The Power of Self Love

This week I had to transfer all of our work on “Self-Love and Self-Observation”
into a bigger binder. That is a good sign. The children have genuinely latched onto the
concept I hoped to drive home: it is important to know what we are capable of and just as important to love ourselves for it. Also, as always, the children led me down some
unexpected avenues. It turns out our extensive work on learning to love ourselves has led us to love each other more, too.

One of my favorite art projects to begin each year with is self-portraiture. It is an
introductory project that helps preschoolers see themselves as a unique individual within a larger community. This is especially important for children as they enter school and a group care setting. Children start to develop an identity during their earliest years and a positive and accurate self-image is crucial for having positive self-esteem in the future. I encourage the children to be as objective or “scientific” as they can while they do their self-portrait. For example, I instruct them to look into the mirror and try to find colors that accurately match what they observe. Of course, some students still draw themselves with pink hair or a butterfly face tattoo, but it’s a start. And on a more practical level, self-portraits introduce children to my personal style and philosophy for guiding art-based curriculum. I acquaint children with a number of special art materials (permanent skin tone markers, sharpies, skin tone graphite pencils and multiracial crayons) in an intimate small group setting.

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The children are welcome to use these art supplies freely during our more focused
groups. In my experience, providing children with fresh, beautiful art supplies in a quiet
setting helps them produce meaningful art. After familiarizing children with the process of self-observations through self-portraiture, we began our next project. An elementary school teacher, Wendy Ewald, created a project called “The Best Part of Me,” which I adapted for a preschool classroom. In this project the children took the next step in self-awareness. Not only did they need to objectively know what their bodies can do, but subjectively know what they loved most about their bodies. Once again, the children made astute observations about themselves and expressed their observations through poetry. This is no small feat for three, four and five year olds. The children were thoughtful, positive and witty while choosing and writing about the best part of themselves. Our daily practice of positive self talk and writing in our “Self-Love” binder had paid off in abundance. At this point, I personally started to think about how we could bring this love and positivity outside each individual. I foresaw the possible downside to our singular focus on the self. Would I be encouraging these children to be self-centered? To not notice each other’s strengths? To not care about each other? So part of our “Best Part of Me” challenge was to let a friend photograph their “best part.” During the photography process, the children asked each other questions about how they wanted the final photograph to look and often gave advice on how best to showcase their body part.

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The collaboration and positivity made me sigh in relief. I had not yet created tiny
self-absorbed humans. On the contrary, I discovered that this group of children cares
deeply for each other and truly does notice the special things about each other. That is the juicy stuff that keeps me teaching; that is empathy. Unfortunately, humans are not born with empathy. It is something that begins to develop around preschool age and it does not always come easily. But this group of children does not shy away from a good challenge, so I put their care for each other to the test one more time. I assigned each child a peer to observe and draw. We used the same artistic process as our self-portraits: careful observation, objective and non-judgmental language followed by detailed drawings. We spent focused time in small groups, matching each other’s skin tone, eye color and hair color to the color palettes I made from our relevant art supplies.

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We participated in collaborative discussions when there were disagreements or
questions about colors. We celebrated the fact that some of us had the same colors. We
celebrated when we did not. These small groups were completely void of judgment and
full of empathy, love and kindness. We are not perfect. But if we take time to look back at how far we have come, it is truly an extraordinary sight. I honestly believe that building positive self-esteem now will be an indispensable asset to these children later on. I believe they will be the next generation of change makers and positive leaders in our world. It has become clear that loving ourselves unconditionally frees up a lot of brainpower to love each other, too. I wish I had realized this a lot sooner, but it is never too late to start practicing. This love is clear in the portraits children drew of their friends, each labeled with their friend’s name painstakingly written with care.

 

Curriculum and writing by Natalie Stroud in the Green Preschool

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“Why Not Me? Why Not Us?”

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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?