Art Educator as Ally

Like many of you, I’ve been feeling really blue since November 8th. I’ve been feeling like there’s very little I can do to protect the rights of many Americans I know and even more I don’t know who are concerned that their voices will not be heard and their very presence challenged under a Trump/Pence-led government. Chief among these are my LGBTQ family and friends.

In June, I bought Cora a rainbow flag at the Columbus Pride parade. At the time I felt silly, like I was just supporting the vendors trying to make a buck off the event. But she’s carried that flag to each rally we’ve been to in the past few weeks. Currently, it’s draping the dashboard of my car. Carrying the flag beyond the pride parade I feel like we are making a statement, showing we are allies who support the insanely simple idea that
LOVE IS LOVE.

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Today I had an encounter with a student that confirmed I am making a difference beyond adding rainbows to the visual political landscape.  A gay man living in Texas, this student works as a public school teacher and volunteers with various organizations in his community. Early in our studies together he expressed interest in making art with LGBTQ youth in his area. Today we talked about concrete steps he plans to take to make that happen.

At the end of our conversation he thanked me for supporting his vision and for encouraging him in his pursuits. I am so proud of him and can’t wait to see where this leads. I’m excited for the kids whose lives he’ll impact, whom he’ll help to see that it gets better. With his permission, perhaps I’ll share it all with you someday.

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Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 3, No. 6

It’s been a long while since I wrote one of these columns. It isn’t that we aren’t reading! We read like crazy this winter, but I was TOTALLY insane at work and didn’t have time to blog about any of it. That said, I dedicate this post to my department chair, Craig Roland, who recommended Home, by Carson Willis during one of the million and one meetings we had with students last month.


One of the greatest parts of my job is the opportunity to learn alongside my students. Sometimes they teach me things, sometimes I learn from my colleagues as they are teaching. Craig draws on a wide range of resources when speaking with students which I  appreciate. Home is a perfect example.

I don’t remember the exact context of Craig’s suggestion and it doesn’t much matter. The book is a good illustration of a work of art that explores a big idea. Big, or enduring ideas “comprise concepts that have drawn the attention of humans through the ages” (Stewart and Walker, 2005, p. 17).  We encourage students to build art education curriculum around big ideas throughout the Art Education program at the University of Florida and I plan to use this book in the future to help students better grasp the concept and consider ways to utilize it with students. Parents of young children and other educators might also find it inspiring.

Big ideas are often approached through the discussion of questions like:
What is a home?
How would it feel to live in that home?
What makes your home different from other homes?

The cover of Home alone could launch many questions, leading teachers and students in various directions as they connect the theme with their own experiences, books they’ve read, and cultures they are studying.

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This is one of those picturebooks that could be given to an adult to read and reflect on just as easily as a child. The illustrations are engaging – visually and conceptually. Cora and I spent a long time looking at each one, talking about the content and the style. The one about The Little Old Lady who lived in a shoe was one of her favorites. This is just an excerpt….

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We did take exception to this page:

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The so-called clean home didn’t look clean to us so much as it looked boring or unoccupied. Everything seems to have a purpose and a place in the messy house, even the jump rope in the front yard, the bathtub in the garden, and the cinderblock holding up the front porch. But overall, the artist captured a wide range of homes (including her own studio filled with references to the book itself) and had us looking and imagining who lived in them and what it would like to join them.

After we finished reading, I interviewed Cora about our home and wrote her responses in a notebook we’ve been keeping this year to document her thinking and learning. Here’s excerpts from the interview:

Me: Cora, where is your home?
Cora: (thinking)
Me: Is it on the moon?
Cora: No. On Earth, you sil’. [Sil’ is her shorthand for saying silly.]
Me: Is your house in the city or the country?
Cora: The city. I think. Do you think that’s the truth?
Me: Yes. But what makes you think so?
Cora: Because it’s noisy. And there are lots of cars on High Street.
Me: What kind of house do we live in?
Cora: We live in a regular house. A house.
Me: What’s a regular house?
Cora: Just a regular house.
Me: So not a castle or something like that?
Cora: Yeah.
Me: What’s different about your house and Maya’s house?
Cora: We have a dog and she has cats. My house is darker because it has more curtains.
Me: What else makes our house darker? Look outside? What do you see? What would you see if you were at Maya’s?
Cora: Other houses closer together… Street lights.
Me: What else do you want to tell me about our house? What makes it special?
Cora: My house is very old because it used to be grandma’s. That what I like about it. She lives next door now and I like that too.

Next step, mapping our house and making some drawings of it.

Stewart, M. G. & Walker, S.R. (2005). Rethinking curriculum in art. Worcester, MA: Davis.

 

Rethinking the Valentine

Okay. I admit it. Valentine’s Day has never meant all that much to me.

It’s not that I’m not romantic or anything like that. But, I have historically thought of it as a market-driven holiday; our love for one another measured by the store-bought cards kids pass around at school and candy conversation hearts which never appealed to me on any level.

Likewise, as an art educator, I put holiday crafts in a category of work not worth the time of serious contemporary art educators. As at this time last year, I just finished a unit on the history of holiday crafts in art education (see Paper Heart and the History of Art Education). My students shared their perspectives on the issue, most suggesting that there isn’t much time for holiday crafting in their artrooms even if they wanted to bring it in. They questioned which holidays would be addressed, could be addressed, in a multicultural classroom. And that they feel misunderstood when administrators expect them to celebrate and decorate for holidays like this. I share their views.

But this year, as Crafty Cora and I got to work on tokens of affection for her classmates, we got to talking about what Valentine’s Day is all about. I found our basic research personally edifying as I grew up with some vague idea that (Saint) Valentine’s day isn’t for Jewish people. It also gave me ideas about how it might be meaningfully addressed in a comprehensive art program – not that I’m arguing it ought to be…

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that, as with Christmas, Valentine’s Day predates the saint for which it is named. According to the History Channel, it started as a fertility holiday known as Lupercalia and, paralleling the social history of romantic relations, morphed into a holiday about romantic love.

Our search uncovered an interview with Valentine collector Nancy Rosin which positions the Valentine as an interesting bit of visual culture. Rosin suggests they are “important as a social chronicle. Personal communication between people…fascinating stories.” Watching her video, I could imagine using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk with students about the history of romance, the practice of arranged marriage past and present, and the industry of greeting cards (love it or hate it, it’s out there and it’s huge, and a professional venue for artists and illustrators). Rosin shares her knowledge and perspective as a curator about the history of Valentine productions – mass-produced and handmade. I love her notion that the handmade cards bear “the fingerprints of love.”

I had all this in mind as Cora and I got out a big box of papers and started cutting out hearts. She practiced some of the same skills she worked on last year – tracing, cutting, composing, pasting, sewing – and we listened to Motown love songs. A light snow fell outside. It was the perfect weather for crafting.

As we worked, I questioned the benefits of the activity. After a bit of cutting, she passed  that job on to me. After a little gluing she outsourced that as well. Eventually she declared herself in charge of the sewing machine and told me, “How about you do your stuff at that table and I do mine at this table.” And just like, she chose the job she liked best and declared herself the director of our little Valentine factory. She even kept track of how many we’d made on the calculator.

If there is any value left in the notion of holiday arts as motivator for students, I think there could be the start a lesson plan here around the essential question, “Can art be mass produced?”

Mass-production.

Factories.

The Factory.

Andy Warhol.

???

Wintertime Nature Study

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It’s hard to be indoors this time of year. We spend so much time in the yard and garden from early spring to late fall I really feel trapped by the cold. This year I’ve made a commitment to getting out for a bit with Cora each day regardless of the weather. I’m meeting mixed results. The chickens help as she misses them as much as the swings. But overall we’re pretty disconnected from the natural world at this time of year.

We are growing all we can on the windowsills. The chia Gnome is sprouting his beard and potatoes are growing roots in glasses of water. For Christmas, we potted paperwhites for Cora to pass around as gifts. It’s been fun to these people’s homes and see the flowers growing taller and budding.

Cora has been eagerly waiting for our flowers. The other day I bumped into the tallest of the bunch and knocked off the largest bud. I was so pissed at myself but quickly realized the teachable moment this would give us to look inside the bud – if you’ve ever grown paperwhites you know the buds push out of their leaf cocoons to such a great extent that you can see the shape of them bulging. It was fun to cut that pod open and take out the guts. Cora chopped the stem, stuck it with a toothpick, and opened the flowers by hand.

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I’m teaching a course on the history of art education this term. We always start with Frederich Froebel’s vision of kindergarten. I think he would have approved of this hands- and minds-on discovery time. What are you doing to stay connected to the natural world this winter?

Mindfully Foraging Family Time and Holiday Decorations

It’s no secret to those who know me well that I’ve been struggling to connect with the teenagers in my life as of late. I’m about one month into some new experiments, guided in part by The Happiness Project, by which I’m making more fervent attempts to engage them. You might read this as “force them to spend time with me.” That’s basically what it is, but I’m trying my best to prevent them from seeing it that way. (I guess it’s good neither of them actively follow this blog…)

Two weeks ago, they each got to cook dinner with me one night. They decided what we would make and I tried to get be a guide on the side, rather than the master chef. It was good time together, something Rosa and I have done a lot of (see My Step Monster’s Kitchen), just not lately. For George, it seems like a lot of our interactions come down to, “in two years this is all going to be your responsibility,” so you might call this college (or life) prep in the kitchen.

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Thanksgiving day I went out in the garden to gather some herbs. I came in with a fistful of sage, rosemary, time, and parsley. I went around the house with it inviting everyone to take a few deep cleansing breaths. Cora wanted to go out and find more and I suggested we gather some greens and things to decorate the table. Then I thought, we should all go. It was unseasonably warm – thankfully – so it didn’t take too much convincing when I gave Dan and the big kids thirty minutes to get ready for a family walk.

We wandered around the neighborhood for nearly an hour chatting, playing, singing, and foraging. We gathered dried blossoms and branches, berries, and evergreen boughs, pine cones and nuts and came home with an overflowing basket of materials to work with.

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I decided not to do anything with them right away. Instead, we waited for Dan’s mom to arrive. She is a florist so I solicited her to work on arrangements. Rosa helped and it was lovely to see this activity turn intergenerational.

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The finished product was beautiful from every seat at the table, complete with the kitcschy Pilgrims and Native Americans my mother-in-law used to use at her house. We also included a beeswax candle Rosa and I made last year at Christmas-time. (That was part of another one of my concerted efforts to spend time with the teens which I documented in “Holiday Crafting with Teens.”)

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Just after Thanksgiving the latest edition of Rodale’s Organic Life came to the house complete with an article on foraged holiday crafts and decorations. And just like that, I had ideas for next time.

 

RE:Thinking Drawings

Quick follow-up to last week’s post about the thinking drawings of young children.

Cora and I flew home from visiting family this morning. It was raining as we took off and climbed through the clouds and we talked about what that might look like – a plane flying over a cloud filled sky with rain falling down below. I told her I thought it would be a great thing to draw. Her response, “But mommy, I don’t know how to draw a plane.”

I reached into the seat back in front of us and pulled out the safety card. Together, we looked at the photo of a plane on the cover and the diagrams inside. The conversation dissolved into a discussion of the pictographs used to tell passengers what to do in an emergency. I love to deconstruct international symbol systems so I as happy to follow the tangent.

After a few hours of screen time – I graded papers while she played with nearly every app loaded on our iPad – it was landing time. She asked for some paper and markers and started scribbling. After a quick self-portrait, she asked for help drawing a plane. I suggested she start with a large oval – like a hot dog and she was off.

She drew one end rounded and other ended up pointed to which she said, “Oops,” and looked up at me. I told her I thought it looked great that way since the nose of a plane is usually rounded and the tail pointed. Satisfied, she added a few tail fins, then wings, windows, and finally a logo on the wing. And just like that, she made one of her greatest thinking drawing yet. Right in front of me. I was mesmerized.

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At one point she pulled the safety card out again to check some details, but quickly put it back down and drew the parts as she imagined them in her mind’s eye: from her time looking out airport windows in the past, from her Playmobil toy plane, and from our earlier discussion and study of the illustrations.

If you’re as amazed by this process as I am, and you are interested in helping children improve their observational drawing skills by talking about the world they see around them, I recommend Observation Drawing with Children by Nancy Smith and the Drawing Study Group (1997, Teachers College Press). I think I’ve mentioned it before. I’m sure I’ll mention it again.

You CAN bring your kid to Fallingwater

I firmly believe in experiential learning in context. I think the cuts to field trips we’ve seen in recent years in response to reduced funding for programming beyond school walls and preparation for standardized tests is one of the most under-discussed problems with public schools today. I’m working on an article on the value of field trips, for educators as well as their students,  and exploring the subject with my students.  IMG_2477This weekend, as a means of breaking up a long journey across Pennsylvania (seriously, if you’ve driven it you know what I mean), Cora and I went on what might be considered the penultimate art field trip when we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. We joined the Saturday morning children’s tour (ages 5-8) and set out from the visitor’s center promptly at 9:30am. There was only one other boy and his father in our group, so it was intimate and Cora got to converse a fair amount with our docent, Susan.

As we walked down the path, Susan asked the children to start looking in the bushes and rocks for natural homes animals might live in. We stood under the boughs of a giant rhododendron, near its trunk and at the edge of its canopy, imaging where we would stay driest in a rain storm. We looked for covered crevices in the ravine walls of Bear Run and Susan told us that Frank Lloyd Wright studied animals and their shelters to see what he could do with rock.

She asked each of the children about where they live. “Do you live in the city, suburbs, or country? When you get home, I want you to compare your house to the one we’re about to see.” In retrospect, this suggestion reminds me of something I read about Fallingwater before we visited, that it will change how you see the world. I’ve seen a lot of Wright’s work in my lifetime but this was, hands down, the most thought-provoking and awe-some. I’m left wondering, what happens when you see that at five?

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We paused on the bridge leading up to the house as we took our first view of it from the ground level. Susan introduced the kids to the term cantilever as she pointed out the numerous unsupported terraces hanging out over the waterfall. Then we followed her onto a landing where she guided the children in a block building exercise to help them see and experience this building concept. Using three blocks, she asked them to build bridges over the water. Then she asked them to remove a support from one side and watch what happened. Together, they added weight to the supporting side to help keep the cantilevered end supported. (I see opportunities to revisit this in the future with our own wooden blocks and Legos.)
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“Use your imagination. This blue piece of cloth is the creek….

Susan showed the children some photos of and told them stories about the Kaufmanns, the Pittsburgh family who commissioned the house. One of the photos depicted the rustic cabin they had on the land prior to Fallingwater. It would be an understatement to say the contrast was like night and day.

Finally, we got to go inside! No photos were allowed. On the one side it felt like torture not to be able to take photos of something so amazing, but on the other, the tour  moved through the spaces quickly it really was better to spend the time looking directly than through a lens. That is a rare thing these days.
As we paused to look around the main living room, Susan told the kids,”A lot about this house makes you wonder if you are inside or outside. As we walk around, see if you can spot the outside coming inside.” Cora embraced this challenge. She found large stones embedded in the floors and walls and immediately understood when Susan demonstrated how the windows could be used to control the volume of the waterfall based on how wide they were opened. I have to admit, it gave me a lot of pleasure to watch her actively soaking it all in.
At the end of the tour, Cora was upset to learn we wouldn’t be staying overnight at Fallingwater. I was too. Maybe someday, in another life…

What I’m Taking Away from NAEA (2015)

I was too busy learning and exploring to blog from New Orleans as I’d promised. (I did post a lot of photos on Instagram that you may have seen…) It was a great couple of days hearing from some of the most innovative art educators teaching today, catching up with old classmates and mentors, and soaking up the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of a city that just ten years ago people weren’t sure would survive.

Old meets new.

Old meets new in NOLA.

While we didn’t talk about it much, the convention center where we spent most of our time was part of ground zero during Hurricane Katrina – formally a shelter for national guardsmen, informally for 20,000 New Orleanians waiting to be evacuated. I felt like my entire visit took place in the shadow of that event. While the buidling was washed of this history, the city bears many traces and I couldn’t help think of the flood every time I walked over a water line cover. A sidewalk stencil painting of koi had me imagining fish swimming through the city streets… I’m sure others found moments for remembrance and reflection.

When I wasn’t marveling at NOLA’s cultural legacy and contemporary recovery, I was attending sessions. I learned a lot and came home with fresh inspiration. Here are some of my takeaways.

Build more bridges
A number of presentations got me thinking about forming new and stronger bonds across communities and institutions and encouraging my students to do the same.

  • UFARTED alumna Stephanie Wirt (VA) and Stephanie Pickens (GA) led their high schoolers in an exchange of ideas and artwork using social media. Their enthusiasm inspired me to think of new ways we can use collaborative artmaking practices to connect our online students and get them thinking about how to build bridges between their classrooms. I have some ideas for this summer so stayed tuned UFARTED folks!
  • Art21 Educators Juila Mack (NYC) and Jocelyn Salaz (NM) created concurrent community murals with their first graders and shared the results as a way of teaching them to value their own culture and that of others. The collaboration began with an exchange of mini documentary movies about each school and its cultural context. Students, and those of us in the audience, couldn’t help but be engaged by the stark contrasts and sweet similarities of the students observations.
  • I heard at least three references to Padlet, an app I want to explore with students that allows for collaborative brainstorming using images, text, and hyperlinks. Seems promising and it’s free.

Process as Practice
I am inspired to revisit the way we structure class discussions in our courses – trying to move away from relying so heavily on the (verbal) discussion boards to other (non-verbal) ways for students to demonstrate understanding and application of ideas from our course readings. These sessions provided  some ideas.

  • “Process as Practice” was the title of a presentation by Jack Watson (NC) and Todd Elkin (CA), another pair of Art21 Eduators who share ideas and collaborate with their high school students. Their presentation was a great follow-up to the session we had at school last week with Joe Fusaro. They provided amazing stories and examples of working with their students in choice-based, process-driven, and conceptually-rich settings. They shared strategies for brainstorming and concept development that were really thought-provoking.
  • While I have always advoacted process over product in work with young children on this blog, a presentation on collaborating with children inspired me to think more about my interactions with children as creative processes.
  • Alice Pennisi and Krissi Staikidis presented on their work advising masters level researchers. Much of what they spoke about was familiar but I will keep with me for a long time a few things they said. Alice tells students to think of their research as a self-designed and moderated class about their specific interest. “You are the teacher and the student. Enjoy.” They both strive to address research as an active, ongoing, and reflexive, process. Noone can move from point A to point B in a day, a semester, or even a single degree program. “50% of a masters thesis is about learning to do research. 50% is about that project in particular.”

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
This is one of those maxims I can never hear too often.

  • 8am Saturday morning I walked into a session and saw the chairs arranged in small circles. While I love to talk and often find myself tired of the presenter/audience format of most conference sessions, not all interactive dialogues work in the conference context, especially first thing in the morning. At “Speed Dating with Theory,” presented by five doctoral candidates from ASU assumed the persona of the theoretical framework guiding their research far surpassed expectation. I met remix, third space, postcolonial, relational aesthetics, and play theory and was given a chance to consider my work in relation to them. It was brilliant. One particularly really great moment worth noting, was when play theory asked the other woman sitting with us, “Are you familiar with play theory?” to which she responded, “Uh, well, my dad is George Szekely so, yeah.” The students shared that discussion of educational aesthetics and the art of presentation is a part of their curriculum and I am excited to think more about that.IMG_9756
  • Doug Blandy has been a favorite presenter/scholar of mine for as long as I’ve been going to NAEA conferences. For the past few years, he’s been hosting a local artist whose work represents a folk tradition and this year Mardi Gras Indian Cherice Harrison-Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame was his guest. She broke the monotony of the conference space with storytelling and singing that was engaging, informative, and restorative.
  • Rebecca Belleville (MD), yet another Art21 Educator, broke down in tears as she shared stories from her classroom where she teaching artmaking for social  justice. While I know she wasn’t thrilled to be crying in front of a ballroom full of people, it made an incredible impression and demonstrated the position of passion from which she teaches.

The present and future of public schooling in this country seems severely challenged
I have never been to an art education convention, nor do I think I ever will be, at which the topic of advocacy has not come up. It seems no matter what labels we attach ourselves to – discipline-based, STEM, etc – we don’t have enough allies outside our ranks making arguments on our behalf. At this conference, however, I heard more than I ever have before from art teachers who feel pinched by public education reforms related to standardized testing and teacher assessment. I was shocked by how many of my friends and colleagues, who work primarily with public school-based art educators, don’t trust those schools to educate their own children.

  • The only presentation I saw in the catalogue that included the name Katrina was sparsely attended which allowed for a really great interactive dialogue between the presenter, Sarah Travis, who was born and raised in NOLA and went on to become a public school teacher there, and the audience of mostly charter school-based art educators. She taught in NOLA before and after Katrina and shared statistics and information about the near total reconstruction of the local school system in the wake of the storm. It is a story at polar opposite with the Reggio Emilia grassroots initiative following WWII in Italy that focused on the holistic development of children and paid special attention to the role of the arts in that process. The story of NOLA schools post-Katrina is a story of charter takeover. One those with money in the game are watching very closely. (For a taste check out the trailer for The Experiment.)
  • 50 years ago art educators hosted a conference at Penn State on the state of art education funded by money from the federal Department of Education. That meeting lead to many developments in our field including the discipline-based art movement. Next year, faculty at PSU will host a similar event. As participants discuss the past and next fifty years, they will have to address whether we have a future at all in the public schools.
  • Trying to end this section on a high note, Alston Wise’s very witty UF MFA thesis project  “Public School Parent” got stuck in one of the final time slots and not even I was there. But Alston’s witty response to the assessment-driven culture of schools today is just the type of smart and eye-catching advocacy we need, and need more of, in order to make ourselves seen and heard.

What I do matters.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Sometimes its hard to tell in the online teaching environment but the connections and impact we are making with our online students, and they are making with one another, is significant. It is real. It is meaningful. And it translates to our shared lived experiences. My desire to see and talk with students in the flesh was met at this convention. We were able to pick up conversations where we left off on class discussion boards, Facebook, and twitter, and we were able to share more about our personal lives and personalities by sharing space and meals, walking and talking.

So, I’ll see you next year in Chicago.

Creative Connections: The Kitschy Kat Alphabet Book

Last summer I met Nancy McKibben when she was assigned to write a story about my urban farming project – Over the Fence Urban Farm. During our time together for interviews, Nancy and I shared our mutual interest in picturebooks and she shared her plans to put together an ABC book made of postcards, for children to create with the help of loved ones far away.

In the fall Nancy sent me an invitation to support Kitschy Cat Alphabet Book on Kickstarter. (It’s now available on Etsy.) With a four-year-old at home in Ohio and family all over the country, there was no reason to refuse. For my donation towards the project’s start-up costs, I received the full set of postcards.

I love perpetuating the idea of snail mail, and am trying to give Cora ample exposure to the joys of writing and receiving handwritten notes. I think it’s catching on. And why shouldn’t it. There’s little more magical than sealing an envelop, sticking it in a box, and then receiving a letter from the recipient in response. One of the projects on my to do list this spring is to create a mail station for Cora per recommendations from Playful Learning. Kitschy Cat will have a special place in the setup.

IMG_9031I sent the postcards to my mom along with 52 stamps and the introductory note Nancy included for participants and then we waited. Mom let me know when the package arrived, told me I didn’t have to send the stamps, and proceeded to laugh as she apologized in advance if somewhere along the line she forgets about the whole thing. But then the postcards started coming. And her notes are thoughtful and clever!

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photo 4I love that she is referencing where she lives, asking about where we are, telling stories from the past, and making suggestions for the future. Previously, when I asked my mom to write to Cora it didn’t always happen. No shame, no blame. She’s just not that kind of grandma. The point is that the parameters and creative starts offered by the alphabet themed cards gave her the encouragement and support she needed. Suddenly I was seeing this as a creative invitation for my mom, perhaps even more than for Cora.

Of course we’re trying to find ways to extend the activity on our end. Using the letter of the day as a prompt for writing practice. . .

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R is for Rabbit

In addition to my mom, I’ve been trying for what seems like forever to get my niece, who is in first grade and has the sweetest penmanship, to write to me with little effect. But my mother brought some Kitschy Cat cards along last week while she was visiting my brother and his family last week and guess who signed the last two letters we received?

photo 2I’m grateful to Nancy for sharing this project with us. For me, it’s turning out to be so much more than the sum of it’s parts. I’m not sure what we’ll do when it’s over.

[Postscript: Art educators might get inspiration from Nancy’s project for exchanges within their districts – I can imagine elementary and high school students exchanging cards, for instance. They can also draw inspiration from mail artists like Ray Johnson and On Kawara or contemporary correspondence projects like Post Secret. And then there are sites that offer mail art challenges you can join with or without your students. (Honestly I didn’t even know how active the postal art community was until just now.)]