© 2013 Marla McLean

One heart at a time

This year at SWS, I have three new classrooms of children to interact with. For the first time we have two 3 year old preschool classrooms and one classroom with non-categorical medically fragile children.

leaves modge podgeScarlett, one of our children from our first SWS 3 year old PreSchool program
and
Ayanna, who is in Ms. Maureen’s non-categorical class next door
ayanna car 2

Because they are located on the ground floor, many people have not had the opportunity to greet the possibilities that grow with these new populations.

 In a Reggio context, this has been an opportunity to truly believe in the concept of the 100 Languages.

 The idea that children are able to express themselves through 100 Languages and that teachers/facilitators need to be “Visual Listeners” to observe, understand and extend that conversation (especially non-verbal conversations) has always been a tenant that I embrace.

 In the context of our new classes, the pre-school children do not necessarily possess the strongest ability of expression verbally and with the medically fragile children, the majority are non-verbal.
k shave cream

With the preschool children, my goal has been to engage the senses, develop their capacity to be in a small group that gives and receives, and the experience/environment to express themselves and their theories and for them to find value in this.

 Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
green star

“There’s something on the round carpet for you to see. Please walk around it, look closely, have a seat, and think about what it is.”

“It looks like a snowflake!” Abbey

“Green stripes!” Joe-Joe

“Green pictures!” Oskar

 “A flower and the petals.” Miles

“Like the sun!” Emily

“It looks like a spider.” Coby

“I think it looks like a spider web.” William M.

“It looks like a diamond.” Elana

The previous week I had the children paint and asked them what they “saw” or imagined in a painting. Because of this, they returned to this type of thinking and few children noticed or verbalized that everything was green without prompting.

 “There are 100’s of greens in the world, and we are going to hunt for them in the garden today.”
green matchgreen matching

I attended a conference where a presenter shared that because of the extended time young children are spending on ipods, iphones, and other close range viewing screens- children are not developing full spectrum color sight as well as full long range distance sight.

As an artist and human this appalled me. To counter this possibility, the intention was to get the children to observe all the nuances of color outside, especially in our vibrant garden.
After an exciting and intense green hunt, the children engaged in painting only in green. It also was an opportunity to introduce small brushes and small paintings, another way to make marks, learn to take care of paint colors, and have a shared experience in the studio.
green paintgreen paint 2

“What do you think of your small green paintings?”

“This one (green color) is kinda blue. The dark green, it is melting all the light colors up.” William T. 

“Mine is beautiful.” Jillian

 “They look like the grown up paintings.” Simon

Continuing the provocation of nature and the garden, I facilitated embodying leaves and the concept of metaphor within the concept of the fall leaves and three year old children.
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With the non-categorical medically fragile children I began a journey of non-verbal communication and relationship through materials and the senses.

My goal is to develop a relationship of caring and trust, a community of “makers” and an awakening of senses through projects and materials.

.interactP1080351dakari carP1080352

At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect?
shakers dakari2shakers dakari(Making musical percussive shakers)
shaker interact

The beauty of eye contact and a pat from a child who initially stayed across the room and by week three began to join me and “make”, observing a child realize they are making marks instead of watching others make marks, the reactions to cause and effect, the feel and sound of materials, the lightness of being when I began spontaneously singing to engage them in a new project, the non-verbal greetings of joy when I walked in by week four, the deep beauty and surprise of touch (both human and materials.) The richness in these small moments of connection is vast. 
shakers ayannashaker dakari1shaker angel shaker angel2 shaker angel3 shaker angel4 shaker angel5paishance shave creamhands shave creamshave cream omari

The continuity of the garden and nature explorations and inspirations continues with the Prek 4’s and Kindergarten classes.

 I have such gratitude for the community (led by Jennifer Mampara and Nicole Mogul) in creating and maintaining the garden that greets every child, family member, friend, and visitor as they enter our school.
cabbage

At a staff meeting last month, 2nd grade teacher Erika Bowman spoke with great admiration and awe at a community who makes it a value to create and grow a bountiful garden, the first year existence in new location.

draw swiss chard
For the PreK 4’s, all the project work has been about facilitating the development of visual voice to express their observations in the garden.
Each small group picked a vegetable to touch, observe and then sketch. Before beginning each child was asked to observe their plant silently and think about something they noticed after looking really really really closely. Then we took turns sharing and listening, learning that listening to your friend  is an important part of the curriculum. Listening to another child gives the group new ways of thinking, seeing,  and doing.  This is a practice that I want the children to value.
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Here’ a radish conversation:

“Whoa, there’s a pink thing down there!! Charlie B.
charlie copy“There’s spikes on the stem.”  Liam
“The leaves are a little pokey.” Priya
“There are lines on the leaf.” Julia
“The shape on the leaves is blurry like, wiggly.” Santino

One of the cabbage groups had a very interesting conversation that developed into theory building:

“I can see little holes in the leaves.” Myles T.
“Caterpillar must have ate it.” Quinn
“I see a bubble. It’s a bubble of water.” Melin
“Why do you think the leaves have those bubbles?” Ms. McLean
“I think maybe a bumble bee came. I think a bumble bee came and sting the leaf to make a bubble”  Edwin
“I think it’s juice that someone spilled.” Quinn
“I think it’s bumble bee honey. I think a bumble bee ate the leaf, then licked it and the bumble bee made a juicy on the leaf.” Anais.
“Yeah, I think it’s from a bumble bee licking it.” Myles T.
cabbage nagnifyanais cabbagecabbage look
In the following  weeks children used their sketches from the garden with a corresponding photo of the vegetable and used paint to make an observational painting in the studio. 
This time the children had to be extremely observent not only about line and form but color. 
observe paint isla2

swiss chard sasha
swiss chard masonGoing through the same thinking process, children were asked to silently look closely and observe the color and then we went around the table and listened to each other’s observations.
“The white on the leaf is cause the sun is shining.” Mason

The following week each group progressed to making Observational Art of the same vegetable, this time using materials.
First they had to shop and collect materials. Next they had to arrange the pieces so it made sense using their photo, observational drawing and observational painting as a resource.

materials1
materials3
“Why do you have all the colors if we only need greens and red and pink ?” asked Gabriel. He had a radish and was a little disappointed when I asked him if his radish had all the rainbow of materials color that he had placed on his paper.

“Because then I would be doing all your thinking. You get to make your own decisions and this is how I can see your thinking. It’s hard but your brain will grow.” Ms. McLean

Before gluing, I ask children to place the obkects on the paper, allowing them to edit and change, unti shape, form and space begin to come together and make sense into the form of their vegetable plant. When I see they have solid ideas forming, I place the glue down for them to use. Because of this process, children usually continiue to add and delete objects as they observe nuances not noticed before.

Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding.
“I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf?
“Red lines!” 
Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
sish chard andrew

Children are learning to make visual metaphors by using objects to represent and symbolize real thinking and observations. This is no different then learning that letters symbolize words that can represent thinking and observations. This is literacy.

cabbage cora materialsCora’s cabbage
casbbage melinMelin’s cabbage

swiss chard julia photoAva’s Swiss Chard
swiss chard julia paintswiss chard julia

When looking at their representations, I avoid having children at this stage present their own work.

Here are the two “scripts” I give them:

 

“Please share what was difficult or hard about making this observational painting.”

 And/Or,

(With the Materials Observational Art project, each child was asked to “read” the art of another child’s work in the group and respond,) “When you look at Ingrid’s Observational Art, what is it telling you she noticed.”

reflect on ingrids lettuce
This intentional reflection practice encourages children to utilize visual thinking strategies (instead of “I made a stem.”), listening (the artist is eager to hear what his/her friend sees in his/her art) and another layer of observation development. It also illustrates the belief that every child has something to learn from another.
reflecting1reflect on isla lettuce
Using the garden and nature as a provocation with all grades, (but with a different approach) allows for a continuity and collective understanding for the representations throughout the school.

The Kindergarten children were challenged to tackle symbolism and meaning through color and objects. 

In this provocation, they were asked to make a plan for a collaborative sculpture where every color or image had to represent or symbolize something from our garden or nature experiences.
plans 2
These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.

Here’s Noah working on wrapping blue fabric around sticks he had painted yellow. “It represents the sun and the sky.”

making the sky

As children progressed in making all the small symbollic pieces, the counter became a bounty  and source of ideas.

in process
Each week Kindergarten children returned to see visually what the next step was.
Last week many of the small group sculptures were assembled.
The process was truly an act of trusting the group, as the head became unbalanced and balanced as the children took turns drilling and adding pieces.
An unintentional lesson was in fact Balalnce.
anabel drillred collab

Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Orange/Gold Variation) 10/22/13

 

My sticks look like flat oranges. It represents oranges. –Lilah

 

I planned to do the stick. I painted it gold. The gold represents the sun. –Dorian

 

I made it be like an acorn tree. I painted it blue like water around the earth. –Aksel

 

 I painted the head golden like hot lava. –Gabriel

 

I made the thing about some flowers that are in our garden. They are kind of colorful and they are are very soft. And they are small. The petals are warm. Flowers are important in nature because they are beautiful. –Anabel

 

I painted the golden part on the head.  I was thinking of rocks. Some rocks are golden.

-Kamrin

 

The acorns represent the sky, the blue acorns. The sky has clouds. The sun shines on it. –Sofie

centerpiece ryan and lucinda
blue collab2blue profile

Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Blue Variation) 10/22/13

 

I made flowers. They help bees and butterflies live. –Mira

 

Flowers make the world a beautiful place. –Willa

 

I did the sun. It helps flowers grow. –Dylan

 

I made grass. Grass is good for the world because it makes people walk on it. –Willa

 

I made a flower. Flowers help butterflies and bees. Butterflies make pollen. Bees make honey for us. If they weren’t alive we would have no pollen or honey. And then we wouldn’t be happy because if there was just plain yogurt, you would want honey in it. It doesn’t taste so good, if you mix it up with honey it’s good. -Ibby

 

I made some sticks that I painted yellow. It represents the sun. And the blue that I put on, represents the sky. –Noah

 

The red roses, they can grow good and live like if you water them a bunch they will be good. They will grow better. –Isaiah

 

The blue face represents the water and the sky.

-Ainsley 

tree make2engaged collaborange

Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Orange/Blue Variation) 10/16/13

 

The flowers represent nature. -Isabel

 

Flowers make earth look beautiful. They bring pollen for bees and butterflies, to help other flowers grow.

–Aurora

 

The leaves represent flowers. If there were no leaves then the flowers would never have water. Cause the leaves have little tiny strings that go into the tree that gives water to the flowers.

–Gabriel

 

After you grow cucumbers you wash them. You can cut it up and then you eat them. You can turn them into pickles and eat them too. –Benjamin

 

The tree represents growing things.

The head represents the sun. The glasses represent water. The water makes things grow.

–Liam

 

The carrots symbolize eating. And they also help you grow. –Samuel

 

The leaves give us air. -Madeline

handsgreen profilegaels birdevans carrots

Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Green/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

I painted the head green and brown. The brown symbolizes dirt. The green symbolizes leaves, spinach, and grass. –Riley

 

I made the sticks like with the tomatoes. The beads represent the tomatoes.  -Lusa

 

Birds like gardens because they like fruit and stuff. –Gael

 

The apples represent a tree. When you eat apples you get very healthy. The apples stick on a tree for a reason, so they don’t get bruised. –Dominic

 

The carrot grows. The root grows from the bottom, and the carrot is part of the bottom. You pull it up from the leaves. You wash it, and then you eat it. –Tate

 

So leaves, they survive on trees. So it is beautiful.

 –Rowan

 

The caterpillar and the butterfly symbolize nature because they live in the dirt and nature is in the dirt. -Audrey

purple

Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Purple/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

 

The brown paint represents the dirt in the garden and also the earth. –Harvey

 

The carrots go in the dirt. –Eric

 

The necklace represents the rocks of the ground.

–Sonora

 

On top, the stick represents trees with berries.

–Hazel

 

It symbolizes a flower to the branch. I see a carrot tree, there also might be an acorn tree.

–Issa

 

The purple is for the whole wide world to grow. If people die, the purple takes their spirit and buries them.

 –Geraye

 

The flowers symbolize prettiness.

–Tali

 

The jewels symbolize a shiny thing, like the sun shining down. It also makes music, like a jingly.

-Ryan

purple brown detail

I no longer am teaching the older expanded grades of (this year) 1st and 2nd.

The growing pains of a Reggio Inspired school are , How do you keep the continuity, caring and intimacy of a small community, while at the same time expand to secure a vital future and create a new revolutionary model of public education?

This questions helped me to develop some small “interventions” to cross-fertilize the entire community through creativity.

 

The first small intervention I just recently tried, is inviting two first grade children to be studio assistants for an hour while I have a 3 year old group.

My first two friends were Kayden and Remi from Ms. Scofield’s class. I wanted them to experience being in a different developmental bracket, so I asked them to visit while a had 5 three year olds in the studio.

 

I broke their time in to two segments. Before I went to retrieve my three’s, I invited Remi and Kayden in.

“The three year olds have been exploring nature around the school. They have such wonderful ideas about the changing of the seasons and the leaves right now. However, you have the experience to illustrate and respond to their ideas, like an artist who does the pictures for another writer.”

 

Here are there responses.
leaf kayden simonleaf kayden
leaf remi willleafe remi

They took this work seriously. They didn’t laugh or question the validity or ideas of the three year old children, they simply, responded visually.
I will continue to explore the possibilities of these types of new interactions.

Last week many of the teachers attended a professional development at Washington International School, in conjunction with the DC-Project Zero (Harvard Grad School of Education Research Collaborative/Institute.)

One of the speakers, Ben Mardell said, “We can make children (young children) big or small.”

At SWS, our youngest smallest children are not considered small. We see them in big ways, as individuals and as part of the community.

liam and mom

The first ever SWS Yarn Bomb was the second intervention or act I facilitated to bring the community together in a creative cacophony of joy and color.

 

As I view the images of children/adults of all ages equally participating, it clearly makes visible the strength of honoring every individual at their current stage of development.

almost done boys Bridget burst buttons carrington chair tree cherry blossom done fringe katie margi katie krista nicole scarlet sew the smallest

 People stop by and ask me, How’s it going? What do you think of this big place? How’s the change? Do you like it?

This is a great experiment in expanding the heart. It is beating, it is warm, it is vigorous non-stop beating, it is at times exhausting, but it is, truly wonderous and just the beginning of a ripple of change. A ripple that will keep on moving outward, one heart at a time.

kiran and the heart

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Jennifer Mampara
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:15 am | #

    How wonderful! I could read more and more and more. Your blogs are never too long for me. Your documentation of the children’s work always leaves me with such awe for you, but even more importantly, with renewed respect for the deep meaning that can be found in small moments. Thank you so much for this.

  2. Torey Potter
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm | #

    Awesome post, Marla! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Mary Kate Rubin
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 7:40 am | #

    Marla, It’s always a joy to follow your documentation and see the children’s amazing work throughout the school. Thank you!

  4. Andrea Fraser
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm | #

    Thank you for sharing all the wonderful things you do with our children.
    We appreciate all you do.

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