© 2013 Marla McLean

“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.” -Aurora

I love the lights. I unapologetically love the visual bliss this season brings.
lights
I could do without the barage of advertisements, mailings, and catalogs that bombard me to buy stuff. It’s a lot of paper to put in recycling. The advertisements geared towards children often sicken me. Gender-specific everything saddens me.

And then there is the disturbing trend to market computers to children as young as infants like in the case of the ipad bouncy seat

Despite all this consumerism, I love the collections of paintings and objects I’ve accumulated from my travels that surround me, my new boots bought online, and treasured gifts from friends. 

This blog is about an ongoing project called Objects and Meaning.
It is the perfect antidote to the season as we admire, buy and succomb to all the stuff around us.

This project idea came about because I am enrolled in a year-long course (with Kindergarten teacher Mr. Jere) with The Smithsonian Museum of American History called Pass it Forward Teacher Institute. This Institute encourages Object Driven Curriculum to teach History. My  challenge is to take this older elementary and up process and make it relevent to young children. (Ms. Hannah was thrilled with the ideas Jere and I proposed and has joined in this exploration.)

In both Hannah and Jere’s Kindergarten classroom, children talked about collections, made a collection box, and in each classroom approached personal collections in a unique way.

I saw the children thrilled with their boxes of collected stuff. But, do children see collections outside of their own personal stuff?

I tested this question by asking the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they are walking into their home. I asked them to look around their home but NOT go into their bedroom or playroom. What collections do your family have? What collections would I see if I came in their home for the first time?

It was hard.

“My family doesn’t have any collections.”

I heard this in every small group.

“Look in your kitchen, your family room, where you eat, even your closets. I believe every family has collections.”

home tate

Slowly the light came on! Children began to figure this provocation out and SEE.

Gabriel M.  was really stuck. Finally with some scaffolding questions, he said, “I got it!”
P1080893
Dylan sat for a long time, maybe a half hour. 
“My family does not have any collections, they don’t have any stuff they picked up and collected.”
His definition was defined by going on nature walks and “collecting.” Once I explained that collections can be found, bought, or received he immediately got it!
“My family has a collection of glass bottles.”

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How often are children interpreting questions in a way that makes them stuck?  Once Dylan and I had the conversation, he immediately visualized a collection in his home.
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home sonora
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The awareness to see  a collection of others (in this case their family) is a form of empathy. The noticing of  the other, their lives, likes and interests can be observed if you take the time to notice.

I decided to read Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to kickstart the children into a  deeper provocation concerning Objects and Meaning.
This book would be the first foray into history.
It begins, “She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The book tells the story of a young woman who immigrates to America. The shovel is a constant on every page from farming, to  keeping the food and home warm due to the shoveling of coal into the stove, to helping her in a flood, to clearing a skating rink. The shovel is present through marriage, mid-life, old age and the death of her husband, and birth of her children and grandchildren.

The book ends with the opening line, “”She could have chose a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel in 1856.”

The children were absolutely spellbound by this book.

I then handed the children a sheet of paper with two rectangles.

I instructed them: “Right now you are going to pretend. You must leave Washington DC immediately and move to another country. Your family and pets will come with you. Your parents have packed your clothes, food, and water.

What is the one object you will choose?”
thinkingand after you do that, “What is the one object you think your parent/parents will choose?”

Some children knew immeditely what they would choose, while others thought long and hard. 
Thinking about what their parents would bring was even more difficult for many of the children. 
willa hw
I decided to share this exercise at Thanksgiving Dinner in my home this year. 
I excplained The Miss Bridie premise and asked my family, “What would would you take as your one object?”
Some guests said, I just don’t know.
My son immediately said, “My guitar, I could earn money, bring people music, and keep busy.”
My husband said “…for survival, my GPS watch”, my daughter said, “Surprisingly, I would not pick something sentimental, I would choose something useful to help us out, like a rope.” My 81 year old father said, “All my photos and work are on a cloud that I could retrieve. So, I think I would choose something from when me and your Mom first began our relationship, an early photo album.” My mom said, “Hmmm, I just don’t know.” About 20 minutes later she said, “I got it! I would bring a deck of cards!” I said, “I think I would bring Grandma’s rolling pin. Mom let me have it when I left for college. It has moved with me on every move and made may deserts and breads. And it has multiple uses.” My daughter looked at me, “But what about your rocking chair.” Hard decision…

Try it out with your family  or friends. it made for a wonderful dinner conversation.

The next progression of this project was, drum role please…ART STUDIO HOMEWORK.
hw folderChildren created a special folder  for transporting the work. It built anticipation and excitement. Their homework was to get their parents to do homework. 
The following text and paper went home with each child: 

KINDERGARTEN HOMEWORK & THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER.

 Dear Families of Kindergarten Children,

As part of the Collection Project we are also thinking about objects and what they mean.

I read the book Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel By Leslie Conner (in the Studio.) It is the story of a young woman who chose one object to bring to America in 1856.

The children then thought about the one object they thought they would bring and filled out a sheet with a picture and words.

I also asked them to think of the one object their mom or dad would bring. Once again they illustrated and wrote the words.

Now I am asking you to do the same exercise.

 

*Please fill out the enclosed sheet. Please draw a picture and write the words of the one object you would take and the one object you think your child would take.

You may choose to have one parent fill it out or two.

Please do not ask your child what they chose until after you have filled out the paper.

(Please note that it is assumed you would have your pets, necessary clothes, food, and water packed)

 

PLEASE RETURN THIS HOMEWORK IN THE STUDIO HOMEWORK FOLDER. Your child will bring it to the studio, where we will share the enclosed sheet.

 

There will be more “HOMEWORK” coming home in this folder. Please take the time to be a part of this project as we delve deeper into the idea of collections and objects.

 

Warmly,

Ms. McLean, Atelierista and

 

 

 

_______________________________________   

Lusa signs hwAs you can see, each child signed the homework, letting the parents know it was from them and me.

I am proud to say, there was 100 percent participation. OK, I did chase down a few parents, but the children did a phenomonal job engaging their parents in the project. I even heard their was a facebook post devoted to the stress this was causing the parents!

When all the parent homework came in, I created an interactive documentation board, so kids could engage in analyzing the data and share what their parents drew and wrote.

obj aksel look“I think my parents are right. Even though I didn’t pick it. I think I would take my stuffed dog.” Aksel

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In small groups they learned how to categorize the data. What a great opportunity to use some math and science skills.

“We don’t know what our parents would bring.”

Audrey

 

“Lots of people guessed a lot alike, they guessed wrong. But, it’s still interesting.

It’s hard to choose what objects you or your parents would bring. It’s hard to choose because there’s lots of different stuff you like and your parents like.”

Lusa

 

“I DID NOT GUESS had the most symbols.”

Dominic

“I DID NOT GUESS has the most symbols and MY PARENTS DID NOT GUESS had the 2nd most symbols.”

Tate

 

“My parents guessed what I would take because I sleep every night with baby.”

Riley

 hw riley
hw riley family

As more groups met for small group conversation the board became increasingly filled. In the end, Ryan expained the conclusion of the gathered data. “Most kids did not guess their parents, and most parents did not guess their kid’s object, but some parents guessed their kid’s.” He even decided that he preferred his parent’s choice for him to choose even better then what he had chosen.

ryan data
But the heart and the soul of this project emerged from the conversations that occured.

For some groups, they began to understand values within their family:

“I guessed my mom would take her phone, but she said, “I can always get a new phone, but I can’t get a new baby book.”

Sofie 

“My parents would take pictures so they can always remember me as a baby.”

Lilah

“It’s hard to guess what your parents would bring cause they have so many things that are special to them.”

Sofie

 “I said my dad would take his Kindle, but he would take his Viola and because it’s really old and he can play it even though he doesn’t play it so much cause we are busy.”

Willa
willa hwhw willa family

“Out of this group, 5 of your families chose photos. Why do you think so?”

Ms. McLean

 

“So they can see me when I was a baby and laugh.”

Gabriel
HW Gabe M family

 

“Samuel’s dad wrote why:

“A book of our family pictures. These tell us a story of who we are and where we came from. Through pictures we remember stories of time together, and recall the loved ones who have passed.”

 
“How come your parents did not choose fancy cars and Diamonds to bring?

Ms. McLean

 

“You can’t just get stuff to remember people in a store.”

Aurora

 

“Yeah, it’s special stuff.”

Noah

 

“Yeah, it’s like stuff to remember your ancestors.”

Aurora

Many families chose books or literature as their object:
convo values2

“Why do you think two family members of this group chose books?”

Ms. McLean

“Because you can read to make your mind grow!”

Dylan

 

Another realization that surfaced was the value of choosing something that was connected to “creating” :
convo 3
convo values

“How is what Noah’s mom chose, (a blank book,) and what Sophia’s dad chose, (a mandolin,) and what Isaiah’s mom chose, (a rolling pin) alike?”

Ms. McLean

 

“They all are using their hands!”

Noah

 

“To make music!”

Sophia

 

“They all are making something!”

Noah

 

Many children realized their parents knew them better then maybe they know themselves:

“I noticed many of your parents chose different objects then you chose for yourself. What do you think?”

Ms. McLean

 

“I think they’re right, I would take my bird because I like my bird better. I always sleep with him at night.”

Eric

issa conversation
Sometimes I meet with children at the end of the day. They are tired. Sometimes the practice of actually having a conversation must be implicitly discussed for success.

Conversation is a learned value. When a small group I was meeting with was having some issues listening to each other respectfully, I stopped everything.

 “We are having a conversation. The expectation is when you finish speaking; you stop and listen to your friends. What I am seeing is some people speaking and when they are done they start playing or disrupting others. The cool thing about a conversation is you get to learn so much from your friends. It’s a back and forth.”
Ms. McLean

 

“Ohhhh, it’s like the golden rule!”

Maddie K.

 At that moment the conversation shifted with focus and respect to include religous and cultural values.

“That’s true Maddie. Except in a conversation it is so great because you get to know and learn all these new things from another kid.

Like from this group I learned about all of you  AND  your  families!

Maddie, thanks to listening to you, this group knows your mother would choose to take her Ketubah.”

Does anyone know what a Katubah is.”
 

“Well, it’s the paper that says your married.”

Maddie

 

“It’s even more special. It is a very beautiful document with lots of designs on it and swirly letters. Like your Mom drew it. It is a special paper you sign when you get married if you are Jewish.”

Ms. Mclean

 

“I’m not Jewish.”

Eric

 
“No, but today we learned Maddie is. Some people are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other religions. And now everyone in this group learned something new from Maddie.”

Ms. McLean
 

“I am Jewish and I celebrate Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Years.”

Maddie

Issa explained his Mom chose her  meditation beads. When I asked him to tell  about meditation beads, he explained simply they are very very special.

I can tell you about meditation beads!” said Sonora, “You close your eyes and breathe and think of one thing, and you hold the beads like this. It is relaxing. And then a bell rings and you open your eyes and you are like calm.”

Tali’s Mom chose Shabbat candles and so Tali explained why to the group.
“It’s like we have a holiday every Friday night. It’s on Saturday too.  If we had to move somewhere there might not be Shabbat candles. And it is very special and important to light the candles.”

In this last conversation, the purpose and reason of Atelier/Studio learning and this project in particular  became incredibly clear.
In the following small group, a shift occured and the conversation was about people who had died.
I was moved by the intimacy of the conversation, especially with Harvey and Eric sharing some difficult memories.
Suddenly, objects weren’t of worth because of their advertising, but because of the connection to a person, or a memory.

I wrote Harvey’s Mom and Dad an email. I did not want to share any personal information that might be considered private.

I am cutting and pasting our correspondance.

Subject: Something Harvey said

Dec 3
Hi,
A small group of children were having a conversation with me, that became very serious, yet appropriate. I am pasting the conversation below, because I would like to include it in documetation for the Objects and Meaning Project.
I want to find out if this is ok with you before I include it as a part of the documentation. I will respect what you decide.
Conversations
In each small group, conversation took very interesting turns. Many of my questions revolved around values. I was surprised at things children understand and often brought up; life, death, monetary value versus emotional value, religion, culture.
 
“Many families in this group chose things that do not cost a lot of money. Many families chose photos. Why do you think so?”
 
“To remember people.”
Eric
“So you can remember family from before. Like if they died.”
Harvey
“I have a picture of me and my pet before she died. She was a great pet.”
Evan
“I have a photo of my great great grand daddy. He went to the hospital and then he died.”
Lucinda
My Dad’s brother died because he was taking drugs.
Harvey
What are drugs?
Eric
Like medicine except it’s really bad for you.
Harvey
There’s a picture of all my cousins and me and Uncle Bernie. He died and he was in a blue and gold coffin with a cross. My cousins have that picture but then they made copies for all of us.
Eric
 
 
From conversation 12/3/13

Here’s The Craig’s response. Please click on it to make it larger.
Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 9.14.52 PM

 I am honored to be surrounded by such inspirational children and adults.
Brave and beautiful.
Honest and thoughtful.

I feel closer and know more about every child and family who participated in this work.
The children in turn also know.
And all this came about by taking the time to think about what objects mean to the child-self and the adult-self.

Turns out that in this period of excess, in the end, the important  objects are about relationships- for surviving, enjoying, enduring, inspiring, connecting, calming, and remembering- even when it is difficult.

A wonderful reminder, for any season.

values photoBy Aurora

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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:59 pm | #

    Thank you for sharing, Marla. You put so much into your teaching and your blog and we are so grateful to you for doing so!
    The “what would you take” project left a huge impression with Sonora.

  2. Nathan Darling
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm | #

    Great post, Marla. And another great example of the well-rounded learning that happens at SWS. You all are so talented and we and our kids are fortunate to have you!

  3. Natalie Cole
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:29 pm | #

    Marla, Thank you so much for the beautiful post. In the hustle of the holidays, this is such a nice reminder about what is important. I am inspired to have this discussion with our family over the holidays and to take the time to wait and listen for their repsonse. This truly highlights what is special about the SWS community and all that are a part of it. Thank you!

  4. Kirsten
    Posted December 31, 2013 at 6:41 am | #

    Marla-
    Although our children have aged beyond your Studio, I continue to witness the curiosity and creativity that was so preciously nurtured there. I am always inspired by your observations and so appreciate your taking the time to publish these blogs.

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