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Photo: Lisa Nolan
A child called Melissa painted artist Lisa Nolan’s portrait of her at Lowell’s Making Art with Artists program in 2015. When artists work with children, freedom to create is the name of the game.

Did you catch the National Public Radio story about a free art camp in Michigan? I read about it at ArtsJournal, one of my favorite sources.

My friend and former boss Meredith Fife Day led a similar program in Lowell, Massachusetts, called Making Art with Artists. It was amazing.

Zak Rosen at NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday interviewed one of artists behind the Michigan arts camp.

“In Hamtramck, Mich., a working class city almost surrounded by Detroit, camp is not affordable for many kids. An artist has started a camp inspired by adventure playgrounds and neighborhood artists. …

“Hamtramck is formerly a working-class Polish city. But in recent years, there’s been a huge surge of other immigrants, many from Bangladesh and Yemen. Accompanying that surge have been lots of artists who work to put community at the center of their practice, people like Faina Lerman. [Lerman and her husband have] eight open lots.

“They garden on a few of them, but that still leaves plenty of space for other stuff. And in this part of the city, there aren’t any playgrounds. So this summer, Lerman and some neighborhood artists started a free, week-long day camp. …

“Camp Carpenter does not have a stated mission. If it did, it might be, let’s just do this and see what happens. And adults are here to help, not to lead.

“LERMAN: I feel like everything is just very over structured for kids. Like, they don’t have even the space to make their own decisions or to let their minds expand to different ways of learning or gathering information.

“ROSEN: So here, the structure is intentionally loose. But by the end of the week, there is the start of an adventure playground, built in part by the campers. …

“ROSEN: One young camper, Jimmy Engalan, is learning how to use a hammer. A less patient adult may have allowed him a few whacks of the nail and then taken over — but not teaching artist Liza Bielby. …

“She watches Jimmy until he drives the nail all the way down into a wood pallet. It takes 258 knocks. I counted — 258. But he does it. …

“ANGILENA OMOLARA-FOX: I’m Angilena Omolara-Fox, and I am 11 years old. I made a pillow. I made a dress. I helped with the little fort thing over there.

“ROSEN: So would you come back to camp?

“ANGILENA: Yes, because I don’t really get a lot of chances to use tools and to make, like, things that I would like to make.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools
Sarah Wenzel and her class at Forest Home Elementary demonstrate a series of poses from the YogaKids cards, http://www.yogakids.com.

When I was in kindergarten, someone would come to play the piano and we children would walk in a circle pretending to be giraffes (re-e-eaching!) and elephants (swinging gently while bent over).

Just the other day, I realized that those kindergarten stretches were the same as stretches I’ve been doing for my back.

Decades ago, schools like mine were helping kids exercise for health. Now an increasing number of studies suggest that moving while in class helps children’s brains learn better, too.

Donna de la Cruz writes at the NY Times, “Sit still. It’s the mantra of every classroom. But that is changing as evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools. …

“A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active ‘show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.’ And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“ ‘Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school,’ said Jesper Fritz, a doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, who was the study’s lead author. …

“ ‘Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,’ said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. ‘Adults aren’t wired that way either.’

“Mr. Boyle’s association has introduced a series of three- to five-minute videos called ‘BrainErgizers‘ that are being used in schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in 15 states and in Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia, he said. A version of the program is available to schools at no charge. …

“ ‘At the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement, and it’s all done in the classroom with no special equipment,’ Mr. Boyle said. ‘We’re not looking to replace gym classes, we’re aiming to give kids more minutes of movement per week. And by introducing sports into the videos, giving kids a chance to try sports they may not have ever tried before.’ ”

To read more at the NY Times, click here.

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One of my grandsons goes to a Montessori school where the four-year-olds make lots of maps. They use templates to trace the continents (above).

Which is why I was intrigued to see a delightful National Geographic article about the map juvenalia of professional cartographers.

Betsy Mason wrote, “So many of the cartographers I’ve gotten to know while writing about maps seem to genuinely love their jobs.

It’s one of those professions with a disproportionate number of people who are really happy to be there.

“I suspect that one reason for this could be that many of them have loved maps since they were kids, and they’ve managed to turn that love into a career.

“This collection of childhood maps made by eight professional cartographers backs up that theory. I interviewed each of them about their early mapmaking, how they found their way into cartography, and what they love about their jobs today.

“Their stories all have their individual quirks, but there are some common threads. Several of them recall spending family trips poring over a road atlas in the back seat, for example. And some can still recall the precise moment when they knew they would make maps for a living.”

Here is Mason’s report on one of the two female mapmakers in the article.

“A class assignment to map out a family fire-escape plan probably seemed like more than just an exercise to young Rosemary Wardley. A couple of years earlier, some sheds behind her house had caught on fire.

” ‘I’m sure that was in the back of my mind,’ she says.

“And that’s likely why none of the paths she drew for her family members went out the back door toward the sheds. On the other hand, she deemed it perfectly safe to direct her oldest sister to jump into a pine tree outside of a second-story window …

“The hallway outside of ‘Rosie’s room’ was covered in U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps, and this wall was often Wardley’s first stop after a drive or a hike.

” ‘I always kind of went back there and had my dad point out where we had gone,’ she says. ‘Thinking back, that’s definitely the biggest thing that influenced me as a cartographer. It just made me have that love of geography.’

“Today, Wardley works at National Geographic, where she says the cartography is very collaborative. She makes maps for stories such as a photographer’s trek across China, but a lot of her time is spent editing and working with the data that goes into the maps. It’s the variety that appeals to her most, she says.”

Click to see maps the cartographers made in childhood.

Thank you for putting the link on Facebook, Asakiyume. I wouldn’t have known about this otherwise.

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Art: Hilary Knight
Eloise was a favorite of mine back in the day. Art and artifacts related to her history are on display until June 4, 2017, at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass.

I drove out to Amherst yesterday to meet up with Asakiyume at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and have lunch in town. The museum is modern and attractive and features several nice displays, a gift shop, and a studio where kids can do arts and crafts.

If you don’t have another reason to be in the area, as I did, it’s a little far from the Boston suburbs. However, I got a kick out of my tour with Asakiyume, especially because one exhibit was on Hilary Knight, the artist behind the mischievous girl who lives in New York’s Plaza Hotel with her nanny, her pet dog, and her turtle. The display even featured copies of the doll I still have and my Eloise Hotel Emergency Kit.

We saw art by Brinton Turkle and, of course, by Eric Carle. It’s the 50th anniversary of Carle’s book Brown Bear, and it was fun to see all the ways it had been translated. Asakiyume knew how to read the Japanese.

She also picked up a flyer for me about the museum’s “Making Art” blog, which turns out to be loaded with ideas about crafts for kids. Something to check out in addition to Pinterest when brainstorming. In one project example, here, we see how a student intern went about creating a delightful day for both children and adults using feathers in art.

Photo: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
The Art Studio’s J-Term Intern, Tory Fiske, a senior at UMass Amherst, designed a Special Sunday project for museum guests.  She planned the event, sorted and prepared the materials, and introduced visitors to the project throughout the day.

finefeatheredfriends5

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Photo: Montgomery County, Maryland, Library

Do you attend a congregation where the children’s “sermon” is given in front of the adults? My husband was recalling the other day how the pastor at our former Rhode Island church was really great with children’s sermons. He was both funny and straightforward. Where we go in Massachusetts, the children’s sermon sometimes plays to the adults too much. But other times it works — especially when the children get to use props and act it out.

I kind of liked this one about different ways of seeing. I’d be interested in what you think.

*******

Whose Reality Is It Anyway?
By Orlanda R Brugnola

It was not a city. It was not a large town. But it was not a small town. It was — just average, you might say. Except for one thing. There was a Storyteller in the town.

That’s Storyteller with a capital S. The Storyteller had arrived one day without advance notice (or as some people would put it, without warning.) There had been no invitation, no request.  The Storyteller just showed up, rented a small house that had been empty for two years and put up a sign inviting people to come and listen to stories.

Mind you, that was not so easy for people in the town.  They were nervous about it and wanted to know wanted to know if the Storyteller was qualified. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was accredited. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was male or female. The children didn’t care of course. … On any afternoon you could be sure that most, if not all the children in town were at the Storyteller’s house.

And so the Storytelling began. The Storyteller might say: “In the smoking tiger’s time” …

“Wait a minute! What do you mean?!”

“Oh, that’s just the way stories begin in Korea: ‘In the smoking tiger’s time’ is just a way of saying: ‘Long, long ago’ ” … And the Storyteller would continue …

All the children and youth listening to the stories wanted to listen forever because the stories made them feel amazed and happy.  And they wanted to share their amazement and happiness with the rest of their families, so they asked the Storyteller if they could take part of the story home with them and the answer was always “Yes, of course!” and so they did.

[Here the children act out taking wondrous things home and finding that the tiger, the mossy rock, the mountain, etc. make their parents apprehensive.]

The children [said] to the Storyteller, “Our moms and our dads won’t let us bring anything home from the stories. … Can you do something?” …

And then something began happening in the town that got everybody talking. Things started showing up in unexpected places — sometimes very unexpected places. A big tree right in the middle of the street.  And then a tiger in front of a garage. And a huge blue mountain at the front door of a house. …

Because the mayor was up for election in a week or so, he said, “I will personally take care of this immediately!” And he marched right over to the Storyteller’s house and knocked on the door.  …

“This has got to STOP!” said the mayor. … “All these things that are showing up everywhere … Today I couldn’t even get into my own house because there was a mountain in front of the door!”

“Why don’t you just go through it? … It’s a story-mountain. … All you have to do is enter the story,” [said a voice.] …

“Maybe I should talk to an expert about this!” [the mayor] thought.  He liked experts.  …

“Why don’t you tell, me about it,” the [expert] said. And so the mayor did. …

“Why did you decide not to enter the story as the Storyteller suggested?” …

“I got angry and didn’t want to. … I’m kind of afraid, though I don’t know what I am afraid of.” …

“New things are unsettling and most of us are reluctant to jump in.”…

“How do we know we will like how the story ends?” [asked the mayor].

“Well, that’s really in our hands.  All of us who enter the story decide how it will turn out.” …

“The mayor thought about it some more and decided that maybe the [expert] was right and that he ought to go back to the Storyteller and find out how to get into the story after all.”

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We often joke that our dear UUs explain everything too much. But this sermon must be the exception that proves the rule. See the full children’s story at the UUA website, here.

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The children’s holiday show at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) this year was a musical version of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. My husband and I went to see it with our older grandson and granddaughter.

Last year, invited by our grandson’s friend and her grandmother, we attended A.R.T.’s musical about a pirate princess. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a good view. Somehow or other I had failed to complete my ticket purchase, and we ended up standing in the back much of the time.

This year we were right up front. Our six-year-old grandson was thoroughly engaged with the performance this year. His three-year-old sister, dressed up like a princess, was riveted but felt safest watching the show from my lap.

“What happened to James’s mother and father?” was her first question as the lights went up at the end. I reluctantly reported that they were eaten by a rhinoceros but added that, of course, “That’s pretend. Rhinoceroses don’t eat people.” She took it in stride and later told the theater-going neighbor from down the street that she loved the show.

One thing A.R.T. likes to do with children’s shows is provide some interactivity. For the Pirate Princess, there were actors in costumes before the performance wandering around the lobby and posing for pictures with the children. For Giant Peach, children could make origami fortune tellers (once called “cootie catchers”) that looked either like herring gulls or sharks. When sharks and gulls appeared in the production, children were encouraged to activate their own small versions. Our grandchildren both made sharks.

An adult played James in a childlike way. After James’s parents vanish, he’s sent sent to live with two nasty aunts, played by men. He is rescued when magic beans turn a peach into something big enough to crush the aunts.

As the peach grows, the critters inside the peach become giant-sized themselves (earthworm, spider, ladybug, centipede) and soon join forces with James as they all float skyward in the peach.

Each bug contributes special skills to extricating the team from dangers. I especially liked the blind earthworm, whose special skill turned out to be posing as bait for fearsome gulls so his friends could harness them with Miss Spider’s silk to get the peach away from sharks.

You can read more about the production here. Last chance to see the show is January 8, 2017.

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My high school friend Susie posted this KQED article on Facebook. I couldn’t agree more with its focus on the value of daydreams and allowing everyone adequate  time to recharge batteries.

Referencing today’s many distractions, KQED reporter Katrina Schwartz writes, “Many people believe they are skilled multitaskers, but they’re wrong. Neuroscience has shown that multitasking — the process of doing more than one thing at the same time — doesn’t exist.

“ ‘The brain doesn’t multitask,’ said Daniel Levitin, author and professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University on KQED’s Forum program. ‘It engages in sequential tasking or unitasking, where we are shifting rapidly from one thing to another without realizing it.’ The brain is actually fracturing time into ever smaller parts and focusing on each thing individually. …

“The brain has a natural way of giving itself a break — it’s called daydreaming. ‘It allows you to refresh and release all those neural circuits that get all bound up when you’re focused,’ Levitin said. …

“[Daydreaming] is particularly important for students, who are often asked to sit through a long school day with very few breaks. Lots of research has shown the importance of recess and free play time for academic success, but schools still tend to emphasize time spent in class ‘learning’ over a more nuanced view of how and why kids learn.

“ ‘Children shouldn’t be overly scheduled,’ Levitin said. ‘They should have blocks of time to promote spontaneity and creativity.’ Without that time, kids don’t have the mental space to let new ideas and ways of doing things arise. Daydreaming and playing are crucial to develop the kind of creativity many say should be a focal point of a modern education system.” More.

Time to think, time to free associate, is not just important for kids. If the electric handwarmers I use in winter take twice as long to recharge as to expend their stored heat, then I, too, should have double time to recharge after engaging on anything. You, too.

Photo: Brynja Eldon/Flickr

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