Back Home Again

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Goodness, we have been gone a long time and away from this space of writing blog posts at least twice a month.  We've had such an adventure that we wanted to begin our blog posts for the new year with a mini reflection on our journey away. 

We are back in Vermont, now looking out on a snowy landscape, softly falling flakes, white, black and gray nuthatches and scarlet cardinals at the feeders and winter everywhere.  It feels so very good to be home.  Two months ago, we found ourselves without any of our children or grandchildren for the holidays, (They were with dear in-laws).   So we set out across the world, going west from Boston to San Francisco and then to Maui where we settled into a small cottage for a Christmas with leis instead of greens, and hibiscus instead of poinsettias, the beach instead of skiing and snow, and some dear, long lost friends in the place of family. 

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Then, close to the end of the month, we headed to New Zealand. We lost a day and arrived just before New Year.  We marveled at the Southern Cross and the starry southern hemisphere sky as we turned the corner into 2018.  We reveled in the landscape, the merino sheep, the glaciers and rainforests and beaches with wild surf and smooth stones.  We moved around the South Island and learned so much about the land, the geology and the flora and fauna from guided nature trails and guides at lodges.  And it was light from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  So much light and varied, beautiful land and sea.  We were amazed most of the time.  

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In mid January we headed to Thailand where we joined a National Geographic Tour for two weeks.We traveled north to Chang Mai and south to Ko Samui and the rain forest.  Our favorite experiences were small group bike rides through the countryside with local guides.  We also spent two splendid days with Jackie Alexander and Giovanni Piazza in their ELC schools in Bangkok.  We plan to write a blog post dedicated to those days and those schools, coming soon.

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Thailand was a world of difference for us.  We had never been to Southeast Asia.  Bangkok is a big, bustling city with so much to see.  Right away we found the Jim Thompson House because I have heard about Jim Thompson most of my life.  He and my father were born in the same year and attended Princeton University together.  Jim Thompson was an architect, a business man, an agent in the OSS, precursor to the CIA who lived in Thailand most of his adult life.  His home, now a museum, is filled with his collection of Asian art.  He is known for single handedly revitalizing the silk industry in Thailand.  My parents visited him several times in this house and my brother remembers celebrating his birthday at Jim Thompson's while he was stationed in Asia.  

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We were thrilled to make the connections with both Jim Thompson and Jackie and Giovanni in Bangkok.  These personal connections made our pilgrimage worth every effort. 

We finished our around the world adventure with five days in Paris. We visited a museum every day and were swept away, once again, by the small streets, the Paris rooftop views, the ambiance, the cafe's, and the ever present charm of this city of love. 

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So that was our trip!  We saw children everywhere, in museums, in schools, in strollers, on bicycles and thought about their lives in these far away places. We felt like children ourselves in many ways, soaking in the new every day, writing in our journals, sketching and painting our impressions and reflections, learning.  

We are glad to be home and glad to be back in the swing, posting thoughts and being in touch with all of you.  All the very best for the new year and for February, as the light returns.  

Louise and Ashley

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Happy Holidays

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Dear Friends,

We wish you all happy holidays however you celebrate the mid winter solstice...with candles, with hope, with family and love, with evergreens and warm fires, and good food shared among good friends, with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other traditions.  

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We are off! on a big trip to far away places.  We will keep in touch mostly through posts on Instagram

 

We wish you all the very best as we all hope for a new year full of light and hope and peace.  We will be back with blog posts in early February! 

Louise and Ashley

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Noticing and Drawing the World with Young Children

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One of the things that we have worked on with teachers during the past few months is supporting children's developing skills in seeing, noticing, describing and drawing. Two schools where we have seen remarkable work lately are Principia Preschool in St. Louis and Charlestown Nursery School (CNS) in Boston.  

Louise co-facilitated small group work with teachers at CNS in October when we collected leaves,  described them and learned the technique of "bug drawing."  Bug drawing is a way to describe contour drawing that seems to work well with children because it is so specific and appeals to their imagination.  I demonstrated as I explained how this works...You pretend that you are tiny insect crawling along the edge of the object, in this case an oak leaf.  You follow each turn and bump and curl that the insect crawls around and you follow that path with your pen or pencil on your paper.  

This is truly hand eye coordination.  And it means slowing down to really notice what you are seeing.  When this is explained to four and five year olds, or even three year olds, most of them understand what you are saying and doing and some of them like to try.  Some of them go about drawing in their own way.  And all this is great.  Whatever happens, you have given them a tool that might help, focus, and connect with seeing and with making marks.  

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The two CNS teachers shared these small group experiences with their colleagues during a professional development day using video clips, transcribed conversations with children, and photographs of children's work.  We used the Collaborative Assessment Protocol to unpack the experiences together.  In this way, all of the teachers at CNS could share in the new learning of the children and the teachers who were leading the experiences.  Then, we shared a drawing workshop with the teachers who tried their own hand at bug drawing. 

At Principia, we have explained this way of working through Skype sessions with teachers.  Even through virtual collaboration they have understood this approach well enough to be highly successful in their work.  For example, a group of preschool students were recently involved in a turtle tracking experience on their campus. The children became very interested in turtles and the teachers gave them more of an opportunity to study different kinds of turtles and to use the bug drawing technique to help them notice even more about the design of different turtle shells, how the shell works with the turtle's legs and head, about the patterns and lines that define the turtle. 

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Give this a try if it appeals to you.  It most likely will turn out to be a fun and worthwhile experience. Then, this way of seeing and drawing becomes another part of the toolbox for noticing, representing, valuing and understanding the world.  And, If you are looking for more ways to explore line with children, visit this remarkable resource created by author Cathy Topal

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Giving Thanks

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It gets dark so early these days.  And wind whips around gray skies.  And the rain falls and snow flies.  November is soon to turn to December.  Winter and darkness are upon us.  And in the midst of all this is the season of holidays, time with family and friends and warm fires and candlelight.  

We hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a rest from everyday duties.  We did.  We had a house full of our sons and daughters-in-law and two grandchildren, 5 and almost 3.  We feel so grateful for all of them.  

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There is so very much written about gratitude and its benefits in our lives and I am pretty sure all of it is true.  I don't know if many of you know On Being and Krista Tippet's interviews with all kinds of people.  It always inspires us to listen.  On the On Being website, there is this archive dedicated to many interviews and articles focused on gratitude.  And have you heard this TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast? I listen to it often and try to remember every day what Bother David says.  

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We are grateful for all of you with whom we work...grateful for the chance to make a difference in the lives of children, grateful to spend meaningful moments with teachers and children in schools,   and to continue to be able to engage in wonderful work with wonderful people. 

With gratitude to all of you and best wishes for a wonderful December! 

Louise and Ashley

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Rounds at Harvard Graduate School of Education

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On October 28th I attended my first Rounds with Steve Seidel, Director of the Arts in Education Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education.  I have heard about Rounds for years and finally I was able to show up to participate in a wonderful morning of professional development with a diverse group of professors, students and teachers from around Boston. 

This is the origin and the thinking behind Rounds as it appears on the Project Zero website:

Education has very few opportunities for the kind of lifelong professional learning that those in the medical community can access. At Project Zero we have been engaged since 1995 in an effort to create a powerful learning community based on the medical model of "rounds", where doctors young and old come together to share knowledge and practice clinical diagnostic skills...ROUNDS is a monthly discussion group giving educators an opportunity to gather and discuss emerging issues in educational practice, to present their personal puzzles about teaching and learning, and to practice looking at student work together... Everyone is considered to have special perspectives and expertise to offer the group, and those who attend engage in serious and spirited dialogue about educational matters.  

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The morning that I attended, a question was posed by Mara Krechevsky.  Mara first reviewed some of the current thinking emerging from the Pedagogy of Play research of Project Zero, and then framed her question:

How do you create a classroom culture where learning is seen as an adventure of joy, challenge and the unexpected, also when addressing serious and sometimes troubling learning topics? 

Such a range of thoughtful responses to this question ensued with many examples that demonstrated how this kind of teaching and learning can be put this into practice...often through students making beautiful work that contributes to their communities' health and well being, innovation and problem solving, healing and growth.  

The second part of the morning was dedicated to looking at a collaborative drawing done in a free period by a group of third grade students. We followed the Collaborative Assessment Protocol carefully.  I have facilitated this protocol with many groups of teachers and it was such a joy to participate with Steve who is the author of the protocol and a master at leading it.  The drawing was a Halloween drawing and full of fun and fantasy.  We all learned  much through paying such close attention to what the students had created. 

I can't wait to go back to Rounds. Undoubtedly, attendance will inspire me to spiral outwards with what I learn and to design ever more thoughtful opportunities for learning with the teachers with whom we work.  If you are in Boston on a Saturday morning, check and see if Rounds is scheduled.  I promise you, you will learn in adventurous, joyful, challenging and unexpected ways!  

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