Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The People of the City

       The People of our City         

We would like to get to know the people of our city better. 
Shayna: What is it like to live in the city?
Caroline: What is like to work in the city?
Zack: What do you see in the city? What is it like to make money in the city?
Scarlett: What is your favorite thing to do in the city?
Annabel: What colors do you see in the city?
Eve; What shapes are in the city?

We have been looking for answers to our questions as we visit the city, take a tour at the VMFA of works of art highlighting the city and its people and finally as we play at our block table with the city as a backdrop.
As we study our city of Richmond,  I often think of the Italian word partecipazione. The Italians define this word as an interpretation of multiple views on the same reality. The children have such empathy and solidarity within their classroom community and the natural community on our campus. How can we broker engagement and develop a conversation with the people of the city?  How can we create encounters between the children and the people of the city that are concrete, connected to context and dependent on relationship?  

Partecipazion requires curiosity and listening to others with an openness to the unknown.We practise listening each and every day but our birthday circle provides a specific type of practise. The children ask questions regarding the early years of their peer's lives  and refrain from commentary. In a way this ritual is similar to an interview. The value of listening must be practiced to both appreciate its impact and understand the nuances. 

We asked our families to support an intention to bring the  people of the city into the classroom. Kate's dad, Scott Wayne was the first person to join the Kindergarten and be interviewed. He arrived one day last week and spent thirty minutes explaining his work and the things that he loves most about living in the city. 

Scott shared with us that he choose to renovate  an old building in the city for his new offices rather than build a new one. The garage door was removed and large windows were put in its place because buildings are often dark in the city.

As we listened, we took notes on a clipboard.  Samuel noted, "made garage into windows".  He also used the recycling sign to denote Scott's commitment to the environment. His company uses the symbol of a star for a logo. As I reviewed the notes that each student took during the interview, I was impressed with the fluidity in which they moved from words to graphics and back to words again. Their minds are able to quickly attach a picture or even a word to an idea.

The story of Scott riding his bike to work resonated with the children. Many are beginning to ride their own bikes and they were impressed with the  freedom to ride across bridges, through Carytown and past the VMFA. Scott said that many people in Richmond were attending a meeting at his work building this week to discuss the need for bike lanes promoting safe travel throughout the city.

I was unprepared for the insight the interview notes would offer regarding the inner workings of each child's mind. Notice the list forming followed by a square with a check-mark. Scott's age and the necessary items for his day are all checked. Clear, concise and organized. 

Scott drew the similarity between his work and the work of the children noting that his colleagues have pens and paper for drawings and they draw all day long. "Sometimes if there is a great idea we actually build the idea." 

Julia," It is like we are grownups because we do the same thing."

What ??!! If you work at Scott's company you may bring your dog to work with you! This was a home-run with this group of children. The fastest way to the heart of a Kindergartner is to mention pets or animals. This was a discussion that continues to delight the children. Scarlett's notes documented her plans for dog visits. 

Julia recalled the collaboration that occurred at tables throughout Scott's business. Her artistic perspective of the tables and chairs is fascinating. It is a bird's eye view of the office. The people do seem to be lounging in their seats and sharing their thinking in a relaxed and organized way.

Scott and his employees work long hours so to regenerate creativity and center their thinking they meditate in a quiet spot free of distractions.  Taking dogs to school might not be a reality in the future but we will consider creating a quiet place to retreat and meditate in our environment.

The grand finale was when Scott called his colleague on the robot and his  face appeared. The kids were mesmerized and totally captivated by the technology.

We enjoyed Scott's stories and his enthusiasm for the city was contagious. He described the city like a bee hive always buzzing with energy.

We have been reading poetry related to the city and his conversation with the children reminded my of this particular poem.


In the morning the city
Spread its wings
Making a song
In stone that sings.

In the evening the city
Goes to bed
Hanging lights
About its head.

Langston Hughes

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kindergarten Stewarding the Natural World

One of my favorite things in Kindergarten is to watch the natural treasures amass on a small table in the studio that we refer to as the Nature Table. As the year begins, there are only a  few provocations that indicate the intention of the table.  We do not unveil the table to the students with any fanfare. Slowly, word spreads that the table is called the Nature Table and any riches found in the garden or forest may reside there.

Each day, after the children leave, I take a moment to look at the table and see what small trinket was noticed and plucked from its environment to reside on the  table. There are treasures that reflect the seasons as well as the  latest commodity.  Feathers, acorns or perhaps rocks with gems are often deemed valuable.

Collecting involves the art of discriminating and discerning differences and similarities. The skill of observing is activated as the seekers build a comradery in their shared pursuit.

Ultimately, there is a deep respect for the treasures unearthed and the natural world that generates such beauty.

The kindergarten continues to steward the natural environment and animals that call our campus and forest home. The Kindergarten reached out to the Garden room after discovering another dead bird. Together they wrangled with decisions regarding the birds they found deceased on campus. It was a serious discussion with a debate regarding the after life of animals.

What does happen to these creatures  and animals when they are no longer alive?  

Pippin joined us in February to make a few bird houses to be placed at our bird sanctuary.  We intend to hang our bird houses near the sanctuary with the hope that a few birds might move in and make the houses their own spaces.

We began to think about the natural home of a bird. We discovered that there is great variety in the materials used, the shape of the houses and the method in which they are made. We tried to think the way a bird might think and look for appealing materials, consider how these materials are brought to the location of the nest and then the method by which the  materials are used to form a nest. The children considered the need for warmth since one of the main objectives of a nest is to cradle an egg and eventually a baby bird.

 We  used clay and other materials to create nests that we would want to live in if we were a  birds. It seems that many of the children would like to be hummingbirds.  They made nests that were small and soft and warm. We practiced the act of using our wings and rumps to press the materials together in the formation of a nest.                                                                 

We also decided to check out our school garden with Pippin. As caretakers of the creatures, animals and insects on our campus we thought it would be important to  nurture the garden. We learned that at one point the animals on our campus thought that the school garden was created exclusively for them and so Pippin had to put up a fence to remind them that at least a part of the garden was reserved for our school. 

In our current culture, we as adults are very focused on the education and development of our youngest citizens.

As adults we so often exert control, implement activities and consider how to measure a child's  understanding and mastery of the curriculum.

 Mary and I feel strongly that the Kindergarten children have an innate love for the natural world. The most important thing that we can provide is freedom and time to follow their instincts and passions.