Friday, June 1, 2018

Puddles and Gratitude

You can’t love the rain without getting wet
Watching a young child discover rain for the first time, is not something you’re likely to forget. It’s wondrous to behold! The child’s whole body vibrates like a plucked string, dancing amidst nature's greatest symphony. Joy mounts as the soft pitter-patter progresses towards a torrential crescendo and the busy world comes to a halt. An onlooker can’t help but meet this wonderfully, wet experience with a corresponding levity. The moment, in and of itself, is complete. There are no thoughts of umbrellas or rain gear, no concern about wet hair or how the weather might affect our plans. Nope. Children give themselves entirely to the experience. 
As consummate adults, all too often we call them indoors and out of the mud, expounding the dangers of catching a cold or worrying over soiled clothes and muddy floors. But when we suspend our reflex to “grow-up” and choose to linger beside them, something magical happens! It’s as if a door opens amidst our carefully constructed world, and we slip, unnoticed, back into the landscape of childhood, where mud puddles demand to be SPLASHED and butterflies beg to be chased. Childhood isn’t a stage after all but a quality inherent in each of us. 
As summer arrives, the final days of school are bittersweet.  I’m excited for the horizons that lay ahead and I’m also saying farewell to many children I’ve known for years. Some will be back in August and others will be moving on to a new adventure. I am grateful for every one of them and the countless times they have opened that door onto a state of wonder. When I say the children are among my greatest teachers, I mean it. They remind me that life is meant to be lived, for the sheer joy of living it. It doesn’t need to be bigger or better or layered with purpose. They remind me not to hesitate when I see a puddle, but to spring off both feet, disregarding the concerned looks of those around me, and SPLASH.
As I celebrate their new horizons, I will miss their daily reminders to revel in the moment. The fact is that I have the greatest job on the planet! Hands down.
Thanks to each of you for another great year. For all of your support and generosity! I hope you have a remarkable summer replete with opportunities to slip, however briefly, into the remembered world of childhood and when you see the next puddle, let loose and JUMP!

For a huge smile watch this youtube clip:

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The final days of school

Thank all of you for entrusting your beautiful children into our care for another year!  WOW!  Truly, I have the greatest job on the planet! I get to spend my days with the funniest, smartest, kindest and coolest people in Denver!  Here are a few photos of our last days here.  Have a great summer and I look forward to seeing you soon!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

After the show...

 What's going on in the studio after our big art show?
LOTS!  The children are still cooking, but now they are doing so entirely on their own.  I have brought in the toaster oven and set up a pizza making work as well as a quesadilla/burrito activity.  We have live basil and cilantro in pots nearby with which to season their creations.
 The children are eagerly eating the results of their efforts.
 Some children are using their sewing skills and creating functional items to take home...
like this purse.
 While others are taking block making to new levels...literally.  This impressive train was created today by several children working collaboratively.
 After some time playing, they decided to create train tickets for the passengers.
As passengers loaded onto the train, their tickets were appropriately punched with a hole.  When asked where the children learned this they unanimously told me, "From riding trains!"
Periodically they came together as a group to discuss their ideas and decide how best to move forward incorporating group ideas.
Watching young children work together in this way fills me with hope for our human family and our shared future.  Perhaps one day we will all embrace different ideas with as much grace as these children often do.
Keep checking the blog as we approach the last days of our school year to see how the year wraps up.   

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nowruz: A Celebration of Spring

Thank's to the Noori's we were able to celebrate the Persian New Year, called Nowruz (which literally means “new day”) again this year.  Albeit a little later than prescribed.  It is generally celebrated on the first day of spring (this year it was on March 20 at 10:15 am in what is currently the Persian year of 1397) but we decided to delay until last weeks all-school, spring celebration.
Above is a picture of the Haft-sin table prepared for the day.  A Haft-sin table is generally prepared at home.  This is an arrangement of 7 symbolic items whose names start with the letter sin in the Persian alphabet. Some examples of the items that people usually lay out on their haft-sin table are:
  • Somagh (sumac) : symbolizes the color of sunrise
  • Serkeh (vinegar): symbolizes age and patience
  • Sabzeh (sprouts): symbolizes rebirth
  • Sib (apple): symbolizes beauty
  • Seer (garlic): symbolizes good health
  • Sonbol (hyacinth): represents spring
  • Sekkeh (coin): symbolizes wealth and prosperity
  • Mahi (fish): symbolizes life
  • Tokhmeh Morgh (egg): symbolizes fertility
  • Ayneh and sham (Mirror and candles)- reflecting into the new year

Nowruz is celebrated for 13 days and at the end of the 13 days people then take down their tables.  On that last day of celebrating, called Sizdah Bedar (13th day outdoors), Persians have a picnic with their friends and family and take the sabzeh and often throw it in a stream, a river, or anywhere there is flowing water.  This represents throwing away all sickness from the household.  
In honor of Nowruz and in Celbration of Spring the children painted wooden eggs with liquid watercolors.
And enjoyed two delicious, traditional dishes made by Afsaneh.  They were a huge success!  And in keeping with our interest in cooking, the Noori's have share the recipes with us, so that you can enjoy them together at home.

 Rice with Lentils (we call it Adas Polo)

- 3 cups of rice
- 1.25 cups of lentil
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon Table salt
- 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil (Canola oil)

1.  Mix rice and lentil and rinse the mixture well 

2.  Put the mixture in the rice cooker and add add 6.5 cups of water.

3- add the salt, oil, turmeric and mix all ingredients 

4- turn the rice cooker on and cook the above mix until the food is ready and the cooler stops

"Nan-e-Berenji”- Persian Rice cookies

1 1⁄2 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄4 cup rose water
1⁄2 teaspoon lime juice
4 egg yolks, at room temperature syrup (made in step1)
1 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons cardamom powder 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups rice flour
1. Prepare the syrup by combining sugar and water in saucepan. Stir well until the sugar dissolved completely. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes (be careful not to overboil), remove from heat, add rose water and lime juice and set aside to cool. It should be at room temperature and not too thick.
2. In a warm mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until creamy. Add the cooled syrup from step 1 and whisk for 1 minute. Set aside.
3. In another mixing bowl, wish together the oil, Cardamom, salt and rice flour until you have a creamy batter.
4. Add egg yolk mixture to the rice flour mixture. Use a spatula to fold in until you have a soft, snow-white dough. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
5. Place the oven rack in the center and preheat over to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with baking mats.
6. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop up a walnut sizeamount of dough. Place it on the baking mat. Flatten slightly using and offset spatula. Repeat, leaving 2 1⁄2 inches between each cookie. With a fork or the open end of a thimble, draw geometric patters on the cookies.
7. Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind that the cookies should be white when they are done.
8. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool. These cookies crumble very easily; Remove them carefully from the baking mat using an offset spatula. If you are not using them immediately store in a airtight glass container.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

donations welcome...for the love of elephants

Ele the Elephant, who is proudly representing the children’s artistry from the storefront window of the Artisan Center, has fueled a great deal of elephant interest, conversation and art.  Leading us to ask how our love of elephants might contribute to their care and protection in nature? SOOOOO we chose to put our love of elephants to good use.

After some research (and a great lead by our Toddler teacher Kelly) I contacted The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  Their organization was exactly what we were hoping for!  When I informed them of our intentions to raise funds on behalf of their organizational efforts in Kenya, they donated 40 beautiful children’s tops (all size 4-5), designed by J Crew (8 glitter printed, grey sweatshirts and 32 lightweight navy blue embroidered sweaters) to our efforts.  WOW!!!!!
These tops are available to the first 40 people who donate 25$ or more to our fundraising efforts.
There is a glass jar across from Catherine’s desk for anyone who would like to participate. 

All donations are welcome and no amount is too small!

Friday, April 20, 2018

For the love of elephants

In honor of Ele the Elephant we have chosen to fundraise for the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to protect the future of African elephants and their habitat.  This organization is doing wonderful things and we are grateful to be contributing to their efforts in our own small way.  The children and I have been talking about this in the studio and soon the classroom teachers will share this information with the children as well.  It is my hope that you, the families, will also familiarize yourselves with the foundation and nurture compassion for our elephant friends and by extension we will develop an attitude of connection and care with the broader field of life to which we all belong.
The children have been drawing elephants and designing ideas for a possible t-shirt that will be available at the art show.
 Additionally, there will be some exciting incentives for families who donate over 25$ to come!  STAY TUNED!!!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Playing pretend furthers our thinking

After our cooking adventures, the studio was set up to reflect our growing food interests and allow for dramatic play amongst the children.
The children eagerly embraced the new environment and soon could be found serving meals, playing store and making menus for restaurants.
In keeping with our love of food, I have been serving a daily snack in the studio and the children are enjoying opportunities to chat over food while practicing mealtime manners.
Several children regularly transform the reading nook into an imaginary home where mealtime is cooperatively play acted.
Sometimes "groceries' are gathered and loaded into "cars" or "horse drawn carriages" to be carried home.
It's beautiful to watch this play deepen our thinking, foster cooperation and solidify our learning.

Monday, April 16, 2018


“Play is the highest form of research.”- Einstein

San Francisco, with its golden gates and colorful character, recently hosted a conference on the Neuroscience of Innovation and Creativity.  Thanks to your generous support toward our professional development, I was able to attend.  Three days of lectures by brilliant thinkers, who all seemed to have a doctoral degree in something or another with multiple publications to their credit.  By the end of the third day, my brain was on overload.  I was exhausted and heavy laden with information.  I actually felt worn out, mentally depleted and emotionally dense as I hurried to my final breakout session entitled the The Neuroscience of Mindfulness and Mindwandering.  I chose a seat close to the front of the room, as I generally do, and powered up my laptop, ready to take diligent notes.  Just then one of the hosts announced the class title, “Creativity and Improv” led by Katie McKnight.  Huh? Improv? NO!  I panicked.  I checked her credentials in my conference brochure and she was indeed a well published PhD professor who had also graduated from the Second City Improv Academy in Chicago.  The same academy that turned out the likes of Tina Fey, Mike Myers and Martin Short.  But, I was definitely in the wrong lecture hall.  I scanned the room for an expedient exit.  Then it hit me.  There was no polite way to get out of there!  Filled with dread, I turned toward Dr. McKnight and braced myself for the next ninety minutes.  She promptly asked us to put away our computers and lay down our pens and paper.  No notes?  I began sweating in earnest. Next, we were asked to stand and begin moving our bodies in harmony with the random stranger sitting next to us. I gave my partner an awkward smile and together we attempted to form the letter “S”.  In less than a minute we had collapsed toward one another in hysterics.  Five minutes later and I was genuinely happy. I’d introduced myself to everyone at the table (something I hadn’t done in any of the previous lectures) and was grinning with eagerness for the next ridiculous assignment.  All mental tension had simply vanished along with my physical exhaustion and emotional heaviness.  We were PLAYING.  All of us.  And it was diverting.  I was learning and it was fun!  LIGHT BULB!

Rewind two weeks, to a conversation in the studio where six children and I were gathered around a table drawing black line self portraits.  One child was having a blast and things were getting a bit goofy.  Just then, another child said, in a stern voice, “You need to focus.  Play is what you do outside.  Inside you work and focus.”  I was taken aback. I asked what other differences she saw between play and work.  The group lit up and a conversation was underway.  They were eager to clarify.  I’ll summarize the key points: play is fun, but it is something you’re only allowed to do outside or in other designated areas (for instance a playroom or your bedroom or sometimes in other areas).  When you’re playing you don’t have to focus or do anything else.  You’re just having fun and you get to make the rules.  Contrast this to work which I was told involves: focus, being quiet, listening and doing what you are told. Work rarely falls under the category of fun. I asked if work could ever be play and vice versa?  The children gave me that pitying look reserved only for beloved adults woefully deficient in good sense, and answered “No.”  I reminded them that my work was fun and that I got to play all day.  I asked if they had fun in the studio?  To which they shouted YES but answered that “art” is not work.  Clearly our wires have gotten crossed somewhere along the way.

Children learn through play.  It’s sort of the rockstar thing about childhood.  They remind us, dour adults that we can sometimes be, that life is to be enjoyed and learning can be a blast!  In fact, that’s how nature programmed us.  Our long childhood (twice as long as any other animal) provides ample opportunities for mistake making, experimenting and growth.  The longer the childhood, the bigger the brain and smarter the species.  So PLAY is arguably the foundation of all intelligence.  Psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, says, “What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.”  He suggests that the opposite of play isn’t work, but depression.  So how are our children getting the message that play and work are mutually exclusive?  Perhaps its a problem with our vernacular.  Words help us understand various concepts but our brains aren't great at embracing gradation and paradox.  Brains tend to perceive in an either/or fashion rather than along a continuum.  We understand dark because we have a concept for light, up because we have a concept for down, work because we have a concept for play, but fundamentally these are concepts not polarities.  Maria Montessori (genius that she was) recognized how these concepts can work for or against us. In her day there was a consensus that children could only play and their work and potential was dismissed accordingly.  So she sagely flipped the words.  Calling the materials in her classrooms works and communicating the value of a child’s work with scientific rigor.  Dr Peter Gray, a psychologist at Brown University, points out that play is always accompanied by the feeling of, “Yes! This is exactly what I want to do now.” Montessori’s teaching method was designed to meet every child where they are, offering self directed works that naturally give rise to the feeling, YES this IS exactly what I want to be doing right now!  Work and Play are synonymous. The same can be said for the schools of Reggio-Emilia in Italy. In an age where our cultural push for school readiness is at an all time high, it continues to be our job, as parents, teachers and caregivers, to provide children opportunities for self-chosen and self-directed play/work where adults are not taking control of children’s play. This doesn’t mean we can’t join in the fun and in some cases can even be leaders in children’s play, but to do so requires that we exhibit at least the same sensitivity that children themselves show to the needs and desires of all the players, keeping in mind that play is an activity in which the means are more valued than the end.

So as the calendar leans toward spring and summer, let’s consider how we might reconfigure our concepts of work and play.  After all, every form of play involves a good deal of self-control. When not playing, children (and adults too) are free to act according to their own immediate needs, emotions, and whims; but when we play we have to act in ways that we and our playmates deem appropriate to the game. This sounds like a healthy community to me.   In a culture that values busyness, hard work and productivity, play is often seen as lazy.  But it isn’t.  It’s useful. It’s necessary.  It brightens our mood, shifts our perspective and lights up the brain regions necessary for learning.  Life is a playground in which we all get to play/work.  So as the long days of our calendar year approach I hope we all remember that no matter where we are or what we are doing, there is always time to PLAY!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Neighborhood Student Art Show

Save the Date:
Yesterday Amy and I installed the children's self portraits (primary and XP children only) in the cozy, play area of our local library.  On wednesday, April 11th at 5:30 PM, the Ross-Cherry Creek Branch Library, on the corner of Third and Milwaukee, will host an artist reception.   Feel free to make your way down to the library anytime, but I hope to see you on the 11th when the library will provide treats and entertainment in celebration of our local youth art scene!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Ele is at the Artisan Center

Amy and I are proud to announce that the children's collaborative work is now on display at the extraordinary Artisan Center on the corner of Detroit St. and Third Ave.  Ele the Elephant and I took a ride in the back of Amy's truck this morning with a great deal of laughter and waving. We were joined by the wonderful Caity B. who helped us to successfully install this public display.  I hope you love it as much as we do!  Please take your children by to see their showing and tell your friends!
We will be raising money for an elephant sanctuary so stay tuned for more details on how to give and how to enter a drawing to take Ele home with you.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Happy spring break

The children and I spent the first day of spring examining the beauty and wonder of new life growing in the back yard.  

I hope you each have an opportunity to do the same in the week ahead. Children provide a lens of curiosity, enthusiasm and wonder that helps to focus our adult experience toward the beauty of life all around us. Enjoy your break and I look forward to seeing you soon!