Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Have Returned to the Primary Classroom

It has been a long time since I have written a post. I have so much to share. I am now a primary teacher at Toad Hill Montessori School in Madison, Wisconsin. So yes, I have moved. I accepted the position at Toad Hill in December of 2013 (initially a maternity leave coverage which has now expanded into a full time position for this school year and the next) and started working here January 6, 2014. It remains an enormous transition moving from Juneau, Alaska to the Midwest. However, the materials and the theory are my constant. They are the big and little dipper of my Montessori galaxy. The Pink Tower is, of course, the North Star. I am so happy to be back in the classroom guiding children aged 2-6.5.

I remain enormously grateful for the work I participated in using the Montessori materials with individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's. Too, I spent my last six month in Juneau working with children with disabilities including fetal alcohol syndrome, high spectrum autism and traumatic brain injury. I introduced many Montessori materials to these children and each time they responded in positive ways. Watching a child with high spectrum autism calmly roll socks or grate nutmeg was truly amazing, especially since she had rejected so many other previously offered materials.

It was such a validating experience to see the method work outside the classroom and with such a diverse population. I return to the classroom carrying these experiences within my teaching portfolio. Recently, I was giving a leaf washing lesson to a three year old and had such a vivid and beautiful memory of one of the eighties ladies (women over 80 years old) doing this work at the Bridge after I had given her a lesson with almost identical materials. I do miss those women, but I believe I will have other opportunities to work with seniors again down the road.

Toad Hill Montessori is an amazing place occupied by a sweet staff of four, occasionally five. It is in East Madison. I confess, it was a startlingly cold winter. However, when its cold outside, the indoor classroom hums with activity. We have done much since January. Here are just a couple photos. More will be posted soon and, yes, I will be posting about the work being done in the classroom often, hopefully weekly.

We have done so much more work together, but it's late and I just so wanted to get this post out. More soon. I promise.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Honoring the Moment: Poetic Inspiration Found Within An Adult Day Center

I was captivated by two scenes which occurred on the same day and at the same time at The Bridge last week. Two women, independent of each other, decided to sit out from the group activities and simply do what they felt called to in that moment. I walked from one to the other, not imposing myself on them, and simply bore witness to their grace and their insight. I witnessed the poetry of stillness. The poetry of contentment.

Sitting at my desk in the back room, I heard the first woman sit down in a chair placed directly in front of a large window.  The window provides a clear view of Gastineau Channel and of snow covered mountains. Another senior walked up to her and asked if she was alright. Her answer touched me. I rose from my seat to view her profile. She was calm and quiet. She stared out the window. Her breath recalled a softly spoken prayer.

Another senior asked her the same question as the first and her answer was the same:

"I'm just sitting here grieving."


I walked into the next room, still contemplating this woman's ability to carve out of the day a space for her to grieve the loss of loved ones, and came across another scene of serene beauty. A second woman sat alone at a table having declined an invitation from a fellow staff member to join 3 or 4 other seniors playing cards.

There, amongst the movement and the conversation of others, she sat writing out notes on her reading. She is in her 90's and still has beautiful handwriting. I watched her hand move across the page and remembered the hand of so many children writing their first words. I thought of my own diaries at home and how each carries the weight of my history. I thought, too, of how many times I used the phrase "muscular memory" in regards to how the physical body records and learns motions and movements.

Here, now, I witnessed it serving her. She, who's memories have faded and are no longer linear in terms of what we think of as a time line, held her pen and moved it across the lined page with the ease that dragonflies etch still water. This was comfort. This was her present in a way that made my own heart tremble as I thought to myself, "Praise small acts, for these are the acts that will humble you."


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Art with Seniors - Symmetry

The prepared materials:

I choose a range of materials so as to move from very simple art work to challenging. I knew we had a couple of women who really enjoyed doing art in the group today, so I was confident that they would be able to do each of the symmetry activities.

 First activity - very basic introduction to symmetry cutting.

(sorry can't find the link)

Second activity - draw a curved line or shape on a piece of folded construction paper and then cut it out.

Some of the seniors are cable of making a flower cut-out like the above, but most aren't. Therefore, I made a second symmetry demonstration piece that required only the ability to draw a wiggly line.

Third activity - these handouts are much more challenging then the first ones. I modified this particular activity. I had them illustrate the outlined half of a butterfly, cut it out and then free-hand illustrate the other blank wing with their own design. So technically, these were not symmetrical in regards to the illustrations, but were in regards to the shape.

(butterfly illustration)

Fourth activity  - I choose this particular drawing because it is of  a wolf. I try to bring to the art and the creativity writing projects local elements. Wolves are well known in Alaska.


Before I handed out the first symmetry art activity, I defined symmetry for the group and discussed examples of it. As soon as the small sheets of paper with the half images printed on them were distributed by myself and my assistant, the seniors began cutting.

She was so surprised when she open up the cut out paper and saw that it was now a heart.

After everyone had cut-out their first activity, they began the second one. Pencils were being used to draw a variety of shapes and things on the folded piece of construction paper.

Here a senior has cut out a symmetrical, yellow Christmas tree. 

She saw the paper outline from her tree and said, "I like that." Soon she was busy trying to fit it on to a page of paper so as to glue it on.

Next, the butterfly illustration was passed out. Colored pencils were also provided, as well as scissors. 

 The butterflies were beautifully illustrated.

All worked with deep concentration on their art.

Here are two of the finished butterflies for you to view:

I cleaned up the work tables a little and then passed out the wolf sheets. I walked around the table and explained to everyone how to do this work; that they were to draw the other side of the wolf's face. I also handed out a completed image of the wolf's face - one half was a photograph and the other a student's (from a school outside of Alaska) illustration. I was growing concerned that the seniors might be getting tired and that I was putting before them too much work. But, the wolf is a favorite image locally, so all reached for the sheets as they were passed out.

(Note: Most of the women that are photographed below are over 85 years old. )

Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished artwork.


Above: The artist at work.
Below: Her finished artwork.


Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished art work.



Above: The artist at work. 
Below: Her finished art work.


Yet, not everyone participated. One senior stated, "Oh, I'm just not into all of that. I would rather read." That is exactly what she did.

However, every now and then, she walked over to the tables were the art was being made and praised one senior's work or another.


Another senior is very detail oriented. She likes to organize the materials for making the art more than making the art itself. She also likes to be of assistance to those doing the art work. When one of the other seniors wanted help gluing their cut-out onto a piece of construction paper, it was this senior who I invited to do the gluing. She agreed to help immediately.

She then looked at the first symmetrical project papers, specifically the heart. A puzzled look came over her face. "Someone forgot to draw the lines on the other side of this paper," she said. A moment later, she had one in her hand and was using another to draw lines. She was very serious about her work. This was her art activity.

Photos and commentary:

She noted the folded half of a heart and then opened it. This is when she saw one side was blank. She was not interested in or even acknowledged symmetry nor that the lines were to be drawn by each individual after they cut the heart out. Instead, this simply lacked order to her. It did not make sense. It was incomplete, unfinished. She needed to carefully draw the lines on it so that it would be complete and then it would resonate order for her.

Below: She used the edge of one of the symmetry hearts to draw lines on another.

Below: She is almost finished.

Done. What was incomplete is now complete. Order is restored.  And if you noticed, she did do a piece of symmetry art work. She simply did it her way.