My Love of Cardboard

Note:  This was originally written in July 2014 while preparing for The Patch Art Exhibit…..

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I am preparing for an art exhibit to celebrate and honor the artists at The Patch.  It is an undertaking that has me on a creative high and emotional roller coaster at the same time.  Will the adults “get” how truly amazing these little tykes are? Will they appreciate that just a short time ago these little tykes were more like contained jelly fish who couldn’t do anything but cry and drool and poop? Their development over the past year has me astounded.  I remember all those days…..ALL THOSE DAYS…..when we were confined to a quilt and chew toys because all they could do was roll and chew and poop.  Those were some long boring and smelly days…..

We’ve spent the last six months exploring various animals and plants and art forms.  Our art was getting more and more technical and I just didn’t want to send it home with a smile and lose the opportunity to celebrate the beauty and accomplishment each piece represented. Sooooo…….

The idea to have an all out art exhibit was born…….and……I’m thrilled to pieces and a bit overwhelmed as I begin the actual process of building an art exhibit out of appliance boxes and adhesive hooks and lots of rope and tree stumps to secure the structures from wind gusts…..

Yesterday I cut open the first appliance box and unfolded it to its full length. That puppy is one big piece of cardboard! As I was securing it to the driveway wall, an overwhelming memory flooded over me and I had a dejavoo moment…..I was once again eight years old, on the screened-in porch just off of my bedroom…..

I’m a Daddy’s girl.  I make no bones about it and I celebrate it every chance I get.  He deserves it….he truly truly truly deserves it….

Every once in a while, my Dad would bring me a cardboard box home from the office.  They weren’t big like an appliance box, but they were tall enough to an eight year old to become pure magic.  He would cut them open for me so they would stretch out and stand on their own.  And then, the magic would begin.

I would make them into hide outs.  They were puppet theaters.  Sometimes they were space ships for me and my stuffed animals.  But more times than not, they were a chalkboard.  My Dad would bring me the chalk pieces that were too short for his big hands and I’d find an old sock to use as an eraser.

I asked my teacher, Mrs. Cathcart, for extra worksheets to take home to “practice with” and she would gladly supply them to me.  I’m almost positive I never told her that they were to teach my dolls and animals with, but, I’m pretty sure, she knew that anyway I used them, was indeed, practice even if I was just relaying information to my class of dolls and animals.

That screened in porch was such a magical place for me…..and the fun I had with cardboard boxes didn’t just stay in my childhood.  That joy and magic has made its way back into my adult life and into my preschool classroom in the past year…..polar bear dens, hideouts, tents, rolling around the play yard contraptions….loads of joy and magic…..

I wanted to be a teacher from a very early age.  I moved a lot as an Army Brat and my love for art and creativity was unfortunately quickly squelched by a variety of well-meaning art teachers who were working in too many schools to really focus on their quieter introverted students.

I knew what I wanted to create.  I had the end piece all in my head,  I just didn’t have the physical skills developed or the experience with tools to master the basic elements.

I was devastated every time my piece was chosen as the example of “what not to do” by various teachers.  I hated art……

I became a writer.

Letters can’t be judged or held up in a classroom as a negative example. I wrote in a journal beginning as an eight year old and still journal…..It’s the creative part of me yelling to be set free….So, for many years, I created with letters on paper…..

My sophomore English teacher gave lots of creative writing assignments.  I was thrilled. I still have two of the assignments…”What I Want to Be” and a poetry compilation that I illustrated.

I became a fluent writer in college all because of being placed in the class of a feared professor.  His reputation was fearless and fearful…. He only gave three A’s and he informed us of this on the very first day of class.

My first attempt landed me a D.  I was devastated.  He told me I was too cautious. He told me I took the easy way out so that all the spelling and grammar and punctuation would be correct….well, most of the time anyway…. He told me I needed to improve.  And then he looked at me.

I was once again that little girl having her work displayed as the “how not to” piece….

Something happened to both of us during our conference.  He took my paper and added a plus sign to the D.  He told me to write a new piece about anything that was important to me without any regard to spelling or grammar or punctuation.  It was due at the next class meeting.  He told me to write my thoughts and not worry about the “how to” rules.  For the first time in my life, I was inspired to try again with this professor that the student body feared….

I wrote.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I wrote some more.  It was freeing.  I turned it in and two days later it was returned to me, with a big fat juicy A on it.  In red pencil.  The only red pencil mark on it was the A. I was confused and inspired.

He gave me the next assignment: Now correct the spelling, grammar and punctuation and turn it back in to him.  I did. The editing process went back and forth between us until the paper was finally complete.  It represented my real thoughts and it was written with all corrections made.  I learned more about grammar and spelling and punctuation in two weeks than I had in twelve years.  I was rewarded with an A+ not just on that paper, but I was one of the three that earned one of his precious coveted A’s in the class.   I done good….. 🙂

These two experiences were life changing for me.  These two people gave me a precious gift: Time to explore and time to develop…..

And this brings us full circle to why I love cardboard boxes and why this art exhibit is so important to me.

I want these teeny tiny precious tykes to know that they are valued because they are unique.  Not because they are masters at a skill.  I want them to feel celebrated and to hopefully show their families the importance of continuing the celebration of their uniqueness when they have outgrown The Patch.

Threading ribbon through chicken wire isn’t the celebration.  The celebration is in the experience. The celebration is in the “A-Haa” moment when they finally understood they could place the ribbon anywhere and it could twist and curl if they wanted it to.

The celebration was in their being fully present and being fully joyful at just seeing what happened if they tried this or that…..It was about enjoying the process and not caring if others didn’t understand or appreciate or “get” the final outcome.

Process and  experience are what creates our life.  They are what add depth and width and richness to our life….the actual piece gets lost or ruined and then forgotten…..But what we learn about ourselves along the way is ours to keep for life….

This is what those art teachers forgot…..This is what I refuse to forget….. Everyone earns a big fat juicy delicious A+ at The Patch…..

Until next time,

Patty

Trying soooo hard to be THAT cool preschool teacher…

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Yesterday I brought out coffee beans and dinosaurs for the sensory table.  There were only two tykes and I was feeling brave.  The room smelled great, the beans stayed inside the sensory table, and it was a delicious day.  Today there were four in the preschool and I was feeling brave again, so out came the beans and fun was being shared by everyone…..except me….I was very busy holding myself together and fighting off the “adult” part of me during such a fun “child” activity…..

It started out great.  A small handful of beans landed on the shower curtain that I placed under the sensory table.  No biggie, I thought proudly to myself…..And then another handful went airborne.  The tykes didn’t have a clue to my rising sense of anxiety.  They were busy scooping and pouring and listening to the beans clank and clink as they fell here and there.

I saw an article on my Facebook home page about a preschool teacher who was “brave enough” to allow the sensory materials to “spill” over into all the centers in the room.  She sounded so cool….so very very cool…..I wanted to be THAT cool…..so cool that coffee beans would be welcome in the basket with building blocks, and I bet Thomas the Train would love a taste of a coffee bean while he was on break from normal play.  I bet the tykes could whip up a delicious coffee and block soup with the beans in the kitchen area…..All these thoughts were zipping in and out of my head when, WHAMO, I got hit in the face with a tyke size fist full of coffee beans!

There were beans EVERYWHERE…..it looked like a bunny convention had invaded The Patch and they all left their little presents everywhere….EVERYWHERE….I was beginning to lose sight of the goal to be THAT teacher…….but…….I held it together.

I began to quietly pick up the beans and slip them back into the sensory table, when out of no where, four tykes went belly down on the floor and began retrieving coffee beans with me.  They zipped up that pile and they zipped up this pile and they zipped up all the piles in no time at all.  And all the while, they had created a game of picking up coffee beans and I realized that once again I am no longer the teacher to these little cherubs that steal my heart every day.  I am their student……and today’s lesson was how to be THEIR teacher and not THAT teacher…..

Here’s what they taught me today:

Dear Ms. Patty:

I will make messes while I learn to scoop objects from a flat surface into a rounded cup because my fingers always get in the way.  I will master this, and I am so happy you have given me coffee beans today to practice with.  I love putting the cup up high so I can see the beans swirl around as I shake the scooper as hard as I can.  Beans fall out, and I don’t know why.  I better keep doing this until I understand why they do this amazing trick.   Love, Miss O.

Dear Ms. Patty:

I want to know why the beans keep falling out of my scooper when my wrist moves up and down and sideways.  They fall out EVERY TIME! It is so much fun.  I want to do this all morning!  And every time the beans fall down, I really like the sound they make on the shower curtain that is now all wrinkly at my feet.  You told me it sounded like rain drops as you picked up the beans for me to use again.   Love, Miss S.

Dear Ms. Patty:

This is the second day I have enjoyed filling and emptying the big container with coffee beans.  I like to work until the WHOLE container is filled before I knock it off the ledge and the beans fall back into the sensory table….well….most of them.  My favorite part is screaming, “Whoa” every time.  EVERY TIME.  It’s such a fun word to say…..Sometimes I like to use the scoop and sometimes I like to put one bean into the container at a time.  Love, Mr. M

Dear Ms. Patty:

I have never seen a coffee bean before.  I like how they roll down the ramp inside the sensory table.  I like to make them go real fast one at a time.  I enjoyed making a circle of beans around the dinosaurs. I made a dinosaur family and covered them up in beans! Digging them out got a little messy because I was so excited to dig and bury and dig and bury and dig and bury them. Love, Miss I.

I am not THAT teacher.  I will never be THAT teacher.  I am however, THEIR teacher and because of that, I held myself together while they explored and experimented and while beans fell and fell and fell.  Maybe THAT teacher was merely holding herself together too in the midst of learning chaos.  Maybe THAT teacher saw all her students learning and growing and decided that there are times to let messes happen.

Today, I decided that strewn beans here and there were a small chore to pick up in light of all the joy and commotion and learning that was taking place.  Holding myself together was rewarded by tykes who chipped right in and picked every last bean up for THEIR Ms. Patty.  Holding myself together was rewarded by those chubby arms going around my neck as we all fell into a heap on the floor when “Bean Time” was done. Holding myself together was rewarded by head nods and hands clapping and sparkling eyes saying “YES!” when I asked if they had fun.

I will never ever be THAT super cool and awesome teacher who appears to always get everything right every single day.  And that’s fine by me…..I decided today that being THEIR teacher was soooo much cooler and that I have much to learn from my tyke teachers….and I wouldn’t have it any other way…:):):)

Until next time,

Patty

Looking is Different than Seeing

Today is the fourth school closure for severe weather temperatures this month.  I closed the first three but felt that today wasn’t a very good call by the school board.  Two of my tykes are here today and I have set out some new things to explore and then stepped back to SEE these two guys in action.  It’s a pretty simple concept…..looking and seeing….but they are very different….

Typically my eyes are dashing here and there and assessing the probability that the chair Miss S. is  rocking will or will not fall, if Miss O. really has long enough legs to navigate herself up onto our observation deck, or if I can ever really calculate the odds of whether or not Mr. M is going to throw (insert any and every object) and how far or who it will impact….I am looking all the time…

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I am not, however, seeing.  Today I spied my delicious Mr. M putting objects to his face…again….He does this with everything.  I’ve looked at this behavior as I rush around looking to make sure all tykes are happy, safe, and breathing.  I have looked at this scenario so very often, but today, because I was able to really just observe, I saw the behavior and everything clicked in my brain.

He is gauging temperature and texture of random objects using his soft cheeks.  I was awestruck as I watched him keep one rock at his cheek and then put a “fresh” rock up to that same spot.  He knew they felt different and knew that his cheek somehow held the magic to change a cold rock into a warm rock.  He’s twenty-two months and is testing and retesting an unspoken hypothesis…

Today he wanted to know more, so he brought me the rocks and put one to my cheek.  Because I was “seeing” and not just “looking”, his request became a teachable moment and not just a language lesson of “rock….rock….it’s a rock…”.  Today, I shivered when he put the cold rock on my check and said, “Brrrr….cold…..The rock is cold.”  He held it to my check until it was warm and then put the warmed rock on his own cheek.  I added, “Ahhh..warm….The rock is warm.”  His little green/grey eyes lit up.  He began to mouth the word “cold” over and over again……

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By really seeing and not merely looking today, Mr. M was given the next piece of information he was seeking on his temperature hypothesis quest.  This is how we learn.  We add one piece of the puzzle to our question at a time….

So now, in the quietness of nap time, I am thinking about what materials I can bring in to add to Mr. M’s desire to explore temperature changes and textures.  This is what being a teacher is all about…..taking that precious treasure’s question, even if it is not audible, and helping them bridge the information gap so they can do more and be more and learn more as they gain additional pieces to what they wanting to learn.

I do not like store-bought or prepackaged curriculum for this very reason. The writer has no clue what your students are interested in and if their immediate interests are not developed, they lose interest and the desire to learn deeply and broadly while their interests are so intense and their drive to know more is peaked will also be lost…..

Today I have determined to see…really see what goes on with my tykes and not just be a looker because I am so distracted by the nonstop commotion in our room.  Today I have determined to not SEE, but also DO…..

Tonight I will buy a light bulb for my old desk lamp so Mr. M can safely experience temperature changes from cold to warm using the light from the lamp.  This will also help Miss O to explore shadows that she became so engaged with last week when the winter sun finally shone from behind those thick cold clouds…..

Here’s to seeing and doing…..

Until next time,

Patty