Wednesday, 15 May 2013

sticks and stones

The first workshop attendees walk down the path from the Board Office building. A Loris Malaguzzi quote frames our view.

Thursday, May 9th was the evening of the annual Kindergarten Conference held for K teachers and DECE's in Peel. This conference is a major event each year, with fantastic keynote speakers, wonderful workshops to choose from, and dinner shared with hundreds of early years colleagues from all over the PDSB. I have attended this conference every year since 2005, either as a participant or as a presenter, and I always leave invigorated by the energy and new ideas shared. The theme of this year's conference was "Inspirations and Contexts, Kindergarten Play and Inquiry", and after the barbeque participants were able to visit two workshops from an amazing selection, fourteen in all. My only regret about presenting is that I was unable to visit any of the other presentations, which all looked so inviting! Our workshop, way down at tent #2, was "Sticks and Stones: Collaboration with Nature". If you were one of the many educators who attended the workshop, thank you for participating and making the trek down the garden path to play with us! I enjoyed meeting so many new people but also seeing so many familiar faces over the evening. 
What lies behind the apple tree and frame, above. Nearly ten years in the PDSB, only this week  I discover the wonder that is the old farm on the Board Office grounds. I arrived late afternoon as the clouds were beginning to clear to see this magnificent view. We were fortunate that the sun shone through brightly, just in time for our first guests.

I have been extremely fortunate in that I've worked with ELTs (Early Literacy resource Teachers) in the Kindergarten Network. This year I was invited to join Bev Moate and Amanda Giberson, both ELTs with a passion for the arts and early years inquiry. Collaborating with such knowledgeable educators is truly an honour. The process of preparing a workshop with them allowed me to focus deeply on an aspect of my program while having the professional feedback from colleagues. It helped me broaden my professional knowledge, so that I was able to problem solve, anticipate questions or concerns, and offer participants ideas based on experiences I have had.

We three: Amanda, me, Bev. Photo credit: Pam Taylor
For the workshop "Sticks and Stones" each of us brought several exciting invitations to share. Bev set up a wonderful light and shadow table, with provocations and ideas for simple materials to use such as the diy lightbox. She also created a mosaic centre which proved to be a very popular provocation: the salt dough squares and recipes were all gone by the end of the sessions. Amanda  set up a beautiful still life painting table, DIY clipboards made of various materials, and a "wonder box" full of provocations and guiding questions for teachers. Together we created a weaving centre complete with grasses, yarn, torn fabric and found materials to weave with. In order to show how simple materials may be used creatively, we each made our own weaving frames to bring for participants to try. To our delight, each frame was completely different, with fencing, empty frames, a trellis, and garden edging: all materials our participants could find and use on their own.

Setting up the "sticks and stones" and other loose parts in the warm afternoon sun. Still to hang: signs, ministry expectations from the visual arts, and inspiration posters.
Jim Grieve delivering the keynote speech to a receptive audience.

Our keynote speaker was Jim Grieve, who was once an important part of our school board but who now serves a much larger community of learners as "Assistant Deputy Minister for the Early Learning Division of the Ontario Ministry of Education". His message about capable, creative young learners was enthusiastically received. The few quotes I managed to tweet (#peelK) give an idea of the tone he set for our evening of learning together:
"Kindy readiness: readiness for K is NOT about being ready for grade one, grade two, etc. Get it right in early learning: ready for life"
"Children are capable of self-advocacy. We just need to listen".
"It's about learning for life. Brain growth for development: epigenetics: it's about connections that fire the imagination".
"News for grades 1 through 12: who says play-based ends in K? First we take kindergarten, then we take grade 1..." (This was met with cheers).
"The environment as third teacher: the reason for our indoor/outdoor Kindergarten conference. Like Finnish kindergarten, outdoors".
"Play is learning: purposeful play by provocateur educators. Don't engage right away. Listen, provoke. Stay with the moment".

I'm certain the final minutes were fantastic, but I knew I had to make it down the long path back to our workshop tent, so I rushed out before he finished to find the last of our signs now hung and the finishing touches complete. We were ready for our participants to, as we had described in the conference flyer: "experience, respond and play with the provocations found in nature to create something beautiful, employing the inquiry process as you create" (FDEL-K 2010, pg 15).

Picture book inspirations, weaving and hanging centre, mosaic dough display.
Bev adding final touches to sculpture, mosaic, and mandala table (loose parts, mirrors and frames).
Light and shadow invitations, DIY clipboards.
Still life invitations, see-through clipboards, wonder box.

My centres focused on investigations of some of my favourite artists who work with natural materials: Andy Goldsworthy, stone balancers Peter Reidel and Michael Grab, mandala artist Kathy Klein, and sound artist Ranjit Bhatnagar (who in turn was inspired by Mineko Grimmer). I have been experimenting with loose parts as artistic expression for the last few years, including my work for last year's workshop with Pam Taylor who was then the ELT for my former school. This year I made a concerted effort to collect many materials that would provoke my students. Each trip to my local beach meant taking home a bucket of stones, bricks, and beach glass, and boxes of driftwood in all shapes and sizes. My teaching partner and I took trips to the "Creative Zone" nearby our school for fabric, frames, yarn, and tiles. I created a section of short video clips to share with students, linked on my class site for families to use at home as well. While I did create a book for the workshop to display student explorations with these materials, I will save these photos for another post. Here I would rather let the photos share the story of our workshop evening. For those who were unable to attend, however, you may wish to visit some of the links we shared with the "Sticks and Stones" bitly bundle.

Hanging my "noisy ice sculpture" above a collection of metal bowls, tins, and wire racks.
This provocation provided extra entertainment when it crashed unexpectedly, giving me the perfect moment to share one of my favourite critical thinking prompts: "I used to think... but now I think..." while restringing it with stronger twine.

The re-strung noisy sculpture with two others, this time melting along perfectly. Reflection: next time, freeze the sculpture thin like the flower ice sculptures for faster melting (and thus a noisier experience).
Found art: frozen flowers for observing, drawing, spinning, etc. Flowers from the ground in a garden centre, but with students we use whatever we gather: leaves, feathers, flowers, pine cones.
Still life and hanging art invitation.
Mosaics, mandalas, loose parts play.
A participant at play: cherry blossoms and a spent tulip provide for a sensory artistic experience.
Capturing ideas as they float by - clipboards, whiteboards, chalkboards, iPads.
Participant creation - so lovely!
Sensory art with different textures: some students will play at such a centre for hours, creating stories with loose parts, designing beautiful vignettes.
D's tree blocks with the diseased wood showing through - a conversation starter.
Inspired by balance artist Peter Reidel (poster above table) by photos of student work, or by the beauty of the wood.
Our view of the board office building as we packed up our tent to go. What a glorious evening. Thank you to all who attended and made it such a collaborative creation!