September 15, 2014

Very young children seem to have what could be called workmanship.  We tend not to see it, because they are unskillful and their materials crude.  But watch the loving care with which a little child smoothes off a sand cake, or pats and shapes a mud pie.  They want to make it as well as they can, not to please someone else but to satisfy themselves.

John Holt, How Children Learn

Who says kids have no focus…


… or very short attention spans?


Just look at the concentration on these faces!


These kids are totally absorbed in what they’re doing…


…and trying to do it as well as they can.


They’re thinking about where to place each item…


…and how things relate to each other.


They are craftsmen!


September 4, 2014

School is finally back in session!! Yay!!  We are temporarily housed in a smaller room due to some storm damage, but that’s not holding us back at all.  My new partner and I have 18 kids; that’s a full class.  I’m really excited to be back at work.


This is a project we did the first week back.  I “stole” it from a friend who teaches in Tucson.  There were some changes I had to make; because of the smaller room, it’s too noisy to use music to start and stop the drawing.  I just told them “go” and “freeze.”  The kids walked around the paper-covered table, dragging markers in a giant oval.


When I called out “freeze,” the kids stopped, preferably in a funny or awkward pose. Then I put the picture on the hallway bulletin board with a note about how it was made and suggesting the parents ask what the children saw in the lines.   Long flowing hair?  A nest?   The tangled branches of a tree?


I’m sure Naomi won’t mind my theft of her idea.  She thinks about projects much as I do.  If it’s a good project, why limit it to one class?  I teach 18 kids a year.  That’s it; 18 kids.  What about everyone else?  I wish every class would try her idea.  Big kids, little kids, kids in the Arizona desert, kids in the snow and cold of Alaska. The children enjoy it; it’s pure process art; and it can be many different things to different viewers.  But, of course, it doesn’t have to be anything at all.  That’s the glory of process art.


As usual, Teacher Tom (Tom Hobson) is absolutely correct.  His blog is at http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/.  Reprinted with his permission.

tuesday, july 15, 2014

The True Business Of People

"We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living." ~Buckminster Fuller

There’s a book I read to the children by the author Leo Leonni entitled Frederick. I’m sure many of my preschool teacher colleagues read this to their kids; Leonni is a popular, brilliant author and his paper collage illustrations are charming. In this story, Frederick the mouse avoids physical labor as the other mice prepare for winter, at first evocative of The Little Red Hen. When the others ask him, “reproachfully,” why he isn’t working, Frederick replies “I gather sun rays for the cold, dark winter days,” “I gather colors, for winter is gray,” and “I’m gathering words, for the winter days are long and many.”
I’ve long on these pages bemoaned our society’s habit ofequating education with the acquisition of job skills. Indeed, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a political leader from any party speak of schools without directly linking them to the fantastical “jobs of tomorrow.” The entire corporate eduction “reform” movement with it’s emphasis on high stakes testing,standardized curricula, and privatization is largely a plan to finish the job of converting our public schools into institutions of vocational training. Right across the country, arts, music, physical education, social studies, drama, and civics are being dropped from our children’s school days, and even such bedrock subjects as science, history, and the rest of the humanities have been minimized in order to make more room for math and literacy, the only things, apparently, that really matter.

What a sad thing that is. When guys like Bill Gates talk about “unleashing powerful market forces” on our schools, I envision them being unleashed upon our children and it strikes me, at best, as a narrowing of life, and at worst a harsh cruelty. Listen, I’m aware that we’re all, at some level, economic beings, and that’s not a bad thing, but that’s certainly not allwe are. What about unleashing powerful artistic forces on our schools? Or powerful civic forces? Or powerful physical or scientific or musical or historical or philosophical forces? Those aspects of a well-rounded life are at least as important as the drudgery that most of us ultimately face when compelled to expend the better part of our days, during the better part of our years, bringing home that damned bacon.

We’re told that capitalism, and particularly the free market brand we’ve been experimenting with since 1980, is as good as it gets, warts and all, but talk about one hell of an inefficient system if it requires pretty much all of its able bodied citizens working most of their daylight hours in order to function properly, as if we exist to serve the economy instead of the other way around. Civilization must be about more than earning a greasy buck, but the economists are in charge and they’re “reproachful” of the rest of us who understand that if it’s going to be worth anything someone must gather sun rays.
I don’t want to live in a world in which my existence is justified by how many dollars I can extract from it. What I do with my life is far more vital than that. I am a father, husband, son, brother, and friend. I am a teacher. I am a man of spirit and philosophy. I am an artist. I am a citizen. I am a politician. I am a writer. I am a cyclist. I am a community organizer. I play these and many more roles in the world, each at least as important as the other, and none of them can be measured on a standardized test like reading and ciphering. I think that’s what blinders the corporate “reformers”: if they can’t reduce it to numbers, if they can’t hold someone accountable, if it can’t be standardized under shrink-wrapped packaging, it doesn’t exist. And that describes most of what makes life worth living.

As a teacher I’m always torn between preparing children for the world as it is and the world of my ideals. I generally come down on the side of my ideals because I simply can’t bring myself to prepare these young children for a meager make-work future of inspectors inspecting inspectors with their tools designed solely for inspecting. That’s not why most of us are here: we’re here to sing, to invent, to discover, to explore, and to gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days. That’s the true business of people and trying to measure that is like trying to measure the height of love or the circumference of god.

May 26, 2014

The Great Spring Clean-up really only dealt with about a quarter of our room, but it was far-and-away the most disorganized part.  It houses the light table (no problem there), our dress up clothes (a big bin into which many other things disappear), our bin of stuffed animals, our box of stuffed unicorns (we are, after all, the Unicorn Class), our kitchen with its stove (perfect for tossing random things in and closing the doors), a round mesh hanging toy organizer (supposedly home to our plastic food), our crib (under whose blankets dolls and other things hide from sight), and some shelves (full of baskets whose contents aren’t supposed to be mixed up but, of course, are.)


So one morning recently I emptied ALL of them onto the floor and then lined up the baskets and bins and boxes on a near-by long table.  Right after circle, we went at it…or rather, they did.  Other than answering questions, I really didn’t help at all.


Unlike most clean-up times, no one needed re-direction; no one got mesmerized by toys to the point of forgetting to clean; no one complained about slackers.  They just got busy and got it done!  We may have to do this more often, not just for the cleanliness aspect, but for the lessons in perseverance and helpfulness.  It really was amazing!


May 22, 2014

Today was the last day of school this year.  I know it seems incredibly early to some of you but we start school in mid-August (when the temperatures can hit 110 degrees!)  I still have some more posts that I want to share with you over the summer, but today I want you to see what has become a tradition in the Unicorn class.

Some years it goes up earlier in the week but this year it went up the very last day.  It’s meant to be a school bus, empty in the morning.  Then during the day the kids do self-portraits to fill the windows.  I almost forgot the bus altogether, but a colleague (whose two kids were Unicorns last year and the year before) came down to my room looking for it.  Thanks for the reminder, Jeane-Marie!

Here are close-ups of their efforts:

At the end of the morning, they are—quite literally—“off to kindergarten,”  leaving me behind.  *Sigh*  Time to start thinking about next year.


May 17, 2014

I’ve written before about building with banker’s clips.  They can clip together several different ways and are very open-ended.  The kids enjoy them but rarely get them out on their own.  Perhaps that’s because they’re stored in a cardboard box rather than a basket you can easily see into.  I need to do something about that. I mention them again because A) they are so different from the usual manipulatives that they deserve a second mention and B) this year was different than previous years.  I had two important firsts.

One girl built a specific thing rather than an open-ended structure.  She set out to build a “birdie” and she did, complete with very long wings. There they are below:



Another girl built a piece and then set herself a challenge.  She told me she was going to build another, completely different structure using the exact same pieces she’d just built with. 


Alas, before she could even get started, something across the room caught her eye and she abandoned the banker’s clips table.  Oh well, at least I have the challenge in mind for next year!


May 12, 2014

I’ve never been happy with preschool weaving. Either the teacher does most of it or the kids are doing it very poorly. I don’t mind that it doesn’t look very good, but if they really can’t do it yet…why bother?

Then I read a hint online and it has made a world of difference! I cut strips and then I cut the “mat” (the piece with the cut lines.) Only this time, I cut the lines all the way to the edge on one side. As one boy described it, “It’s a carwash!”

They could lift the strips over and under the pieces of the mat!

I explained how to weave the strips and then sat down with the four girls who came to try it. One girl got it right away. She finished quickly and asked if she could cut off the one side that wasn’t cut. “Well, I don’t know. Give it a try.” Her beautiful weaving fell apart. She was disappointed for about 30 seconds, shrugged her shoulders and started a new weaving.

The other three got the over/under pretty well, but had trouble alternating rows. I worked with them for a few minutes and they did much better. One of them even brought me fresh paper in black and white, determined to make a proper checkerboard. (I guess blue and orange isn’t quite official.)

The fourth girl was having even more trouble. She asked if hers was pretty. I told her that it was a pretty design, but it wasn’t weaving. “That’s okay. I like making designs.” I left her to it but a few minutes later, she was in tears. “I don’t want to make designs; I want to weave!” I assured her that we could do that. It only took a few reminders and she was weaving like the other three.

It was a great morning!


May 5, 2014

We were painting like Michelangelo this morning.  It’s a common preschool project where the paper is taped to the bottom of a table and the kids lie on their backs to paint—or more likely, draw.  There’s nothing that unusual about it.


But we had the most interesting discussion about it before they began.  We started with a picture of the artist.


I told them that he had died almost 500 years ago and, surprisingly none of the kids were upset by his death.  Normally there would be gasps or, if I hadn’t mentioned his death, immediate questions about whether he was still alive or how he had died.


Then I showed them a photo of the Sistine Chapel and we started talking about how he had managed to paint it.  It would, after all, be a task like them painting our ceiling.  They had an immediate answer: a ladder!  Alas, an extension ladder, leaning against the wall, would only reach the sides, not the middle.  The step ladder wouldn’t be invented for another two hundred years.  Okay, how else could he have done it?  Step stools (not high enough.)  High chairs (unique guess but also not high enough.) Helicopters (okay, now we’re getting silly!)


I finally had to explain scaffolding to them.  He built a new floor close to the ceiling and laid there to paint.  Then I showed them the paper taped to the underside of the table and said that, to protect their eyes, we’d be using markers instead of paint.  I think they were a little disappointed. 

The kids also made a small detour while painting.  Time to freshen that lipstick!

I guess being busy making art is no excuse not to look your best.


May 2, 2014

My school has a large light table that pretty much lives in my room.  I have a space for it and when other classes want to use it, they come and get from me and I do something else with that space.  It’s usually only gone a week or two a couple of times a year.  Most rooms don’t have enough space for it.

So I am always looking for new things to put out on the light table.  This is one of my favorites, combining  art with some small motor muscle effort.


(Do you see the name on the whiteboard?  It’s a former student who came with her little sister to the ice cream social we just had, came down to see her old room, and finding it empty, left her name as a hello.)

I hang a photo holder from the ceiling over the light table, low enough for the children to be able to use the alligator clips.  Normally the photo holder is in other parts of the room, displaying photos of the class or their art work.  It moves around a bit, so the kids weren’t surprised to find it in this new spot.


On the light table is a collection of ribbons with one similar characteristic: they all let the light from the table shine through.  The kids clip them into the holder and rearrange them at will.  I have yet to see an arrangement I didn’t find artistic!


April 30, 2014

We shred paper in my class using a hand-crank paper shredder. It tends to jam frequently, partly because they fill it so enthusiastically with paper. Even when I can get them to shred one sheet at a time, they still love it. We only shred scrap paper from our scrap paper box. We barely made a dent in it yet we ended up this year (like most years) with two boxes of shredded paper.

What to do? What to do? Those people who know me realize that throwing out the shredded paper just isn’t my style. I wanted to make something with it.

I’d seen a bowl made with yarn and glue. Would it work as well with shredded paper? I decided to find out.

I borrowed a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. Then I set the bowl and the boxes of paper out for the kids along with some watered-down white glue and wide brushes. The instructions were to brush on some glue, add some shredded paper, and then another layer of glue. After that, it was glue, paper, glue all over the bowl.

To be completely honest, I added a little more glue after school, just enough to catch the ends of the paper strips, so they’d lie flat.

It took a couple of days, but we finally pulled the bowl off its mold and removed the plastic wrap from inside the paper bowl. Then we voted on whether or not to trim the edges. Even though I had suggested it, I was actually disappointed when they voted to trim the bowl. It was more interesting with its wild curlicues. But here it is trimmed.

Pretty nice, huh?