. It isn’t so silly to be attached to this door. It’s not a  door to no where. It’s a door still open to all those moments, all those ideas, all that love, angst, joy, celebrating, collaboration, hope and possibility.  It’s a marvelous magical door, imbued with the spirits of all of us who worked on it, marveled at it and enjoyed it.

Perhaps after all, in some ways, our creativity is just like Andy’s. Our relationships, memories, hopes, and all the possibility that fills them, last forever. But, Kindergarten, is transient and brief. So too, is our build, and our remarkable door.

Thankfully, similar to Andy’s art, it lives on in our hearts, memories and photographs!

 

 

 

 

Possibility Thinking and Cancer

Did I mention I have cancer? Yes, lol, I thought I might have.

Anyway, I do, and because I do, I get to keep tabs on the status of my blood. Amazing thing, our blood! But, I digress.

My latest results were a cause of significant angst. Many of my results were great, but there was one number that was pretty wonky. Wonky enough to have, and I quote “clinical significance.”

“Clinical significance?”

EEEEE GADS!!!! Can you say eee gads? Yes, I’m sure you can.

Thankfully, regardless of clinical significance, I don’t need to do any medical treatment right now because I am healthy, and, it seems, managing everything quite nicely! YAY!!!!

But, wow, what do you when your doctor says 500 points higher has clinical significance (translation: your cancer is waking up and rumbling a bit) and your number is about two times that amount higher??!!! Well, if you’re me, you stress, but even while you stress, you diligently look for ways to be positive, and to (lol) beat the cancer back into submission.

Initially I was really struggling to be positive. I felt crushed by my doctor’s words, and was having a hard time embracing the goodness of the present moment.

Then I saw it, right there, on the back of my journal …

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!

I felt the joy of one seeing an old friend. Possibility thinking! Ah yes, that’s the ticket!

I first encountered the idea of possibility thinking while researching for my MA. I read several articles by Anna Craft and her colleagues, and dreamed of ways to increase possibility thinking in myself, and in my students.

Here are some great quotes to give you a sense of possibility thinking.

  • Possibility thinking is thinking that moves “beyond the given, or ‘what is’, to the possible, or to ‘what could be?’  (Craft, A.)  and to,  ‘what can I, or we, do with this?'” (2012)
  • Possibility thinking “refuses to be stumped by circumstances, but uses imagination, with intention, to find a way around a problem.” ((Jeffrey and Craft 2003)
  •  Possibility thinking involves “questioning, play, immersion, making connections, imagination, innovation, risk-taking and self-determination.” (Possibility Thinking)

Fabulous, right? Moving beyond what is to what might be. Refusing to be dumbfounded, bewildered, or overwhelmed. And, I think, embracing the bewilderment, and allowing it push you forward into wondering, questioning, thinking, searching and finding!

So, I’m re-embracing relentless positivity. I’m harnassing the power of possibility thinking.

I’m imagining, and knowing, anything is possible. I’m questioning, thinking reading, talking, praying and doing …. all to move beyond what is, to what could be, right here, right now, and in the future!

A friend and I were talking about possibility thinking the other day. She asked me “What if your research and thinking proves it isn’t possible? What do you do then?” I burst out laughing. “It just means it isn’t possible with what we know now.” She hesitated for just a second, then grabbed her notebook saying, “Oh yeah! (laughter) You’re right. I have to write that down!”

Keep imagining. Keep thinking about what could be. Keep thinking what you/we can do with this. Keep believing in possibility. It’s everywhere.

 

 

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Thomas Edison and Kindergartners

They are more alike than you might think at first glance!

According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, Thomas Edison once said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Given the chance, any kindergartener would say that! Ok, perhaps they wouldn’t say “what the world needs” but they surely would say “what I need” or “what my friends need” or “what my dog needs.” They are natural problem-finders, and problem-solvers!

Like Edison, they are constantly observing, investigating, wondering, and asking questions. This, coupled with their imagination, and a rather intense desire to have things that do not yet exist, often leads them to a plethora of problem-finding. This car I just made is too long. We need a zip-line on the playground. Why don’t we have a container that holds all that stuff?

They often also share Edison’s intense confidence, boundless energy, imagination, and love of tinkering. Given the opportunity, time, resources, and a little encouragement, they create many prototypes as they engage in focused and determined problem-solving.

One of my kindergarteners recently discovered a problem she deemed worthy of her thought, time and energy. “How can you open a card without touching it?” Hmmmm …

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“Add some handles!”

We might be inclined to relegate this to the “ah, isn’t that cute” category. While it is cute, it is so much more! It is sophisticated problem-finding and problem-solving. This student took her present knowledge – about cards, sticks, handles, tape, hands – and thought about it in a new way. She used that knowledge to envision something as yet non-existent – a card you can open without touching it. She then took the materials available to her, and used them in novel ways to solve her problem. She created a card with handles. And, it can even be place in an envelope.

Finding problems, thinking divergently as well as convergently, tinkering, testing, and finally, problem-solving are important skills and habits. My fingers are crossed that my students will continue in this way, and one day say, with Thomas Edison “We found out what the world needed, and we went ahead and invented it!”

Resources:

Edison Innovation Foundation http://www.thomasedison.org/

Thinking, photographing, and conversing in the block center

Blocks are a fascinating medium. They provide endless opportunities for exploration, learning, growth and joy. While they have always been a part of our Kindergarten classroom, this year they are an integral part of our curriculum.

Blocks enable the girls to participate in all three domains of learning – cognitive, affective and physical/kinesthetic. The girls engage in mapping and spatial planning, collaborate with each other as they build, negotiate for space and use of blocks, and finally, when finished, conduct tours, as well as answer questions regarding their designs and buildings. The depth of thought and engagement is fantastic!

While building, the girls must think creatively and critically. What will they build? Where will they build? How will they create the various shapes and levels? What if the blocks they want are being used elsewhere, can they create that same block using other blocks? What if their structure is unstable and falls down, how can they re-engineer it for greater stability? Additionally, creative and critical thinking abounds as they furnish their buildings with accessories and special features, and as they create the community of persons who live in, or work in, their buildings.

My absolute favorite part of the process is documenting their work through photographs, and conversing with the girls regarding what I see.

It is incredible what I see, and don’t see, as I look through the camera. And it is fascinating and fabulous what I learn – about the girls, and their buildings – as I ask questions.

  • Can you tell me about your thinking?
  • What is this?
  • How does this work?
  • How did you make that? Is there any other way you could build that?
  • Tell me about this.
  • Hmmm. Could you create a way for …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • Oh wow! How did you decide to do that? How did you decide to do it that way?

Look …

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Do you notice the two people? The builder was hesitant to add people to her structure – although it had a multitude of spaces where people would congregate, play, and live. Finally after a bit of conversation, she added the larger figure. I admired the figure, listened to her explanation, and continued to photograph the other girls. When I looked back, I noticed she had added another person … on top of the first person’s head! I chuckled and said, “Is she standing on his head?” She looked at me as though I knew absolutely nothing and said “No, Miss James, he’s giving her a piggy back ride!” I responded, “OH MY GOSH! Of COURSE!!!! I get it now.” How else would we show that? She continued creating people – some standing on their heads, some on their feet, and stacked them 10 high on the original person’s head. Evidently, the circus was in town and the acrobats were staying at that apartment building!

Now, do you notice the face with blond hair and a crown? The girl added that to her castle when we were talking about adding people. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that is? So, I asked. “Hey, A. What is that? A ghost? A head with no body?” As with the other girl, she looked at me like I was a bit silly, chuckled and said, “No, Miss James, it’s the old queen.” I didn’t get it yet. “The old queen?” She continued her explanation, “Yes, a picture of the old queen, on the wall! Look here is one of the old king!” I laughed and said, “Oh! I love it! Pictures of the people who used to be here. Fantastic! Does someone live in the castle now? Will you be adding them to the castle?” She assured me that she would.

Finally, do you notice the doorway (archway) that appears to have two entrances? I loved it as a structure and architectural detail but I was intrigued to know what the girl was thinking when she created it. “M. would you tell me about this?” She launched into a detailed description – complete with a demonstration – regarding the planning, purpose and use of the doors. Evidently there are good and evil people in her realm – of varying sizes. The good people, big and small, can enter the castle using the appropriate opening. But, should an evil person approach the doorway, the single arch magically moves to block their entrance. And, I believe, should they have somehow made it past that safety measure, there was a trap door waiting for them upon entering!

Fabulous, isn’t it? Their ability to imagine is quite remarkable, eye-opening and entertaining. But, had I not engaged them in conversation with open ended questions, I would not have understood the depth of their thinking!

A Tree Grows in Kindergarten

I recently attended a workshop at Bank Street College in NYC. They have a tree growing in the middle of their lobby! A BIG TREE! If I remember correctly, it actually goes up to the second floor.

It was fabulous! I wanted one in my space. It would add to the classroom environment. It holds incredible possibilities for all sorts of learning and playing – science, history, literacy, math, art, morning meetings under the tree, and puppet shows in front of the tree. And, the students would love it.

I chuckled as I wondered how I might convince my school to architecturally recreate the kindergarten and library (above our room) to allow a tree to grow within the school building. Realizing that was not likely to happen, I set about thinking how else we might have “a tree grow in kindergarten.”

Ages ago, a friend gave me all sorts of wire to use as sculpting material. I still had a lot of the wire left, in a beautiful basket, on top of my cabinets, waiting. “Woo hoo” for keeping things that have creative potential, even when I can’t figure out how to use that potential.

That wire held the answer! If I couldn’t grow a tree, surely I could make one out of wire!

In my mind, I imagined a grand tree. A wire trunk with real tree branches  “growing” out of the wire trunk. It would be spectacular!

I built the tree in my mind several times – often changing the structure on a long car rides. Finally, I was ready to give it a go.

There was a lot of prep work the night before the build – find fishing wire, fight off mosquitos to get branches, take the leaves off the branches, gather tools (wire cutters, clippers, pliers, a hammer, pencils and a tape measure), load the car, and, perhaps most importantly, try not to forget anything.

The day of the build also held a lot of work – including tons of measuring and re-measuring, a failed try at anchoring (which, thankfully, led to a better engineered tree), an incredible amount of wire work, the realization I had to cover the pointy wire ends (yay for silver duct tape), and many other niggly details and tasks.

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The process was an interesting combination of frustration, invigoration, exhaustion, perseverance and psych. It was an exercise in patience as I pro-typed, failed, thought, re-thought, tried again, looked, looked from another angle and perspective, adjusted, tweaked and took untold number of relaxing breaths. In the end, my fingertips and back were screaming, but the tree was there, “growing in our kindergarten room.”

I will, no doubt, rebuild it again in my mind. I am already imagining new ways to connect and support the branches to allow for greater artistry and larger branches! But for now, a tree, made of wire, paper, actual tree branches, hard work, and imagination, grows in Kindergarten .

(A close up of the wire bark – complete with knots.)

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 (The tree ready for our first day.)

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I trust the tree will bring joy to those who experience it, and encourage them to be open to possibility, creativity, imagination, hard work,

I hope, now, and throughout their life, they will be inspired, and empowered, to create something new and fabulous — perhaps, something incredibly useful and valuable.