“Art” and giving Thanks

Smiling when I think of certain art pieces and children’s reactions when they first encounter the “Art” ; with the approaching American Thanksgiving weekend my thoughts have been on a space across the Ocean- Barcelona Spain where Museums feature two children’s favorites – Picasso and Miro!

Critics may enjoy declaring “a child could do that,”- and then ought to remember Picasso was known for suggesting that everyone needs to hold onto that early child each of us grows up from, and to honour the excitement that provides entertainment when we as adults encounter something new.  But it is Miro and the work of Miro which personally holds strong appeal: bright colours, fun shapes, stories within stories…

This weekend as many families either shop or watch a Football game, and wonder if they are allowing the children too much screen time, head on over to a museum with that very computer on line or simply google the artist and have the children self select which picture amuses; then look up the image and try to draw or colour a picture in similar fashion.  Many of the artists also look at “Nature” from a personal perspective, and with the weather on the cusp of a new season,  a brisk neighborhood walk after the Thanksgiving meal can find “treasures” – leaves and whatever else depending on which part of the States one is located in.  Paper, children’s glue, tape, crayons, even the boxes that may have accumulated from the extra groceries purchased in preparation of a gathering all may become “art supplies” and when children see Art that has moved beyond representation, to encompass the imaginary, (Miro admired Calder- with parent’s help a clothes hangar is suddenly transformed into a hanging mobile..) the spirit of play and creativity may emerge.  And just think- as parents you will be encouraging a life long love of this “maker concept” that you may be hearing about from teachers… it begins with first taking a Look. Artists do see our world differently, able to question and suggest where some areas could be improved ( consider the cast of “Hamilton” (the Broadway play)  and their fervent appeal to future leaders to respect Humanity and to honour the Freedoms those very Founders depicted in the play were fighting for.

images which continue to make me smile: 

  1. my children
  2. their art work
  3. places and experiences we have together…

and often the “unexpected!”  

Happy Thanksgiving! When people come together to simply celebrate “being together.”  A unique non-denominational day that allows each of us to take stock and consider the extraordinary; that a country could be filled with so many with different roots, and that over-all the simple celebration of harvest time could grow to be the event which for a brief weekend may remind everyone that there is a common ground.  

P.S. remember to have the children sign and date their creations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

make room for “Discussion”

Two months into the Academic year of 2016-2017 and so much to celebrate! Actually little of this celebrating involves “academics.” In fact it is the culture of schooling that is constantly in question and the many ways home and school connections develop community, solidarity and openness for a neighbourhood.  And the celebrating may seem surprising when this winter for the first time in approximately forty years since my first venture as a student  peer teacher in a classroom, I haven’t been teaching anywhere- not “retired” nor “consulting” but instead reviewing and posting and volunteering in online forums; I discovered not merely how many teachers genuinely do appreciate online informal ways to chat about their classes, but the very important many ways online chats actually encourage professional development.

 

Educators get to actually brag! To share accomplishments and to state how happy they were when students not merely grasped new(ish) ideas but also began their own exploring. When in grad school I heard so many teachers constantly worrying about the lack of motivated students, the lack of resources, and the lack of actual professional development time- that is time when teachers really mingled instead of rapidly taking notes and then retreating to what was left of their weekend.  Now due to online conferencing teachers arrange meetings with virtual colleagues, have professional mini-breaks, and connect to share not merely to compete. 

 

In my years of direct interactions with many in the gifted and talented groups, laughter was always the key to reminding each of us, educators, administrators and students and their families that learning is a never-ending activity- and that each student requires that oh so necessary “private” time to consider… to reflect… and to make new plans- whether in the same linear fashion or in a new direction. But while in the flow moments- insisting on reflection may actually be detrimental- not only is the distance to really consider effects missing, but also the very curtailing of the flow situation limits the further continuing of a pursued endeavor.

 

In this way I may be in favor of daily reading in the elementary and middle school curriculum while also aware that for many such a staged part of the day is more filler than learning experience.  Reading is an action, involving the student in the material takes more than merely setting aside time. Far too many students continue to grasp at the phonemic sounds and then read the words on the page with limited comprehension, close their texts when the “drop everything and read” time is completed and couldn’t discuss anything they had just “consumed’ with any real ability to make sense of the reading. And when book reports follow a set format the students dutifully tick off the spaces on the handouts and the teachers have “proof” their students are reading.  Suddenly, formal curriculum testing occurs and the students are shown to be behind in their levels of comprehension.  What was missing- one essential ingredient- discussion.  

 

Discussion – be it in small groups sharing the same text or private one-one with the teacher allows a student to express opinions– essential in higher grades for the essay writing and learning of more than the “English” – for geography, history, civics, economics, all the arts, all the sciences, and even the physical courses – for when physical education is where the instructions regarding “health” occur then reading and writing and reviewing and commenting take place in the gym too!

 

A “noisy” school culture is one where students become active in vocalizing opinions and caring about their dreams.  Glad to have been able to participate in some noisy online discussions these recent months- and to hear the passion, anger, joy, and encouragement that strangers and now virtual teammates offer one another, reminding each other that with each independent student who moves beyond the limited and limiting expectations of a “Formal schooling” into deeper learning perhaps the general future adult population will be able to discuss ideas and debate concepts based on both practical knowledge and the textbook information.  When from a young age students begin learning through accepting that differences in opinions are the result of different knowledge bases, and create that sense of shared global goals based on respect instead of ignorance– for ignorance breeds fear, and then “diversity” is something that must be shouted, while knowledge ought to lead to respect and then noisy merely represents participatory, with the understanding that only by uniting together- men and women, boys and girls, children and adults, and international communities that genuinely have respect for one another and may discuss ideals- towards action, this could indeed produce that Global development that reading- writing and arithmetic is meant to be the foundation for. 

 

 

 

Dressing Up, Acting Out, Enjoying being a Student!

 

Junior High and the first foray into – wait for it- Makeup!

and in schools today there are still students who exit their homes, faces scrubbed, to make it to the school washrooms fifteen minutes early- in time to apply the newest in eye shadows or lipsticks etc. to apply a slightly different persona for the duration of the school day- a little flirty maybe, a little tough?

Not only the girls – many a young man adjusts his cap, the walk, the talk, the total “attitude” to either appear cool or to be what he considers necessary to “fit in” and there is the unspoken recognition that some of it is also to be different from the adult expectations of the day. And Schools furiously dictate notes and send home written mandates for what is expected dress, and style, as if this surface view ever truly reflected the students posturing, or the student’s understanding of where they fit into the hierarchy of a campus, the code of “behaviour” that operates beyond principal, teacher or family and is centered in “teenager” – the wonderful growing space between twelve and twenty!

Shouldn’t we be celebrating these changes instead of being afraid of them? Fashion after all is a clear example of not only how ephemeral “the right outfit” may be, but of politics, the arts, technology, power structures, group versus individual behavior, male versus female dominance, cliques, teams, belonging and experimenting. And while our children may not actually wish for our votes of approval regarding their specific ways to not necessarily rebel but indeed to grow, we needn’t be the ones constantly worrying about societal approval when instead the people truly deserving if unable to ask for our approval are our kids! And kids do find it hard to ask for that so very basic statement of “I trust you!” that some parents forget is central to allowing children to take chances- for that trust doesn’t and mustn’t mean that if a child wishes to share his/her being upset regarding anything, that guilt (the result of disappointing trust) be laid on top of anyone – or any other type of discomfort.

Guilt is not a cleansing nor a helpful emotion- and the discretions kids make rarely deserve such a depth of negative control; instead children require the openness to discuss what did or not appeal- what did or did not in their opinion “work.” And to be given the time to communicate without pressure to conform. 

We worry- that is part of our role as adults, but we mustn’t worry so much that we forget to indulge and enjoy the wonderful uniqueness that our own children display- thankfully not clones– young, growing, learning, and displaying their own personalities enroute to being what society will later label, “adults.”   In the interim, let’s note their individuality with respect, let’s smile at what they find amusing, let’s recognize who they feel are hurtful, and do what we can to understand how they must, to grow, experiment on their own- not living vicariously through an older generation but making their own mark and establishing and dismissing their own set of goals and dreams while they gradually and sometimes fearlessly break away from the staid and the safe to attempt to understand what skills they possess, how these skills can be further developed, and whom they might inquire of for opportunity to learn more.

Principals, teachers, administrative staff and parents will continue to appear to be communicating about the kids in the exchange of letters home or phone calls or in person “meet the teacher,” nights, but the reality is after and for a number of years all of the above will be talking about and around the children, while the children make plans themselves to challenge one another, to encourage one another, and to spread the very basic attitude of “growing up” by either supporting one another or in the worst of situations, ostracizing one another.  The best we as the recognized adults may do is be there, to listen without preaching, and to love without scolding.  We owe this to each new generation. They depend on us for it.

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For an interesting overview of clothing and the concept of vulgarity- tops too short, hair too spiked, pants worn too low, anything “different,” an excerpt on the “idea of vulgarity” (remember people make these rules up and they change constantly over time!) –  is shared in the recent Harpers Bazaar magazine Sept. 2016 – Vulgarity-The Basic Instinct-As Joan Juliet Buck writes- “in your face is never out of style!”

School uniforms may be the rule- but kids- they just wanna be cool! Remember the old mantra- “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – and focus on encouraging instead of confining. Ms Buck also mentioned “Decibels” and tiny children enjoying a “shrill shriek” – enter a Junior or senior High School and listen for a brief moment! “piercing shrieks for the sheer fun of rendering the air” and laughter, and …yup- Learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abridged or censored?

 

Reading up on the current “newly published for young readers” list of “top picks” and where the story line may have been changed to make them “suitable” for the young adult school or home library, am wondering do these young readers return to a title and read the “adult” version when older?

When key elements of a story are altered to appeal as “safe picks” is the goal to have double sales? that is parents and children reading the same story- only separate versions? For some stories the appeal is obvious, for example: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers’ Edition by Michael Pollan- and getting the whole family on board to discuss grocery shopping meal choices, cooking etc.  Also “I am Malala: Young Readers edition by Malala Yousafzai – two books that may indeed intrigue beyond the initial reading and with subject matter that will resurface again and again, but when the book is “fiction” and young readers feel they have “read it” will they be curious enough to reread the initial publication as adults?

Reading a variation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which a school had “cleaned up the text to remove the pivotal court room drama” had me dismiss that variation for a classroom- either discuss the controversy in all its reflection of history, prejudice, legal structure…, and allow students to reflect on whether times had in fact “changed” or don’t put the text on the shelves- and to this I add that for some schools even the made for Young Adult stories of Twilight and Hunger Games were too riske- so to return to my original question: are young adult “age appropriate abridged editions” building readers (?) or simply providing what some adults see as “Books on a shelf”.  To really watch a child reading – that is when the reader is wanting to follow the development of the characters’ in the story, is to see a young person engrossed in an activity.  And for either child or adult that is still a rare occurrence even for active readers- it is the luck of the right story at the right time, the one that retains a hold on the reader long after the first read- enough to call one back to reread it again, like a cosy pair of slippers, where this time the characters and plot are enjoyed for the very actions which upon first read had one holding one’s breath- second reads offer the delight of the familiar, that sense of re-experiencing a lovely space (book can be a total thriller- it is up to the reader what emotions invoke- I’ve been here and it is “good” feeling); will the abridged variations provide that desire to read again- to learn more?

 

Stop the Mom wars

when mom bullies reign-

it happened; the dreaded phone call from a mother on a child’s class list letting me know that: some parents had decided to:

boycott a child’s birthday party

boycott a camp or after school program

boycott the in school activity

boycott the weekend planned event

and these calls always appeared out of the “blue” that is randomly, surprisingly direct and, waiting to exhale I would silently count through the “explanation” before informing that parent that we wouldn’t be boycotting anything at this time…

Hey- your children and mine- all deserve to find in the school year a learning experience that encourages each one to try something a little challenging, to reach out and make a new friend, to discover the similarites and the excitement of recognizing each other for their differences, to respect the uniqueness of the individual, and to hold important the experiences of the group- 12 years plus is a long time to be in classrooms- making the experiences positive takes more than staff and teachers- it takes “community”- real effort on the part of everyone with a connection to the school.

But if you truly hear of a teacher who is cruel or a staff member turning a blind eye to bullying- parents unite- for our children deserve to be safe in whichever programs they attend! However no whispers – open and inclusive dialogue to bring about clear and positive changes.

With the proliferation of “magnet programs” at schools the liklihood of children being from the same district has changed- don’t be a foolish snob- allow your child to engage with classmates and if you are the parent with the vehicle plan play dates that are inclusive.  Do we want to change the world- no- we need to change the world by working together to demonstrate via action and deed that community involves one another.

September 11, 2016- help keep whichever neighbourhood you live in- open!

 

 

Clear Example of STEAM in Action

Rio Olympics 2016! Absolutely lovely-

How can anyone still be questioning the value of either the Arts in Education or Sports on the curriculum?

Technology brought us the action and thanks to Time Zones and solid internet connections we were able to enjoy the blend of cultures and courage that strutting one’s talent in front of millions demands- and in “real time” watching as spectators from home while the action in Rio splashed or danced or cycled or ran or jumped…across our screens.

So Science and Technology and Engineering developed and improved the internet allowing the Olympic events to reach Global audiences – unlike those earlier Olympics which took place even before radio announcers- Imagine! when only those in the stadiums really were able to participate as spectators – the rest of the world believing that such events were for the economically wealthy who could afford to be there in person – today we rejoice alongside those in attendance or empathise when an athlete sheds a tear…

But the ARTS improved on the entire set of performances- from the opening ceremonies which greeted athletes and spectators alike, through to the closing speeches and the recognition for Tokyo to carry the torch.  In between we watched, cheered, groaned, and admired the marvelous differences in HUMAN BEINGS- from the gymnasts to the wrestlers; seeing the marathon runners feet firmly on the ground and the pole vaulters defying gravity to surprise themselves at times with their own wins; and quietly cheering the people working behind the scenes – yes the coaches who actually appeared front and centre but also all the designers and artists who helped build the stages and platforms, e.g. the landscape for events like the final Olympic mountain biking- blending with natural structures and terrain but finished by landscape artists who enhanced a “natural” area; and Kudos to the designers and artists who used fashion sense and modern technolgy to create the costumes the athletes wore- combining the best of known materials with the cultural symbols expected at a multi country event;  -ARTS< SPORTS<TECHNOLOGY, Global reach- all exemplified in that amazingly constructed new space for holding the Olympic torch-

Four years of participatory planning and practicing and communicating and learning and growing- for everyone co-ordinating the events whether as particpant or volunteer would have experienced the sense of competition that goes into every milestone each of us accomplishes. Ultimately, like each of the athletes, we are competing with ourselves.  And from the youngest in preschool through post -secondary education, every formal or informal student of life knows this.  And as Humans we need that encouragement from one another to become the front runners, to have the ability to “pick ourselves up and try again” or even to keep believing in our abilites and desires to do more- to learn more- to achieve more…

As countries look at expenditure for the Sports, the Arts and for Technology – let’s look at EDUCATION- and recognize that there is a place for each type of learning and learner- for only through working together could any event produce such positive results- the Olympics celebrate the HUMAN SPIRIT; our schools should be celebrating this too!

 

 

 

 

Rio 2016- & “me”

As to Politics: when we can figure out why people would rather waste money creating problems for people or using people instead of spending money to prevent problems in the first place- we will have created a better world! the Olympics are far from “perfect” and do cost a fortune to prepare for- but – at least for a brief moment we get to see “healthy competition” and a variety of mutual respect – athletes encouraging athletes; “giants” shedding tears; surprise challengers taking the podium, and real emotions on display- too many pictures to select only one to demonstrate the gratitude and awe I feel each time any of the athletes steps up and shares- young and old we each may learn something…