Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Drawing is Fun

Posted 09 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

Last week in the garden at Miner Elementary School in Washington, D.C., children found a baby ear of corn on the ground near the stalk. Fascinated by this “baby,” children were excited by an invitation to take the corn back to the classroom and draw its portrait. At least 7 children clamored around me, touching and smelling the underdeveloped kernals. They were fascinated by the markers, pencils and colored pencils, and eager to start drawing–until they made their first mark. One boy repeatedly said he couldn’t do it, another child was “finished” within seconds, and another snuck away to dramatic play before I noticed she was not at the table.

photo 5

Organizing an environment for drawing (see also: Drawing Choices, September 8, 2014) another aspect I considered was joy. What would children like to draw? What has meaning for them? At first I started collecting natural materials: shells, rocks, starfish, leaves, but realized that though I know children find these materials fascinating and interesting, they also love teapots and dolls and trucks and Slinkys. I began a collection of these items to launch the area, and children can continue to add to and edit the collection to reflect their personal favorites–maybe a Minecraft Creeper or Frozen character, maybe a spaceship or a special stuffed animal. Special objects can become scenarios or stories for children to imagine and draw.


The intention is to make drawing joyful, to change the culture around drawing from an exacting, torturous exercise to an engaging, imaginative and positive experience.

Drawing Choices

Posted 08 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

photo 1

So many choices! At St. John’s, we are researching, studying, and re-thinking, drawing. It is complex to make choices about materials. I am overwhelmed with possibilities as I stare into our fantastic closet–filled with many years of accumulated and well-organized treasures. Organizing one area in a 4-year-old classroom with drawing surfaces, I needed to decide on the variables–all white papers? Colored and white papers? Colored and white and patterned papers? All the same size? Or maybe different textures? Or maybe different weight papers? Or a mix of everything? Of course, children will develop this area along with us, but as a provocation I need to articulate the choices that are made, and be intentional about materials that are selected, or curated.

The papers I decided on to begin with are all whites, and different weights, textures and sizes. White is the constant here, and I think that seeing variations of the most familiar drawing surface–white paper–could make a big impression. It will be interesting to discover with children, among other things, how the paper itself influences the quality of marks. I think that children (and adults) would choose a paper based more on their color and pattern preference than the difference in weight or tooth of the paper. The monochromatic palette forces subtle detail to the forefront, features that are often obscured when color and pattern are present.



Looking Forward to Grace and Beauty

Posted 11 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, image of the child, materials


The building where I had my workshop for DCPS is, to put it mildly, depressing. It seems empty, until you peek in the small windows of the old classrooms and see people working away in their cubicles. The cinderblock hallways and stairwells are clean but lifeless, and the tan wall color does nothing to brighten up the space.

For a painting workshop, I brought in plants and flowers–weeds really– from my yard and neighborhood, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables.


As I was setting up, every single person who walked by commented on how beautiful it was, how good it smelled (there were some herbs in there), and asked if they could come to the workshop. People stopped at the table and spent time looking and touching. They congregated in the area and you could feel a change of mood–smiles, chatter, and laughter filled the hallway. Some people asked if they could have the materials after I was done with class.

Even the process of gathering the materials was a beautiful experience–I had so much fun selecting the plants, arranging them, considering their texture, smell, color and size.  My two sons were exuberant at Best World –“Mom, you have to get them the tamarind”– picking out  veggies for participants to study and paint.

I thought about the participants as I collected materials. I wanted them to be surprised, delighted, interested. I wanted to make the environment beautiful for them, because I cared about them.

Try talking about beauty in education circles–no one takes you seriously. You are labeled a flake, or at best, an idealist. Test scores, data, results–these are the things that make people listen to and respect you, that attract funding and resources and attention. But I know, and many of us know, that the roots of beauty are in care and empathy, and without it there are no real results.

I was struck by this quotation by John F. Kennedy, on the walls of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet…



Dictionary of Resources

Posted 05 Mar 2011 — by Jennifer
Category environment, materials

At a recent workshop I gave, I had a discussion with a participant about natural and plastic materials in the classroom. Pat, let’s call her, commented on the use of plastics in some of my images, encouraging me to rid the classroom of this material and bring in more natural materials, to be more ecologically sound. This got me thinking–is it better to use natural resources (pine cones, shells, leaves, acorns), or to use plastics (recycled CD’s, bottle tops, parts of soda bottles, odds and ends…)? It seems to me that at this time in our lives, natural materials may be the LESS green choice, since it means culling materials from mother nature that would otherwise be re-used by her. Plastics aren’t going anywhere–I am not in favor of purchasing plastic materials for a classroom, however I do believe that repurposing some of our waste (waste with potential) is ecologically sound. I also believe that it is important that we do not discriminate against a material because of personal bias. Children/adults have the right to encounter all the materials of life. I think the ideal classroom has the presence of all materials–a sort of dictionary of resources–that is a true reflection of life in the 21st century.

Treasures from IKEA

Posted 10 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category environment, materials

Today I went to IKEA with Marley Joyce , Head of School at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool. This is an annual tradition which began the first year Marely came to St. John’s, so I would say this is my 6th trip with her. It is a big treat, for me and for the teachers, and Marley and I look forward to the outing every time.

I always get asked where I find my materials, and so I want to share with you what I see when I go to IKEA…(These cardboard rings separate the glass bowls, above).

Oh man, how about that texture? Don’t you just want to touch it?

Excellent collage and construction possibilities here.

There is almost always a bin full of this stuff, and you may get some strange looks at the check-out counter, but it’s worth it!

Here is a bin full of treasures:Don’t be shy! It’s recycling!

So what’s wrong with Clifford?

Posted 05 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category environment

Did you notice that on August 1 the light changed? The air changed? Summer is waning and this week I began working with early childhood teachers at Walker Jones Elementary School (WJES) to organize their environments (store rooms, classrooms, studio, dining room…). This is such an exciting time of year full of new energy, possibility and anticipation. At WJES, the early childhood program has a number of teachers new to the school, as well as a new building, so in terms of setting up it is more like moving in. Besides the daunting physical challenge of unpacking dozens of boxes and arranging furniture, is the consideration of the environment in connection with the philosophy of the Reggio Approach.

Teachers are asking important questions, wondering for example, how the role of the teacher will influence the physical arrangement of the space. What to do with the teacher desks? How many tables need to be in the studio? How many things should be accessible and available to children for the first weeks of school?

Somewhat more of a challenge for me personally has been fielding questions regarding the aesthetic of the classroom. As of last year, the early childhood program (in another building) had pretty much eliminated commercial, purchased props such as cartoon alphabet boards, or graphic, scalloped borders. But the big question is still out there–why this way and not that way? Why not bright colors, it livens up the room? What’s wrong with a purchased birthday calendar or the Clifford chair children use to wait for the bathroom? They love sitting in that chair! I both love and dread the ensuing discussion that comes with making these choices and decisions. But why is it so difficult? Maybe because aesthetics is subjective…or is it?

Last year at an Inspired Practices in Early Education workshop, I asked participants to mix their own palette given the primary colors plus black and white tempera paint. A classic color-theory 101 experience.

I think the differences, and the similarities, are fascinating. Not just the unique hues, but also the way individuals made their marks-some filled in the squares completely, some made a rough circle, some a dot…each hand is evident. Is one more ‘correct’ than another or more beautiful? Can a person’s personal palette be…wrong?

These are tough questions that I am struggling with when I try to defend an aesthetic different from the norm in terms of early childhood–which is, in general and in my opinion, simplistic, condescending and garish. What makes one person’s sense of color, design, beauty, better than another? Are there rules to follow? On what do I base my choices and decisions? I would say that I rely on values and beliefs of a school about children and education. So for example…

…if I believe that children are intelligent, how does the environment physically embody that belief? With environments that are complex, challenging and provoking.

If I believe in a strong image of the child, then I want children’s thoughts, ideas and theories to be visible. I want the walls to speak their words, not the words of Discount School Supplies. I want to see the work, not the borders or the bright blue bulletin board covering.

If I believe children are capable, then I will have fragile, delicate, real materials in the classroom, not plastic replicas and substitutions.

If I believe that parents are a vital part of their child’s education, I will create a place for them where they can have access to information. I will make children’s learning visible through displays such as panels and books.

So the question becomes not about whose sense of beauty is better, but:

What do you believe about children and education?