A Quiet Moment Alone

I don’t have many quiet moments alone these days. When I do, I need to spend them reading my students’ writing rather than producing my own. But at present I’m sitting in the kitchen, in the early morning dark. I am alone, it is quiet, and I’m not reading anything. I’m writing these words. There won’t be many of them and they won’t say much, but you’re reading them still. And in that way we are still connected.  

Coming soon: 

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Loom

A Report from/on My Stepmonster’s Kitchen

Crafty Cora’s First Figure Drawings

Stay Tuned.

So much to write, no time to write it.

Note to self on things I want to write about:

Little Hands, Big Work, Vol. 2: Angry Bird Erasers

Family History In/On A Box: On When/How to Pass Family Heirlooms to the Next Generation

Pinto Beans in the Sensory Box: Playground or Put-Down

Now back to alternately grading papers and trying to make the most of every moment I’ve got.

I Heart Lists

I love making lists. Really, I love crossing things off lists, but I can’t imagine how I would have gotten where I am today without lists. After seven months with a smart phone, I still haven’t migrated to keeping effective lists digitally. I’m not sure why that is. I think it has to do with the physical act of crossing something off a list. Probably related to my urge to cling to any last traces of paper and pencil-based way of life.

I wonder if psychologists have studied that. They study so many things. Last week the NYTimes reported on some who had studied the effects of jinxing oneself by acknowledging a stroke of good luck and unjinxing oneself by knocking on wood. If they can measure that, and if they took the time to, they ought to be able to handle this. OK. I just Googled “psychology list making” and low and behold, the BBC (The Psychology of the To Do List) and NPR (10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists) have reports on it. But, since this is a tangent, I’ll let you explore them on your own.

Anyway, publishing a list causes one to focus on it in a new way. Like the trend of posting your weight on Facebook, now people are watching and waiting to see that you have accomplished your goals. In reality, few are really paying attention to your lists and getting the tasks accomplished is really just important to you. But no matter. You are working towards a goal and in your mind, others are counting on you, cheering for you, to reach it.

In that spirit, here are some things I hope to explore and write about in the second year of Art Education Outside the Lines.

1. Combatting the Teenage Wasteland with the Arts and Crafts

2. Creative Strategies for Mentoring Art Education Gradate Students Online

3. Tips for Creative Parenting from Other Art Educators and Arts Professionals
Might organize this as a series of home visits – like Columbus artist Melissa Vogley-Woods Studio Snapshot

4. More on play and art education. I want to revisit literature on Teaching for Artistic Behavior and Creativity.

5. Reflections on Teaching Teva Travelers, Cora’s Hippie Hebrew School for kids ages 2 1/2-7. I’m the parent-leader this year. Lots to consider here with regard to cultural heritage celebration and preservation, identity development, and the role of storytelling and art making in working with young children in this context.

Keep me honest folks.

And let me know if you have any requests for my next list.

What a Difference a Year Can Make

One year (and two days) ago, I started this blog as a space to restore and redefine my voice as a scholar in the field of art education. While nothing I wrote ever went viral, I believe I succeeded. I like to think folks have found something of value in this space. Hopefully something you read inspired you to go out in the world with a fresh perspective.

This project has satisfied so many of the needs I have as a working-from-home art educator:
A space for recording my internal dialogue.
A way to share ideas without having to write a ten page APA-cited paper or traveling to a conference to deliver a powerpoint presentation, neither of which I really have time for or interest in at the moment.
An opportunity to honor people who have influenced me – both through personal and professional associations.
A means of connecting with my students; to share my reflections on interests we share and to model a kind of thinking and writing about art education that is both personal and critical.
A way to share thoughts and philosophies behind the work we do as educators in our homes as parents, in a more developed manner than playgroup conversations generally allow.

I’m looking forward to continuing this work and seeing where it might lead. But for now, Cora’s awake and ready for breakfast. Gotta go.

Dispatch from My Stepmonster’s Kitchen: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Working With A Teenage Collaborator

So, it’s been awhile since Rosa and I first launched our blog. I have considered writing about what’s it’s been like, from my perspective, a few times but didn’t make the time. Somehow writing about the cute things Cora is doing developmentally always seems to take precedence. And in part, I’m ashamed that Rosa and I haven’t posted more. Maybe ashamed isn’t the right word. Perhaps disappointed tells it better.

I’m disappointed that the blog seems to mean more to me than it does to her. And I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to motivate her better. I’m always the one who recommends we work on it. Since I was hoping this project would not only help me explore using social media with students but bring Rosa and I together in a motherly-daughterly way I’m taking this all a bit personally. But in the end, these are issues all teachers struggle with. We want our students to care as much about the content of our classes as we do. We want them to bring ideas and information to us, as well as vice versa. And all this had me thinking about the challenges of creating teaching moments with our students.

Part of my philosophy of teaching has always been collaborative. While I didn’t talk about it in such terms, early on I viewed teaching and learning as an improvisational performance – teacher gives instructions, students receive, interpret, and respond to instructions based on their personal perspective, teacher responds to student’s response, and so on, back and forth. I used to liken it to painting with watercolors. You can control the medium but also need to embrace the ways it is in control, since water tends to have a mind of its own. In retrospect this was probably due on some subconscious to the article “The Art and Craft of Teaching” by Elliot Eisner (1983) which Amy Brook Snider assigned early in my studies with her at Pratt. In that article Eisner wrote about conducting an orchestra as a metaphor for good teaching:

“What we do as teachers is orchestrate the dialogue moving from one side of the room to the other. We need to give the piccolos a chance-indeed to encourage them to sing more confidently-but we also need to provide space for the brass. And as for the violins, they always seem to have a major part to play. How is it going? What does the melody sound like? Is the music full enough? Do we need to stretch the orchestra further? When shall we pause and recapitulate the introductory theme? The clock is reaching ten and we have not yet crescendoed? How can we bring it to closure when when we can’t predict when a stunning question or an astute observation will bring forth a new melodic line and off we go again? Such are the pleasures and trials of teaching and when it goes well, there is nothing more that we would rather do.” (p. 11)

I included this long quotation because I think you need to read it at length in order to grasp Eisner’s philosophy. While his examples speak specifically to the practice of teaching, the concept of paying attention to the ways a project is unfolding and adjusting one’s work accordingly could apply to any (creative) endeavor. In other places Eisner wrote about this as “purposive flexibility” and I can think of few places such practice is more necessary than in parenting or making art.

Even now, I’m not really sure where I want or need to go in writing this post. I guess I’ll end with three lessons I’ve learning so far about working with young people as creative collaborators. I’m hoping they can bolster my work. Let me know if they resonate with your experiences embarking on long-term (social media) projects with teenagers.

Teenagers are goal-oriented.
I’ve often argued that parameters breed creativity. A blog is an amorphous and never-ending project. Knowing my collaborator needs structure, I need to provide benchmarks and boundaries. To start, I want to post once a week and I want to take turns selecting what we make and write about. I need to ask Rosa what she wants.

Some teenagers love to talk, but don’t like to write.
I realize others are quiet, but love to write. In my case, however, I am working with a talker, not a writer. So, I am experimenting with ways of helping her express herself – email me her thoughts from the privacy of her own room, talk to me about her thoughts while I type them out – but I don’t want to let her off the hook. I want her to write even if it’s not easy for her. Maybe some writing prompts would help. Like these, but specific to our blog.

Teenagers may be digital natives, but they are still digitally naive.
While more and more teenagers are wired 24/7, I’m not convinced many grasp the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas. If they do, they don’t imagine themselves as active participants in that exchange. Like most folks, they are media consumers, not media creators, and that’s where we come in. Without getting caught up in specific websites or apps, we need to teach teens how to leverage the power of the Internet to make their voices heard and their visions seen.

Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from us soon at mystepmonsterskitchen.wordpress.com.

Toddler Time @ The Columbus Museum of Art: Day 1

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As predicted, I left my first time hosting a toddler art playgroup with things I’d like to improve. But, I also left with a real sense of accomplishment. The parents who brought their children all seemed genuinely appreciative of the chance to have their child experiment with a bunch of materials, in a short period of time, in a new space that someone else would be cleaning up. The time passed quickly but I never felt rushed. I had scheduled a program that was well-timed and sequenced.  Noone cried and nothing spilled.

My reflections are still blurry. I’m looking back as a parent and educator.  I’m looking back through my previous experiences with, and limited knowledge of, the participants. Here are a few emerging points of focus.

I remember that all the kids were engaged for the duration of our time together.  I’m not sure I can say that about any teaching experience I have ever had before.  Of course, everyone left when they had had enough, they didn’t have to wait for a bell to ring to tell them it was okay to move on.

The kids bounced around from station to station for the first 20 minutes and I bounced around with them. Giving brief introductions to the materials (beads, lightboxes, and oil pastels). Cora got pretty clingy when she realized I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention, and this made me feel I had to refocus, to step out of the facilitator’s role and back into the role of Cora’s mom. Like I wrote this morning, it’s all a grand performance and I had two parts to keep track of today. This kind of multitasking isn’t really that great for meaningful teaching or parenting.

I wish I had done a bit more in the way of basic explanation of the activities I offered. These would have been directed at the parents, while the children were working. I intended to have some simple recommendations for engaging and collaborating with kids at each of the opening stations, but didn’t get to pulling anything together. (Goal #1 for next week.) When I introduced the main activity, I should have said more to clarify my intentions, to share some insight about my choices and how parents can translate the experiences we had together to their homes.  As my friend Alison reminded me, and as I wrote about here before, that’s what our music teacher does so well.

I want to go into the galleries with these kids and their caregivers.  I think it is important, given that we are meeting at the museum, and something really special to see. Amanda and Susie from the education department have some ideas for how to do this that I would love to watch them try. I so value the conversations I’ve been having with them – it feels rewarding on various levels.

While I knew that the majority of people knew one another from our local library’s storytime, there were two families I knew from elsewhere.  However, Columbus being a mid-sized city with a small town feel, it turned out everyone knew a few other people in the group, and there was a lot of catching up between folks who hadn’t seen each other in awhile.  I’m wondering about the importance of that social interaction for parents with young children and whether it benefit what we did with children or got in the way.  There were lots of times we were interacting with one another’s kids in ways we might not have if we didn’t know one another in advance. (It takes a village to raise an artist?) But, with those connections established and re-introductions now out of the way, there might be more space for the kind of instruction I hope to share.

I’m already looking forward to next week.

First Day Jitters

I can still remember the sweat stains that formed in the armpits of my white collared dress shirt on my first day of teaching.  I have always been a little uneasy about playing that role, because that’s just what it felt like, acting. I have never felt particularly expert about anything and I grew up thinking (most of) my teachers had the answers. Of course, I know differently now.  I remind myself and teach my students to consider ourselves guides on the side rather than sages on a stage. However, as with all endless drives towards perfection, my teaching experiences (read: experiments?) often end with feelings of inadequacy.

But, somehow, I don’t feel myself scrambling this morning, the first day I’ll be hosting Toddler Time @ The Columbus Museum of Art. Does this mean I found my niche? Or is it that this wasn’t conceived of primarily as a class, more of a playgroup.  And if it’s not teaching, than do I have to play any special role today? Would museum staff hosting a similar program?  What expectations do my parent-peers who will be joining me have of me?  What do I want to teach them?

I imagine there’s a chance I will break a sweat this morning.  I just hope it’s generated by creative exploration, not anxiety.

Forcing Myself Outside the Lines

I had to move out of my office/studio this month. It was a sweet spot, lighted on three sides by a wall of windows, so I didn’t mind sharing it with the rest of the family’s sports equipment and muddy shoes.  It was a room Dan and I re-imagined for me when I first moved in with him and the kids.  I had been living and working alone and knew I would need a room of my own.

During the dreary winter months, I bathed in its hazy glow – even when I had to wear two sweaters, a hat, and blanket.  In the summer, I watched the birds fly around the garden as the crickets offered up a wall of ambient sound for me to work to. I’m moving out so we can make the space even more useable, so I’m hoping to be very happy in a couple of months. But for the time being, I need to find an alternate place to work.

I’ve been floating around the house for about a month, but yesterday I started to clear a spot for myself in the basement.  This got me thinking about how creativity can be fostered by changes like this.  I can remember a classmate in college who painted on a large scale until she moved back home with her parents and had to paint in her childhood bedroom rather than the campus studios.  Suddenly her work was super small, and incredibly interesting, particularly for the point of contrast it provided her old work.  I’m hoping that being in a new environment will change my work, in ways I can’t yet imagine.  I’m sure you’ll hear all about it.

Accepting the truth: I am not a special snowflake.

“Whatever you are doing, be aware of it”
Dipa Ma

The title of this post is not a reference to the movie Fight Club. It’s derived from a post by lori at Project-Based Homeschooling around new year’s eve about using the time you can find to get things done, rather than waiting for ideal working conditions to get started. Working from home with a toddler as an officemate is not what I would describe as optimal work conditions for a so-called academic. But, over the past few years, I have learned to work under less than ideal circumstances. I traded in my study carrel at the OSU Fine Arts library for a spot on the kitchen floor, the driver’s seat of the carpool van, an the elliptical machine at the gym…

I was reminded of lori’s message as I read about Dipa Ma, a Buddhist teacher my sister Rebecca introduced me to a few years ago.  I should say she tried to introduce me, since I didn’t have time to read the book she gave me 5 years ago about Dipa Ma’s life and teachings until last week. Again, I should say I didn’t make time. According to Dipa Ma, there is always enough time.

Dipa Ma was a homemaker who learned to meditate and shared her practice with others like her. I think her work has a great deal to offer women like me who are trying to carve out time for ourselves, inside our heads, as we work from home surrounded by our children and obligations to others. Dipa Ma didn’t accept excuses from her disciples for why they couldn’t meditate. Instead, she offered suggestions for new ways to approach meditation. Wake up early. Go to bed late. Use the five minutes you have while the children are entertaining themselves. Meditate as you tie your child’s shoes, do the laundry, walk the dog…

I’m not interested in meditation, per se. But I am interested in making the most of the moments I find to complete the work that I want and need to get done done. I want to make the most of my time at work and with my family and friends. I want to enjoy my work. So, I’m going to read more of Dipa Ma’s teachings to see how I might become more appreciative of the pockets of time I find to work, rather than angry about the time I don’t have.

[Note: Today was Rebecca’s birthday.  Hope you enjoy this post baby sister.  May you find all the time you want and need to sit or stand or do whatever on this earth you want to do.]