Reggio Emilia Inspiration

I’ve been reading and researching for my project, most recently about David Hawkins and things related. Last night I stumbled upon a blog by one of his friends and colleagues, John Paull, who began his connection with David Hawkins when John Paull was working in the Leicestershire schools in the UK and David Hawkins came to the UK to learn about the work happening there in the Infant Schools, as part of his work with ESS, the Elementary Science Study.

Here is the post:

The blog post was a tribute to David Hawkins on what would have been his 100th birthday. There is a wonderful chronology of Hawkins’ life and work, and a proposal for a school John Paull had helped design in honor of David Hawkins which he and a group hoped to establish in Denver. The proposal was denied, but I found it to be an interesting read, somewhat similar in form and philosophy to the Somerville Progressive Charter School proposal I helped develop, which we just recently had to abandon due to changes in the state regulation of Charter schools..

In any case, John Paull referred to his classrooms as “richly resourced”, I believe, and there were many references to hands on learning, Open Studios, inquiry based science, reading and writing workshops, reflective meetings at the end of each day, and learning math and reading and writing as tools for learning, rather than as ends in themselves.

I met with a friend for lunch yesterday to talk about ideas related to my project, which doesn’t have a core just yet, and was online researching after our conversation to follow up on ideas we discussed. One of them is the importance of materials and children having time to explore them and to follow their own ideas.

Today in the day care, I was especially aware of how much of children’s activity in our program is based on relating to the physical world. We have a project room full of all kinds of art and science materials which we used today to work with play dough at one table, and stamps and stickers at the other. There are puzzles in four rooms, building toys in three, dress ups and dolls and dishes and other dramatic play props in three rooms, cooking supplies in the kitchen, vehicles and figures in two rooms, a cd player and cds and musical instruments in one room, and today a young guy brought a hand held MP3 player he could use independently, playing music during our art project and while waiting for other kids to dress. At the park, we have sand and ice, shovels and buckets and other sand toys, and all sorts of natural materials, from sticks to pinecones to leaves and rocks, which the kids use for play and projects of their own design. There are riding toys, trees and bushes and climbers and slides, a playhouse and other equipment.

I cannot imagine asking our kids to sit at tables and spend their days with pencil and paper. Why, I keep wondering, do we expect that in any school, all the way up through college? My own kids spend a good part of their day at school interacting with materials, whether playing sports outside, sliding on the ice or sledding in the snow, drawing or painting or working with clay in the art room, playing music and singing in the music rooms or piano room, or playing games with friends. Other kids there use blocks, dress-ups, sewing materials, and cook. There is a pool table and outside there are endless natural materials for play and building as well as swings, a slide, a sand pit, a basketball court, a bike shed full of bikes, rocks and trees for climbing, hills and woods to explore. Many kids bring materials from home, whether toys or art supplies or games or computers, to add to what is already at school.

The world is so much more than pencil and paper and books and writing. Part of what the project I want to do has to do with the importance of materials. Not sure yet how all the parts relate, but that will be in there..David Hawkins set up spaces full of materials, some natural, some manufactured, some designed by him and his colleagues for adults and children to explore, then engaged with materials and the children adults in learning about all kinds of things, from ponds to pendulums to patterns. I’d like to learn more about how he viewed the role of materials and how he viewed the role of the adults and children. In Reggio Emilia, an early childhood approach about which he was curious and which he influenced, the environment is considered the third thing, after the child and the teacher, necessary in any learning environment, and considered carefully by those creating learning and care situations for children.

This morning I tidied an art cupboard, organized the paper supplies. Last week I sorted the construction and painting materials. The week before that I tidied and reorganized dishes on the kitchen shelf. Little by little, I’m attending to the materials in the space and hopping that just in the handling and organizing of them, I’ll get reconnected to their importance and potential in the life of children.

This morning I wake from a wonderful dream. In the dream I had been on a sort of vacation . The vacation home was shared by many people, all who shared the love of reading. In the home were arranged many collections of periodicals. Gradually, I found my way through them, at the guidance of guests who had visited previously (I was new), and under my own powers of browsing and engagement. I could not wait to read and read, worried I was hoarding too much material in my small corner of space, leaving the place untidy.

When I wake I am energized. I had stayed up too late last night, lost on the internet, not on Facebook or WordPress, but in a world of exploration not too dissimilar from the vacation home, though in the dream the journals were stacked neatly in alphabetical order in cozy spots around what felt like a large living room (an image that carried over, perhaps from my reading and listening on the internet, to a living room as a metaphor for the way teachers learn best). Some collections were vintage, others current. Friends were there, including Kathryn and Al, but mostly I was in new territory, exploring on my own in the midst of others who were also exploring. Before I woke up there was talk of a large meal. The feeling was festive.

This morning when I wake up, this is how I feel about my new project, not overwhelmed, but invited in to a world I want to know. The words of David and Frances Hawkins, and those who study and preserve and carry on their work are on my mind. I think of a piece I wrote here a long time ago about living as though everyone matters, and the observation in a film I found on the Hawkins’ life, the words of Karen Worth, I think, who spoke at the Lesley Pre-Institute, about David Hawkins’ interest in each person and their contribution, no matter their station or education or position in life. And I think of John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, and the blog post which perhaps has had as many readers here as any of which I have been proud, John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, Friends in My Mind, and I think perhaps the Hawkins’ are one of the missing links, friends of Loris Malaguzzi, who has been inspiring the Reggio Emilia approach many years, and friends of the early Open Classroom, grounded all three in the works of John Dewey, my intellectual introduction to this world, discovered in Mann Library at Cornell many years ago, when again I could not put the ideas down, was awakened by their power.

Last night I finished a wonderful book by James Hollis, and in it he talks again about Jungian ideas of how we operate in the world, and he calls us to find our true purpose in life. Somewhere, there is a purpose in here for me. Exploring human dignity as it relates to learning and education is at the core for me. It’s not an accident that the schools and schools of thought that interest me in education were born and reborn in progressive eras concerned with human rights, with equality, with the idea that each of us is a valued individual existing within the whole, that each of our contributions and lives and inner selves matters.

Today when I interview a new family with a small child, I want my house to be clean. I also want my walk and driveway to be shoveled and my kids to get off to school with a travel mug of green tea and a napkin laden with warm buttered toast. I have to stop writing here to do those things. That doesn’t mean I have to stop thinking. Thank you Frances the cat and Jonah and Isabel for spending last evening on the couch with me so my mind could rest and prepare. The rest of the evening was inspiring, all the way til one am, and on through the night and into my dreams and again at seven am, when my mind woke to a dream state and carried on, giving me some insight into where I’m headed and what I might do.

One takeaway from last night is that the first step in the way forward, as David Hawkins knew and wrote, is Messing About. Somehow I thought I had to know how to tackle this project without doing that. Nonsense. As David Hawkins’ fellow traveller Eleanor Duckworth must have known when she wrote her famous book, The Having of Wonderful Ideas, we aren’t given them, we have to come to them, not only on our own, but in the company of others. I had forgotten momentarily how easy it is to join these friends in my mind. On the couch and on the internet and in books is a great way to start. Eventually, again, I’ll find my way out in the world to engage with them again in real life. But for now, this is a place to start. I’ve ordered a documentary that was made last year about the lives of the Hawkins’. You can watch a trailer here:

Video released 1/6/13 about David and Frances Hawkins, trailer for documentary:

Others are on the trail, too..perhaps someday soon we’ll meet. For now, I’m happy messing about and dreaming and wondering where I’ll be next, an idea from James Hollis’s book last night as well, that not knowing where we’re headed is sometimes scary, but the only way to go through life fully engaged and making meaning. We must be open to possibility, even on days like yesterday, which start off slow. Now it is really, finally, time to shovel the walk!

P.S. The other thing David Hawkins said which I found inspiring this morning was that he could not understand how people can separate feeling from cognition..the quote was quite marvelous, possibly shared by Karen Worth..about how feeling informs cognition and vice versa, but said more eloquently. I’ll find it and record it in its’ full glory, soon! Good to be feeling it again, for sure!

Sometime yesterday, possibly late last night, I read a piece on my computer, thought it was an Exchange Everyday piece, but I cannot find that in my e-mail, so now I seem to recollect it was on Facebook, maybe a post shared by Skillshare, I don’t know, but it was about Convergent and Divergent Thinking and how each is important, the detailed follow through and the open-ended exploration, and in this piece, the author suggested that we set aside time for each in our days, and be clear about which we are doing. The author also suggested that tension comes for us when we are shifting quickly between the two, divergent big picture thoughts and focussed accomplishment oriented ruminations, and I found it easy to relate to this, am in that place now, early Saturday morning, doing just what the author described, coming up with to do lists in my mind of all I hope to accomplish this weekend, groceries, bills, banking, correspondence, laundry, chores, social obligations, and at the same time reflecting on my week and making connections in the looser sense, putting my thoughts together, wondering about the future.

In allowing my mind to wander while lying in bed before going to sleep and after waking up I’m giving myself that dedicated time for divergent thinking. I brought my work bag upstairs last night, thinking I would like to lie in bed this morning and do my “desk work”, paying bills, preparing checks for deposit, entering statements into the computer. When I wake up this morning, though, I am thinking of dreams, of the water that first stained the ceiling of my dream bedroom, then began to drip, then shower, then pour out, until I saw a hose, which was detracted from what seemed to be the ground below, through a window or a wall or a ceiling, but which I could not trace. So, I woke up thinking about that dream, about trying to get help to diagnose and fix the leak, about trying to figure out what it was and what to do about it, to watching it move on and wondering how to repair the damage done. After thinking of dreams, I think of school and day care and writing and teaching and becoming staff at SVS and working on a series of meetups at Wheelock this year called Documentation Studios and wondering if I can come up with a documentation project to share, thinking about materials and space and context and the role of the young person and the adult, young child, tween, teen, teacher, staff, administrator, and I think of yesterday and working with pastels and colored pencils and large sheets of yellow paper in a room full of kids and teens and watching the piece emerge on my paper, which looked most to me like a uterus, which offended the young artist beside me, which it interested me that this word felt wrong to her, a part of the body, and I explained that the longer I worked on the color and the shapes, the more the piece seemed to be living, and she agreed, not geometric but organic, and that discussion was interesting, too, while all around kids explored the textures and colors of the materials, powder of chalk pastel, stick of oil pastel, slide of colored pencil, using not just these tools on the page, but also fingers, hands, even forearms and faces were colored by the end. We wiped up the tables, washed the smear off the door, put our drawings away. I packed up the art materials and put them in my cubby til next time I am there, along with the Keva planks, the Toobers and Zots, and the Knitting and the cans of tea I store there, and many pages of paper from School Meeting and Staff Training, lining the shelf. Two teen boys left with my game of Quarto, which they have been playing all week, and which I played awhile yesterday afternoon, with one of them, and with two other boys, one about ten, another a young teen newer to the game. For one part of the morning I was in the art room with kids using the Toobers and Zots, a foam building material I found while cleaning out the day care shelves, no good for babies who would eat it, which made the small kids playing with the stuff at SVS feel big, though they are the  littlest ones there, four and five and six and seven and eight. While we explored the styrofoam pieces another girl made a mask of things I’ve brought, a piece of fabric, some stuff from the recycle center, bits of lace, and her twin sister sewed a pocket on an apron and we all talked about whether the Toobers and Zots were an art material or a building material, like the fabric or the blocks, and agreed for now they were a building material, not to take home, but to take apart when we were done and to use again. Later I talked with the apron sewer about using a machine or hand sewing and about working in another room or in the art room, and she expressed her preference for hand sewing and for working in the art room where it was by then only her, so quiet I wondered if she would feel lonesome, but she didn’t, like the other girl on another day who preferred to come there to be alone after a hard JC where she held her worries in private and another girl who came to draw in the early morning, also happy to be alone, and I expressed to each of these girls how lucky we are to be in a school where being alone is an option, and I wondered how these girls will feel as women if and when they are alone, and my hope is they’ll feel strong.

But this morning, I wonder about introducing these materials, about how it changes things at school and about my role there, not as teacher, but as staff. The kids respond to materials, beads, looms, fabric, buttons, building toys, games, art supplies, but they also respond to the sharer. When I left the basket of Toobers and Zots on the table after we had put them away, no one took them out. I brought the Keva planks a few weeks ago and put them on the table of teens to share, and for a day they were popular. I put them in my cubby and offered to folks to take them out any time. No one did, but yesterday my hands were restless and I invited a young guy to build with me, which he did, and soon others were, too. The game guys are excited about Quarto and one of them invited me to play, and then I did, with him and others. The invitation and context are important as are the materials. I am fascinated by how this dynamic plays out at SVS, about how it compares to my experience with materials when I taught school and in the day care. I’m wondering if there is a way to do a project on this for the Documentation Studios that would work for SVS, not so much documenting children’s learning, but documenting my learning to become staff there, to find my role and place, to understand how sharing materials works there, to watch how students in that environment use something in particular or a variety of things.

I think a lot about what kids do there. So much of it is different from others schools, while much of it is similar to every day life, playing, talking, eating, organizing, making things. Some kids feel quick as can be, while others seem to move slowly, finding their way.

I also think a lot about what adults do at SVS. So much of that is also different from other schools, while much of it is the same. People keep asking me why it feels so good to work there, what it is I like about this job. It’s still hard for me to describe and say. One thing another staff member said to me while I was considering the job is that it feels so good to be an equal to the kids. I agree. Beyond that, I’ll let you know as I better understand. While a twenty percent pay cut hasn’t kept me from staying on this year, it is something that makes me think harder about what I do and why I do it and how I’ll continue, and if I can make it work.

Now, on to the convergent thinking parts of the day. I think I’ll take that work bag downstairs to the dining room or kitchen table where I always work, reserving the quiet space upstairs for dreaming and thinking big. Nice to have/take a Saturday morning to think and write here, but now I’ve got lots of real life chores to do. Look out laundry, dishes, banking, bills, and groceries, here I come.

Yesterday I left work an hour early to get to Wheelock College for a Documentation Studio event held there periodically throughout the year. I have been once or twice and was happy Liana and I could go this time. Liana has been working on an article inspired by the folks who run this place about our day care observations and the way the process of writing and sharing them impacts us all, caregivers, families, children.

I’ve been wondering how this piece of my thinking and feeling life will bridge to my new life at SVS. Yesterday the guest speaker was from the art department. Fittingly, his talk centered on a slide show of good and great art and advertising copy and on the visual language he uses to see those images. At first I felt like too much of a novice to know why we were there in the same room. I glanced back at Liana several times to see if perhaps she wanted to go. No, we were both entranced. The images and language out of another discipline were just what we each needed. I’ve been feeling at a loss with my photos and my day care observations, also unsure of how to use this blog at this point in my non-school starting life. It’s ok, the talk and images seemed to say, you’ll find your way, back or forward, you’re always moving. Life is like that.

The speaker showed and talked about powerful elements in visual communication, balance, color, light and dark, black and white, bright and dull, text, horizontal, vertical and some other fancy form of balance, not always focussing on the center. As I imagine he and the organizers expected, though I hadn’t seen it coming until we were in that moment, his meaning connected to ours and at the end of his piece, the audience found lots in their lives to talk about. The images of putting together an art show of many artists came to mind for me, along with our work in the day care balancing the photographic and narrative observations of our work with children, and the four caregivers who each bring a unique perspective and way of documenting.

After the talk, Liana and I and one of the organizers sat with a young woman working in a Boston center, doing art with young children. She wondered how to move from using mostly photos with captions to more narrative documentation, also how to collaborate with others in her program. We learned as much by talking with her about these questions as from her experience of working in an urban child care program seeking NAEYC accreditation, another point where my mind diverted, going back to my years on the BAEYC board, and the year I left in mind, body, and spirit, when those new accreditation standards and procedures were taking over, with their own form of documentation and standardization.

I wake up this morning full of thoughts on how this new life might connect to the old..about all the thoughts in the title I don’t really have time to write as I am off to the doing part of the day, driving, being with kids, finding my way in the day to day.

Another cool connection from last night was the presence of another artist who is making a magazine about the everyday, with the word prosaics in the title. He’s promised me a copy if I call the office. Check it out online if you have more time than I do right now!

Last week was the week I broke down and got the iphones. Yes, not iphone. While it has taken me years to buy an iphone for myself, it took days to decide to buy them for my children, including many early morning and late night sessions doing research, two sessions in the Apple Store, and a good deal of worry on my part.

Monday was the night I realized my computer is too old to update the operating system to be compatible with icloud so I can do whatever icloud would do to connect my computer and iphone to one another and the world. Ah, well. Next purchase, a new computer, if my friend Macky’s lead proves my guide, which she shared with me in middle age technology commiseration at the park yesterday. No computer this week, but that is on my mind.

So, that has taken over my brain and my time, the searching for answers about the iphone, searching going well beyond that tiny miraculous device to the usual places, money, family, aging, relationships, divorce, growing up, mothering, school, work, day care, life, privilege, struggle. All the usuals have been on my mind, and I’ve been wrestling there til the wee hours, then again in the mornings and on my many drives.

And there have been many drives..My boy returned from college late on Friday night. On Saturday we drove to the shore of Rhode Island and back to attend the wedding of a fabulous friend. On Sunday we drove to Western Mass so my son could spend time with his father and we could all spend time with our housemates there. On Sunday my son drove back to college with his dad, while his brother and sister and girlfriend and I drove home to the city, some regret on my mind as we did, entering traffic as we neared home, as we do now three days a week on our way home from school. And on Tuesday I drove to school and back at the end of the work day.

So, this morning, I have adapted to the iphone idea, bills and fear and all, and I am tired, from a busy weekend, from driving, from worry, from caring and trying hard. Last night someone visited this blog and looked at lots of photos I have published, mostly those intended as some sort of documentation of learning..and I wonder who it was and what they were seeking and what they found. More mystery. My photos these days feel dull, as does my writing. I miss that feeling of being on fire, of seeing the world anew through my camera and words. I wonder if that feeling will return.

Time to get on the road, to Cambridge for my kids, then to Framingham for another day at school, then home to Somerville for another continental dinner, which really means cooking and eating and washing up way too late:)

This week we broke with tradition, and decorated our eggs with natural materials rather than with commercial dyes. This Easter I went to Quaker Meeting, my first time celebrating Easter in a church service since before I had children, when I attended Mass.

Both experiences left me feeling the mystery and love thing, two words that came from the Quaker Meeting participants who were moved to speak today, two words that fit our cutting of beets and cabbage and sprinkling of coffee and turmeric, soaking of onion skins, and dunking of eggs. The results were surprising, left us with as many questions as answers, were part science, part art, resulted in variety and uniqueness, rather than standardization and uniformity. I liked that, as did the friends young and old who shared the experiences with me.

Here are a couple of photos of the eggs and of the process. Amazing all we did to dye a few dozen eggs. The process counts. Many contributed ingredients, many chopped, some brewed, others admired, sorted, observed, touched, peeled, ate, discussed. No one asked about the commercial dyes or the color-coded egg cups and little metal lifters we’ve used each year since I began dying eggs in the day  many years ago. The experience this year was it’s own.

This week we may try coloring other things with our hand made dyes, in the style of the article Liana sent about folks around the country making things beautiful with plant materials for dye. We have no idea how that will work, which is a great place to begin.

Happy Easter, or Happy Mystery and Love, something to celebrate either way.

This week, perhaps because it is spring, we have been working with beauty. The trees outside are flowering, and perhaps because it got very warm then cool again, the flowers are lasting a long time. The children in the back room have been doing lots of building with all kinds of materials. On Tuesday this lead to interesting discussions amongst us about how important it is to make things beautiful and how each of us perceives the world differently, some loving certain colors while to others they are not lovely at all, some enjoy fanciness in clothing, others in cars, others in buildings, some valuing simplicity most of all. I think of my friends on facebook and their Pinterest boards and the insight into their insides I gain by seeing what makes them happy and I am eager to know what colors make my three feel bright. Turns out she is most clear. She loves purple, blue, pink, yellow, not green, brown, or black..while we know a beloved older girl who has loved a particular shade of green her whole life, a sort of spring green, now I think about it, and her younger friend knows this about it and shares her love. Another boy thinks he does not like fancy things, but as he builds an ever more complicated vehicle out of mobilos, I notice he does like fancy cars. Sure enough on Wednesday he spends the ride to day care perusing cars on his mom’s iphone and shows up and builds the fanciest car he’s ever built out of wooden blocks. My other three has made a cubicle house for a small plastic animals, and as we talk about beauty he adds decorative triangles to the edges, which is what prompts me to make the fancy comment. We also talk about color and not color, and how some prefer to live in houses that are all white, while I love color, and I wonder who likes the green on the walls of the room we’re in, and only a few do, but those who do, really do.

This morning Exchange Everyday is about aesthetics, and while I appreciate the attention to the topic in a piece devoted to young children, I lament the author’s sense of prescribing THE aesthetic for all early classrooms and her honoring this through a singleminded process of hard work. That, in my experience, is not true. Aesthetics are particular to individuals, groups, families, lifestyles, cultures, countries, types of people, all sorts of variety is what makes aesthetics appeal to me, and while some are students of aesthetics who put in long hours and lose sleep over their aesthetic creations, others take different approaches, working more haphazardly, collecting, layering, removing with perhaps less intentionality  and just as much satisfaction. I’ll include the piece below in case you are curious.

The other project of this week, Easter Week for some, Passover week for others, Spring for others, has been dying eggs with natural dyes.  Jen, our new artistic, DIY sub, brought a magazine for me that made me very happy, called Taproot, and in it was a process for dying eggs with natural materials. Since Easter is a holiday I have celebrated with the kids by dying eggs, and since I have slowly become fascinated with plants and do it yourself, and because I have always, always loved colors and color mixing, in whatever form we find it, this project took to my heart and to the heart of my five, who was looking over the magazine with me, and who has always been in this blog, “the girl who loves plants.” We began collecting things, onion skin by writing to our families who collected and donated a big bag, coffee grounds, from my midday espresso on the stove, made in  my new junk store espresso maker, and from Liana’s home, red cabbage from Liana’s science experiment ambitions, beets from another child. The kids tore the cabbage to bits yesterday, fascinated by it’s deep purple color. Later in the week, Alice had brought a similar article about dying eggs with natural materials, not from an alternative press, but from a Stop and Shop flyer. Who knew going natural had gone so mainstream? Today Liana sent me an article from the NYTimes about natural dying and it’s resurgence, which I love, both for it’s urban gardening, DIY connections, but also because it reminds me that when I was a girl, we did this in school, in one of my favorite school project, the Colonial Days Fair, and I remember the onion skin dye, and the black walnut dye, which we made by gathering walnuts from local woods, and I remember also the bath of RIT dye my mother had on the stove each year when I was small to make my curtains that lovely shade of pink which was both the deep pink my five told me he loved this week, rather than a pale pink, as those curtains always faded throughout the year, sun shining through them being the other thing I remember, and the color would shift, as the NYTimes says natural colors will do, too. So, enjoy that article, too. Perhaps it was a non-accident that last year I bought strong dyes from Eastern Europe at the Waldorf store and still have the jars of dye atop my fridge in salvaged glass jars, and that I have jars of Waldorf water color on my dining room window sill. I love baths of translucent color, always have, always will. Make some today for your eggs or your silk, or for something else, alchemy for Easter, beauty for spring, happiness for your heart, science for your senses. Enjoy:)

Piece from ExchangeEveryDay:

Children’s Aesthetic Awareness
April 5, 2012

Learning is its own exceeding great reward.
-William Hazlitt

In her article in the March/April 2012 issue of Exchange, “The Intangibles in the Early Childhood Classroom,” Carol B. Hillman (author of the Exchange book, Teaching Four Year Olds) offers this advice on developing children’s aesthetic awareness:

“Developing children’s aesthetic awareness starts with the teacher’s choices about how the classroom is set up: the materials presented to the children, and the manner in which they are displayed.  It is seeing that the paints are fresh each day and maintaining a sense of order by creating a separate space for each object.  It is arranging and rearranging wall displays throughout the year and making the mainstay the work of the young artists in your classroom. Creating an aesthetic s! e nse also has to do with simplicity: knowing that clutter is counter-productive.  Blank spaces on the walls allow the eye to rest and the body to relax.

“An aesthetic sense can also be heightened by having live plants and flowers growing in your classroom to look at and wonder about each day.  These lend beauty, color, and fragrance in subtle but satisfying ways.   Keeping an aesthetic sense alive calls for a great deal of thought and planning that is woven into the very fabric of who you are, how you think, and how you choose your actions.  It is like an artist who mixes the colors from her palette, overlaying the colors, one atop another until the blending creates just the right shade of color she sought.”

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