Shadow Box Stories

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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

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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?

Graffiti Tuesdays, continued

We’re off to a strong start this fall, with many new preschoolers in our classroom and new energy for the graffiti curriculum started last spring. As with most curriculum threads, materials have been our entry point to a complex subject. We are working with two large graffiti boards attached to the walls of our classrooms, with permanent markers, chalk markers, and stickers. At the afternoon writing table we are working out letterforms and exploring positive and negative space with opaque chinese ink and various weights of white paper. Using these materials we can explore the relationship between graffiti and calligraphy, a discipline we have followed for three years in this classroom. Iraqi calligrapher,

Hassan Massody, has been an inspiration in bridging the traditional divide between these lettering arts.

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Happy Writing, everyone.

-Blue Preschool

 

 

Graffiti Tuesdays

Across the span of human history, making marks and signs through scratching or inking surfaces has put individuals into context in their environments. For many young people, their own names are the first words they learn to write. We spent Tuesday afternoons this summer marking surfaces and inscribing names in an exploration of the art of graffiti.

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Graffiti, in the contexts of contemporary street art and hip-hop culture, exhibits the necessity of human expression, the sharing of ideas against all odds, and the immense creativity and artistic skill used to wield materials in the street. In that it is impermanent and can be dangerous or even illegal, it reminds us of the lengths to which humans will go to express themselves, to claim a place as their own.

There were obvious challenges to creating hands-on experiences with traditional graffiti methods and materials, but with a focus on inscribing names on surfaces, we made our marks. Using books and documentary photographs from my own archive, we broadened the context to consider some of those off-limits materials and venues. I hope to have shared the deep inspiration I take from this art-against-all-odds and perhaps to have fueled the future of claiming space with names and beautiful letters.

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