Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:


Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.


Great conversations

Our Thanksgiving Social Studies unit included a huge block build.We divided ourselves into three groups – those who remained in England and Holland, the Pilgrims/Saints who chose to leave on the Mayflower, and the Native Americans who were here when the Pilgrims/Saints arrived.

There were definitely times I wondered what I was thinking when I decided to work on this project. Many days I wondered how I would ever survive the energy, non-stop conversation, inquiry, work, and overall “mess” of the build. But survive it I did! And, wow, what a spectacular experience it was! My only regret is that I didn’t have a tape recorder running at all times. The conversations, questions, problem finding, problem solving, collaboration, joy, struggle, teamwork, negotiation, and creativity were remarkable.

We read books, watched youtube videos, and talked – a lot! The girls made sketches, as well as lists of things they wanted to include in each area. Then, unable to contain them any longer, the build began!

They were relentless in their work. The energy they brought to it was amazing. We usually worked in 30-60 minute increments, but often they wanted to spend more time, and continued to work during choice-time.

Here are some photos of the final product. They do not do justice to the incredible thought, work, and attention to detail the girls engaged in each day, but they will give you a sense of what was accomplished.

An overhead shot. England and Holland are to your right and include a castle, two homes and three windmills. The Mayflower sits in the ocean at center. The Native Americas are to your left and include a river (with a waterfall), a garden, round house and two long houses. 
_MG_4815Looking towards the Native American build from with the castle.


 Looking at the Native American build from within the Mayflower.


Looking toward the Mayflower from within the Native American build.


The build was filled with problem finding and problem solving. How do we create a rounded structure from rectangular blocks? How do we make windmills? How do we create waterfalls? How do we represent fish in the ocean or rivers? What do squash look like? How can we create them for the garden? What do we do when our people don’t fit into our house? How do we negotiate when our neighbors want to add more ocean, or more land, or a larger river, and it crosses the line into our area? What do we do when our ideas are different than others in our group? And perhaps most thought-provoking – Where do we put the dead people?

The discussion regarding the dead people arose days after learning some perished on the ocean journey. Their discussion was practical: “Nope we do not want to store the dead people where we will be sleeping.” and “Maybe we can just throw them in the ocean.” But it was also filled with kindness and empathy: “Throwing them into the ocean wouldn’t be very nice.” They arrived at their solution after several extended discussions with each other and me. I didn’t offer solutions. I simply encouraged them to keep thinking, talking and problem solving. Eventually they decided the cereal box from our re-usable supplies would work perfectly.


They didn’t only think about death. They also imagined people living – and giving birth! Directly in front of the “going to heaven box” they placed this woman – with her three babies!


They treated the living with the same thoughtfulness they afforded the dead. “Did they have toys, Miss James?” “Did they have dolls?” After discussions about themselves and their parents, we decided they must have had some things to keep the children happy and entertained. They painstakingly created these cardboard dolls.


They worked for nearly a month. When it was time to end the build, they resisted the notion of finishing and dismantling their work. “We aren’t done!” they insisted. I assured them their work had been thorough and fabulous. I explained we would do future builds – both exploratory and representational. Then I invited others in to see the build. The girls shared their work and their thinking as they gave the visitors tours of the build.

Finally it was time to clean up. It was a massive undertaking. But, it was a great part of the process. We had worked together to create the build, and now we worked together to “destroy” it.


Eventually each block was sorted and stored, every piece of tape removed from the floor, each scrap of paper swept and recycled, and each handmade treasure safely stored in a girl’s bag. The canvas is clean, ready for our next creative learning experience! My fingers are crossed we will all be able to lean into the unknown, and experience another incredible build together.