Find Your Writing People

There is power in writing and sharing our stories. Some of it comes in the simple and brave act of putting words on a page. The gift of word and story intensifies as we re-read, re-think, and revise. But the real magic happens when our words are shared, thought about, talked about, and even acted upon.

I share my writing with a community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories – Magic in A Blog. It’s been incredible to have this group of writers as writing companions. We post, read, and ruminate. It’s pretty great. If you’re up for it, give us a look. If you like what you see, check out a writing prompt and join us. If it doesn’t feel like your vibe, no worries. The opportunities to share words and stories are abundant!

Here are some of the places I’ve found my writing people this week.

Embrace the Pause – Power from an unidentified writing friend

This beauty leapt out at me from my collage treasure box. I was flipping through to find a piece to add to a book I’m making for a friend, and this stopped me mid flip. I’m not sure who wrote it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it for a very long time, but today, the magic was ripe and ready to be picked.

Embrace the pause. Yes!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not so good about pausing. Sometimes when I pause I actually feel guilty.

I’m on leave from work so I can crush cancer, and nourish my health. That’s a pause that sometimes feels like it was forced upon me. I love the more positive, and more true, TRUTH (can truth be be more true?) that I can embrace the pause. Embrace, not accept, or even live, but embrace that pause. We typically embrace what is good, helpful, sweet. We embrace what we love, and often come to love it more. So I yield to the power of this story — from someone I do not even know — and I embrace the pause in my life right now.

You Can Be at Peace – Power (unexpected) from Darling Magazine

Have you ever read Darling Magazine? It’s awesome. To be fair, I’ve only read one, but it was remarkably fabulous. I hoped they had another paper edition of the magazine waiting to mail me – I’m a fan of beautiful fantabulous print magazines. Alas, they did not, BUT, they had great products that used the power of words to bring magic to others so I bought a few.

Today, I noticed an envelope with beautiful handwriting addressed to me in my pile of mail. I didn’t recognize the handwriting or the city of origin. Inside was a handwritten notes (I love hand written notes) thanking me for my purchase, and offering their hope that it had brightened my day. It had!

And then there was the card. “You can be at peace. Take a deep breath, and remember: you are here for a purpose.”

Indeed, breathe in the power of word and story. Be at peace. Embrace the pause. I’m here for a purpose.

This – Power from me and a fab former fencer of mine

I am strong. Fear does not control me. I enjoy the fight. I will not be stopped. My determination is unbeatable. My war face is beautiful. What part of that do you not love?

I wrote those words several years ago for my fencing team. I made little cards so they could carry the words with them. I had no idea anyone might carry it with them for years, but I’m sure glad she did.

I’m sure I made one for myself too — but I don’t have it anymore. At least I don’t know where it is. But, in the powerful magic of sharing a story, here it is again! A fab former fencer of mine placed that photo on my facebook feed with these words.

“I keep this card stuck in a picture frame above my desk at home. I think of you and all the strength practicing fencing has given me every time I see it.”

How amazing is that? I told her I wanted to say “Get the heck out of here!!!” I still do, in some ways. But it’s the part of me that hasn’t fully embraced the incredible power of word and story. We lived a lot of life together on the fencing team. We worked hard, thought hard, became mentally and physically tough — and created lots of stories together. They were some powerful, awesome stories.

I’m glad I told that story of strength to my athletes. It was true then and now. They needed to hear it then. I needed to hear it now. So awesome to be reminded of the truth I spoke and wrote so many years ago that remains true for me, and my fencing alum. Rock on, Elan. Remarkably grateful to you for sharing this with me.

Oh, and speaking of sharing the power of writing. My end of the year gift from the team that year was a bracelet engraved with these seven words — breathe, believe, courage, fight, finish, skilled, unstoppable. I wear it still.

So yeah. Find your band of brothers, your circle of sisters, your plethora of profound and positive people who write. Or, simply find your paper and pencil, and begin. The magic of your words will find a home in the hearts and minds of others, and when you need it most will come home to visit you again. Trust in it.

An Exercise in Mindfulness

There is a mindfulness practice one can use to counter anxiousness and worry. Become aware of what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel. By doing this you gently remove yourself from the world of your fears. As you notice more and more, you are brought more deeply into the present moment.

I need to spend more time in the present moment, and less time in the future which is not yet here. So much can change between now and that future moment. Why do I fret so much about it? I want to begin to spend more time in the present, aware of its goodness and beauty. I took a moment to do that today. It rained yesterday removing much of the humidity from the air. Today is spectacular — breezy, clear, cool.

I was encouraged to do a bit of writing that uses some sort of stacked words — alliteration, repetition, whatever worked. It seems apropos to use the repetition of small phrases to encourage mindfulness and call myself back to the present moment and all that surrounds me there.

Breezes blow. Breezes blow softly, then vigorously.

Breezes blow.  Breezes blow, and soothe my soul. 

Breezes blow. Breezes blow, and my breath grows in depth and ease. 

My eyes.  My eyes gaze up from my computer screen, and soak in the verdant green that surrounds me.

My eyes. My eyes rise higher and admire the beautiful blue sky accentuated by clouds slowly moving by.

My eyes.  My eyes notice the birds who join me on the patio — as if we are friends. 

My ears. My ears hear the distant rumble of cars, and the sound of my vertebrae straightening as I lean back and stretch.

My ears. My ears delight in the sweet songs of my bird friends. 

My ears. My ears react to the soft worship music on my laptop, and mysteriously slow my breath.

My mouth. My mouth feels the smoothness of the coconut cream in my afternoon matcha.

My mouth. My mouth tastes the delicate sweetness. 

My mouth. My mouth enjoys the green goodness of this delightful drink.

I choose. I choose to embrace and encourage peace.

I choose. I choose to believe the best. 

I choose. I choose to live — as much as I can — from a place of trust, peace, and positivity.

I. I sit quietly and breathe deeply.

I. I pray.

I. I am. 

Label Your Build

Labeling is part of every build in our classroom. Sometimes my request for labeling is met with a bit of grumbling. “Labels? Do we have to label? Why do we have to label things, Miss James?”

I always respond the same way. “Yes, you have to label things. Everyone find at least three things to label.” and “Why label?!?!!! You have to label things because when you label them, everyone else gets to know and understand your great ideas and creations!” Once they get over the need to stop building in order to label, and any hesitancy they have in their ability to write things that others can read, the labels begin popping up all over the build site.

Here are a few from this year’s Thanksgiving build.

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(bed, home)

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(bed, pillow, home)

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(food place)

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(person, Lilly)

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(mountain)

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(person)

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(crib)

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(trap door)

There’s tons of value in each of their labels. I can assess their phonemic awareness, and their ability to encode the sounds they hear. I get a deeper understanding of their thinking and building. And, perhaps best of all, they get to share their thinking and work with everyone who visits the build.

My favorite thinking shared this year (and mind you, they are ALL fantabulous and bring me great joy) was this one.

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(For you, Mayflower. This corn is for you.)

We learn that the passengers of the Mayflower stole corn from the Native Americans. At first, the girls respond with outrage. “That wasn’t very nice! Why did they do that? That’s mean!” I acknowledge their observations and feelings, agreeing that it does sound mean, and not very nice. But then, I encourage them to think a bit about what the passengers of the Mayflower might have felt — and what we sometimes experience in our own lives.

“How do you think the Mayflower passengers felt when they arrived?” I ask. “They were on the boat for 66 days. The Mayflower wasn’t very big and there were a lot of passengers.” My students are silent, clearly trying to figure things out. They begin to share their recollections and thoughts — “There were storms. People died. A baby was born. Maybe they didn’t have enough food. They were probably cold. Maybe they were hungry.”

One asks “Why didn’t they just ask the Native Americans for some food?”

“Good question.” I respond. “Why didn’t they?”

At first they are silent again. Then I ask them. “Did the Native Americans and the passengers of the Mayflower looked alike? Did they dress the same? Do you think they spoke the same language?” They quietly and thoughtfully respond “No.”

Now I am silent. For a moment or two I let them sit with that information. Then I ask them “How do you think they felt?” With a greater of empathy they respond, “Maybe they were scared.” I shake my head, “Yeah, maybe they were scared.” Wanting to bring the two ideas together, I continue “It wasn’t nice what they did. They shouldn’t have stolen the corn, but it’s good for us to remember they might have been afraid, and hungry, and didn’t know what else to do.”

When the girl made those bags of corn, she showed them to me. “I decided to make these for the Mayflower. I’m going to leave them by the boat so they see them. Then they can just have this corn, and not steal ours.” I responded, “That’s a great idea. I bet they’ll be happy to find it.”

There is so much I love about her thoughts and work. Kindness. Empathy. Problem-solving. Offering without being asked. Leaving it with a note — therefore forgoing a thank you. Believing this will help them, and keep them from taking your things — without telling them not to take yours. Lastly, I love that the build, and the labeling, allowed this student to show the depth her understanding, empathy, kindness, and problem solving. May she keep it, grow it, and use it all her days!

Squish-squash books in Kindergarten

The other day I taught my kindergarteners how to make a squish-squash book (Special thanks to Dar Hosta for the cool name! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z88mmn_P1Gk).

We worked together (teachers and students) each step of the way. Fold the paper the long way – don’t forget to match the corners, hold the edge tight and make a nice, hard crease. Open the paper. Fold it the short way. Now fold the top paper down to the middle fold. Flip it over like a pancake. Fold the other side down. Now you have an M or a W – depending how you hold it. Hold it so it looks like a W. Now cut the center of the W down to the fold at the bottom of the W. Grasp the top fold on each side of the cut – squish, squash!

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LOL yes, yes, it sounds rather complicated when you just read the words. Perhaps you are wondering – “How on earth did those kindergarteners do that?” Well, let me tell you, with a bit of direction, some encouragement, and a whole lot of respect for them, and their abilities, they did fantabulously!!! (Yes, fantabulously – better than fantastic, better than fabulous … fantabulous! How’s that for creative manipulation of the English language?! My students love the word, by the way.)

The most amazing thing was the response of the students. They were making books and talking with anyone who would listen! They were excited, empowered … giddy even! Some filled each page with illustrations. Some filled the pages with words. Others made many different sized squish-squash books, and gleefully taped them together!

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Why was this such a powerful experience for the students?

Was it the power they felt as they made their own book-form? Was it the freedom to do what they wanted? (Write, draw, make more books.) Was it the respect of the teachers for the students? Was it the authenticity of the activity? Was it the joy the teachers shared with the students? Was it the fantabulousness of the students themselves?

To be honest, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one thing that made this activity great. I think it was a combination of all of the above – and more – coming together in a beautiful, synergistic dance. And wow, was it great to experience. Fingers are crossed we will experience it over and over again throughout the year!

Bubbles Art, Science, Math and Language Arts!

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults. ~Loris Malaguzzi, Hundred Languages of Children

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Bubbles are fascinating and afforded us several challenging and fun ways to explore and experience science, art, math, and language arts. There was a plethora of things to notice, marvel at, wonder about, investigate and enjoy!

… The variety of sizes. The delicate and yet strong nature of soap film walls. The colors and reflections that are captured in the bubbles. The many things that can be used as a bubble wand. Do heart-shaped wands make heart-shaped bubbles? The ways we feel when we blow bubbles. Should we blow slowly or quickly? Does that make a difference? Can we fill the room with bubbles if we use a window fan? The joy and sorrow felt as bubbles pop. The way the wind takes the bubbles as they leave the wand. The way the bubble solution feels, and sometimes tastes, as the bubbles pop close to our lips. Can we create bubbles from things other than store-bought bubble solution? How could we create bubbles in art? What colors are bubbles? Which words best describe bubbles and our experience? 

Prior to starting I told the girls we would be scientists, authors, readers and artists, and that the process would take us several days. We experienced bubbles through our eyes, our ears, our brains and our bodies!

  • We did several read alouds.
  • I blew bubbles and the girls experienced them only with their eyes. What did the bubbles look like? How did they move?
  • They blew bubbles. Again, as scientists they tried to observe things about the bubbles, the process and each other.
  • We all blew bubbles, and just experienced the joy of bubbles – much laughing, movement and even some screaming!
  • We created bubble wands using various materials: pipe cleaners, plastic plant mesh, plastic water bottles, straws and string. We tested and observed each – Was it easy to make bubbles with them? Did they make big bubbles? Small bubbles? What shape were the bubbles? Did the bubbles mirror the shape of the wand?
  • After each experience the girls shared words and feelings, which I scribed onto a large piece of chart paper.
  • We ended up with three lists of words. We observed the lists: How many are in each? Which list has the most words? Which the fewest? Why? (We noticed that the words increased as we engaged more fully in each experience and grew in comfort with the process.) We used math strategies to add the lists together and come up with the grand total. We marveled at our abilities to describe our experiences. We used these lists to create our list poems.

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I brainstormed many ways to create a frame for the list poems and finally decided (for ease and aesthetic reasons) to cut a frame to place over the girls paper as they stamped. The frame allowed them to stamp freely while maintaining a clear border for their list poem. I held the frame in place, as the girls used the cardboard tubes and ink pads to create their bubbles.

I was amazed and impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached their work. Each girl had her own particular process, but each was purposeful in her choice of tubes (various diameters) and placement of bubbles. My only instructions were to be sure to press straight down so as to get a good print (and not to fret if it was less than perfect, as that added to the uniqueness of each piece) to consider overlapping the bubbles at least a bit, and to not be afraid to overlap the frame.

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I brought in some artist quality pencils to share with the girls. I talked about why I liked the pencils – great colors, nice feel in my hand, beautiful movement across the paper – and why I chose to share them with the girls – they are artists too and I thought they would enjoy using them. I asked them to take care of the pencils as they were special to me. The girls were fantastic with the pencils! They carefully chose the colors, replaced them in rainbow order, only sharpened them as much as necessary, shared them with each other, and really seemed to empowered by using them. (We ended up using them in free choice as well as other projects.)

After the ink dried, the girls worked diligently to fill in each full shape (not the partial bubbles around the edges). We discovered that the ink, though dry, sometimes transferred around the paper, so we used a paper towel to minimize movement. Thankfully any transferred ink erased easily.

bubble words

Once finished with their art piece, the girls moved on to their list poems. The goal was to create a list poem and encircle the bubbles with the poem. (We read, observed and discussed poems from Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard prior to this project, and emulated the freedom Georgia showed in placing words on the page.) Each girl began by choosing 12 words from the class lists and writing them in the frame of her paper. If needed, she chose more words.

When everyone was finished – and it took some girls many days to do so – we shared our poems and art pieces with each other. Finally, we displayed them on the hall bulletin board, with black and white photos of each of us blowing bubbles as the border.

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