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. 

 

How Fascinating!

Have you ever heard of Benjamin Zander? No? Until about a week ago, neither had I.

I’m happy to finally be in the know. I enjoy his quirky positivity and joie de vivre, and his commitment to possibility.  I’ve been exploring the many resources on his website and the net, and am interested to notice how many of his thoughts and actions are similar to mine.

He has a saying — “How fascinating!” — which is only fully expressed by proclaiming it with raised arms, and a gleefully smiling face. Take a look at a clip from his Poptech 2018 presentation.

“Now, don’t make a face. (Raising his arms …) How fascinating!”

That cracks me up each time I watch it — and I’ve watched it quite a few times!

Benjamin suggests the movement counteracts the tendency to contract our body when we make a mistake. I think — and bet he would agree — that it also counteracts our tendency to contract our brains. “How fascinating!” signals to our brain that something interesting — something positive rather than negative — is occurring. It encourages us to view the moment, and the mistake, as an opportunity to explore and examine, rather than a problem to fret over, hide, and regret.

I fence. I’m taking lessons from my brother (a rather brainy, fantabulous coach). Lots of  times our lessons are filled with ambiguity. Hence, being frustrated and making a mistake are quite probable. I know mistakes aren’t a big deal. But boy, do I hate making them!

I’ve been trying to reprogram myself and change my reactions when I make a mistake. My goal is to be a bit more alright with my mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from them. I’ve been doing ok, but it’s still a struggle.

When I heard, and saw, Benjamin’s “How fascinating!” I decided to give it a go in my next lesson — mostly, I think, I found it so amusing. Turns out, that exact fact — that it makes me laugh — may be a large part of the effectiveness of “How fascinating!”

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor, and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab — has researched and written a lot about positive emotions and how they affect us.

In a 2004 article, she states that “positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind.” And in a 2011 article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she credits positive emotions with increased creativity,  idea generation, and resilience.

That’s how I experience “How fascinating!” It makes me chuckle, and injects a moment of positive emotion into an otherwise frustration-inducing moment. It suggests there is something valuable in my mistake. It helps me change my frame of mind from judgement to curiosity.  “This is fascinating. It’s not an indication that I suck! My mistake — the process — is fascinating! Find out how/why.” I’ve noticed when I use it, I’m more able to think, consider new ideas, see nuances in the process, problem solve, and try again.

My students are a lot like me as a fencer. They really want to do well. Often times they are pretty driven. Mistakes are rarely fascinating. Usually they see mistakes as a reason for negative self judgement or negative emotions, rather than opportunities for positivity and learning.

They need “How fascinating!” So, how do I incorporate it into my classroom culture? How might I increase positive emotions, and curiosity in my student’s learning, and as a response to mistakes ? 

I think it will need to be a multi-pronged approach:

  • My language and behavior has to suggest and affirm the fascination and possibility inherent in our mistakes.
  • My response to mistakes must include curiosity, wonder, and conversation. And, I must share my own “How fascinating!” moments — including how I felt, what I did, what I learned, and how I changed.
  • Exploration of our mistakes must become the norm.
  • Including “How fascinating!” in a lesson, read aloud, activity might help us begin to embrace it in the classroom.
  • A “How fascinating!” partnership with parents will be key.  Sharing research that backs it up might help.

It’s funny, I know in some ways it’s a mindset, and “How fascinating!” isn’t completely necessary. And yet, in another way I think there is something very necessary about it. I can remember moments when “How fascinating!” would have really helped my learners by inducing laugher, breath, enhanced posture, and a bit more conversation.

The silliness of “How fascinating!” may really grab my young students. While I want them to fully embrace and use it, I think I must also teach them prudence. Discussing when might or might not be the best time to use it will be helpful. Also, exploring ways to modify it so as to be able to always use it are key.

We shall see. “How fascinating!” is in my toolbox, and will definitely be pulled out this coming school year.

Looking forward to it!

 

 

 

 

 

Be creative … and other things.

Just read an NPR author interview with Mo Willems. He’s working as the  first ever Education Artist-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center.  How super cool is that?!?!!!

Mo said he hoped to entertain and inspire — adults and children — to create. Love that! Me too.

He goes on to suggest that if you want your kids to create, you’ve got to create. You don’t have to be good at whatever you choose, you just need to do it.

I laughed out loud when I read this:

I think sometimes the greatest thing you can say to a kid if a kid says, “Hey Mom, will you do this for me?” or “Make me a sandwich,” or something — say, “Not now, I’m drawing.” (Mo Willems, NPR Author Interview, July 2, 2019, 5:07AM)

Can you imagine saying that, or hearing it? Such a simple sentence with a ton of meaning. Mom draws, and is into it!

LOVE!

What if we, as educators, took Mo’s advice to heart about all the subjects we teach? How might we share our love for all the things we are teaching — even if we’re not super good at some of them?

It’s interesting to consider, isn’t it? I do math — sudoku, cooking, dice games, building, art, measuring, dominos, counting, figuring stuff out, playing instruments. I read — books, magazines, blogs, knitting patterns, prayers, journal articles, art books, music. I write — letters, poems, journals, blog posts, affirmations, lists. I experiment — cooking, building, art, gardening, finding new ways to get places. I’m passionate about all these things and do them all the time. I know this, but I’m not sure all my students know it.

These are important skills, loves, and activities, for me, and for my kiddos. Sharing that with my kids in real, touchable, seeable, experiential ways would be super! I think the power is in being a fellow learner and lover of all these things, not just doing these things as their teacher.

Have you ever thought, wondered, hoped about this? Have you ever considered being that mom/teacher who says “Not now, I’m doing math … reading a story … building a castle.” Or maybe even the one who says “Not now, I’m doing math … reading a story … building a castle … wanna come join me?”

Hmmmm! LOVE IT!!!

Now to ask questions, use my imagination, imagine possibilities, and try new things. Now to find the things as yet unseen — time and opportunity!

If you feel like it, join me!

Here are some of my beginning questions:

  • How might I find the time in my day to share my passions with my students?
  • How might I be a mathematician, scientist, artist, reader, writer, builder, maker, side by side with my students?
  • How might I rethink our schedule to find time?
  • How might I use independent work as a time for me to be a learner/worker alongside my kids?
  • How might I tweak/use my language to share more about what I’m doing?
  • How might we all share things we’re doing outside of school as mathematicians, scientists, artists, readers, writers, builders, and/or makers?

Love to have you join in this wondering-questioning-problem-finding-and-solving conversation!

 

 

 

 

 

No Fretting Shields

Take a look. What do you see? What do you think is going on?

Yes, my students are writing. Yes, they have folders around their work. Nope, I’m not trying to keep my kindergarteners from cheating. I’m trying to keep them from fretting.

They want to be good at everything they do. They have big beautiful brains, and they use them in remarkably wonderful ways. They are constantly learning, discovering, and figuring out. The progress they have made since September — heck the progress they make every day — is fantabulous. None-the-less, they still fret.

I see the doubt, worry, and anxiety well up in their eyes. They don’t say anything out loud, but they stop writing, look at me, look at their paper, look at their friend’s paper erase, rewrite, and look at me again.

I imagine this conversation happening inside their awesome heads.

“Wait, what? Is that how you spell that? You mean I should think that? Is that the strategy I should use? Oh no, maybe I’m not right. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe Miss James will think I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I really don’t know what I’m doing. Ohhhhh nooooo!”

Phew! I want that internal conversation to stop. I want them to see and know how remarkable they are, how marvelous is their thinking, strategizing, struggling, and even failing. I constantly encourage them to trust themselves. I talk about strategies, and why they were powerful.

It doesn’t help. I mean, of course it helps some. They do try more, and perhaps stress a bit less, but wow, they do still fret.

Finally, I had an aha moment. I broke out the folders.

One of my girlies asked what they were. Another said “They’re so we don’t cheat.” Many eyes turned to look at my face. Almost as though they couldn’t believe I would even suggest they would do something so nefarious.

Before they could say anything I said, “I know a lot of people use these so kids don’t cheat. I’m using them so you don’t fret.” More eyes turned to look at my face. I continued. “You know how to do so many things, and you’re learning more and more every day. You have big beautiful brains, and you know how to use them. But, if you happen to look at a friend’s work and notice it’s different from yours, you fret. Instead of trusting yourself, or being ok not knowing it yet, you fret. And then you erase or change all your amazing work. So, I thought we could try some no fretting folders.”

One of them touched the folder and asked, “No fretting folders?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “No fretting folders. You put them up, and just do your stuff — without fretting about what the people next to you are doing.”

She repeated her question, but now it was a statement. “No fretting folders.” She paused a moment, and then with glowing eyes, and a huge smile, she said. “They’re like shields. They’re no fretting shields, Miss James!”

No fretting shields! Indeed. Perhaps next year we will each have our own personal “no fretting shield.” We can decorate them and keep them in our cubbies. We can decide when we need to use them. I wonder if that would increase the power of the shield. I think it just might.

The Beauty of Imagination

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?!!”

Her: “YEAH!”

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.”

WOW!!!

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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!