The children and I are back to walking in the neighborhood, experiencing the sights, smells and sound of nature.
The children make surprising discoveries everywhere. Here they are noticing what they guessed might be "doors" in the tree. Where did the door lead? To owls? To other worlds? To wishes? They had a other few ideas that involved tree hills and eyes but eventually the children decided to leave their first dreaming heart in the arms of this rooted friend.
The dreaming hearts were created earlier in the year and imbued with the hopes and wishes of the children. We have begun delivering them in the neighborhood as a touchstone of the children's hopes for a better world.
Look for them on your walks, if you find one I hope you can feel a little hint of the love the children created them with.
Thank you to everyone who attended our annual celebration of child art! What an amazing turn out! And a huge thank you to all the families who contributed their time and resources in order to make this years show such a success! We couldn't have done it without you! If you didn't get a chance to see it please swing by sometime in the coming week. The three-dimensional work will go home on Monday (look for your child's bag at drop off and pick up). But the two-dimensional work will stay up until May 22nd.
Here are a few pictures (thanks to parent Alex Rojas) to commemorate the evening:
The children had a pre-tour of their art show and are excited to share their work with all of you. Please plan to attend the show with your children on Thursday, May 11th between 5:30-7:00. We look forward to seeing you then!
Ubuntu is a Nguni word from Africa that roughly translates as, “I am because you are”. This is the essence of community but can be a bit confusing for many of us. As you know, I began the year with a research question about the value of community and cultivating connections through the creative arts. Is it any wonder that it is also the year I learned about Ubuntu?
Imagine if you will, a group of six young children seated in a circle with me on a large studio rug. It is morning in mid September and the final days of summer beckon with their warmth. I tell them about my plan to take walking tours of the Cherry Creek North community. I remind them that they are some of the best teachers I know. Naturally I believe they can teach other adults too. After our chat, we agree on a few basic walking rules: 1) Share the sidewalk, 2) Wait quietly at intersections, 3) Walk two by two, holding hands and 4) Offer a friendly “Hello” when you can. Thus prepared we set out. Of course I initially thought we’d walk a few blocks but quickly discovered that our pace would limit us to one. To the young child everything is beautiful. Their focus isn’t yet narrowed by judgments on what is worth attending to and what isn’t. To them the weeds are just as captivating as the flowers and the ants scurrying across the sidewalk are every bit as interesting as the destination. Children notice a world far more generous than the one we, as adults, often recognize. They point out insects on leaves, birds singing, flowers blooming, ants parading and dogs barking. They show me spider webs that catch the morning dew and they listen to the wind as it blows through trees, grasses and down empty streets. When people approach us, the children scoot over to share the sidewalk, primed and ready to offer a practiced ‘Hello’. After that first meander, a four year old boy says, “Angelina, we saw lots of people but most of them didn’t look at us or were talking on their phone. We didn’t get to say ‘Hello’.” And he was right. Children implicitly know that connection is where it’s at, even though many of us are so busy we overlook it. They notice things that we, as adults, simply miss.
As often happens, in my efforts to understand community I had neglected to account for my adult perspective. I assumed community was as lacking for children as it appeared to be wanting for many adults. But young children are naturally interdependent. They rely on others for many of their basic needs. They don’t organize get togethers, they see a group of children playing with a ball or in the sand and they join in. For children raised in caring families, community is everywhere. Why? Because needing others is fundamental. We need them for playing and getting stuff done (let’s face it an empty sand box isn’t all that inviting). We need them to help gather food and create shelter. We need them for hugs and laughter and conversation. When I first read the Harvard-Grant Study that suggested the secret of happiness might just be supportive, loving relationships and community, I panicked. I didn’t really know what community meant. I wasn’t even sure if I had one and if I didn't then how best to build one. So I walked with the children, week after week, knowing they would show me the way. They did. But l was slow on the uptake. It took illness and the amazing response of this supportive and loving community to really bring the lesson home.
Here’s what I discovered.
Community is right where we are but we often miss it. Our adult perception is distorted by a cultural, “I’ve got this!” motto. It’s a little bit like walking down the street and missing the everyday beauty along the way because we've got somewhere to be. We still get to the destination but the journey isn’t nearly as much fun. I didn’t really know that I had a community until I needed one. It didn’t just appear. It had been there all along but I didn’t see it… I was probably on my cell phone scurrying to some destination or some-such-thing. Thankfully the children are always there to remind us where to look. They show us that community is everywhere when we recognize our inter-connection and build on that. I didn’t realize I had community until I could no longer honestly declare, “I’ve got this!” Could it be that simple? If the secret of happiness lies in our fundamental connection then are mutual need and shared support our greatest allies to living a fulfilled life? Authentic community and thus happiness appears to hinge on the simple fact that we need one another. Ubuntu! I am because of you. Thankfully the children provide a fresh perspective and with them anything is possible.
I am grateful to the amazing children and their inspiring families who have taught me so much this year. I am grateful to be a part of such a remarkable community! Ubuntu.
A young child walks down the street. He notices the cracks in the sidewalk, the sound of a bird chirping amidst the pink budded trees overhead and the drip, drop cadence of a spring snow melt. He is used to being hurried along amidst the great current of an adult world. He often lags behind, too full of wonder to hurry.
Looking up, he sees a familiar store window with HIS artwork on display. He draw's his adult's eye to the window with an enthusiastic pronouncement, "I MADE THAT!" Imagine his satisfaction when he notices other adults pausing to see the window display and catch a glimpse of the world through his eyes, if only for a moment.
This has been a dream of mine for years.
I believe whole heartedly that children should be seen AND heard and much of my work is geared toward providing a platform from which they can speak... in a variety of artistic languages.
Today, Amy and I installed the children's artwork in the Artisan Center's display window, after months of preparation alongside the children. My immense gratitude goes out to the children of Children's Garden Montessori School and to the amazing creativity of Amy Laugesen, Caity Barton and the wonderful team at the Artisan Center on 3rd and Detroit St. (just a few blocks from school) for helping to make that longtime dream a reality.
We personally invite each of you to take a walk, an amble or a scenic meander down to the Artisan Center with your child to see, first hand, a little glimpse of the world through the creative lens of the children.
It doesn't take long, just one morning with the toddlers, to become a lifetime advocate for the power of wonder and everyone's right to it. As adults, we have seen and experienced a lot. We understand many of the basic principles of our physical world and often approach them with a dry "yeah-yeah" or become so habituated that we no longer notice them at all. We must remain vigilant to this tendency in ourselves, otherwise we might just rob ourselves AND others of the opportunity to DISCOVER something for themselves... which is the equivalent of robbing the Fort Knox of WONDER. Here is an example from a single morning spent with the toddlers and what they learned speaks for itself. I didn't tell them anything about the materials. I just put them out and watched them explore.
Sand, glorious SAND. "It's soft". "Feel it". "I'm at the beach." "It feels good." "This is my mom and my dad and me and my brother and my sister and this is school". "She feels sad. WAAAAAAhhh Mommy? Mommy's here." ... the conversations and play went on for quite awhile.
And then the discovery that you can make marks in the sand! Drawing!!! And this led to a lot of exploration and exclamations!
Next, they discovered the colored transparent materials.
First they were sorted and there was a great deal of discussion about how best to organize them. It was decided that color sorting was the way to go.
WHOA. Wait a minute! If you lift them over your head they make colors on the wall. How?
SAY WHAT?!!!! If you put them on this bright contraption they cast an image on the wall.
That's amazing! (Insert lots of whoops and hollers and jumping up and down)
And you can look through them too and things look different when you do?
What? Seriously!!! You try it! (Which of course I did!)
(A slight scream) and a new discovery. A tiny bug. The first impulse to kill it was waylaid by me and then a wonderful process of inquiry unfolded. What is it? Where does it live? Does it bite? Look how small it is. Look how BIG we are.
The bug remained, more or less, unimpressed.
NOW tell me... the next time you eagerly rush to teach something that a child might discover on their own with a little scaffolding on our part and even preparation, what will you do? I have witnessed how we, as grown ups, become thief's in the night/day and steal away the enthusiasm of discovery. It's not intentional. I do it myself. It's the desire to share our understanding BUT the cost is great. SOMETHING discovered for the first time is a miracle to behold. Every time I witness it I am astonished by the breathtaking beauty inherent in the simplest of things. I am reminded again and again by these great teachers, to suspend my lifetime of "knowing" and indulge my capacity for wonder in this moment...and this one... and this.