Archive for the ‘image of the child’ Category

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…



Playing the game

Posted 09 Mar 2012 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, role of teacher

Yesterday I was on the Walker Jones Farm with a group of children and teachers. It is quite distance from the school, and of course as soon as we got there, Johnequa (not her real name) needed to use the bathroom. We raced over the field, slowly and carefully crossed the street, then resumed our race to the front door. Laughing and panting, Johnequa showed me a bottle of blue nail polish she had in her pocket as we entered the school. I told her how much I liked the color and asked if I could try it while she was in the bathroom. Johnequa was delighted to see my blue nails, and wanted me to tell her classroom teacher that I got my nails done at “Johnequa’s nail salon.” She asked if we could race again back to the farm.

I felt like I was doing something wrong, having this much fun at school. Other classrooms stared at us whizzing by. Did we break the rules? No, but we broke the cultural norm by laughing together, bonding over nail polish, and running like the wind. When it came time to draw the spinach seedlings, Johnequa gave it her all, adding many tiny roots and details. I think she enjoyed sitting next to me as much as the drawing part, and I too was happy to have shared something special, something of myself, with her (I am a runner).

I don’t mean to imply that we should be “friends” with the children. But I do think that we put up a teacher facade that doesn’t allow us to truly form relationships with children. I don’t believe that we lose control from having these kinds of close connections–in fact, I think we gain more respect.  Children know it’s a game, and they can choose to play or not.

From Not Just Anyplace, a video from Reggio…

“So I believe that our work is to stand beside the children, not in front or behind the children but at their side, and to accompany the children on their discoveries about life and their world, to highlight their differences and their subjectivities, trying to give value to their thoughts and their ideas and their theories.”    –Antonia Monticelli, teacher at Gianni Rodari Municipal Infant-Toddler Center since 1992


Posted 06 Mar 2012 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, materials

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quotation from a recent Washington Post review of the Suprasensorial show at the Hirshhorn:

“But it’s always worth being suspicious of anything that attempts to bypass the intellect through hyper-sensual appeal.” -Phillip Kennicott

I think educators should also be wary about many of the so-called sensory experiences we offer at school–like shaving cream for example. I remain suspicious about the “fun” factor, and am left wondering about the complexity.

See the full review:



Posted 06 Jan 2011 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, observation, role of teacher

Two scenarios, played out at different schools:

Scenario 1: A group of children are having a conversation about the birthday child, then drawing what they have agreed to make him for his birthday. While drawing the draft of the gift, a car, I noticed one child (we’ll call her Johnequa)  getting very upset. She turned her paper over, crossed her arms and said “I don’t like this.” When I asked her why, she said “because it looks like a smiley face.” Johnequa had drawn her car  like this (my sketch of her drawing):

I asked her to show me how she was looking at the car–from the top, side or bottom. She said side. I asked her to count the wheels, she said “four,” without counting. I asked her to point to the wheels and count “One, two….two, there’s only two, the other wheels are on the back.” Johnequa then redrew the car like this:

(Only more detailed, with TAXI written on the side). In my conversation afterwards with the teacher, she remarked how normally she wouldn’t take the time to revisit the drafts, that she really just wanted to get to a decision about what the birthday gift would be, especially since the birthday was soon and there wasn’t a lot of time to work on the gift.

Scenario 2: Another school, also working on a birthday gift. Children were deciding on one image out of many (60 or so) they had taken. Looking at the contact sheet, they wanted to cut them out and sort them. The teacher got out the paper cutter. When I asked why the children couldn’t cut them out, he said because children had cut through the images (in the past) when they did it with scissors.

I remember Giovanni Piazza, atelierista at La Viletta School in Reggio, talking to me about intelligent solutions–not tape instead of glue, not sticky paper instead of glue–yes, it is messy. Yes, there is a learning curve in terms of amount of glue to use, pressure for squeezing, where to put the glue, and so on, but if we give shortcuts and easy solutions to children, we short change them, and deny them the opportunity to figure things out on their own, deny them time to explore and master tools and techniques. WE find the solutions and solve the problems, instead of children.

Both scenarios remind me how important it is to take time, and to not focus on the end product. To enjoy the ride, and take time to smell the flowers. Every moment along the way is as important as the final destination…

Is clay hard or soft?

Posted 01 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, role of teacher

Teacher: (passing around a piece of clay) Can you describe the clay? How does it feel?

Child: (squeezing it between both hands) It’s hard.

Teacher: Hard? Touch the table (child raps on the table). How does the table feel?

Child: Hard.

Teacher: So the clay is…?

Child: Soft.

What happened here? A well-intentioned teacher corrected a child’s perception of how clay felt. Was the child wrong? Was the teacher right? Is what the teacher said more true than what the child said? Or more accurate? Is clay soft or hard?

One perspective of the role of the teacher is teacher-as-expert, one who imparts information to children.  Another is that of teacher as co-constructor of knowledge, a researcher together with children. The latter case requires a complete paradigm shift for many educators (and parents), a shift that assumes children come into the world competent and resourceful, and are protagonists of their own learning. Among other things, it places emphasis on listening, and it also requires a lot of time.

If the teacher had probed deeper “it feels hard-can you tell me more about that?” and listened, also with her eyes, she might have understood differently the child’s response. Could he have been describing the physical effort of squeezing? Or maybe he was comparing something he knows as soft, like a cotton ball, with the clay–so relative to his experience of soft the clay was hard.

This vignette reminds me how important it is to have complexity in our speech, our actions, our environments. It reminds me that nuance is too often shunned in favor of black and white. And that subjectivity and divergence has a place in education.

Get off the mic!

Posted 21 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child

It was pouring the other day and so instead of sending my sons (almost 8 and 10) to their all-outdoor camp, they came with me to work at a school.  It was in-service week for teachers–school wasn’t in session officially. Playing on the stage in the auditorium, they happened upon a mic and began singing, mc-ing, and having a great, silly time. Just three of us in a big auditorium, the boys were completely uninhibited. Though I had to remind them to keep the volume low, they were respectful of the situation, environment, and equipment. And then I left the room to copy something.

A few minutes later the boys found me at the copier. I could tell something had happened-you could see it in their down-cast eyes and body language. They had been scolded. The boys were scared, humiliated, and felt guilty. For what, I ask? For having fun? For letting loose? For laughing and playing? For being children?

Adults too often assume the worst of children; assume that they aren’t able, can’t handle, shouldn’t be…

What would happen if we gave them the benefit of the doubt?