Not too young to watch, not too young to make

I wrote an article for Youth Media Reporter, and it has come out in the online edition of the journal, Vol. 2 Issue 6. The print version will be available in January. It is called Not too young to watch, not too young to make, and features several of the children I worked with last year at PS 27 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Here is an excerpt:

While at young ages like four and five, children are not ready to operate cameras or editing equipment, they are ready to take the first step toward media creation, by being videotaped, watching their actions, and retelling what they did using their inherently diverse and creative storytelling voices. This process harnesses the vital role of storytelling in young children’s lives and pairs it with technology so as to make both components not only valid but also easily accessible to children.


Rainforest Thank You

The second graders at PS 50 wrote this lovely thank you letter at the end of our Rainforest video project this Spring. I have not received anything like it since I student taught first grade in Terry Ashley's class at the Marion Cross School in Norwich, VT, and the class wrote me a couple of collective thank you letters, referring to all the fun we had had with our studies of fairies. . .
To come back to PS 50 (in East Harlem, first school for my friend/colleague Rebekah Marler-Mitchell to head up as principal, after a successful career as early childhood educator): this Spring I made four original video stories with one second grade class and three original travel shows with a fourth grade class, and we all viewed them together on the last day. The second grade videos were imaginative story-plays woven together from several days the children spent playing and narrating their stories in the Rainforest Library. The fourth grade travel shows provided information from the students' in-class research and interviews with teachers from the school who had visited various rainforests of the world. Doing both projects simultaneously was an exciting way to explore two developmentally appropriate uses of the video medium. And perhaps more importantly, making videos with students was the perfect way to explore the completely original phenomenon of an actual public school Rainforest Library! Every school in NYC should have one, or something similarly un-characteristic to New York. . . truly mind-expanding, giving children entering the space a reason to feel in awe of reading and its relationship to the world at large.


Little Creatures

As of this summer, I am formally refocusing my children and video energies into making Little Creatures, my new film company, a reality. I am currently writing and rewriting my business plan, which I have submitted and will submit to future business plan competitions, reading everything I can about the film and children's media businesses, and talking to people in these fields. My hope is that Little Creatures will receive seed money from an angel investor within the next year, so that I can complete Mysteries in the Woods and also produce another short film I am currently planning to make with children in Brooklyn, which I believe could revolutionize the children's film genre. If you know of any potential funders, do send them my way, and I will gladly provide business plan and work samples. I am also seeking families who would like to participate in my market research, which will consist of viewing a DVD compilation of my short films with their children, and answering a few questions about the films and their children's interaction with them. The data that I gather from these ongoing conversations with parents and children will help me to frame my work in the context of what media is out there for children, what is needed, and how my work can better fill that gap and flourish as a viable option for parents to buy and view with their young children. Perhaps these conversations will bring similar endorsements to what I have heard so far:

• Kristin captured the authentic sights and sounds of childhood . . . she uses her camera as a lens into the deepest inner-workings of a child’s mind . . .
- Vivian Gussin Paley, author of 12 books on the lives of young children

• The remarkable videos made by Kristin are unique in their ability to bring us into the very life of childhood play itself. Wonderful as tools for teaching the importance of play - or as a means to validate for children why their playing is always meaningful, these videos should be made available to anyone who cares for what learning and education need to be about – and could become.
- Richard Lewis, Director of the Touchstone Center for Children

• I believe that, in honoring children’s play, Kristin’s movies will also help audiences reflect and learn about the overall experience of being human.
- Olga Hubard, Assistant Professor of Art Education, Columbia University Teachers College

• I would gladly support more initiatives such as these that speak to the true essence of childhood and would rather put my dollars in movies and projects like these.
- Kathy Malone, Clothing Designer and Mother of Milo (10), Brooklyn, NY

I am very interested to compile specific reactions of parents and children to my films, which will help me immensely as I restructure future projects, and which will strengthen the argument for making more of these films, as only research can do.


Through the Window

"Through the Window," a short film featuring young children's impressions of the Yale Center for British Art (designed by Louis Kahn, completed in 1974) from vantage points inside and outside, and the art collection within, premiered Saturday, June 21 in the museum's auditorium in New Haven. Sean and I were commissioned by the Education Department at the museum to collaborate with first and second grade children from the Foote School for the project. The premise of the film came from producer Cyra Levenson, Associate Curator of Education: have small groups of 6-8 year-old children narrate the world as seen through the lens of Kahn's last building, with particular focus on looking through the large window within the 4th story gallery housing many of J.M.W. Turner's paintings from the 19th century.
The children came to the project with characteristic poetry and wisdom. Here are some excerpts from their narration:

• All the things outside are the painters of this painting. All the cars, all the people, all the bricks, are the painters. Everyone is a painter. The painting is called “Outside.” It must have took him a long time to make this painting, like a hundred million years, and everybody moving and stuff, and all the cars.
• A painting’s kind of like, if you walk right into it, you’d slam right into it, you’d probably break it. In the real world, you can walk around in it.
In the real world, you can go in stuff, you can touch stuff.
• When you’re an architect, you’re kind of like, important, cause you designed the buildings, and if there were no architects, it would be hard for the people that build the buildings, to decide where to put the stuff, cause they didn’t have a plan.
• I see trees, the leaves on trees, and the wind is blowing them.
• The building has probably more than a thousand pools in it.
• There are lots of tiny people one inch tall waving at us.

The Puppets Ate the Sun Up

While making the final edit of the PS 27 videos for the end-of-project school screening today, I was again struck by the poetic language of the kindergarten children, as evidenced by this story Vertyce told about her group's play with their puppets, planes and backdrop representing Coffey Park:

When the sun woke up, the sun fell down, cause it was hot.
I got on the sun, then I got burned-ed.

The fire truck fired all the sun down, then it melted.

The sun melted, cause they put water on him,
and then the wind blowed the sun, and after that, it fell on the ground.
And then the puppets ate the sun up,
and then they spit out the sun, cause it was very hot.
And the sun got warmer, and then they ate it all up.

These children's poems will live on in the in between spaces, among the images of their lives, lived through story, when the children look back over these videos for years to come. At times like these, I truly believe in the video medium as a powerful tool in capturing such profound ideas that would not be remembered otherwise.


Puppets and Planes at Rotunda Gallery

Our DSW/PS 27 School Arts Partnership Grant project is currently on display at BRIC's Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn Heights, in the 16th Annual KidsArt Exhibition, curated by my colleague Hawley Hussey. The teachers (Shariffa Martinez, Andrew DeMers, Sandy DeFrancesco and Elizabeth Pavis) and I took all three classes, Pre-K, Early Kindergarten and K-1 (Self-Contained), to the gallery to interact with their own videos made over the course of the year, their backdrop and props (puppets and planes), and some representative picture story books compiled by my co-teaching artist Terry Solowey. What a wonderful culminating event of this year-long project!


Our Shadows are Real Animals

I have been making videos with first graders exploring the theme of play between animals. As much of the action has taken place outdoors, in the school yard, I was not surprised to see the element of shadows come into the children's narrations of their videos. Many creature-like shadows came alive underneath the children's running, skipping, hopping, trampling, searching forms, and upon viewing these taped images, the children took note, and seemed to be taken with the arresting shapes their shadows made on the earth, and intrigued by their abilities to manipulate their own shadows. See this compilation and notice the scientific and poetic conclusions the children have drawn about shadows. What sparked my interest in compiling this short piece, aside from my own wonder at shadows and thrill at seeing young children explore them, was the breathless comment of the boy in character as a Mouse searching the school building for a lost cat and bird, who turned to me and said with amazement: "Our shadows, they look like real animals!!"


Vivian Paley at PS 27

Last week, PS 27 in Red Hook was graced with the presence of the lengendary teacher and writer Vivian Gussin Paley, author of 12 books on childhood and recipient of numerous awards, such as the MacArthur Fellowship. We had a wonderful day with Vivian, who entertained teachers' questions in an informal lunch discussion, provided a Storytelling/Story Acting workshop for the Early Kindergarten class (Shariffa Martinez and Andrew DeMers, teachers), took questions afterwards, went on a walking tour of Red Hook with teachers and students from the neighborhood, and gave a keynote address in the auditorium to a crowd of around 150 people. I felt so honored to experience Vivian working with the same teachers and students I have been collaborating with over the past three years in the school. It was a day none of us in Brooklyn will ever forget.

Here is a highlight from the teachers' discussion with Vivian:
My first approach, in terms of using play as a starting point for whatever kind of lesson you want to teach, is very literal. That is, to put it briefly, you listen always, notebook in hand, you listen for a piece of play, a piece of dialog, or a piece of action. Now you’ve got something concrete. Now, a subject comes up, and here’s where the artful nature of teaching comes in. You say something like, “I heard Jeremy say this, before, on the playground, and it made me think of this. Can we act out what Jeremy was doing?” And bring in your math, your science, ...now this is just the first step….to show how vitally interested you are in every child’s exact language, exact interests, in other words, we’re not speaking of play in general, play in the abstract. We’re not discussing how to improve your golf, in general, we’re actually discussing things children have said, pretended to be. It’s a kind of game we play, that the teacher can play. Because the question is, how can I bring it in? Don’t think that the child will say to you, as adults often say to the child, “Well, how is that relevant? Why are you telling us about your Aunt Suzie’s canary, when we’re talking about. . .” Because the child thinks anything anyone says is relevant. Or why would they have said it? They have something on their minds that makes them think of, you know: "I was wondering when I heard you play, if the Ninja had to count out how many balls were in the air. . ."or whatever. We want the connection; it’s not phony. It shows, in fact, how logical thinking can progress. The logic here being, "I want your conversation to become part of ours." Think of play being a conversation. That’s what it is: it's a conversation. After that, I would simply say, become, yourself, a storyteller. That also binds together a disparate group, in all these subjects, being 4 to 7 is no problem. Being 4 to 11 would be no problem. These are the universal things children care about. Stories, make believe, and how what I’m thinking connects to what my teacher wants to tell. It’s the best classroom conversation.


Listening to the Children's Voices

On Friday, January 18, I presented my work for the New York Coalition for Play, a group of colleagues in the NYC area who are working to improve children's opportunities for play. Some of the entities represented were: The Alliance for Childhood, Children’s Environments Research Group at CUNY, NYC Early Childhood PD Institute, the Rockwell Group (creators of Imagination Playground) the NYC Parks Department, the Child Development Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Children's Museum of Manhattan, the UFT, NYC DOE teachers, and independent education scholars and consultants.

I shared clips of videos I had made with children in Brooklyn and beyond, from 2001 (Sophie in the Trees) to the present (Red Hook/PS 27), and gave special emphasis to the poetic language I have experienced children using in their voiceover narrations of the videos. Some examples:
She's looking at something that we can't see. (Sophie in the Trees)
The seeds will be able to grow inside the dolls, and maybe they will pop up as a little kind of food. (Ark)
A grass pulled me down, all the way down, all the way to outer space. (Mystery Castle)
It's raining because the leaf is putting up to the sky. It's raining. (PS 27)
I think it was a camera but nobody was watching. Or maybe somebody put a camera inside a seed to look at us. (Mysteries in the Woods, work-in-progress)
I remarked about the sense of mystery that has permeated this work, particularly as heard in the children's voices themselves, as they have told the stories of their video-plays over the past seven years. Regardless of the setting or project, each group of children I have worked with has been captivated with the idea that something mysterious may be going on outside while they are playing, or even the idea that they might have found an actual treasure, hidden in the ground, behind a bush, or in a hole in a tree. Young children are completely tuned in to the metaphysical possibilities inherent in the simplest act of play. In that sense, they have much to teach adults about awareness of the spiritual realm of everyday life. I hope that at the least, my videos may help young children to access this other side of life, especially if they are not given other opportunities to do so, in school or at home.

The group also heard from Penny Wilson, esteemed Play Worker from the Play Association Tower Hamlets in London, who gave a heartfelt talk about the power of play to open up children's hearts and minds. The Alliance for Childhood is sponsoring her current tour of the U.S., which will include stops in MD, D.C., IL, MI, and CA, where she will facilitate Americans studying Play Work as practiced by Penny and her colleagues in the UK, in Adventure Playgrounds and other conducive play environments. Penny spoke so eloquently about the depth of meaning inherent in children's play. Educators in the U.S. have much to learn from her.

Finally we were enlightened by Richard Lewis, founding director of the Touchstone Center in NYC, who, there in the basement of the NYC Parks Rec Center on 25th Street, guided us in making "snow"! If anyone could remind adults about the power of the human imagination, it would be Richard. I have attended wonderful workshopsthat he has given surrounding the theme of the poetry of childhood at Henry Street and other venues around the city, but it had been a few years since I had seen him at work. Richard truly gets at the heart of the matter of the life of the child as seen through the lens of imaginative play, both inside the mind and outside. He showed us a telescope made in a workshop with children (see image above), that could function as a viewfinder for children's thoughts about play. When asked to look through their newly-made "telescopes" and to see and describe Play, here is what two children said:
The universe is like fireworks.
Things are always burning up.
The universe started by somebody playing. (Anoah)
I feel very good.
I feel so good when I play.
I catch my moment.
Richard did such a beautiful job of making the imagination more real to all of us.


Ark at MCV/NYC

Ark, our 15 minute video from 2002 (about which I wrote my Ed.M. thesis), featuring four family groups of children from Brooklyn, in a mysteriously linked story about dolls, seeds and a box, has been installed for the past month, with the dolls, box and all eight costumes, at Artspace MCV/NYC in Brooklyn. We were thrilled to be part of the show "Risus," which benefited Toys for Tots, and to meet the artists/curators behind MCV, who were gracious enough to build out a beautiful corner of the gallery just for Ark. Thank you Jason, Sean and Lauren.