Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April ADVOCACY! Children's Authentic Art Work

APRIL ADVOCACY! That means all things children!!!

April Advocacy for Young Children: Week of the Young Child & More, Art AUTHENTICITY for Children

April is traditionally the time to celebrate, honor and consider all things children. This is the official month that includes the "Week of the Young Child." WOYC hosted by NAEYC and celebrated coast-to-coast and beyond, is no doubt the most widely known celebration for children and happily evolves into 'Month of the Young Child' festivities, special events and officially-budgeted fun and advocacy. April is also honored as the "Month of the Young Military Child." {Here's a contest on that topic.} It doesn't stop there. This is also "Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month." And one more significant day within the month? "World Autism Day" is honored and recognized on April 2nd as widely as the United Nations. Wear BLUE tomorrow, April 2nd, to show your concern and awareness of the increasing percentage of children with ASD. Children. Advocacy. April. 

How do we honor, celebrate and commemorate children? How do we safeguard, shield and defend the innocence of children? How do we protect them? What can we do in our role with children? Where do we start? Pour yourself a cuppa cuppa. Spoiler alert: this is lengthy.

It is with such a heavy heart that I have just read the insightful and articulate resignation letter of Susan Sluyter. As a two decades plus veteran teacher of early childhood, a champion for children, having spent her recently-abruptly-ended career of over a quarter of a century in both PreK + Kindergarten classrooms, Susan has much to tell about the changing role of early education in America. Her experience and convictions have just recently been offered from the pages of The Washington Post and beyond. She had enough. She felt compelled to resign. She left. That's how gravely strong she felt. Listen for yourself. 

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Should we be heartened that her resignation has brought national attention? Should we grieve that she left the classroom? Can she be appointed to the highest ranking ECE panel ever assembled to chart the critically necessary navigational change required? When will the pendulum return us to 'the good old days' of children's play directing the day? How many resignations must be tendered? 

"Kindergarteners should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in" via RainbowsWithinReach

I started this school year in September with my article here at our collaborative voice focused on this very issue of 'testing' in Kindergarten and the concerns voiced by many ECE educators. I gave it my best effort, beating the drum to advocate for children. I pleaded. I asked for discussion on the topic that is crumbling childhood before our very eyes. What can one little blog article add to the mounting divide between best practice and reality? 

RIGOR or VIGOR: Shades of Educational Philosophy Discussion at PreK+K Sharing

Many additional teacher voices contributed to my October article that continued as a follow-up while taking a look at the concept of RIGOR in Early Childhood Education. The many individual teachers who contributed their experience spoke with one voice. Turns out that advocacy is not 'just' an April issue. A month is not sufficiently lengthy to get everything needed addressed. Ask Susan Sluyter. 

If you are here. If you are reading this article. If you are still reading this article, I'm not telling you anything new. I haven't said anything that you don't already know, that you don't already experience in your own heart. We have chosen this profession, the opportunity to work with young children, for a multitude of reasons no doubt. I must hope that at the very center of our daily efforts on behalf of children is an optimism of building a brighter future. Impacting tomorrow. 

With the mounting, cascading amount of brain research on the significance of the early years of a child's life, how on Earth is it possible to have such a growing divide when it comes to the actual classroom?

Big times at #DVAEYC in Philly! Lisa OoeyGooey + Debbie Clement

I was just speaking last week in Philadelphia for their annual DVAEYC conference. I got to hear Lisa Murphy's keynote. I got to hear her introduction as "the country's foremost protector of childhood, the foremost protector of play and developmentally appropriate practice of this age." I had already hugged her and we had a chance to get 'caught up' and me get personally energized from her sizzle and zing up close. Then? Then I got to applaud as she took the stage. I got to listen to issues near and dear to my heart and hear the audience applaud thunderously what we already know. She was preaching to the choir. Preaching to the choir is good, but who else is listening.

This just in. Dateline Oklahoma.

Teachers at the State Courthouse

Who is it that is NOT listening? We must raise our voices and speak together with greater clarity. We must enunciate our concerns. Those pictures were taken in Oklahoma. That's my friend Kaci Hoffer on the far right. She's a kindergarten teacher and joined 24,999 of her closest educator friends to have their collective voice heard. Yesterday. 

So. No foolin'......... what is it that we do differently in April than what we did yesterday in March? How do we advocate for best practice? Developmentally Appropriate lesson plans? What can the individual teacher, parent, grandparent do to safeguard their child? This may well be the longest preamble to an article that I have ever written. Speak up! Follow your heart! #BeBrave: as the Twitter Kinderchat hashtag encourages. Stand up. Get counted. Be vocal. Vote. 

Last month was by far the biggest ever for me professionally in terms of sheer travel back and forth across this country. It also happened to include an unforeseen four days spent in the Burn Unit of Children's Hospital in Columbus OH, comforting my WonderTwinzeeKinderKid, Little Red (grand-daughter,) as she recuperated there for a full week from chemical burns from an extreme reaction to prescribed topical ointment. I am just this minute beginning to come up for air from so many emotions, slammed together in the concrete mixer known as life. My heart is full. I have seen much since I wrote here a month ago. I have experienced much. I have reflected not nearly enough. {Here's the first chapter of that saga.}

Evan and McKenna being silly....he got to see his girl so he was happy!
This is what a 5 year old looks like on morphine. That is her fellow Kinder friend-boy ignoring her and me adoring her.

What I know for certain? When your five year old granddaughter is so wracked with pain that she requires a morphine drip, it was not the opportunity to take a standardized test that brought the hint of a smile to her lips. It was in fact the arrival of the ART CART and her selection of pompoms and pipe cleaners and glue that offered her the encouragement to sit up in her hospital bed. It was the pediatric occupational therapist that brought plastic bowling pins and the opportunity to PLAY that coaxed her out of that reclining bed and encouraged her to put her feet on the ground. Literally. She was burned in such a way that her feet needed to be taught how to reach the ground again. I digress. 

What I know for certain is that Art heals. PLAY MATTERS. The creative process is invigorating. Play returns us to ourselves even under the most debilitating of circumstances. I saw that upclose and personal in the last heartbeat. We must defend those opportunities. For. Every. Child. 

AUTHENTIC Process Art in Preschool at PreK+K Sharing
Open ended, AUTHENTIC process Art in Preschool 

What I know for certain is that open-ended Art and the play inherent within is valuable critical to children. The article I wrote here on 'Process vs. Product in Children's Art' is our second most widely read article of all time at our collaboration. Again. Preaching to the choir. We know this in early ed. How can we share what we know with others? 

When I am traveling, I'm so thrilled to encounter what I will call 'AUTHENTIC' children's artwork. Work quite OBVIOUSLY created and completed by the actual children themselves. There are examples hung proudly on bulletin boards of the evidence. There are photographs displayed in hallways of ephemeral experiences. Excellence exists and is to be celebrated and cherished. Look at the work of these preschoolers given the opportunity to paint on their fish. Each and every single one is unique. Paint. Children. Unique. Individual. Authentic. Open-Ended. Authentic. Process. Authentic. Original. AUTHENTIC!

AUTHENTIC Children's Art Fish Paintings Displayed at PreK+K Sharing
Authentic Children's Art

Yet. I still see 'product' oriented work as well and I shudder. 
What is it with penguins? 
They were the source of my previous rant over two years ago. 

PRODUCT Penguins in Preschool: Let them create AUTHENTIC Art instead! Says Debbie Clement at PreK+K Sharing

Surely you see the difference. OUI? 
It makes sense to you. 
I know it does. 
You wouldn't still be on this page if you didn't grasp the issues at hand. 
I include this penguin picture taken in the last month for YOUR arsenal and as a chilling reminder.
I know. 
It's not quite that simple, but let it give you food for thought. 

Give children loose pieces. 
Give them time. 
Give them shiny brads. 
Let them go. 

AUTHENTIC Art Work by Preschoolers Exploring Circles via PreK+K Sharing

Note-to-self. I need to 'insert' this picture into the article on my own blog, dedicated to shapes. 

50+ Creative Shape Projects (PreK thru 1st) via RainbowsWithinReach

Building with Blocks: LOOSE Pieces in Preschool via PreK+K Sharing

Give children blocks. LOTS of blocks. Give children space and independence to create ON THEIR OWN! Need a new idea for your sensory table? Fill it with strips and stripes of color. Add some glue sticks and scissors. Let the children do the work. Let them explore. Let them create. Let them be architects. Let them be children. So simple. Let them be AUTHENTIC in their building blocks and in their sensory exploration. Develop those fine motor muscles in the midst of personal success over media and materials. 

Sensory Table Exploration with Strips and Stripes of Color, Scissors and Glue Sticks! via PreK+K Sharing

Here's what an entire bulletin board looks like when filled with AUTHENTIC children's work in response to their visit from the fire department and time spent aboard a gen-u-ine fire truck. Each YOUNG child is given the basic pieces to replicate their own shiny red rescue vehicle. Look at the diversity in finished outcome. This is AUTHENTIC work. Each child's outcome is unique. Developmentally appropriate. Child created. No one hovered over head and placed wheels in their proper alignment. This is AUTHENTIC work. Even given the similar pieces, the outcome is different. This is developmentally appropriate 'work.' 

Preschool Bulletin Board on Process + Play at "PreK+K Sharing"

There are so many 'things' to appreciate about this bulletin board: 

  • The children's work is OBVIOUSLY their own: it is authentic. 
  • The children's work is surrounded by photographs of them and their EXPERIENCE with the actual fire trucks. 
  • The caption on the bulletin board is a reminder to the parents about the significance of PROCESS and PLAY
  • The display is crafted with professionalism and gives dignity to each child's work.
  • "KIDS at WORK" (the border) need PROCESS and PLAY 

While in Texas presenting this winter to a group of preschool teachers I asked if anyone in the workshop knew of any 'art fixers'.... the type of individual known to tweak a child's work so that it would more closely approximate a preordained ideal. There were heads bobbing immediately. With vigor. One brave soul even raised her hand that she was the 'guilty' party. She was an 'art fixer.' There was a collective *GASP* but I applauded her honesty. Recognition of one's faults short-comings and fessing up is the first step in the recovery process. 

While we advocate for children, let's advocate for them to create their own AUTHENTIC Art. Their own AUTHENTIC work, period. Raise your hand and promise me you will allow children the dignity of their OWN work. Henceforth, if you know you've been a tweaker-while-the-glue-is-still- wet type, an art-fixer, promise me you'll stop! You must promise me you will stop. Even on the Mother's Day project, when the pressure is at an all time high, you must stop fussing and hovering and tweaking. Let's let children be children and let's start with them creating their own work. 

Here is a JEWEL of an example of VERY young children creating their own open-ended art experience and the insightful teachers creating this MASTERPIECE of collaborative BRILLIANCE. Mondrian would be thrilled. I just know it. 

Note-to-self #2: Insert that one into my Art History 101 article. 

So what exactly do we do in this month of advocacy for children? 

FILL them with affirmation. Fill them with confidence because they have accomplished new milestones. Fill them with AUTHENTICITY! Take a look at these incredible Kindergarten t-shirts created in anticipation of my Author-Illustrator school visit in FL. Here's the whole story of our amazing time together in a place of ECE excellence. These beauties were painted in response to my song and book, "You're Wonderful." 

Those teachers and parents inspired me to create a similar experience for our RockyMountainWonderPip in time for my visit to his Preschool last month. I spelled out all of those specifics in this DIY article. Put a smile on someone you LUV. Give them the opportunity to model an article of clothing that they have labored over creating.

There are so many reasons to rejoice. Excellence is ALL around us. While we were in Denver a couple weeks ago, I realized that Phoenix was a mere 14 hour drive away. That's exactly what we did. We drove there. It is my goal to make as many school visits to my blogging brethren, to visit their actual schools and classrooms as I possibly can. Last month I got to add another notch. I give you our very own Jennifer Kadar of Simply Kinder fame. 

This is her very own son coming up front, ON HIS BIRTHDAY, to be my assistant. He is helping me compare my original quilt, that I designed and sewed, to the illustration within my picture book version of "You're Wonderful." Full disclosure: he's a FIRST grader! 

*I truly adore the way that he is looking at me. 

Next up is a peek at a bulletin board of affirmation amazement created in Texas for my winter time in their midst at Amy Bidison's school. She had the idea to sit her kinders in a circle and have each shower their peers with words of affirmation. Then each child chose the descriptor that resonated most clearly with their own perception and then they began work on their own quilt square. 

Meanwhile back in Ohio here's what Heidi had displayed across her gigundo classroom wide bulletin board. Words of affirmation complete with photo tags. 

What I know for sure? Our words have power. They have strength. Giving children words of affirmation in a song? That they can sing to each other? It works. Trust me. From my original cassette tape version, on to the CD recording and now in digital download. Choose your delivery system of choice. 

Here's the digital version at our Early Education Emporium. 
Here it is in digital format at Teachers Pay Teachers. 

The other thing that I know you like to see is how other teachers organize their rooms. 
I'll wind down this epistle with some images from my recent travels. 

This system of fine motor materials is just amazing. 

And some sweet labeled notebooks, standing at attention, ready for additions. 
Early childhood is not all about 'cute' but there are times when an extra smile goes a long way! 

Now for three final links to my blog. 
Resources for this time of year. 
Just click the pic to go directly to the article. 

Spring Arts and Inspiration via RainbowsWithinReach
Spring Arts & Inspiration: Bulletin Boards, Craft Projects & Anchor Charts

Mother's Day Resources: Gift Giving for Early Childhood

End-of-Year Keepsakes for Early Childhood

Now for the final, final, final "announcement." 
Our collaborative blog now has our first official sponsor! 

We are now being sponsored by "Wobble Seat" the revolutionary seating option that allows children the comfort of movement while seated. 
I have rambled on at length at my own blog on how excited I am! 

Here's the direct link to order your own!
We (Mr. & Mrs. Clement) are now official & proud distributors. 
If you need a couple dozen or a couple hundred, just let me/us know and we'll figure out the BEST pricing possible.

Here's our first official endorsement! 

Whew. I had a lot on my mind. 
Can you do us all a favor and pin, tweet, + exuberantly from this article? 
That will help ensure it's visibility to the wider world.

Advocate for the children and advocate for each other! 
Leave your thoughts in the comment section. 
They will be read and reread and applauded!  

Debbie Clement is the happy Editor-in-Chief of the collaboration here. She has written over 100 original songs for children onto a total of 9 CD recordings. She also attempts to participate actively in the various social media of the era. She is probably best known for her efforts on Pinterest and is approaching 150,000 followers there. She also does her best to attempt to navigate at Twitter. Her newest fascination is with Instagram. She bets that you may not yet have found her on Sulia. She knows that Google+ is where she should be spending her time -- even if she still doesn't get it. Then of course she has a FB fanpage, too!  She will give the Keynote this weekend in Gainesville for ECE peers on all of the above. Next week she has an all day seminar in MN. This summer she will give the opening KEYNOTE at the national NAFCC conference held in her adopted state of palm trees and sunshine! 

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