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.