Monday, 23 January 2017


 There are few trees more iconic that the graceful weeping willow tree. It is immortalized in art, poetry and music, used to symbolize emotion (longing, grief) and ideals (strength in flexibility). It has long been a symbol of survival: unlike the mighty oak which may snap in two in a windstorm, the weeping willow bends, yields and thus remains unbroken.

 For me, the weeping willow has more personal meaning, tied to early memories. When I was three years old, my family moved to the property my parents live still. It was one of many ten-acre plots, once part of a larger farm that spread a few concessions long. Most of the mature trees were found along the fence rows: a huge cherry on the south fence where a snowy owl once perched when I was a kid, maples along the east, a grand old pine near the road, and a number of old apple trees. The house my parents helped design was build in the middle of the property, high up on a hill overlooking the road and facing west with a fantastic view of sunsets (before the trees grew in and obscured much of the view). My parents had a pond dug on the land down below the house, where a creek and plentiful, fragrant balm of gilead trees alerted us to water. I spent summers swimming in that goldfish-filled pond, and winters skating on it. Over the next few years we planted some 2000 trees, so that a forest now spreads on three sides of the house. When I walk the trails through those woods, I often spot evidence of wildlife who share the space: turkeys, deer, rabbits, songbirds and raptors, mushrooms and flowering plants. What stands out, though, is the magnificent weeping willow that droops over the pond. My mom stuck a willow switch in the ground after the pond was dug out, marking the spot where she wished to plant a tree. Being a willow, it quickly rooted and my mom's wish came true, with no more work needed. Every summer from that tree, the red-wing blackbirds scolded us and kingfishers dazzled us with their acrobatic fishing skills. We hid beneath the drooping boughs, swung from the thicker branches like Tarzan on vines, and used the fallen switches for bending bracelets or weaving. It was, and is, a most beloved tree.

The trailing boughs of one of many weeping willows that line a lakefront park nearby. This beautiful tree is so ubiquitous, it's hard to imagine a time when they weren't growing everywhere in Ontario.

I don't know how it was that I came across the story of how the famous willow first arrived in England. There are various versions of the story, all differing with regards to who brought the original tree, but all placing the arrival of the tree in the range of 1730-1740. If I'd read the particular fact of its origin another year, perhaps, it wouldn't have meant anything to me. But this year, with so many news stories showing the terrifying attacks and the destruction of the beautiful ancient city of Aleppo, now this resonated. The very symbol of survival came to us from a place now struggling to stay alive...
 Early Chinese cultivar selections include the original weeping willow, Salix babylonica 'Pendula', in which the branches and twigs are strongly pendulous, which was presumably spread along ancient trade routes. These distinctive trees were subsequently introduced into England from Aleppo in northern Syria in 1730. (source)

Many moments and memories tangled when I first thought to write this story. It was a powerful metaphor that struck me: the history of one of our most iconic trees was tied to the silk road and the very area of the world that many of our refugee students and their families had recently fled. I thought about the ugly backlash some communities saw when even small numbers of newcomers moved into the neighbourhood and the schools. I was grateful to work in a school where the opposite was true: where the community rallied to support our new families with translators, services, orientation sessions and invitations to local events. Our class had been diverse before, with speakers of varieties of Arabic, Urdu, Hindu, Tamil, Vietnamese, Marathi, Mandarin and more. For many years I've used inclusive practices in my teaching, from creating multi-lingual class books each year and using students' languages in our meeting times (while counting, greeting each other) to inviting students to learn about each others' celebrations and traditions that share similarities with their own (such as the use of light in many winter ceremonies). This year, however, it felt necessary to do more, to go beyond sharing our differences. These families had been living through a series of months, even years, "on hold". They were facing challenges greater than most families at our school. Since last winter, our community grew as many newcomers from Syria began to move into the valley around Cooksville Creek. Our school grew by 100+ students who were "uprooted" along with their families, and this year in our class there are five students whose long journeys from Syria have brought them here to Ontario. It was important to me to ensure they felt a sense of belonging in our school. When I read the story of the tree a few months ago, it stuck with me. That Monday back at school, I looked at EA, the first of the newly arrived students to join our class as a junior student last year, back in January. I thought of how far she'd come, and how much she'd grown in the months since her first day. She'd arrived on a very snowy day, and I was grateful for the beautiful weather. We spent quite a long time outdoors that day, introducing her to the joys of playing in the snow with new friends. We explored the snow forts build by older students at recess, and took our sleds to the hill behind the school where we all took turns riding with her or pushing her sled from the top of the hill. We rolled down snowbanks and stomped fresh tracks into the untouched field by the park. It was the perfect way to welcome a student whose language most of us didn't share. I remember her rosy cheeks and brilliant smile on that day.

It didn't take long before she was conversing with us in a mixture of Arabic and English. She taught me many words (including the names for our shared snack foods, but that will be another post). Soon after her arrival, two more students joined us from Syria, and she was an excellent support. She translated for her new friends and her teachers, all while her command of English grew. I was delighted to see her grow in confidence. So the story of the willow was my gift to her. She had drawn a Syrian flag a few weeks before, and it inspired another student to make one as well. It inspired others in class, and resulted in a space on the bulletin board under the banner "Our Flags" where first a few countries were represented (as in the photo below, taken in December) but where now many more flags are shown. She later painted a Canada flag, again from memory (not from looking at a sample, thus the red bars along the top as well as the sides). It was then that I remembered what I'd read about weeping willow trees. I took her to the window and gave her a step stool so she could see the towering tree across the road beside the driveway to our school. I told her how I'd just learned how those amazing trees weren't native to Canada, but instead a transplant from far away. I told her how one of those very trees was brought from Syria to make its new home beautiful, and that she was just like that tree - brought here while small, growing somewhere new to become part of our rich and varied forest. I said that she and her family would make Canada more beautiful too. She didn't say much, then. In the months since that day, however, she has pointed at it, the pale golden giant that blows in the breeze, and asked me to tell her the story again.

EA's Syrian flag, top right, inspired others to make flags representing their families' home countries. I didn't realize at first why the Syrian students drew the flags differently (black with red, green with red) but later discovered that the design is contested and thus several versions are currently in use. EA also painted the flag of Canada, seen at the bottom. An interest in flags continues in class, with more added each week as more students add their own.

EA's story is what caused me to, for the nth time, look at the breadth of tree inquiry in my class over time. Every year we adopt a tree it becomes more meaningful, as younger siblings remember past trees adopted and visited by their older siblings over the summer. The sheer amount of stories tied to these inquiries has kept me from starting to write about them - every time I think I have the beginning or the end, I realize I'm wrong, that there's much more learning involved. It feels like roots, all tangled beneath the soil and purported to amount to more biomass than the huge tree above the ground. So I won't attempt to pull it all up, untangle and make sense of it. Well, maybe just a bit of it.

Over the five years I've taught at Thornwood PS, the trees have been a part of our curriculum in different ways. We have adopted trees, studying them daily, noting the amazing changes that occur all through the year. We have explored felled trees beyond the park, posing for pictures and challenging ourselves to balance along their length. We have smelled blossoms and tasted wild apples that grew along the edge of the creek that borders our school beyond the driveway. We have gathered pine cones, acorns, catkins and "shaker" seed pods. We sprouted seeds from a broken seed pod that came from the tree our class adopted last year, and those seedlings now overwinter in my parents' garden until I can take them back to school in the spring. Those seedlings are most important this year, because of the reconstruction project along the creek that resulted in the removal of 100 of small trees, including the apples we watched grow every year. Those students who reveled in the shade of those trees at the end of the year last summer were as stunned as I was to return to school to see them gone. Small, perhaps, in comparison to the loss of whole forests or entire neighbourhoods (as some of my students have witnessed) but a poignant loss none-the-less. In encouraging students to look closely and know their local environment, I hope to grow a pedagogy of place: an ever-deepening connection to the life overhead and underfoot.

A view of the no-mow zone at the beginning of fall. A group of students carry clipboards as we go for a walk one day two years ago, gathering images and samples (bark rubbings, leaves, needles, acorns) for our list of favourite local trees. We narrowed the list down to ten for closer inspection and research before finally choosing our tree to adopt for the year.

A student reaches to grab the apple and bring it close to smell. This tree was a favourite to visit in spring because of its fragrant, showy blossoms, but only a few fruit grew to ripen. We managed to pick one apple that we washed and tasted that day a few years ago.

A question first, to inspire us to look closely at the trees in our area. This was fall last year. In the middle-left is pictured the path on the opposite side of the creek (our school is on the left, out of view). This path is now off-limits while the creek is revitalized. The pictures around it represent trees that still stand, on the far side of the path or in the park. We hope to visit them again before the end of the year, if the pedestrian bridge is reopened by then.

A deep connection made to the maple trees in our nearby park.

One of our proud "tree experts" hard at work last summer, identifying trees all around our adopted tree that he had identified back in the fall. He had delighted me by proving me wrong: I'd guessed black locust, but he was correct in calling it a honey locust. Back in the fall we gathered hundreds of curly seed pods under our tree, using them as shakers, ornaments, and additions to our loose parts creations. 

These seeds, gathered last April from a broken pod beneath our locust tree and lovingly carried all the way back to class by TC in a large acorn cap, were later planted by T when the rest of the class planted green beans as a part of a gardening project. To our surprise and delight, her tree seeds sprouted and grew.

TC's seedlings growing tall, in June. She left them at school on the last day, and I couldn't bring myself to leave them to die. I brought them home and transplanted them. In spring we will see if they've survived winter, and perhaps find a place to plant them on or around the school grounds.

Eco-literacy: students were concerned about these markings showing up on many trees in the area along the creek. We tweeted several experts and did a little research to reveal that different regions use different markings, but that most likely this tree was marked as "healthy, do no cut", while those marked with orange were to be removed. Their concern was for individual trees, for we didn't yet know the extent of the project that would soon fence off our creek and result in wide-spread removal.

A view of the no-mow zone last June. Behind the trees is Cooksville Creek, then a concrete-bottom waterway prone to flooding the field and our school. Little did we know that these few last weeks of school would be the last time we would enjoy this lively green wall that hid the water and houses on the other side.

Our last month of school last June was spent exploring the rich life of summer outdoors. We noticed the fence spring up in the yard, cutting us off from the trees and dividing our no-mow zone in half. None of us imagined that we'd soon see right across the creek.

It's hard to reconcile this view with the photo above, but this was taken a few months later just beyond the no-mow zone, looking across the expanse where there was once a creek (now running through the black pipe beside the fence) and trees sloping down on both sides. We were watching the bulldozer push a bundle of uprooted trees while listening to the rush of the water in the pipe.

Another angle, looking further along the creek near the park. We spoke to friendly workers who gladly explained what they were doing, but it was difficult for the students to see how this big mess was actually going to make the creek a healthier one. We look forward to the reconstructed, naturalized creek banks and the eventual reopening of the path we used to take when we visited our favourite trees.

One student's illustration of the work we saw as we watched the heavy machinery and hard-hatted workers one day. This picture is one of many that help explain children's thinking about our creek inquiry, an ongoing exploration of water, the creatures we once saw living in the creek, and the need to take care of our earth. That story will be another post, as it continues to grow in our class.

A group of us went for a walk while the rest of the class played back in our yard. We had stopped to watch the machinery rumble by us, then found a pile of discarded branches that we on our side of the fence. It was a memory of past trips for senior students who recalled the deep shade and places to hide that once existed here, at the edge of the park. For junior students who had no such memories, it was simply a time to explore and enjoy collaboration while we attempted to make an impromptu fort. EA was in the group, happily tossing leaves in the air and gathering sticks and branches for building. It seems poetic now, looking at this photo: the landscape changing but new life growing all around. We will continue to visit as we can, and watch for signs of new life.

 I think of how much the land around the school has been a part of our learning, and how the stories of our adventures on the grounds help students feel ownership over the place. It is my hope that it leads to lifelong stewardship, no matter where they go. I looked over the years of #treeinquiry in our class, and saw it had a greater impact than I had realized. This fall, when I saw the size of the project underway to solve the flooding of our valley, I reached out to a few local experts to see if they would be willing to come and speak to my class about what was happening with the creek and the surrounding wildlife. We had an initial response with a contact name, and hope to follow up with a visit in spring. While creek inquiry continues this year, I couldn't help but notice how much the connection to our local trees has impacted students in all of my classes, from those early half-day years, to the last three full-day classes shared with a teaching partner. Here are a few memories from the last few years. The first image is particularly poignant as it shows the area that is now fenced and bare (very close to where the "danger" sign in the photo above).

 A little history is helpful to understand the next few tweets: while the PM class had adopted the apple tree pictured above, the AM class had chosen the large silver maple right at the front steps of the school. During the winter break we were struck by a massive ice storm which caused widespread power outages and damage to trees. I went to school on the break to visit, concerned that our trees had been broken like so many others around us. After sharing the good news below, I was touched to receive a tweet from the family of one of my students, who'd asked her father to check on our tree as well. I knew then that she would be a caring steward of the world around her. Though she's since moved to a new school, I wonder if she remembers those trips to visit her tree.

A nearly-hidden egret (the large white heron) flies over the shallow water of Etobicoke Creek. I think I startled it when I came close to the edge of the water. This quote speaks to me of the learning we gain slowly by observing, as opposed to those lightbulb "aha" moments of discovery. Both ways of learning are important, and will help us understand our world. To know a tree, to see something grow that will live long beyond our years, is to learn our place in nature.

My mom didn't have any photos of us playing in the willow tree, but my grandmother passed down many photos from my summers spent visiting her in Timmins. My grandmother is no longer alive and the house was sold long ago, but I remember eating many things from the garden that grew in the back, behind the birch, and I remember the sound of ravens in the forest further beyond. I wonder what memories my students will have of living and growing with trees.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

documentation - who is it for?

The sign that greeted visitors to the Artists at the Centre 15th (and final) Annual Exhibit this spring.

The transparent sign above is a beautiful visual metaphor for documentation: how we leave traces of our thinking matters, we must take into account the different perspectives those reading our documentation will have. It struck me at once as both subtle and powerful. The exhibit beyond the sign was a magnificent example of pedagogical listening on the part of the educators and artists in the project - each moment or time period lovingly captured and presented with the utmost respect and admiration for these capable children. There was no photography permitted at the exhibit, out of respect for those children whose works and likenesses were displayed there. I went this year, like last year, with my teaching partner and treasured friend Pooneh (who I am sad to say has since moved on to help start a new class in our school). We chatted about the projects we saw, several times finding extensions we could bring back for ongoing inquiries in our class. Mostly, however, we were just struck by the quality of the documentation, and the learning depicted. I left feeling so uplifted, so inspired by the vision of such rich learning by children from infancy through what we call "early years", I was sad to see this wonderful project come to an end. I am grateful that similar stories, overlapping the Artists at the Centre project within Mohawk College's "Together for Families" project, are shared in the book below. It presents the inherent brilliance of children as beautifully as any documentation I have seen.

My favourite book to pick up for a little lift - gorgeous documentation of capable learners at work.

Part of my learning journey in the last few years has involved trying to balance the expectations from outside the classroom: parents, older grade teachers, principals and many others have ideas of what should be happening in a kindergarten class, though firstly and ultimately it is the Ministry of Ontario document and reporting guidelines that we need to keep in mind. On the other side of the scale, my own learning journey, my research and collaborations with other Reggio-Inspired educators, which leads me towards uplifting the students' voices and celebrating the "hundred languages" of children. Carlina Rinaldi, in the two following quotes, captures those values I've been trying to cultivate.

The school has both the right and the duty to make this culture of childhood visible to the society as a whole, in order to provoke exchange and discussion. Sharing documentation is a true act of democratic participation.

Documentation is not about what we do, but what we are searching for. ~ Carlina Rinaldi 

Building "body balance" challenge structures have been a part of our classroom for years now, as older students pass this idea on to their younger classmates. What fascinates me is the way the play evolves, and how I see different aspects in each photo. This picture, from this year, shows a careful placement of shoes in a special "shelf" placed there for that purpose. None of these current students were a part of the inquiry in which our class tweeted another about our body balance structures (that story from 2013-2014 in this post), thus none of them know it was an idea we got from photos we received from that other class, in which they labeled "start", "stop", and "shoes here".

I have been thinking a great deal about documentation, both more recently at the end of the school year as I worked my way through reporting for the year-end summary of progress, and more generally over the year, as documentation became one of the dominant lenses by which I view my practice. It is something I've been fascinated with, along with the culture of a classroom around the view of the child as curious, capable and co-constructors of knowledge, since first delving deeper into my own Reggio-Inspired journey. It came to the foreground when I went to a provocative gathering of minds; documentation as relationship: BECS Conference 2015 where we were encouraged to question our understandings and beliefs about documentation and our roles as teacher-researchers. I started a series of posts about documentation, exploring my own thoughts, and also sharing those of inspiring friends who were with me on this journey, whether near or far.

When I first thought about the idea of looking at documentation as a thing unto itself, I struggled to capture the image of what it was I was trying to share, making it difficult to put into words what I was asking for when I pitched the idea to prospective featured guests. I knew I was approaching educators whose documentation highlighted student voice, a clear image of the child, a positive view of negotiating difficult topics, or simply beautiful storytelling that illustrated the brilliance of children. I am grateful for their examples and their leap of faith to join in the conversation. As I said then:

...they all managed to clearly convey in their documentation an idea that I'd been grappling with for ages. They each created work that I immediately connected with as the exemplar for the concept I'd been chatting about in ReggioPLC discussions, or reading about in various publications. Ideas that were deeply meaningful to me at this point in my journey - risky play, the view of the child as capable, inquiry as a moment or a process, documentation as shared ownership of storytelling, inquiry as a process fraught with doubt - all ideas that suddenly had a link, for me, to these inspiring educators. (from "making learning visible...", July 2015)

As I wrote that post introducing the series, it came to me ("aha!") that there wasn't an image in my mind, but a great jumble of images and sense memories.
That aha was this: pedagogical documentation is not one "thing", it is both the process and the product born out of the relationships between materials, learners, and method of documentation. The aha was that I still didn't have a big picture, though I had many pieces giving me a wider view of what I was looking at. In fact, there would never be a big picture, not an accurate one, when the ongoing process meant the view was always changing. Lastly, I realized that what made me reach out to these educators was exactly what had made me reach out to Tessa over a year ago to ask for her view of the teaching partner relationship (taken from my intro to her post):

There is something about the way we share a view of children (as infinitely capable, curious, fascinating) and teaching (as a wondrous journey, forever deepening and growing out into our lives) that creates real friends through the ether. (from "looking for the big picture", July 2015)

Two girls offer their hands to support a third student who was apprehensive to try their balance challenge. I showed the three girls the photo later that day; they all connected to times they needed help and times they were able to offer help, and spoke about pride in being capable, "strong" and "big enough". I shared this photo on our class twitter as an example for our families of the strong social skills that develop within a play-based Kindergarten classroom.

Last year in spring, my teaching partner Pooneh and I spent a wonderful day in the Hamilton area, first visiting the annual exhibit by "Artists at the Centre", then a relaxed afternoon sipping tea in her shady backyard in what I have come to think of as "waterfall country".  We were both so inspired by the depth of learning shared in the beautiful documentation at the exhibit. We felt so uplifted by the image of the child that shone through in all of the documentation, and it helped set the intention to further study our own practice in the future.

We talked about our own class (then winding down after our first year as teaching partners in a just-transitioned full-day Kindergarten class), and our hopes and dreams for the year to come. I was already planning a trip to Boston to visit Wheelock College, where the next "Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child" conference was being held at the Hawkins Exhibit opening weekend. My love of Frances and David Hawkins's work overlaps greatly with the ideas I was seeking out in my documentation study: the child as agent in learning through collaboration with others (teachers and children alike) and with materials. I wanted to reflect this, especially the big ideas unfolding through collaborative inquiry play, and mentioned to Pooneh I was interesting in trying something I had wanted to do for a few years - a year-long growing display of documentation, chosen in negotiation with students, highlighting their favourite moments each month. She agreed, saying something like "give it a go." Like the class twitter I started a few years before, I had one idea in mind but quickly saw it change and grow as a small group of interested students took more ownership of the content and messages shared. In the photo below, the "year of learning" wall is behind Pooneh and I, filled only up to March (the April documentation was chosen, printed, and awaiting student additions such as titles or observations). The artwork on the right was hung for our guests at the Open House; we were displaying works featuring "colours of emotions" while the next months were empty. By June the entire board was filled with photos, drawings, typed conversations and student writing. After our last day of school, I took everything down and assembled it into a large book for next year's families and students (new and returning seniors) to flip through.

My hope for the "Our Learning Over the Year" wall (title chosen by students) was to create something that would communicate shared experiences and values, but also that it would be meaningful to the children in the class, not just display for the adults. I worried, somewhat, that some voices might not get shared in this project, and it helped me remember to go and seek out those whose learning was "less visible" to me or my partner when we reviewed our notes and photos.

Both children and adults need to feel active and important — to be rewarded by their own efforts, their own intelligences, their own activity and energy. When a child feels these things are valued, they become a fountain of strength for him. He feels the joy of working with adults who value his work and this is one of the bases for learning. Loris Malaguzzi, Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins

 The following collage was the result of one such "close listening" moment I spent with a few students. While we encouraged larger group conversations by taking images and words overheard (anecdotals captured on clipboards) back to a group meeting to share, there were many more little moments or individual inquiries that told the learning story of certain students. These stories that students weren't always interested in sharing with their class, often they were happy to share on our class twitter, knowing they would be able to show their families at home.

In thinking about the "Our Learning..." wall as it grew, as I spoke to children at meetings and during play, I was influenced by my hope of hearing and amplifying all the voices within our large, diverse classroom. Two quotes helped ground me in this effort; shared below.

Children are competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential. They grow up in families with diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. Every child should feel that he or she belongs, is a valuable contributor to his or her surroundings, and deserves the opportunity to succeed. When we recognize children as capable and curious, we are more likely to deliver programs and services that value and build on their strengths and abilities. p.6, How Does Learning Happen?

In creating the documentation wall, I worried often if it was really "theirs". I had hoped that, like the class twitter I created but quickly found others interested in using to send messages, that this space would be meaningful to students. I didn't see much ownership, originally. I would come to meeting at the end of the month (or beginning, if a weekend intervened) and ask students if they had any ideas to share about their last month together. If few ideas came up, I would scroll back through photos and share a few on the screen, prompting conversations. Some students wanted to draw or write their stories, but I wondered if there would be enough to capture some of the bigger moments: the aha's, the break-throughs, and so I'd carefully select images to show to see if those would spark connections to other ideas shared. I had hoped to tie together big threads when I suspected a project might emerge, but I was reluctant to do so if it wasn't coming from the students first. So I armed myself with questions, photos, and my notes, and asked each month what we might share on our learning wall.

Over the year I noticed changes; some months had many drawings, other months none. Some projects faded away one month (though it continued in class) and came back into view in later months. I wondered many times if it was truly meaningful to our students, beyond the point at which we co-created it. Was it just a display for visitors? Was it alive when being created, then dying on the wall?

Then I witnessed several moments when students interacted with the documentation on the walls (as opposed to the much more popular project books or our twitter), and I realized I had to see the project through to the end of the year. I saw students seek out images of other students who'd moved away over the year (in our class we lost and gained many students this year, more than usual even for our high-transition neighbourhood). I witnessed new students ask their classmates about documentation they weren't present for. A particularly moving incident occurred when one of our new students from Syria hopped up on the counter to point out students in the photos. She had been a watchful participant for a few months, very happy to participate and demonstrate her understanding through gesture, drawing, facial expressions and few words. This day she confidently pointed and named everyone she recognized, and asked the other girl to name those students who were no longer in our class.

These examples I shared are ones I feel proud of, moments that I can look to and see evidence of our message about children's learning to families and other adults who view the documentation. (the last tweet was captured and shared by Pooneh; note the students with clipboards, one with the plans used to create the structure, the other documenting the participants in action).

I was struck by a thought that occurred to me as I took in all the stories at the Making Thinking Visible exhibit: "The power of being seen and heard - our documentation carries weight". I wondered about our class, about students who felt heard and seen, and those who might not. I struggle to find ways to capture and share the moments of breakthrough in students whose starting place was very different from the majority of their peers - those students for whom spoken language (English or other) is not part of their expression, for whom we must listen and watch much more carefully in order to understand them and take their needs and wants into account.

Documentation can serve to illuminate the thinking, a change in thinking that occurred, what was learned or not learned, the evolution of the behaviour  questioning, maturity, responses, and opinions." - Wurm, 2005

Over the year as I reflected on the documentation we shared on our learning journey wall, as well as the copious notes and photos I used for more individual assessment and planning, I felt at some moments that I wasn't measuring up to the goals I had set myself. I was cognizant of differences in attention and relationship, and though it is natural that in a room with two main educators that students would gravitate more towards one or the other, I still sought out those students we might be missing. It wasn't an easy task in a year with such changes - six students moved in after January, and none of those had been to school in Canada before our class. We were always forging new relationships, following new inquiries, capturing clarity and confusion in our large and busy class. I looked to others who were also struggling with these aspects of documentation, reading blogs and articles and participating in #ReggioPLC chats.

I appreciated "The Dangers of Documentation: Ensuring Equity in Your Work"for Joel Seaman's thoughtful look into how students might get overlooked in the larger sharing of documentation with the learning community including families. I especially appreciated his caution not to feel implicated, because this work is difficult and new, and we are all learning as we try to create our new habits of mind around this important part of our role in the classroom. Reflecting upon one's practice is at times painful though it is entirely necessary.

We need to be advocates for the plethora of authentic learning moments that occur, even while others may just see "play". Without documentation, these brilliant moments pass by and are completely lost.
As you look over your documentation, ask yourself - "What is being documented?" "Who is being documented?", and "Why is this being documented?". (Joel, The Dangers of Documentation...")

It was difficult to read and not immediately think about those whose stories were told quietly (to family only) or privately (in small group) for respect for privacy, or fear of being misunderstood (when the growth was enormous but not easy to share with respect to dignity, such as a success in toileting or a newly mastered form of expression). I loved the post and yet felt uneasy, always wanting every child in our class felt honoured, heard, and loved, and not always knowing how to do so with shared documentation. It is a conversation I hope to keep going, as I learn more about teaching and learning along with students with special rights.

This post by Allie Pasquier stopped me in my tracks when I read it, though, and I realized how being hard on myself wasn't a way forward. I so appreciate her honesty.
Are we giving ourselves enough time to understand what is happening in a group or in our center?  How do we get under the surface more often?
Working with children is a creative process, and it takes an incredible amount of time and energy - much more than we are paid for.  The reward is in the moments when you solve a problem, when you feel you have grasped an idea, when you have stories to share with children, colleagues, families, and the community about the work that is happening in your space.  There is no exact formula for early childhood education, and I hope we never find one. As educators, we can’t be perfectionists.  Every child is different, every group of children, every school, every community.  As professionals, all we can do is practice, reflect, and practice again.  Let’s try to fight those feelings of inadequacy that we all have by doing something to make our teaching practice our own - not someone else's. (Allie Pasquier, "It's not about the branch")

Outside the Artists at the Centre exhibit and where our last group meeting was held.

Perhaps the biggest part of my learning journey, not in terms of time but indeed in terms of the impact it has on my thinking, is the Documentation Study Group meetings: "(A) group of educators and artists in Hamilton has made a commitment to meet monthly for in-depth discussion of the Reggio philosophy, and collaborative reflection on documentation." Our final meeting of the school year took place beside the "Making Thinking Visible" exhibit. We all had an opportunity to wander and take in the documentation before we sat down to share ideas. As mentioned earlier, there was no photography permitted of the work, however there was a handout provided to visitors explaining the project.
This is not an art exhibit. These works are significant because they show us images of what the children are thinking and how they are making sense of the world. They show us how adults and children can think and learn together. The show us that non-verbal languages reveal thoughts and feelings that, once expressed, provoke further thought and expression. They also challenge us to reconsider our view of children's capabilities. We see evidence every day that children are born ready to enter into relationship, engage in interaction, form theories, explore and learn from everything the environment and their imagination brings to them, and to do it all joyfully.
Documentation helps us see the intent and process as well as the impact of adults and children collaborating. It gives visibility to our learning, and offers others theories for consideration. ~Karen Callaghan, Project Co-ordinator, in the "Making Thinking Visible" handout shared at the exhibit.
This passage helps illustrate the importance of sharing our work, but also of getting it right. An idea we discussed that evening was that it is an intensely personal thing we do, putting kids' work in public to be viewed and critiqued. We didn't all agree on the best way to do so (some of us much less comfortable sharing identifying features and names of children, others of us seeing it as the way to honour the children best) but it was a wonderful conversation in which we all agreed we would want every child to be able to look back upon their work (as the children visiting the exhibit had done early that month) and feel pride. We referenced the Hamilton’s Renewed Charter of Rights of Children and Youth, which we had delved into more deeply at an early meeting. I recall I burst into tears, thinking about how powerfully we can harm a child or lift them up, with what we share when making the learning visible. It is a sacred trust we have, taking children into the world and opening their ideas and works to potential misunderstanding. Yes, our duty is to the school, the reporting deadlines and the Kindergarten Program that outlines our program expectations for learners and teachers alike, but while documentation with an assessment lens can highlight the gaps and mistakes in learning, that shared with our larger community ought to take into account a relationship lens.

One particular educator, Tracey Speedie, spoke of this eloquently at our meeting. I think it was her (my notes continued onto another page) who talked about thinking of a student in terms of "his position as a citizen in your class", one with rights and responsibilities and thus our role in ensuring those rights are met and not trampled on is tantamount. She kindly agreed to let me share her words here (paraphrased as I wrote quickly but may have missed a word or two!)
The notion I'm worried about is privacy, and respect. The children are sharing with us who they are - there is no guile, no filter, but their interactions in the moment. They are absolutely authentic with us, when working with materials, when figuring out what's right and what's wrong.
We are right there, seeing a true picture of these children, warts and all. If we document with an assessment lens, as opposed to showing their brilliance... we are breaking their trust. (Tracey Speedie)
My own thinking from this conversation, scrawled in the notebook I lug everywhere, is around the the power of documentation to link students over time, and also the importance (and difficulty) of representing students whose language is not ours (whether spoken or not).
A pedagogy of place - students who have siblings at school, who were in our class before them, they know the stories of the land, they connect to the images and stories we keep in our project books.

For younger students or those not yet using English to communicate, it is upon us to do the work to find the common language in their actions - read them, communicate, amplify their voice as we can.

Next year brings a brand new teaching team (both ECE teaching partner and ERF working with us to support student needs where special rights exist) and a newly-published Kindergarten Document. I look forward to exploring further, through the summer with multiple inspiring visits to the Wonder of Learning exhibit, and in the new school year as our class comes together. I also look forward to reading the new Kindergarten Program, because the glimpses I've had thus far have shown our ministry to be continuing a journey in early years that intertwines with my studies - a view of children as learners that demands we meet their unique needs and skills and allow them to participate in the way they are comfortable.

The new document invites us not just to do some things differently but also to think differently and listen differently. We recognize that it would be unwise to push for quick adoption of new practices. It should take time for understanding to be constructed at a deep level. Quick change in practice would suggest superficial understanding of why and how all the aspects are interrelated. ~ Karyn Callaghan, in Inspired and Inspiring Change in Early Childhood Education in Ontario

I know I have wandered today as I wrote, revisiting many days over the year that have informed my understanding. I leave with some examples of from our class, of learning from and with documentation:

More collaboration in the big building area to create a balance challenge - inspired by our newest Click to see great examples of listening our bodies (balance, stable) to materials, and to each other. 

The following three examples are vine clips, as such I left them as links rather than embed here (which can in some formats result in noisy autoplay). Simply click through to see the links.

These 2 students are carefully listening to their bodies & the blocks to build a stable, safe structure.

KU & ZA saw a ball run from last year (w/ KU in pic) and revised their design accordingly

LA started today. She asked when we go home. ME is reading in Arabic for her, showing what's now, what's next...

Examples of documentation with and about students engaged in play - these glimpses remind me of times when students were deeply invested in telling their stories and sharing them with others.

— Beyond 4walls (@109ThornKs) April 5, 2016

I hope to feature more guests in this series of posts about documentation. If you have questions, comments, or would like to add your voice to the discussion, please let me know with a comment below.

Monday, 1 August 2016

the seven (million) wonders of the world

A photo of one of the kids (my daughter or one of the cousins) from our week with family on Cook's Bay, the shallow southern end of Lake Simcoe quite near where I grew up. A mink family was nesting in the rocks just beside the dock, and we often found evidence of their feasts such as this discarded claw.

While my daughter was happy to hold and examine the claw (as seen in the top photo) she was happy to leave this large crayfish alone to rest, perhaps moulting, in the rocks beside the dock.

I saw this wonderful list today, posted by the National Trust in the UK. It was followed by links to apps to download, all to help families keep track of their activities as they completed the list. It occurred to me that this might have been in response to the now-ubiquitous Pokemon Go game that has kids and adults alike running about outside, trying to gather as many Pokemon as they can and earning points for mileage like a gaming fitbit.

I rather love the list, as I see many items on it I consider "must do" activities with students in class and with my own kids. I laughed to see items such as: No.25 make a grass trumpet which so delighted several students in our class this spring.

In April, after many attempts, one student managed to get a loud sound from her "grass trumpet". She was immensely proud of herself, and patiently taught her friends her strategy (which differed from mine). By the end of the week, we had a band of three. (click here to witness 3 students sharing their new-found noise-making skills).  

It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago, with outdoor education enthusiasts and friends Rob Ridley and Heather McKay. Rob is a treasured mentor of mine, an outdoor educator who gently prods us adults to go further, no matter where we start in our journeys outdoors with children. His visits to our class are a big hit - students who chorus "tweet the Ranger!" whenever we discover something surprising on our walks around the school, well those students greet Rob like a rockstar when he visits. Rob had shared a blog post back in August, 2014 about those priceless moments of childhood spent outside, which with the following invitation:
Go ahead, ask your kids – what do they feel every kid should experience outdoors by a certain age? Let me know! (see post here: Nature Time Before the Age of...)

 Heather did just that, and wrote her own love-letter to learning outdoors, "Where the Wild Things Are". She invited readers to ponder:
What have you been thinking about trying in your life?  Maybe it’s time to take that leap of faith….

Heather's post was particularly meaningful to me, because our families met up for an afternoon during the trip she wrote about. We had met once before, at the Hawkins-Inspired Conference in Ontario, but while it was a playful experience it was in the company of adults. This time, with our families away from home in full vacation mode, we were making discoveries about our children alongside them as we played in tidal pools and enjoyed the vastness of the ocean.

I wrote about my own aha's from that trip, mainly around self-regulation and the development of an environmental awareness that is possible when spending whole days on end outside. I hadn't responded to Rob's and Heather's queries, not in writing, but I had taken notes in my journal from the trip. Today, seeing the National Trust's #50things inspired me to go back, dig up what the kids had said when I asked them for their "must do by 12" submissions.

My daughter (then 7) suggested:
catch (and release) a crab
eat something you helped catch
climb a big tree
see a falling star
watch "shift change" (birds to bats: sundown, when the swifts swoop down into their chimney nests while moments later the bats come out for the night)

My son (then 13) suggested:
swim "au natural" under the stars
tent in a backyard
bike a "sneaky path" (his name for the deer trails and narrow footpaths where a kid can travel unseen even while standing)

My own (2 years ago):
swim in an ocean, a pond, a river, a lake
jump off of a cliff to swim
save a bird (window strike)
call a squirrel or bird out into the open
follow a wild creature for as long as possible without disturbing it (mink, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, rabbit, chipmunk, heron)
Today I add a new fascination of mine, one that has developed over the last few years as I've rediscovered my earlier love of geography:
follow a river or creek as far as possible - discover its headwaters, its mouth, and travel its winding curves through a forest or through urban landscape
 I realize my new submission is a difficult one for younger children, but a wonderful goal to set as a group, such as a family. A few weeks ago, when we spent our time near the southern tip of Lake Simcoe, we talked about what we saw as we watched the sun go down over the bay. The kids now know much more about the larger lake that spreads northwards, our spot being like the fingernail on a large hand, pointing down towards Holland Landing, and wrist meeting Lake Couchiching in Orillia. They felt the cold waves in Kempenfelt Bay when we spent a beach day in Barrie, and compared that to the warm shallows of Cook's Bay where we were staying. We heard a loon call at night, further south than we ever thought a loon would summer. On our way home, we crossed familiar waterways marked on the roads, and sighed when we crested the last hill before home, as Lake Ontario came into view, huge and blue before us.

Getting outdoors together, whether with a class or with family, allows for kids to see things they might not see if playing alone or with friends. Being in wild or near-wild spaces helps us all slow down, notice life of all kinds around us.

Our tent being dismantled on our last day at the lake - obscured from view, the dock and rocks where the mink scampered daily. Click here to see the mink on the move, or here for a friendly visit from various local creatures.
The "full buck moon" seen through binoculars. Photo by my daughter. We stayed out as late as we could each night (mosquitoes being quite good at chasing us indoors or beside the smoky fire) to watch the "shift change" when swallows went to roost and the fast-flapping bats came out.

Sunrise as seen from our tent. Worth waking at 5 AM.

Me replacing a poor little catfish we found on the lawn. I thought it was dead, as I found it some 3 meters from the shore on the grass, but when I picked it up to inspect it, it gave a powerful "flip!" and I nearly dropped it in surprise. We had been watching herons, osprey and terns fishing all week; it was likely one of these fishing birds that dropped its wiggling prey.

A damselfly nymph I caught (or did it catch me? It did follow me while I swam) that was very spooky while swimming, but upon closer inspection became obvious after a blue adult damselfly landed on my arm. The kids were fascinated to discover something completely new. Truth be told, I was too.

As I'm writing, my other open tab alerted me to the fact that someone had replied to my tweet, sharing the #50things list. Heather and Rob were chiming in with new ideas for how to grow and share our lists with others.

Here we are, at summer's half-way mark, and such a lovely long month ahead to try new things. Next week my daughter and I will once again spend a week at Swan Lake with the YRNC for this year's Rhythm of Learning in Nature, and I will compare notes with fellow eductors from Canada and around the world. Won't you add your own "must do" or "must see" ideas here?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

wabi sabi

My daughter and other children climbing on the "best part of the park" after hours of walking through the spectacularly beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. There are beaches, swimming pools and splash pads, winding mountain trails leading to breathtaking views of the ocean. The park is filled with play structures, a fantastic aquarium, and the beaches with waves. This downed tree, however, an artifact of a terrible storm that took down several "grandfather trees", was her favourite when we last visited two years ago. It took a few minutes to capture a photo without a crowd of kids, all ages, hanging from all the branches or scooting along the trunk. Here's another view, complete with crowd.

The softened bricks that once were buildings, then landfill used to create the land that became Colonel Sam Smith Park - they invite visitors to touch, sort, play. Their broken edges, rounded corners, and various colours and sizes make them challenging and fascinating loose parts for building. They are undeniably beautiful, yet seen out of context, might seem broken and useless.

It is a hot, indeed steamy day today as I sit to write. I spent part of the afternoon out on my bike with my daughter, riding up the local ravine through which the Etobicoke Creek flows, sometimes slowly, but today noisily after last night's wild thunderstorm. Everywhere we looked there were signs of the violence of the storm: deep brown, churning water flecked with white foam, downed boughs clogging the creek where it widens down by the lake, smashed flowers and leaves on the footpath, leafy boughs and refuse caught in branches hanging over the creek, evidence of the higher water level carrying flotsam and jetsam high above the banks. We paused awhile in the forest, up past the cascade that today rushed loudly like a waterfall, around the bend where the trees arch over and it feels like the city is far, far away. The rain was long gone, now, and a hazy sunshine beat down through humid air, but when the wind blew it dislodged droplets from the leaves overhead and it rained anew as we took refuge in the shady forest path.

The creek, usually clear, looked brown and frothy after last night's storm. Look closely at the water's edge right above the straw bale (another gift from the storm? It appeared since my last visit days ago) to see the night heron fishing in the cascade. All over this spot, one sees evidence of storms past: cracks in the pavement above, whole sections broken off and washed downstream, chunks snapped and resting precariously like the one on which the straw bale rests. It is a reminder of the power of water, and fragility of structures that seem unbreakable. The cascade is a favourite resting spot for birds and people alike. Click here to see the heron lift off and fly away, after catching a fish.

I am always struck by the beauty of the ravine, though it is not landscaped or kept clean like the beautiful Marie Curtis Park at its very southern end. It is a wild place, but there is evidence of people all around, too: broken glass, plastic bags caught in trees, shopping carts barely visible below the water's surface in the shallows below the first cliff. One hears planes fly overhead, trucks rumble by on nearby roads, distant dogs barking, and occasionally music drifts down from homes high above on the eastern edge of the valley as we ride along the trail.

One of the shale banks on the western side of the creek, where mink scurry, tiny bank swallows swoop in and out of holes in the wall, kingfishers fly noisily by, crayfish hide under rocks, and fish dart about around one's feet. Also here: a shopping cart (under the water, half buried in the silt), broken glass, crushed beer cans, burnt wood from campfires, a torn shirt, vertebrae from some small mammal. The cliff is a visual reminder of the passing of time, the lives that have lived here (especially those encased in the fossils found all along the creek) and the durability of life. The trees cling at marvelous angles, and it is easy to forget that the city exists just beyond these hills.

There is something rather remarkable about an urban ravine, a place that is both wild and also entirely constrained. Back at home, nearby, the city trucks come by and remove the dangerous, the ugly, the roadkill, the garbage. Here in the valley we see it all, and watch it change and sometimes become something beautiful. Downed trees become a bridge to climb on, broken concrete a new challenge to explore. A bloated carcass of a raccoon loses its hair, then its shape, and much later, appears as scattered bones and teeth, often with traces of gnawing or scraping by scavengers.

Our ride today wasn't a long one, as the heat was oppressive and the water too busy to stop and soak our feet at the cascade. I thought of how Cooksville Creek beside our school might look, as it is also prone to flooding after a storm. I wondered if the no-mow zone was again littered with debris from the high water, or if any students were watching the creek gush past under their feet from the bridge beside our school's driveway. Thinking about our tiny, concrete-bounded stream which gurgles past the yard with litter and wildlife alike, I thought of how lucky I was to teach at a school with something wild right beside it. Not perfectly wild, to be sure, but living water nonetheless. It made me think of an idea I'd tucked away last year, a blog post I had started by saving a storify conversation. I've long been attracted by the idea of "wabi sabi" but at the time was beginning to see how it was a part of my teaching practice. So it was last year I left myself the fragment in blue below, along with the photo of the beach glass and ceramics I'd gathered that day. I remember it struck me, as I picked up and turned over each piece I found on that sandy, stony beach, that this favourite pastime of mine was a metaphor for learning and growing, the way one turns over ideas, tosses back those that no longer make sense (and on the beach, that I always toss back the rough, too sharp pieces which need more time in the waves) and makes room for new ideas. Left in draft so long ago, now when I came to revisit I know I've forgetten many of the ideas that circulated when I left these traces. New events touched on old ideas and they became changed, grew a part of how I understood the challenges I faced over the year: saying goodbye to our beloved cat after fourteen years; seeing our class grow, shrink, and grow again as students moved away and others took their place; welcoming students whose families had fled Syria and learning so much about resilience as we played together, grieving for my uncle who passed this year but learning to appreciate him so much more as I listened to his stories from friends and family at his memorial; losing my teaching partner at the end of this year as she moved on to help open a new class. Naturally I look at the handful of glass now and see with different eyes. But my understanding of what is beautiful, what is worthwhile sharing with students and families, and what is worth celebrating... that only grows. My understanding of what matters, and how learning happens, has grown tremendously.

the convo that led to a new understanding...

Finding beauty at the beach - pondering the beautiful colours and mysterious origins of the treasures I found this week at the water's edge.

I know the beach glass represented, as it does for me still, the beauty of something transformed by relationship - broken, discarded, and yet made precious by its time tumbling in sand, stone and waves. I have collected treasures such as this on my local shore for many years now, for loose parts creative play and for giving away. Those pieces, each a shard of something that was whole, now a part of a collection, represent belonging.

Now I am aware that all this preamble might seem completely unrelated to teaching and learning, the stated theme of my blog. It is, however, entirely related to how I see learning and growing. As a child I was concerned with "getting things right" at school, that is to say, following instructions and getting good grades. I wasn't a success socially, not during elementary school, but academically I fit right in and it made me feel safe (recess was another matter entirely). I had glimpses of a bigger world, through travel to France and Spain as a teen. I experienced "otherness" and the feeling of not belonging, not being able to express myself in my new surroundings with my limited language, thinking teachers must think me dumb. But the stakes were low: my marks at home were fine and my time in Spain wasn't going to count against me. It wasn't until later, in university, that I discovered my ability to fail. I found it terrifying at the time, but not understanding what was expected was a gift, one that allowed me to begin to look critically at what mattered. Studying post-structuralist thought made me panic, as though the cognitive dissonance I felt was actual walls coming down around me, and not merely old ideas crumbling. I found that I couldn't look at anything the same way once my eyes had been opened to the world, my small-town view bust wide by my big city surroundings and multi-cultural friends. Most painful was a new way of looking at "whiteness", from the myriad points of view as I made friends from various continents including aboriginal Canadians. Seeing racism directed at friends made me fiercely protective and yet terribly hopeless. I didn't want to be a part of it, but didn't know where I fit. My own family home was a safe haven, a place of guests and stories and generosity and fun. But when I looked at myself with this new lens, of not-white, I couldn't see beauty anymore. I felt broken. It took time to find the beauty in that break.

“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Safe to say what I experienced is not uncommon for any small-town kid who goes too far from home and doesn't know where "up" is. It took time for me to connect to what matters most to me, what I missed most about home - nature. I learned to see the life heaving in every corner of the city, not just in the big parks or along the shore. I learned that I remain passionate about equity and it has a place in my teaching practice. I learned that breaking isn't a bad thing, if it means letting the light in. Learning involves letting go, and assimilating, and growing. For that reason, I connect deeply with the idea of wabi sabi, as I understand it. A few years ago I found a beautiful book written for children, touching on the meaning of wabi sabi. I was so delighted, I immediately bought more copies, knowing it was a concept I shared with others in my Reggio-inspired PLN. It resonated with me as deeply as the poem, the 100 languages. It struck me that embracing a wabi sabi view of learning was the only way to ensure all voices could be heard, all those 100 languages and 100 more. Being appreciative, rather than fearful, of things unexpected... leads to wonderful collaborations through playful inquiry. Being brave, that is, unafraid to make mistakes and face the consequences - that was not possible in a "lessons first, play as reward" classroom as I first saw and practiced when I began teaching back in 2003. Seeing diversity as much more than culture, language or colour, but encompassing ways of being beyond what is "neurotypical" - allows me to understand my own thinking better as I learn to understand that of others. Not having a set idea of how our classroom "should look" helps too, though I am often struck with self-doubt upon entering rooms of peers who manage to make their space showroom-perfect. Negotiating our space with students, talking about how we use our materials and our furniture and our bulletin boards - curriculum emerges as does the look of the space we share. 

 Back in the spring I tackled this idea as well, this question I have about the meaning of beauty and how (or if) is it meaningful to teaching and learning. In describing it as one part of a "tangle of spaghetti" I was attempting to unravel, I said:

One such "noodle" running through my mind was the idea of beauty: What is beauty? What does it mean to enjoy something beautiful? Is beauty important to play? Is beauty important to learning? Are there shared ideas of beauty across the diversity of human cultures and across age groups? Do our notions of beauty change as we grow and learn?

I continue to ponder this idea, but without a perfect description of what it is, I still think seeing beauty in what might otherwise seem mundane leads one to see possibilities everywhere. Seeing beauty in others, especially when they are unable to see it themselves, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a child or adult.

"Using spare text and haiku, Mark Reibstein weaves an extraordinary story about finding real beauty in unexpected places."

Below is the conversation that grew around the idea of being a courageous educator. Being courageous, being willing to accept other ways of seeing, remains the best way to learn alongside our students and partners every day. I'm grateful to the #ReggioPLC for this (and many other) critical conversations about our beliefs. Please note: the story has a second page, you will need to click through after reading the first.

                 *                              *                                *                                *                          *

A favourite page from "Wabi Sabi".

A favourite photo of mine, capturing fall (above and below) on my street after a heavy rain. Autumn often evokes strong emotions, because the beauty is so fleeting, and carries with it the poignant reminder of life's passing. The reflection within further adds to the idea of finding ourselves in the cycles in nature, that we grow and shed and grow anew as we learn about life.

As I think of my relationships with students, teaching partners, and the larger community that come together around our Kindergarten class, I am struck by how much reflection goes on as we examine our world together. We find meaning through our interactions, and through remaining open to a world of natural beauty, we learn so much more than is possible in an organized, sanitized version of teaching in which only the proper, good, clean, pre-made materials are considered for use.

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

Several days' worth of dandelions, lovingly collected by students during the first few weeks the flowers emerged. Treasures from nature always wind up on the "look closely" table under the window.

Dandelions, like fall leaves, become a part of play and exploration for weeks. They decorated "sand cakes", became necklaces and crown, were rubbed onto drawings to impart their golden glow, added to the snail globe to "give the snails something nice to eat and smell", places in vases, dried and ground up in the mortar and pestles, added to potions.
A common description found online. It seems a perfect way to leave a thought that I haven't finished yet.