Unspoken Messages

Pulling off a one-person art exhibit, from creating to matting to hanging, takes a lot of different skills. Obviously, one has to have produced a body of work which they feel is good enough to show in public. Hannah had done just that. During her stay at Sudbury Valley she spent countless hours drawing and painting in several media and styles. She is patient and meticulous, and each one of her paintings had taken her a great deal of time and effort. By the spring, she had enough pieces to fill all the walls in the dance room – enough to have her first ever one-person show.

Unlike paintings on canvas, those done on paper need a mat and a frame to protect them. The school has a mat cutting apparatus which is a bit complicated to use. Hannah and I met in the art room one day and we cut some mats together, found frames, and the result was lovely. I thought that Hannah was still a bit tentative about how to use the apparatus and so suggested that we get together again a few days later. Hannah agreed, and we set a time to do it.

But Hannah didn’t appear. I don’t like it one bit when anyone blows me off, and this time I was quite upset with Hannah for not showing up or even offering me an explanation. At first I was inclined to show Hannah my irritation, but something made me hold my tongue and wait until I could be calm. When we finally talked she apologized and said that she could do the rest of the mats by herself. I thought: here is eighteen year old Hannah acting like a typical toddler! She doesn’t want help anymore. She wants to be independent, but is not clear on the best way to impart this message to the person who taught her, so she avoids the encounter and gets in trouble. But because she is always pleasant and polite – and also because she is a quick learner – I couldn’t stay angry with her. I realized that she asks for help until she learns how to do something, and then she needs to do it in her own way and in her own time.

Later, Hannah was ready to hang her pictures, but having never set up an exhibit like this before, she had no idea how to do it. So we got together on Thursday morning before the school’s spring Open House, when people from the public-at-large are welcome to see the school and talk to parents, students and staff. Naturally, I was eager to have the exhibit ready, in order to show off the kind of great work students at SVS do! So I was all stressed and in a hurry, while Hannah was relaxed and patient, meticulous and deliberate.Hannah607 But since I had learned my lesson and understood that, with Hannah, all I need to do is show her how to do something and then leave her to do it on her own at her own pace, that is precisely what I did, and what she did. The proof was in a beautiful art gallery display hanging on the dance room wall, in time for all to enjoy at the Open House.

Posted in General, Vignettes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Playing House, Two Takes

The following two scenes were unfolding recently on the different ends of one of the low red tables in the playroom, around lunchtime.

Adelaide-Nell-and-Josie-on-On the one end, close to me, Josie sat down with her tablet and a snack, joined in quick succession by Nell on one side, Myles and a couple of friends on the other side, and a bit later, Adelaide. Nell and Adelaide got interested in what was happening on Josie’s tablet.“What’s Josie doing,” I asked Nell. “Playing Minecraft” says Nell. “She has a mushroom house!” It must be quite something, because she, Josie, and Adelaide, got completely absorbed in the house.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the table, down on the floor, Zawna and Avni had moved the wooden playhouse closer to the blocks, and were developing and furnishing their house with everything they could think of. “We can even have a TV,” they excitedly exclaim, and then they built an outdoor playground including – if I remember correctly – a balance beam. I have to say “if I remember correctly,” because – as you can see on the pictures, most everything is made out of our simple, beaten up wooden blocks, so what you and I can see there is likely nothing compared to what the two of them were creating in their minds.

Josie-and-MylesWhile Zawna and Avni were in their creative zone down on the floor, Josie had gotten some support from Myles with an internet connectivity issue. After that was taken care of, the three of them continued to observe with great intent Josie’s mushroom house. The look of professional appreciation on their faces impressed me – these are connoisseurs, they know what they are looking at! I on the other hand obviously am not, because when I got to look at Josie’s mushroom house later, I didn’t see it. All I saw was blocky shapes. “You know, everything in Minecraft is made out of squares,” Josie explained. Her mushroom house is made out of mushroom material, or blocks, harvested from several rectangular mushrooms Josie had encountered earlier, some brown, some red and white flecked, all a very far cry from the fairy tale illustration mushrooms I had conjured up in my mind when I heard “mushroom house,” and was expecting to see on the screen. Josie showed me the dance room in her house: “It’s downstairs, it’s very small, you have to shut the door so you don’t fall out!” Everybody giggles. Hmm. I guess I just learned a few things.

First of all, I learned that computers are not replacing other forms of creative play in children, as I too have sometimes feared. Both forms of playing house I witnessed involved a great deal of imagination. The mushroom material blocks on the screen were not that different from the real blocks Zawna and Avni were handling on the floor, and while I had somehow assumed that the screen images world would be overwhelmingly elaborate, they were in fact rather stark, requiring a child’s mind to come alive.Zawna-and-Avni The toy house and the blocks, I saw, can exist side by side with the tablet, with the children being quite able to ignore as well as transition between the different media with ease. Rather than altogether discarding ‘older’ forms of play (blocks) in favor of new technology (tablet), it seems to me that children now are busy adapting to the complexities of their world by using everything there is, today’s tools together with all the other existing material around them. It’s a good thing the brain is adaptable. It looks like a big job to me.

I also learned that a computer in the room does not need to mean a decline in social activity. Avni and Zawna had locked minds together in a close developing and building collaboration unperturbed by the lure of the screen, and Josie, Nell, and Adelaide were gathering in what can perhaps be described as a “collegial review” mode, both complex social interactions. Needless to say, all this did not happen in isolation: next to both house builders, seated at the table, was a group of similar aged children, Myles and two friends, eating lunch and conversing, and a little bit further away sat a group of teenagers playing a card game.

I am still thinking about how I was just sitting there eating my lunch, while around me, in a setting of simultaneous open-ended interactions, the next generations were gearing up to tackle the challenges of living life in the 21st century, which from the looks of it requires the ability to navigate complex situations, a great deal of imagination, and facility in use of technology and social skills… Oh yeah, and food, which I can happily report everybody in the room managed to enjoy too!

Posted in General, Life at Sudbury Valley, Underlying Ideas, Vignettes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Moment to Cherish

It isn’t often that young children talk about their struggles with ethical or psychological issues, but there is no doubt that as they grow and live in a community they grapple with such issues. Since they usually don’t have abstract conversations about such matters, even when they are clearly thinking about them, it is fascinating to witness situations that reveal their thinking. I was fortunate to see this happen recently at a meeting of the school’s Judicial Committee.

A complaint was filed against five-year-old Anna (I’ve changed the names to protect their privacy), who had been angered by her seven-year-old sister Ellen’s comment about a drawing she was making. Anna had a little fit; she threw a box of markers on the table and toppled a bin containing yarn on the floor. When she had calmed down, she picked up everything, so that in the end no harm had been done. Because of that, the JC decided not to charge her with any rule violation.

However, during its investigation the JC had called Ellen in to be a witness, at which point the simple facts were put into context and a real story emerged. It turned out that Ellen had told Anna to change something in her picture, emphasizing that “it was only a suggestion” and Anna “didn’t have to do it if she didn’t want to”. While Ellen was testifying, she looked quite agitated, and after a few moments of thought she said: “I realize that I have to be more careful with what I say to my little sister. I told her that she didn’t have to do what I suggested but now I realize that she takes what I say more seriously than I want her to, and I can understand why she got so upset.”

I was astounded. Here was a seven year old child who was clearly articulating her younger sister’s point of view, and was drawing insightful conclusions about why her behavior had been wrong.

I am quite sure that this kind of thing happens often at school, but it usually happens out of sight. I am so glad that this one time I was there to observe it.

Posted in General, Life at Sudbury Valley, Underlying Ideas, Vignettes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Moment to Cherish