Still Drawing Outside the Lines, But Getting Clearer

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“That’s daddy, me, and mommy” (from left)

I’ve been following Cora’s mark-making development for almost five years now, nearly three on this blog. Like any academic art educator parent, I muse over pretty much any mark she makes with some intention; from her first experiments with blackberry juice at her highchair and water drenched paintbrushes on the driveway to magic marker tatoos and family portraits. But despite my affection for alternative forms of artmaking, those that stray outside the lines, I’m still a sucker for representational drawing. (Read this post from last year from more this.) I’m not talking about realism, but drawings that demonstrate careful observation and reflection of objects and experiences in our world.

So it was with great amazement that I watched, and listened, to Cora complete this (5″ x 8″) drawing the other morning.

IMG_20150613_0001“This is what I want for a snack, Mommy,” she declared as she sat on the floor busily drawing. “A carrot!”

“Of course you can have a carrot,” I told her. “But first, can you tell me about the one you are drawing?”

Cora narrated her drawing for me in great detail. The horizontal line was the ground and the little oval under it towards the center of the page was the carrot. She was actively drawing its leaves and then moved on to the squiggly line to its right which is a shark trying to steal the carrot. I’m not sure about the other squiggles (maybe just the shark’s movement), but the dots are definitely raindrops.

I was happy to be there to capture the moment and document it here. I was happy to know that our work at Over the Fence Urban Farm has helped her learn that carrots come from the ground, not the grocery store. I wish more people could appreciate the process of drawing and not be so fixated on the product. This ought to be the case for folks drawing at any age or stage of life. Drawing is a way of thinking, not just a form of making.

This summer, I promised myself I would write a one-page information sheet this summer for the parents who volunteer in Cora’s cooperative pre-school about documentation and children’s learning, an idea that comes from the Reggio Emila approach to early childhood education. Sometimes I take for granted my professional knowledge of learning and development and assume other parents have this knowledge and training as well. But they don’t, and while I LOVE our school, I think it could do more to develop our parents as reflexive volunteers in the classroom, and teacher researchers in their own homes. This will be my contribution.Teaching parents about documentation, which the teacher’s assistant does a fair amount of, will help them better understand and appreciate Ms. N’s work, and enable them to help her when they are in the room.

Cora’s carrot drawing drawing was just the inspiration I needed to get off my duff and get started. Without my documentation of her narration, the drawing would just look like a series of squiggles and dots. It’s a perfect example of how we can all make learning, and creativity, visible with just a few lines of annotation.

Here’s one more from dinner last night. (Never go to a restaurant with kids and without paper and something to draw with, if only a ballpoint pen, which just happens to be one of my favorite media for drawing.)

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“This is a sting turtle. Their bodies are completely red because they are made of hot lava.”

Wow.

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 9 [Homeschool Preschool Edition]

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Depending on your educational worldview, it may seem contradictory to hear a professional educator say she’s not sure she wants to send her kid to school. But I’m not.

I don’t want Cora to waste her time in a classroom being prepped for tests. I don’t want her sitting through classroom management nightmares. And I definitely don’t want her eating in a school cafeteria.

I’m sure I’d feel differently if she were going to attend some fabulous private school where teachers still have intellectual freedom, where parents are paying so much tuition kids wouldn’t dare make a nuisance of themselves, and where all the food is organic and locally-sourced. But that’s not the reality we are living in. We live within the bounds of a large urban school district with its attendant challenges, and a few assets like a nice range of specialized schools.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be a full-time homeschooler either. I have long argued that all parents must think of themselves as homeschoolers to some extent. Children just aren’t in school enough hours of their lives to leave their education completely up to school teachers. But I’m not sure I’m up to the task of teaching Cora everything she’ll need to learn. I could join a homeschooling co-op, but I haven’t been having the greatest luck lately with volunteer-led organizations. And, truth be told, part of me would welcome 5-6 hours of time to myself everyday.

As a kind of experiment, we’re trying out a homeschool preschool curriculum designed for the summer months by the mother-daughter team behind the blog Wee Folk Art. My friend Melissa (who plans to homeschool her daughter Maya, Cora’s best gal pal) recommended the program and upon initial investigation, I find it pretty well-thought out. They authors draw on their backgrounds in education (mother), the arts (daughter) and parenting (both). So far, the summer unit “Puddles and Ponds” seems age-appropriate, open-ended, and engaging.

Regular readers of this blog, and “Picturebooks on the Potty” specifically, will not be surprised to learn that one of the things I like best about the curriculum is the use of picturebooks as a foundation for each lesson. Cora and I are having a bit of trouble sticking to just two books a week, but after just a few days she’s already applying information from them to her observations in the real world.

The first two books we read were about clouds – The Cloud Book (de Paola, 1975) and Little Cloud (Carle, 1996). I don’t remember learning about clouds. I’m sure I did 30+ years ago but I’ve enjoyed this chance to reengage the terms and the science behind them. This afternoon, on a VERY long drive to pick George up from camp and drop him at a friend’s house (my least favorite type drive, the kind that makes me feel most like a taxi driver), Cora looked out the window and commented on the clouds. For the rest of the ride we talked about what we saw – wispy cirrus and fluffy cumulus clouds to the north, altocumulus in the distance to the east, and finally nimbostratus as a storm blew in from the south on our way back home. It almost made the drive seem worthwhile.

Shot at a red light. Earth to sky: Cumulus, Cirrus, and Cirroculumus

Dashing through the Snow Towards Wide-Awakeness

DSC_0080I don’t particularly like being outside when it’s cold.  I love the fresh air and if I’m dressed right and the light is falling on the snow just so, I can appreciate the winter weather, but generally, I don’t spend a ton of times outdoors December through February.  Our dog used to get me out everyday, come rain or shine.  I loved watching the seasons change with Elsa, strolling our usual paths – past the neighbors’ gardens, through the ravines, down by the river.  She’s gone now, but I have Cora to get me out.

I can only recall one time last winter when there was more than a light morning dusting of snow and we didn’t make it out to play that day.  So, I was determined to get outside when we woke up to an inch of snow today.  No matter that it was only stuck to the grass.  The world was bathed in white as she’d seen in the illustrations for Extra Yarn.  There was enough to pack into tiny snowballs and walk through and make footprints like we’d read about in The Snowy Day.

I suited Cora up and we ventured out.  I loved watching her touch the snow for the first time with the toe of her boot and finally her hands.  She dragged a stick over the snow gathered on the woodpile.  She slide down the snow-covered slide.  She called to me a million times, “Look Mamma!  Look!”

As I watched her I thought of two things.  First, I recalled an incident earlier in the week when I tried to explain to a childless friend the pleasure I get from watching Cora observe things for the first time.  At that time, she was releasing balloons over the second floor railing and watching them float downstairs.  I offered that those kinds of things seem literally magical to her.  Nothing else in the world matters to her in a moment like that.  She is totally absorbed in the event.  Like today out in the snow.

And that got me thinking about a short essay by Maxine Greene that I reread earlier this week.  I was first introduced to Greene’s work while I was studying at Pratt Institute.  I wrote about that time in my education last month.  When I started my doctoral work, I repeated cited Greene as a major influence on my thinking, but it had been years since I read any of her work.

In “Towards Wide-Awakeness: An Argument for the Arts and Humanities in Education” (1978), Greene wrote about what we can learn about living deliberately from the arts.  The sort of consciousness Greene writes about seems to come naturally to Cora.  Her life isn’t burdened by distractions.  She lives in every moment and offers a great example of how to appreciate the little things we often take for granted about how the world works.  So many great works of art have been born of observations like those.  I wonder what she’ll make of them as time goes by.