Some days just click. Today was one of those. We moved effortlessly through errands, chores, and playful learning. I wish they could all be like this.
Took me all day to post these. Clearly I’m back home. So grateful for this time away. Time to recharge my batteries and gather new ideas. Synthesis coming soon.
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A few months ago, my friend Melissa posted a photo of some toys laying on the landing of her stairs to her tumblr site with the caption, “evidence of play.” These words have crossed my mind many times since then. It seemed like the perfect descriptor for the signs we find of our children’s spontaneous activity in the land of make believe.
As Cora gets older, there are more and more times when she plays alone, for which I am very grateful. Working from home, I have learned to be very flexible and take advantage of opportunities to work as they arise throughout the day. I love the days when Cora heads to another room and gets deep into something so I can do the same. However, any parent of young children knows the simultaneous joy and fear of a quiet child. What’s she doing in there? I wonder (always in the voice of Tom Waits), and then go back to grading papers, hoping nothing gets broken before I check on her.
These sessions usually end with me cleaning up a mess. Cora is going through a major dumping phase where she tips over every bin of craft materials, blocks, or dolls clothes in her path. This was the result of a recent playdate.
But there are also moments when I find evidence of more thoughtful play. I love to pause and consider what was going on when they were created. Like Melissa sometimes, these still lives send me running for my camera. And apparently we’re not alone.
In April 2013, a group of 30 professional photographers started kids were here, a monthly virtual installation of images they made of the traces of their children’s playful activity. Early comments to the site showed that others wanted in on the game and the hashtag #kidswerehere took hold on twitter, Instagram, and flickr. Bloggers can add a KWH badge to their blog to show their participaton (check out mine in the sidebar). There is only one rule, “no kids, only evidence that they were there.”
I love this project. I love the democracy of it. I love the conceptual nature of it; “evidence of play” and “kids were here” suggest both presence and absence. I love how this practice puts Reggio practices into the hands of parents, documenting kids’ playful learning at home and around the world. As one of the featured photographers wrote:
“When I first began this project, I thought it would be fun to document the every day messes my children make. As the weeks have passed, this project has really become so much more than that.
It’s not really about messes at all, but about the stories they tell. It’s about traces of childhood I see throughout my home on a daily basis. It’s about the love we share together. It’s about living and being…creating, making, learning and trying. This project leaves me a beautiful story each month of the reminders that Kids are here now…and the time, well, its all too fleeting, isn’t it? We all need to embrace these moments and just live them too; because they really are the best moments of life.”
-Ginger Unzueta, June 2013
[Note: Shout out to Tina Thompson for putting kids were here on my radar.]
“Whether you’re three or seventy-three, the act of assembling disparate materials into a new object is a profound one. In a world of ready-mades, it seems almost magical.
Today, if you need a new chair, you go out and buy one. If you want a shirt, you take a trip to the mall. For many of us, life is filled with countless objects that have lost the connection to their source. We no longer have to make out of necessity, so sometimes we don’t do it at all. But there’s a hidden loss within the efficiency of our postindustrial times: process.”
– Sarah Olmstead in “Out of the Dirt”
from imagine childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play (2012)
One of the things I love about Dan and my life together is that we make things. At times we do this alone. At times together. Sometimes what we make is ephemeral, sometimes long-lasting. Sometimes original, sometimes following a pattern. We use materials we have on hand and we make frequent runs down the street to Beechwold Hardware.
The projects in these pictures are from late-June. While Dan was inside working on a bench of his own design, I was just outside the windows (sweating my ass off) working on the patio following a plan I found online. When I wasn’t working on the patio, I was advising a few grad students for UF. Two were working on projects that addressed material culture studies and art education and their work provided me space to reflect on the home Dan and I have been shaping together for the past 7 years. Shout out to Holly and Miranda!
In part because our house has been in his family since it was erected, we feel tied to it. Whenever we make changes, we try to keep the past in mind. Case in point, Dan building the bench out of old floor boards. We appreciate looking around and seeing upgrades Dan’s grandparents dreamed up (like the fake drawer in the kitchen Frank used to hide cash or the bookcase he turned into a wall cabinet in the basement) and we have made many changes of our own. These are our family heirlooms.
Holly and Miranda both read an article by Marice Rose (2012), an art history professor about her use of family heirlooms to teach students “the importance of context and making connections between art, individuals, and history” (p. 51). I love how straightforward these learning objectives are. They seem to speak to the most essential reason for studying art history. I still haven’t read Rose’s article myself, but it’s on the list…
You don’t have to live in a historic homestead or be a master carpenter to help your children understand the value of objects in their world. But you do need to find ways to talk to them about the special objects in your home and how they came to be counted as special. Keep in mind, special is not the same as expensive. (See Ellen Dissanayake’s work for more on defining art as making special.) Then, find simple ways to make your own mark on your environment, to make it special, and find ways for your children to do the same.