Matisse and Me

I’m teaching art with my Kindergartners and that always has me reflecting on my own process, emotions, and thoughts as a creative.

I’ve been painting when I hike for a few years now, but this year, I began working in a watercolor journal. All the paintings — no matter my opinion of them — are there. I’m always kind of surprised by the courage involved to put pen or paint brush to paper — especially when it is in a bound book, or done without pencil sketching first. I wondered it if I were the only one to feel that. Surely not, I thought.

Looking for affirmation for my feelings I set about finding articles linking courage and creativity. As I looked I stumbled upon this quote by Henri Matisse “Creativity takes courage.” Ah, even the master felt it!

And then, as I read more, I nearly fell out of my chair. Matisse — the man whose pencil drawings of the Madonna enthralled me at the Museo d’Arte e Spiritualita in Brescia, and whose Cut Outs took my breath away at the MOMA — said this:

“It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”

Wow.

When I read that, I was amazed and encouraged. If Matisse could be bothered that he didn’t paint like everybody else, why would I be surprised that I feel that way? If Matisse said it, and yet went on to embrace his work — grow, change, re-invent himself when he saw fit — then I could, too.

It’s remarkable how freeing it is to know Matisse was bothered that he didn’t paint like everybody else. Somehow that gave me a great sense of freedom. Just paint, draw, do your thing. Notice, think, wonder, and make creative and artistic decisions. Your thing is yours, it’s beautiful, it’s creative, it’s artistic — but most of all, it’s yours.

What if Matisse had stopped doing his own thing and tried to be like everybody else. Yikes! That would have been awful. So I encourage myself — I am in amazing artistic and creative company, and if a master like Matisse could just say “Hey this brings me joy, and expresses what I see and feel” then so can I.

So I paint on. I draw on. Seeing my work, and the work of others for what it is — us.

I photographed daffodils on a recent walk. Wanting to make some art I grabbed a small piece of watercolor and got to work. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Yes. Did it bring me joy? Yes. Does it bring me joy now as I look at it? Yes. Is it me? Yes. Is it my style? Yes. What more can I ask for?

For now it sits on my desk to remind myself of the joy and awesomeness that is creative and artistic me — the joy and awesomeness of creating from who we are, where we are, with all we are.

When I work with my Kindergartners I want them to have this freedom — the freedom to know they can make great artistic and creative decisions, the freedom to find joy in their process and product even if it looks different than others, the courage to create with confidence in their own fantabulousness.

From Matisse, to me, to them. Who knows where it will go from there?

Trust and Art

I’m teaching again! I’m super excited to be back, getting to know the girls, and doing my thing.

One big wrench in the works — or one gigantic and glorious opportunity for new thinking and wonderful possibilities, depending how you look at it — is that I’m teaching remotely. Most of my class is back in school, and one student continues to learn remotely.

It’s a lot of work to teach and develop relationships in person. Now I’m doing that remotely. Can you say “PHEW!”

This week I got to teach art. I could cry with happiness!

And, speaking of crying, I did cry — big ugly crying — as my colleague and I tried to work out the logistics for the art class. We went through many possible iterations, and each one seemed to have a reason it might not, or would not, work. Thank goodness, my colleague was super understanding and encouraging. She told me I was doing a great job and it was only the second day back in school. She assured me we would work it out. and it would be awesome. I decided to believe her, and signed off for a much needed moment and cup of tea.

Once I was settled and able to agree — It is only the second day. I am a fantabulous teacher. It is going to be alright, maybe even better than alright. — I was able to take a breath, and think creatively about what and how to teach. I settled on Hundertwasser.

First I considered how my image might be the large enough for them to see me, and the art I shared, while still allowing me to see all of them. A friend of mine signed on to a zoom call with me — along with her two daughters — to test out spotlighting and pinning. Pinning seemed to be the best choice.

Then I looked at my Hundertwasser books. What images did I have? Could I narrow them down to no more than 5? I wanted the Kindergarten artists to have time to notice, think, and wonder about the art, but I also wanted them to have plenty of time to create their own work, inspired by Hundertwasser.

What did I want them to know about Hundertwasser? I decided on these points:

Hundertwasser was curious and couragous.
Hundertwasser did a lot of thinking and imagining.
Hundertwasser’s ideas became artwork or buildings.
Hundertwasser liked spirals, wavy lines, bricks and stones on his buildings, lollipop trees, and color.
Hundertwasser changed his name when he became an artist.

I shared these images with the Kindergarten artists, and we dialogued about them.

Once they were familiar with Hundertwasser, I asked the Kindergarten artists to use their sketchbooks to experiment with, and practice, the various elements. They worked with determination, focus, imagination, courage, and joy. They used the classroom document camera to show their sketches to me. I shared what I noticed, thought, and wondered. I did my best to encourage their artistic freedom and decisions making, while also highlighting the elements we were using from Hundertwasser’s art.

I was surprised how well we were able to interact with one another. Even though we were miles away from one another, they seemed to be able to feel my love, respect, awe, and joy. I worked hard to express it through my emotions, language, and very self. I was very intentional with my words, and actions, so as to be able to express what I was feeling, thinking, and believing about them.

Before the second Hundertwasser inspired class, I again thought deeply about what I would present, as well as what we would discuss. The time and zoom constraints were a blessing — an annoying blessing but a blessing none-the-less. The constraints forced me to be very clear about my purpose and plan.

The Kindergarten artists and I reviewed the elements together, and re-examined the images so they were fresh in our minds. I shared a bit of my thinking as an artist. “I do lots of thinking – and often move my head or step back in order to see my art work in new ways.” I told them Hundertwasser was very thoughtful as well. I assured them that they could do great art thinking, and make great artistic decisions, too! I showed them a few watercolor tricks – using your dry brush as an eraser of sorts, and mixing colors on the page rather than a palette.

Finally I reminded them about Hundertwasser changing his name when he became an artist. Since we are all artists in Kindergarten I suggested we all change our names for this piece of art. I told them some names I was considering, and remarked that Hundertwasser changed his name to something that had meaning to him (peace and water).

After reviewing the steps – pencil first, sharpie marker next, then colored pencils if wanted, and and finally watercolor — I set them free.

I decided to work on my own art while they worked on theirs. I resisted the urge to micromanage them, but instead chose to trust them as artists. One of my colleagues asked if a teacher should see their work before they moved on with each step. Taking a deep breath, and willing myself to continue to trust those artists, I said wanting to be clear to her and the Kindergarten artists, “Nope. We don’t have to see it. They know what they have to do, and I trust them as artists. I’d love to see their work, but they don’t have to show it to me.”

My art was wonderfully interrupted by Kindergarten artists eager to share their work with me. Each time I would do what I did with their sketching. I would affirm their artistic decisions, express awe and joy, notice the elements they had included, and encourage them to think if they might add whatever was missing. But, if they pushed back that they were totally happy with their work, and it didn’t stray too far from the path we were walking together, I accepted their decision.

At the end of the class I heard a call “Ms. James, the artist known as Dog, would like to show you her work. And here is the work of the artist known as Creative Trees. Oh, and the artist known as Swirl, as well as the artist known as Creative Ruby, would also like to show you their work..”

I laughed out loud, and expressed my joy to these fantabulous Hundertwasser-inspired artists. Their work was amazing. Their name choices were spectacular.

I’m SO glad I took the risk and trusted the Kindergarten artists!

Their work didn’t turn out as I imagined it might when I picked Hundertwasser as our inspiration. But, that’s exactly as it should be! Their work turned out like a piece of Hundertwasser- inspired art — created by them, not by me.

Oooh, A New Brush!

I broke out a new watercolor brush today. It was so much fun! If you’ve never tried it, you really should. It doesn’t have to be a new brush — any new tool will do. It’s especially fantabulous if the new tool has unique or unusual characteristics compared to your other tools.

I discovered this type brush a few months ago. Can you imagine?! I’ve been an artist of sorts my whole life, and here’s a brush I’d never heard of before.

The brush is a rigger, and the hair is remarkably long compared to a similarly sized round brush.

I read it’s called a rigger because it was originally used to create the straight lines of the rigging of boats. The idea being, I believe, that the long hairs allowed for the shaking in your hands to be less noticeable in the line. And yet, what I loved as I used it, was the fact that very slight movements of my fingers/hands created beautiful, non-straight, organic lines. I’m thinking there’s a connection between those two competing uses. I can’t yet express it, but I feel it’s there. I need to play a bit more.

Finished for the moment, I imagined my Kindergartners saying, “That’s so nice, Miss James. How did you do that?” Implying “How can you do that but I can’t?” I usually respond to that query by reminding them how long I’ve been playing and practicing. But today, I’d have to add, “And I used a really cool brush called a rigger. I’ll have to bring it in so you can try it”

It’s a Good Day

I haven’t added anything to my inspirational art journal lately. For some reason I’ve been feeling uninspired, and frankly, unconfident. As I experienced this lack of inspiration and confidence, I thought of my Kindergarten girls and all I ask them to do. Sometimes they are uninspired and unconfident, too. I don’t let them stay in that uncomfortable spot, or use it as an excuse. So, I figured I wouldn’t let myself do that either.

I didn’t immediately make an entry, but at least I noticed what was what, and agreed to make one soon.

As I waited to make an entry, I distracted myself by sorting through my rather large collection of books. I found a few books I am ready to let go, a TON of books I want to read, and an old journal.

I flipped through the pages of the journal. This page stopped me mid-flip.

I’ve always admired people who are calligraphy stars, but haven’t yet found my groove with that. Hand-lettering is a different story. I enjoy it, and I’m pretty pleased with my ability.

I remember this hand-lettering adventure. Much like when my kindergartners learn handwriting, I worked to accurately replicate an already created font. It wasn’t simple. I needed to really look at the letters. I endeavored to notice shape, size, angles, relationships between the various components of the letter, and the general feel of the font. Then I took what I noticed, let it inspire me, and created my version of the font. I like it!

There’s a strong connection between my hand-lettering work, and the handwriting work my Kindergartners do. It’s important for me to acknowledge that, and even more important for me to share that with them.

I see at least two reasons to share it with them.

One is to encourage them to really look at the letters. I think sometimes the curiosity that might increase their learning, interest, and enjoyment, gets pushed aside for the rote “learn the steps” method.

The second reason I want to share this with them is to elevate their opinion and understanding of their own work. Rarely do our students see us struggle, practice, or learn new things. Perhaps even worse, the work we ask them to do — writing letters repeatedly — is often perceived as something only for children, or the less skilled. When we share the times our learning looks very much like theirs, we end up elevating their learning, work, and struggle. We normalize it as the way we all learn, become more proficient, and make things our own.

I think it would be amazing if we encouraged our students to create their own hand-lettering. It could be an extension of handwriting, and might even help them become more adept at forming the letters correctly.

Imagine the conversations you could have together about their created hand lettering. They could point out the things they noticed about the various letters, the things they kept the same, the things they emphasized or de-emphasized, what they were thinking, what was easy, what was hard, what they did to overcome various struggles, how they hoped to use the lettering they created, and much more. We could marvel at their noticing, thinking, and creativity. We could notice things about their lettering — how it resembles the handwriting letters, and how it doesn’t, how it makes us feel, and how it inspires us. We could even ask them to teach us how to make it. So much potential for amazing interactions, learning, and growth.

Back to my lettering. I remembered the joy of creating it, so I decided to let that be my ticket back into my inspirational journal. I wrote just one word:

Then I added a few bits of advice for myself. God is love. Be love. Be loved. Beloved. It’s sitting next to my chair, reminding me of the importance and place of love in my life. One might think it’s hard to forget about love. But, I think, sometimes, it’s pretty easy to forget. I want to stop forgetting, and really live love and all its remarkable power.

I flipped a few more pages in my old journal, and noticed this:

and then this:

Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE writing in pencil? Especially a wonderful pencil like the one in the photo — a Faber Castell graphite grip pencil. It is sweet! And no, I don’t receive any free pencils from Faber Castell for recommending them — but boy that would be pretty fabulous!

Again, my thoughts go to my Kindergartners. I understand there are reasons we ask our students to write with particular pencils. But if I love writing more when I use particular pencils, and I know I like my handwriting better with certain pens, mightn’t my students as well? And if they might, shouldn’t I sometimes give them the opportunity to write with tools they love? Yes, I should.

These two pages reminded me of another practice I’d like to incorporate into my day with my students. I like making lists of words — words that inspire me, words that are things I love, words that are things I want to do, or be, or feel. I find joy as I combine the words into phrases – in this case simple two word phrases that are easy to remember and might become mantras. And it’s fun to experiment with various combinations, and imagine things to create with them. Mmm. So good. Fantabulous, even!

So, I’m back on track with my inspirational journal. I am excited to continue my hand lettering work. I’m reminding myself to love, allow myself to be loved, and remember I am the beloved of a God who is love. And, I have some great ideas I want to bring to my fantabulous, big-beautiful-brained Kindergartners!

It’s a good day.

Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity

Curiosity, courage, and creativity have been my constant companions these past few months. These three emotions, mindsets, and actions — they seem to be all three — help me survive and thrive with cancer; increase my experience of joy, awe, and wonder; and facilitate and strengthen my making and learning.

I’ve been making a lot of art lately. Perhaps because I have more time and opportunities for mindful engagement, I’ve had a uniquely fantabulous experience as I create. I seem to be able to watch myself make art — almost as though I were watching someone else. The closest I can get to explaining it is to say it’s like metacognition for art and creativity. I’m present, curious, and aware of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what I’m feeling, what I’m noticing, and what I’m thinking. I gotta say, it’s fascinating.  

I’ve been primarily studying and playing with watercolor and various kinds of sketching. The other day I watched a tutorial video with Liz Steele over at Art Toolkit. Wow, she has a beautiful process and product. I’m fascinated by her use of watercolor to lay down structure, and her balance between precise thinking and loose relaxed lines and painting.  Before I even finished the tutorial, I grabbed my watercolors, marker, and a black and white photo of a church I love, and set to work.

My curiosity  — Would her method work for me? How will it go? How will I feel?  Might I do that? Can I adopt her loose line method? Can watercolor really give me that structure? — combined with my love of making, gave me the courage to try.

Is it perfect? No. Was it fantabulous to try? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes. Do I want to keep experimenting? Yes. Do I have more questions now than when I began? Indeed! Did I buy another journal to use for my urban and life sketching? You bet!

I’ve since subscribed to Liz’s blog, found Urban Sketchers, am waiting with anticipation for Liz’s book to make it out of quarantine, and am resisting the urge to buy any other books. There’s so much to learn!

My curiosity propels me, and, I’m noticing, helps me to engage with my process and art in an almost detached way. I’m less worried about trying new things, and when I make mistakes, I recognize them as opportunities rather than disasters.

Here’s an example. I’ve been making folded books to send to friends during the pandemic. As I flipped through one of the books, I saw the same quote on two consecutive pages – UGH! I didn’t want to redo the whole book, and I wanted to maintain the structure of a single sheet folded and cut in such a way as to create a folded book. What was I to do?  I took a breath and a moment to think and wonder “How might I … ?”

After a bit I realized I could cut the page, and paste in a piece of my collaging stash.

By approaching the mistake with curiosity, I was able to see it as an opportunity rich with potential and possibility. The problem opened my eyes to ideas I hadn’t previously considered, and encouraged me to make connections I hadn’t yet made. It turned out to be a happy mistake as I discovered a new way to create the books while adding color, interest, and a unique place for me to add art and inspiration!

Curiosity isn’t always all I need. There are times I am curious and still afraid. Just the other day I was working on my purposely wonky mandala-like designs. I had finished the design and inked in all the various elements. I loved it. My plan was to add color with the watercolor glazing technique — laying down light layers to create shades and depth of color. But, as I looked a the piece I hesitated. Dare I take the next step? Dare I follow through on my desire to try watercolor glazing? Dare I let curiosity lead me to take the risk of putting color to the paper — and possibly wrecking it. Eeee gads.

I did all those things, but not without first stirring up my courage. It’s remarkable, really, how much courage I sometimes need in order to do things, even, and perhaps especially, things I very much want to do. 

I made a few copies of my work so I could begin to experiment with the watercolors before placing them on my design. As I played with the colors, I noticed how they interacted with one another, and how they presented when placed together. It was fun, it taught me a lot, and it increased my confidence.

While experimenting and painting my actual piece, I was constantly stopping, looking, thinking, wondering. I looked from different angles — sometimes by changing the angle of the paper, and at others the angle of my head. I read an article that suggested the angled head posture is a sign of curiosity — trying to understand, to see in different ways, and to orient our ears in a way to gather more information. How cool is that? I laughed to myself thinking, ah, that is what I do when I’m listening or deep in concentration — nice to know it suggests I’m always curious and helps me learn.

My painting process was a blend of intuitive work and critical thinking. I was happy to have the time, quiet, and opportunity to experiment, notice, wonder, and learn. I was fascinated by my eyes growing ability to distinguish between very subtle differences in color. It was interesting to become aware of the things I saw, and didn’t see, each time I looked. It seemed my brain was able to perceive new things with each new look — things my eyes had already seen but my brain hadn’t been ready to process.

I’m super happy with my process, and product.

So, back to my wonderful companions — curiosity, courage, and creativity. 

Curiosity.

Curiosity encourages me to engage and persevere. The curious person is constantly asking questions, and looking to discover new things. I love when it opens the door to new ways of seeing by pushing me to ask questions like why? and why not?

Creativity.

Creativity births new ideas and opportunities as I problem-find and problem-solve. Creative thinking encourages me to make new connections and see possibility.  It encourages me to be open to new ideas, and enables me to create things and ideas that didn’t exist before. Creative thinking is crucial in our ever changing and increasingly complex world.

Courage.

Courage fosters my curiosity, creativity, and learning. With courage I am more willing and able to take risks, think, and learn.

My best work, learning, and enjoyment come when I am curious, courageous, and creative. If my best work, learning and enjoyment are championed by curiosity, courage, and creativity, so too for my students.

So I’m back to asking questions, and thinking about why, why not, and how might we?

Metacognition:

Do I encourage metacognition– even in Kindergarten? Do I teach them the word? What structures are in place in my learning environment that encourage my learners to value their own thinking — sometimes even over the solution?  When do they have the time to notice, think about, and document their own thinking? Perhaps even more powerful  — how do I discourage it? What are the subtle ways I value the end result over the process?

Curiosity:

Do I value and model curiosity? Am I teaching my students to wonder, ask questions, and strive for understanding? Do I provide time, opportunity, and my presence to their questions, wondering, learning, and understanding? And again, how might I unknowingly or unintentionally discourage questioning and self directed learning?

Courage:

Do I honor the fear my learners may feel — especially when they are deeply invested in learning or doing something? What strategies do I teach them to help them increase their own courage? Have I created an infrastructure in my learning space that can help them find the right level of challenge — neither too easy or too hard — so as to grow their courage? Do my learners and I celebrate mistakes, and actively search for learning and beauty within our mistakes? Am I courageous enough to allow my learners to fail? Am I creative and sensitive enough to help them learn from their mistakes and fail forward? How might I be foiling their attempts to strengthen their courage?

Creativity:

Do my students understand the power of creative thinking? Do I encourage dreaming, wondering, fantastical ideas? Is there time in the day for my learners to experiment, tinker,  and make? Am I encouraging creative thinking as well as doing? Are my learners empowered to find problems that mean something to them, and search for solutions? Am I patient, courageous, curious, and creative enough to find ways to allow my learners to find their own answers and way of doing things? Do I share my creativity without usurping theirs?

So much to consider. For now, I will let these thoughts ferment in the deep recesses of my mind. I’m on leave, and need to focus my energy on my health.

Look for it. Feel it. Name it.

I had the opportunity to chat with two of my colleagues this morning. It was a great exchange. It was wonderful to see one another (virtually), to listen, and to share. I left feeling connected, encouraged, and uplifted, with lots of things to think about.

One of my colleagues shared that so many people she’s communicating with now have heavy hearts. I could feel the weight as she spoke. People are struggling to feel joy. In the face of so much discord, difficulty, fear, injustice, illness it makes sense to feel a powerful incongruence. How might one legitimately feel joy, or be justified to do so, when so much is wrong around us. Everyone is dealing with such strong feelings – many of them less than positive. It’s a struggle to figure out how to sit with it all.

Thinking about it, I responded. “Maybe it’s because I’m a Kindergarten teacher, but my first thought is to quote Mr. Rogers. — Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

For me that translates into look for the good, the positive — there is always good and positive. I thought for a bit and continued. “I think if we don’t look for the good, if we don’t experience, embrace, and celebrate whatever good and joy we find, then evil wins in an even stronger way.”

We must continue the fight. We must acknowledge the things that are not right, the things that anger us, frighten us, or sadden us. We must sit with all those who suffer. We must cry out for justice and mercy. But, at the same time, we must, I think, continue to look for, and find, joy. We must continue to hope.

After talking, I resumed a yoga and mindfulness course I’m taking with Little Flower Yoga. It included a video of children and parents sharing their experiences with mindfulness. I was struck by how much they were speaking to my conversation with my colleagues, and the one I’ve been having with myself as I prepare to start my cancer treatment again this week.

Mindfulness, they said, helps us understand where we are now. It affords us the opportunity to notice everything, and connect with the now, ourselves, and others. It was a real aha moment for me. Sometimes I feel like I need to remind people of how tough things are. Other times I think I shouldn’t feel joyful when things are so uncertain and potentially dangerous. But, as I take a breath and try to see things in my here and now, with kindness and curiosity, I notice that those thoughts and feelings are only part of my now. There is, even amidst the difficulties, many points of light, hope, peace, joy. In mindfulness, I must see and explore everything, give everything voice, light, time, thought — and even in my darkest moments that includes joy, goodness, and hope.

This photo reminds me of some of the reasons I have for joy, hope, peace, gratitude.

There are so many people choosing to help, to love, to pray, to do what is right – in my life and in the world. There are many reasons to be grateful. I am using my breath, my body, and my mind to connect to those truths, and to allow them to inform my feelings and action. I texted a friend that my to do list today includes — see the good, the positive, the blessings, the strength, the safety, and the helpers; speak of them in some way (to myself and others); and let it inform and bless me, and the world.

No matter what, this is my mantra. It is me encouraging mindfulness in myself.

I hope to see the world, and the situations I am in, in the fullness of truth. I know, for myself, it is the only way I will have the strength, courage, and ability to be, and to do, what is best.

Embrace the Bitter, Lean into the Sweet

This year we ended our time together in Kindergarten without being in each other’s physical presence. That was hard. During the preparation for our end of year celebrations, and during the many goodbyes, I had to deepen my breath, and hold onto their bright eyes in our zoom calls.

True to form, it was a bittersweet moment. My love and respect for them always intensifies the bitter. But this year, their thoughts spoken during our celebration intensified the sweetness, and soothed my aching heart.

Yup the bitter remains, but the depth of bitterness only reflects the depth of our love and the sweetness we shared. We are a community. We love one another. We have shared so very much. To honor all that, I’m choosing to embrace the bitter, and lean into the sweet.

It was wonderful to see each Kindergarten face, and hear their shouts of greeting on our end of year zoom call. But, my favorite part, was listening to them share about Kindergarten — this was a new addition to our end of year celebration.

Each girl shared answers to one, or all, of these questions. What did she LOVE about Kindergarten? How did she surprise herself? What is she most proud of from Kindergarten?

As each girl’s face popped onto the screen, I watched them intently from afar. I leaned into the screen as they spoke. And, I celebrated!

I want to share our celebration with you. Here are just a few of the things that were shared and celebrated.

  • My favorite part of Kindergarten was dance. I thought I couldn’t do dance moves, but I did it!
  • My favorite parts of kindergarten was doing math sentences, publishing my writing, coloring, and art.
  • I enjoyed “play to learn” because it was mostly playing with my kindergarten friends. 
  • I didn’t think I would be able to learn how to count coins, but I tried really hard and I did it!
  • I thought Spanish must be hard as it is a foreign language. Turns out it is not so hard, and now I know I can do it!
  • I never thought I could make the art pieces that Ms. James made, but she taught us how to make them, and I did it!
  • At the beginning of the year, I could only go 1 bar on the monkey bars, but now I can go across the whole monkey bars.
  • I am most proud of being able to present in front of a crowd of people. I do not get nervous anymore!
  • I love Science, we did lots of activities, we put the white thing into the cola, then it exploded. And we had safety goggles. 
  • I didn’t think I could, but I learned how to tie my shoes. 
  • I didn’t think I’d be able to do 3D shapes in Math class. It’s hard to remember names of 3D shapes but I did it.
  • I am most proud of learning to read. 
  • What I LOVED about Kindergarten was being together! Working hard, playing fair and being AWESOME together!”
  • I am most proud of all the math I learned. 
  • I did not think I could draw, but I can,  and l love art
  • I loved that all my friends were in my class. I loved that I was still able to see my friends on zoom.
  • I surprised myself by making new friends and writing poetry.  
  • I’m proud that I made it through the whole year of kindergarten!
  • This year in Kindergarten I am so proud that… I NEVER GAVE UP!

Sharing them here allows me to listen once more to their words. My celebration is even deeper the second time around. I hear their joy, pride, and confidence. I am buoyed by the many ways they have grown, overcome, learned, and discovered — and any part I played in that.

Spring 2020 remote learning/teaching was different, difficult, time consuming, and energy draining. But it was also profoundly wonderful, beautiful, creative, and filled with reasons to celebrate. It was filled with learning, thinking, wondering, joy, discovery, growth, and beautiful relationships.

And, that is very, very good.

I’m Taking That Home

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I’m making a pile of things I want to remember when I go to work. Gloves, scarf, hat, sunglasses, and paper towel rolls.

I almost recycled the paper towel rolls. But, as I held them in my hand, I flashed back to my classroom on Friday. This sweet, quiet, creative Kindergartner pointed to her bag and said “I’m taking that home, Ms. James.”

I looked down, and for a split second wasn’t sure she was talking about. Then I saw it — a paper towel roll. For another second I wasn’t sure where she got it. Then it hit me. We wipe tables after snack and lunch. The Kindergartners are each responsible for their own clean up. Her table must have finished their paper towel roll, and she, quick thinking lucky duck, had collected the roll.

She repeated. “I’m taking it home.” And, after a pause, explained, “I’m gonna make something with it.”

I said, “That is awesome. Can’t wait to see it.”

Clearly it’s time for more paper towel rolls in Kindergarten.

Be A Bit More “Freddish”

Just read this 2018 article in The Atlantic – Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children.

Mr. Rogers was something else. He was insightful, caring, intentional, thoughtful, and creative. I’m sure he was much more, but that’s what I took away from this article.

We could learn a lot from Mr. Rogers.

“He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely …”

What if, in our classrooms, we had that same insistence regarding our choice of words?

Yes, a classroom is quite different from Mr. Rogers’ TV show. He had the luxury of a script he could study and edit, as well as writers who would help him perfect his words. We are often working in the moment, on the fly. That makes it harder, but not impossible!

We don’t have scripts and writers, but we do have plans and colleagues. We also have the opportunity to reflect and revise. What would our plans, lectures, mini-lessons, conferences, and conversations sound like if our minds, hearts, and language were a bit more “Freddish”?

They’d be pretty fantabulous, don’t you think? Let’s start a movement.

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*According to the Atlantic article,  Rogers’ team of writers coined the term “Freddish” as a way to describe Rogers’ on air language.

 

Feeling Like A Kindergartner

Have you ever worked in an art journal? It’s an interesting experience.

There is no throwing away the pieces you don’t like. They stay there — forever — mocking you.

LOL!!!

Yes, quite dramatic. But, it does feel that way. And yes, I suppose I could just gesso the page, or collage over it, but I’d still know it was there — mocking me.

I continue my dramatics to make a point. My Kindergartners feel that way! When they make a piece of art they don’t like, the emotion they feel is often so strong as to be painful. I’m glad I’m engaging in a form of art that allows me to experience, and learn to regulate, these feelings.

Yesterday and today I experimented with a mixed-media piece. I began with watercolors and masked circles. Then I collaged in pieces of water birch bark, and torn pieces of sheet music. I was intrigued by the common color of the two. Then I used acrylic paint to add bits of bolder color, and to begin to incorporate the collage elements more fully.

I had only a vague idea where I wanted to go.

  • I wanted the circles to be my repeated marks.
  • I knew at some point in my process, I’d use gel pens or paint pens to add some lines, dots, and words.
  • I have circle stencils I thought might work to continue my repeated element and give an added depth.
  • Words salvaged from magazines would be fab if I could find ones I liked.

Here’s where I landed next.

I liked it, but I wanted to add more. True to form with this project, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to add. Makes sense, I suppose, because I began the project without a clear end, more with a desired process.

So, I repeated the stenciled elements on the right side of the piece. Then I added spirals with a light blue acrylic paint marker. I liked the spirals. They reminded me of water being hit with drops of rain, and added another element of depth.

I added lines and marks using white, silver, and gold paint pens. Several times I considered stopping. Each time I thought “Nope.” and continued.

At that moment I remembered my Kindergartners. There are moments when they are making an art piece that I think to myself. “Oh, that is good.” Do they stop? Sometimes. But other times, nope. I struggle with suggesting they might want to be finished. Perhaps they are experiencing what I was experiencing with this piece. It’s a unique combination of flow, joy, and pleasure with the process. It’s cool!

Here’s the finished page.

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It’s busy. But it was so much fun. And, even though it’s busy, I think it’s quite beautiful. The dots, lines, words, patterns, ideas, collaged pieces, and decisions are all a reflection of me and my process.

Perhaps another time I wouldn’t make it so full. But perhaps I would. Either way is fantabulous. Either way is me. That’s what I want my Kindergartners to experience. Flow. Joy. Agency. The fantabulousness of them and their art.

There is so much about this project that I’d love my girls to experience.

Now to consider — what, when, and how.

My thinking cap is on.

_______________

Btw:
The AP Stylebook tweets: Our preferred spelling is kindergartner, not kindergartener.