About mackrebecca

Artist (sound and visual) and musician at Flying Hen Studio, located in the Old North End of Burlington, Vermont, USA. Transcriber of myth, fact, poetry (Afternoon Preschool Teacher) at Burlington Children's Space.

Shadow Box Stories


At the beginning of the year, we began an exploration of light in all its forms. As we moved through the discovery of transparent, translucent, and opaque materials, experimenting with flashlights and overhead projectors, it wasn’t long before students were working with shadows.

To deepen their understanding of shadows and provide more rich material for their research, we began an author study of Ezra Jack Keats, whose illustrations often have many compelling uses of light. In several books, such as “Dreams” and “The Trip,” light and shadows are an explicit part of the story line.

We spent many weeks in our classroom creating shadow puppets. We played with several silhouettes of characters from the Ezra Jack Keats books and became more and more familiar with the vibrant, interconnected community at the center of many of his books. Students came to love characters like Peter, Susie, Louie, Archie, Amy, and Roberto.

Children collaborated to make five different shadow boxes after Louie built one in “The Trip.” At the same time, we started telling stories together, with each student adding a sentence. We have written many stories together about characters from Ezra Jack Keats books.

We are now preparing to present the culmination of all this learning with an original movie set in our shadow boxes.

Gabrielle Bills, Blue Preschool Teacher: curriculum, text

Rebecca Mack, Atelierista: photos


Art Kitchen

Like working artists all over the world, these preschoolers make use of a scrap of time in the day to practice their skills.

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“Why Not Me? Why Not Us?”


Why Not Me? Why Not Us?
By Natalie Stroud

This year in the Green Preschool we have been reading biographies and writing autobiographies in the classroom. This group of children created the curriculum through their genuine interest in the true stories of remarkable people throughout history. As we all know, preschool aged children love telling stories about themselves, so the leap to writing their own biographies was natural.

We read biographies about artists and architects, dreamers and engineers, fighters and flyers. Each of them added something of substance to the world. Each of them had a story to tell and many of them overcame great obstacles and hardships to achieve their dreams. Through our studies we came to believe that if they could do it, so could we. And that’s what I hope the children would come to believe: why not me too?

We started writing our own biographies to recognize and celebrate the multitude of things that they have already accomplished in their young lives. I often start our one-on-one writing sessions by asking a child to recount a time when they felt proud of themselves or a time when they were brave. With these prompts, I intend to inspire the children to see their accomplishments as important and meaningful. If they can believe that they are capable of greatness now, there is no limit to what they can achieve in a lifetime. We have studied the humble beginnings of some of the world’s greatest leaders, who were all kids once, too. We have learned that even the most amazing people had to start somewhere. So in our class, instead of saying, “I can’t do it,” we say, “I’m learning how,” or “I am learning, but I still need help.” This slight change in the language of our classroom, accompanied by the tales of their accomplishments, helps build positive self-confidence and self-esteem. We assure each child that there is no limit to what they can achieve based on gender, physical characteristics, or their background. We are helping the children build a world around them where everyone has an equal opportunity to make something of themselves.

Why not me? Why not us?
While writing biographies we have also discovered the many similarities we all share. We have found so much joy in unearthing these parallels and talking about them together. For example, we learned that most of the kids in our class were born at the same hospital here in Vermont. We also learned that most of them had no hair when they were babies! And we have learned that every child loves telling stories about their families. Magnifying these shared human experiences has helped us create a feeling of cohesion as a classroom community and helped the children forge deeper feelings of connectedness to other people.
Even though the children may have similar experiences, each biography is a personal anthem that uniquely reflects the child who wrote it. I have learned so much about these children by engaging in this process with them. I learn about the places they visit, the people the love and the activities they enjoy. We are able to see our differences and what makes each person exceptional. With this knowledge, I can connect with each child on a deeper and more personal level. This is one of my favorite parts of my job and it is a vital part of my relationship with each child for both of us. The differences may lay in the way they remember something, or the way they felt about a certain experience or the way they choose to tell their story. I help them hone in on their voice by writing their words verbatim on the page and then reading it back to them. Together we edit the page to look and sound the way they envisioned. This methodical process helps the children develop their personal voice. Learning how to channel their inner voice will help them as they continue to develop as writers and storytellers. Every person, no matter how young, has a story to tell and can be celebrated for what they have in common but can also be appreciated for the things that make them different.
Each biography we read tells us the story of what made that person exceptional and we have attempted some of those talents as we go along. We sketched new inventions like Leonardo da Vinci. We challenged ourselves to stand up for what is right like Sonia Sotomayor. We learned to paint over photographs like Frida Kahlo. We attempted gymnastic feats like Nadia Comaneci. We talked about our dreams for the future like Martin Luther King Jr. We practiced drawing nature like Georgia O’Keefe. We measured our heights in comparison to Michael Jordan. We appreciated the tenacity of Muhammad Ali. We pushed for fairness and equality in our class like Annette Kellermann.

If each of these children continues to bravely tell their story and continues to courageously try new things, there is no limit to what they can achieve in a lifetime of hard work and perseverance. If all of those people could do it, so can we.

Why not me? Why not us?

Found Objects and Dough

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Students in Burlington Children’s Space’s Young Toddler classroom have been collecting objects while walking through our Old North End neighborhood of Burlington, VT. This social practice of collecting began last year when the students were in the Infant Room, and remains a robust facet of their classroom culture. Unlike their older counterparts, who are collecting mostly plant-based materials from the community, these students are attracted to primarily to rocks and wayward bits of paper, metal, and plastic. Yes, street garbage is the toolkit of their research.

Anything found and kept for their collection becomes a tool for manipulating dough in a subsequent classroom encounter. Each tool makes a different mark depending on its composition; the angle and force with which it is manipulated. Marks made and temporary sculptures pave the road to imaginative play as narrative language skills take root in the classroom.

With collected tools and dough, these toddlers invoked:

  • lollipop
  • nothing sandwich
  • puppy food
  • dog
  • cat
  • bird
  • cookie
  • popcorn
  • frosting
  • “I don’t know.”








Ice Sculptures

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During this February’s integrated arts unit on natural materials, I have had to make many curriculum adjustments due to weather. A blizzard preceded our first planned collecting walk, covering all the winter gardens with snow almost as tall as the children themselves! After my initial disappointment at the complication in my plan, I realized we were surrounded by an endless supply of another natural material: snow! Using the plant life we were able to uncover, we packed containers with plants and snow, brought them back into the classroom and finished preparing them with food coloring and water. Some went into the freezer and others back outside to freeze overnight.
Students were fascinated to see that the colors seeped up into the layer of snow which fell on top of the sculptures.  When we took them out of the containers the following day, they observed that some were frozen on the outside and liquid in the inside, and that most of the color seemed to stay in the liquid centers. Students were delighted to melt and break the sculptures with their fingers, noting that their hands were warmer than the ice and snow. They also observed the differences and details in the the ice, that the plants had remained in place, and that some of the colors had mixed and changed. We packed fresh  snow and plant materials back into some of the sculptures and returned them outdoors for further exploration in the afternoon.
This curriculum was significant to me because it celebrated the impermanence of weather, states of matter, plant biology and certain modes of artwork. Impermanence is simultaneously an abstract concept and completely observable; one of my favorite curriculum threads for early education.
Predictably unpredictable: After last week’s success, I planned ice sculptures for this week too. It’s 45 degrees F today, 60 tomorrow and all the snow is melting in to brown puddles. While waiting for winter to return, we continue to investigate and create art with the plant materials we find on our collecting walks. Meanwhile, the students are thoroughly enjoying the mud puddles.

-Katlyn Bullis, Early Education Teacher: photographs
-Rebecca Mack, Atelierista: words





Tree Cookie Sculptures

We created these sculptures using tree cookies, nails and screws, beads and colored wire. The children were given the opportunity to use real tools during this project. By trusting children to use real hammers, nails, screws and screwdrivers we showed them that we believe they are capable human beings. During the process they learned that they were really capable of handling those challenging and heavy tools. They worked meticulously and carefully while I held the nails and screws steady for them. It was a lesson in trust for me and my fingers only got smushed a couple times! During the process we also learned technical terminology related to the tools we were using. Your kids probably know how to identify a flat head and a Phillips-head screwdriver now! Plus, there was a certain level of hand eye coordination required to hit the head of the nail properly and with enough force to drive it into the hard wood. The children were up for the challenge and mastered the process with ease and enthusiasm. After the nails and screws were securely in place the kids chose from an array of colored wire and beads to decorate their sculptures. This part of the process required fine motor coordination to string the beads on the wire and wrap the wire around the nails. Each child was encouraged to freely express their own creativity for this part of the project. The completed three-dimensional art pieces are here for you to enjoy!
-Natalie Stroud: curriculum, written documentation. Rebecca Mack, photographs.