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. 

 

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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!

Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.

 

 

Borrowed Creativity

I found some fabulous origami paper at a local bookstore. I had no need for it, and didn’t have any origami plans. But, after picking it up and putting it down several times, I bought it.  I decided I didn’t need plans. It was enough that I liked it. If I actually folded the paper into origami, it’d be a bonus!

A few days later the allure of origami folding became too strong to ignore. It was time to collect my bonus. Without a second thought, I borrowed the creativity of others. If you’d like to join me in borrowing some origami folding creativity, check out these links for an open box, a vase, and a cube and octahedron made from sonobe units.

I’m always intrigued and amazed by the way a flat sheet of paper transforms into a three dimensional object through a series of folding and unfolding.

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My origami folding was a creative exploration, a fact finding mission, and a problem solving journey. Through it all there was intense focus, several missteps, flow, and joy. It was awesome.

I’ve often wondered what it is about making that jazzes my kindergartners so much.  This evening of origami folding gave me an inkling of an answer. What I experienced felt like what I see in my Kindergartners when they borrow my creativity in the makerspace.

My Kindergartners love making things. They enjoy working on their own as they follow their own paths. But, they are differently stoked when they borrow my creativity.  I think they experience what I did as I folded.

With borrowed creativity we are able to go places we can’t go on our own. My Kindergarteners and I aren’t lacking in ability or creativity. Instead, we are as yet unaware of this particular path and destination. By sharing and borrowing creativity we find new possibilities, new paths, and new destinations.

These new experiences are ours because others are willing to share their creativity, and allow us to borrow it.  This freely shared creativity is a gift, and I think, a sign of friendship and collegiality. By sharing and borrowing, we are — in one sense — made equals.

I am grateful for the generous creative beings who are willing to share their ideas with me. The new vistas, processes, and products, as well as  new experiences of myself are quite fantabulous. I think my kindergarteners feel the same way.

Long live generous creative sharers, and grateful creative borrowers!

 

 

It’s All in How You Look at It!

I read to my Kindergartners everyday at lunch. It’s always an adventure in listening, laughing, noticing, discussing, wondering, and, frankly, making proclamations.

Yesterday one of the reads was Happy Dog Sizzles by Lisa Grubb. Part way through the story, the characters begin creating. Lisa used the term “junk” to describe the things used by her characters. She did not misspeak. In many ways, the items being used could be characterized as junk — a broken instrument, a broken lamp, an old hat.

As I read the word junk, one of my girls proclaimed, “That’s not junk!”

Me: “It’s not?!?!

Her: “No!” she replied emphatically. “That’s maker-stuff!”

Her voice seemed to call more of her peers to the page. All about the room there were echoes of agreement. “Yeah, that’s not junk. That’s maker-stuff!”

Me: (heart glowing with love and pride in their fantabulousness) “You know what? You’re right! It is maker-stuff!”

I read the rest of the book substituting maker-stuff for junk.

My Kindergartners are right. It’s all about how we look at it.

As I considered a photo for this post, I gathered up some things forgotten in the back of drawers, or placed in the trash/recycling bin — contact lens containers, a pebble from a walk, a bottle top, the inside roll from tape, an old marker lid, part of a security envelope, the top of a canning jar, a bent paperclip, and an old hair tie.

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With my Kindergartners words and emotions fresh in my mind, I interacted with these items, not as junk, but as items with untold potential.

I purposefully staged the photo. I considered each piece, and placed it carefully on a gold-lined dish. I created pleasant ribbon swirls. I arranged and rearranged the items several times until I was satisfied. Then I photographed and processed the image to emphasize the feeling of importance, beauty, and art.

My kindergartners were right. In our awesome hands — animated by our big beautiful brains, fantabulous imagination, and spectacular hearts — it’s not junk, it’s maker-stuff.

 

 

The Joy and Power of Making

The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.

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It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.

  • What color shall I use?
  • Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
  • Which yarn will I use?
  • Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
  • Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
  • How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?

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A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.

The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!

At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.

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“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.

“Would you string it for me?” she asked.

“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”

Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.

I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”

She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.

I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!

YAY!

 

We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!