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

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

Raw material, mature material.

How do infants use paper as a raw material? They use it for play, for tactile experience, for making sound, for hiding, for hugging, for sharing, for large movements and small ones too.


Infants enjoy exploring paper’s relationship to motion, to wind, and to other people.

The Burlington Children’s Space Infant Room has partnered with atelierista, Rebecca Mack, for a long-term paper arts residency exploring the ways infants use paper as a raw material. Our first work has focused on crumpling and creasing large sheets of white paper. Our process begins with a dry sheet of drawing paper and a lot of play.


Our play process marks with paper with creases over time, turning something crisp, smooth and loud into something soft, supple and quiet. The paper becomes a familiar part of the classroom as it changes from being a raw material to being a mature material.