Kindred Spirits Grow in Tulsa

My friend and colleague Heather Oakley's dream has come true: Global Gardens, an educational garden project for children in Tulsa, OK, is up and running! Through her garden workshops at Eugene Field Elementary School, Heather has combined her love for children from all over the world with her care for the earth, infusing her work with characteristic joy, hope and wisdom. The creation of a community garden with 31 student, family, and teacher garden plots (each with a theme, from "Oklahoma" to "Literary" to "Berry" Garden!) is providing a wonderful forum for members of the school and local community to learn about each other and the earth in a cross-disciplinary way, with science and peace education constantly interacting and informing one another. Heather's amazing method of gardening and teaching reveals to students and friends that physical, tangible growth is a vibrant manifestation of the growth of the soul. She is offering to the children a bridge from inside to outside, a solid link between their learning and their real lives. The centrality of documentation and blogging to the project provides yet another bridge--from the Eugene Field and Tulsa communities, to the world around them. I am looking forward to inviting children in NYC to dialogue with the Global Gardeners...

Global Gardens is a nonprofit, educational organization that provides schools and neighborhoods the resources that they need to incorporate educational, multi-disciplinary, science-based gardens into their curriculum and community. Global Gardens' primary goal is to establish student-centered garden spaces, where students and their families have ownership of the implementation, progress, maintenance, and activities of the garden. Global Gardens believes that these experiences encourage personal growth and lead to individuals becoming empowered to live healthier lives and become agents of change in their communities.


Bringing the Outside In

Two weekends ago, starting on a farm in western MA and ending up in Cambridge at Lesley University, I did video documentation for a wonderful Reggio Emilia Institute led by Dave Kelly of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center, Cathy Topal of Smith College, Brigid McGinn of Pratt Institute, and Lella Gandini, U.S. Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach. I am grateful to Kristina Lamour of the Art Institute of Boston and Brigid for inviting me to document this weekend full of beauty.

This three day experience was an amazing combination of a beautiful misty morning by the stream, summer camp, a personal hike through the woods, a journey into the minds of young children, and a collective, organic process of artmaking in reference to natural materials. The collective unconscious was truly at work, as pre-school teachers from all over the United States were invited outside to make sculptures that had a relationship with the land, and inside to manipulate clay such that its shape would echo seedpods, shells and branches. I felt that through the video camera lens, I was seeing my own artistic dreams played out by many hands. It was beautiful to see so many teachers be artists; and to think that this was all done in the service of becoming more attuned to the lives, thoughts, dreams and learning styles of 2-5 year olds. . . and on up through 5th grade and beyond, was truly life-affirming.

This event also called to mind the book I have been reading, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. The Children & Nature Network has many resources regarding the issue of children's outdoor play, and the more I think and read about it, the more I realize that outdoor play is the primary type of play I am advocating for, through the Digital Story Workshop videos. Children need to have freeing, beautiful experiences living and learning outside of school walls, far out in the meadows, forests, gardens, creekbeds, beaches, and mountains. We educators who are aware of the potential of outdoor adventures and projects to improve upon the life of the mind and spirit must be sure to provide such opportunities for the children around us.


The Imagination is a Very Powerful Thing

Last week, my friend Kathy's son, Milo, 9, watched Ark for the first time, and he made these effortlessly profound statements and descriptions:
Are they looking for the sea or what? Are they looking for a map of the sea?
• It's like a scavenger hunt.
• I guess they're using their imagination. The imagination is a very powerful thing.
• Oh look, it comes back to the beach; I always thought that would happen. It could go to all these places--to China!
[The narrator of the last scene says "cause if you don't tell a dream, it might come true. I knew that it was gonna come true."] Sometimes the universe speaks to you in dreams. The universe spoke to her.
• It was hard to open. . . probably because it was very, very old.
• They kept on adding dolls. . . through generations.
• The universe is very strong to that family.
• The dream was completely true about everything. Every single thing.
[The children put the box in the ocean]. Just as it has been, for generations and generations.
The contemplative Ark seems to have held the gaze of this thoughtful child who I thought was at the higher end of the age spectrum. Turns out that Kids First! Film Festival's child jury named Ark an official selection this year, and the festival labelled it appropriate for a 5-12 year old audience. That was a jump into the older regions of childhood, for Ark, but after hearing Milo's fascinating commentary, I agree that the 9-12 year-old set should definitely see it.

Notice that above, in Milo's drawing of the lid from the box, which the children discover and interact with throughout the story, he includes a representation of the photograph that is part of the inside of the lid of the box, so it's a drawing of a photograph, but not only that: Milo has drawn the box itself into that photograph. Once he told me that, I pulled out the real box itself and showed it to him, and he checked to see if the box was there in the photograph, inside the box lid. It was not. But shouldn't it have been?

Here are two more works of art Milo made that day, "Deep Space" and "Abstract":