© 2016 Marla McLean IMG_4496

Bigger and Better than Ourselves: Humility

I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.

I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.

This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)


Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.

Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
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Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
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Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight. 
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Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
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Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.

From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…

(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
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At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at  the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
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The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
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The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
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The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
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Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?

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Humility.

Simple Definition of humility

 the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble

When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.

Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste. 
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
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The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”

Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”

Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.

A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
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And why is humility important?

 

Ever wonder about injustice?

Ever wonder about creation?

Ever wonder about relationships?

Ever wonder about the environment?

Ever wonder about invention?

Ever wonder about the unknown?

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Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.

I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed. 
IMG_3710Scarlet says,
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”

IMG_3976Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting  or complimentary colors.
IMG_4028(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)

I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…

Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.

Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.

They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way. 
IMG_3560Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.

(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name  your skin?”)
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Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
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I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.

Here are some of the awe-filled results:

Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking:  “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
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This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
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This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
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This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
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Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.

This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.

This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.

This also connects to play.
IMG_5734(Sensory exploration and play with rainbow spaghetti)

IMG_5239 (Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)

IMG_5399(3 year olds playing office)

I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.

“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”

And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”

Why?

Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.

It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with.  These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
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And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?

Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”

Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
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Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.

IMG_4659(There’s Mr. Jere playing the moon sax with the children during the Solstice Moon Ceremony in the Atelier)

Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
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and replaces it with creative capacities 
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 to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
IMG_4508IMG_4496Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
IMG_4411Bigger and better than ourselves.

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4 Comments

  1. Unknown
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:12 pm | #

    This is why I fell in love with this school and most of the staff. This is what great education is when teachers embody humility they teach with care concern and compassion.

  2. Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:11 am | #

    Marla– This blog post really made me smile. I love getting a glimpse into the Atelier… thank you for sharing your creativity and joy with us!

    Daizy Cushner

  3. Nicole
    Posted February 3, 2016 at 7:43 am | #

    Why am I crying so hard when I finish reading a Marla blog? I’m so grateful for our family getting to experience this school, and I so wish this opportunity for every family!!

  4. Uma
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 5:56 am | #

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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