In the Place Just Right

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” ~ Ella Fitzgerald
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IMG_0599Imagining how a program might evolve is one thing. Finding oneself in the midst of important work is another.

Five years after moving from Boston to Maine and leaving a school headship of 17 years, I’ve landed in, what feels to me like, “the place just right” (Simple Gifts; Elder Joseph; Alfred ME.)

LEAPS of IMAGINATION, founded in 2014, is giving kids the chance to put themselves at the center of some complex art making. They are trying out new mediums and motifs and making intuitive connections between literature, science, and art.

Back in the summer of ’13, when midcoast Maine’s town officials were struggling to balance their budgets, art was the first thing to go. And to give kids more, rather than to accept the notion that they would have less, LEAPS of IMAGINATION was conceived. It was a spontaneous move, meeting with principals, listening to teachers, and keeping my fingers crossed that I could make such a program happen for kids.

Now almost four years later, our team of 6 mentor artists has impacted hundreds of kids in rural Maine, from the island of Vinalhaven to the St. George Peninsula. We’ve collaborated with superb teachers and principals. It is time to express my gratitude.

To our cohort of extraordinary artists, Alexis Iammarino, Susan Beebe, and Sarah Rogers – the core team, and to Cindy McGuirl, Sandy Weisman, and Dee Peppe (who join us when classes are especially large) – I feel privileged to learn from and with you. LEAPS has grown immeasurably because you, as mentors to the kids we teach, keep stretching yourselves in every possible direction.  I’m thrilled to welcome our new member, Avis Turner, an artist and educator with vast experience in the classroom and with Reggio Emilia inspired teaching, moving north from Connecticut. She will begin working with LEAPS next fall.

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I am indebted to our funders, the Crewe Foundation, Davis Family Foundation, Maine Arts Commission, Maine Community Foundation, Nellie Leaman Taft Foundation, Partners in Island Education, and to two school districts that have supported our work, RSU 13 (Rockland, Cushing, Thomaston, and Owls Head) and St. George.

LEAPS =  Real World Issues // Collaboration // Connections

Recognizing that today’s students are connected to their natural world, we work at empowering them as artists and stewards of the earth. They’ve told us outright that they believe that, “Everyone should learn that it’s important to take care of the environment when they’re kids!”  Many of our programs this year have made nature the context for creating – and kids have inspired us to pursue that topic again next year.

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LEAPS’ kids are learning to collaborate as young people and getting practice for later in life.  Engaging them in consensus building as members of a project team, we’ve seen them develop shared ideas, run into occasional struggles as partners, and open their hearts to the realization that they have the power to create something from scratch!

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For me, and I expect for children too, being connected to a team of mentor artists who are full of the same excitement that we hope to generate in kids, is about as invigorating as it gets. IMG_8982Here is a big thank you to all of you who are part of the LEAPS community – who believe that art can launch children into a world they may never have imagined.

With warm wishes for a summer full of investigation and creative thinking, Nancy Harris Frohlich

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Together we have the Genius of Oceans

img_1117“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe.You have to make it fall.”      ~ Che Guevara

Can you imagine interviewing “revolutionaries” around the world about the most salient uprisings of our time? That’s what filmmaker Hugo Latulippe did, spanning the years from 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to 2015. The exhibition, 25X la Révolt, at the Museé de la Civilisation in Quebec City took my breath away. Looking into the eyes of activists who are “foreshadowing a new cycle” in the current history of politicians, I felt the power that we, citizens of the Earth, must use to preserve our collective freedoms.

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What can an artist do to project a social movement that’s exploded over three decades? Latulippe chose students, feminists, journalists, eye witnesses, politicians, and more to portray riveting moments in time:

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  • Tiananmen Square Demonstrations  Beijing, China  April 15 – June 4, 1989, Shen Tong, student leader
  • Earth Summit  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  June 3-14, 1992, David Suzuki, environmental activist
  • Zapatista uprising  Chiapas, Mexico  January 1, 1994, Laura Castellanos, investigative journalist
  • First Free Elections in South Africa  Johannesburg  April 27, 1994, Jay Naidoo, political leader
  • March of Bread and Roses  Quebec  May 26 -June 4, 1995, Françoise David, feminist leader
  • Dismantling of a MacDonald’s by French peasants  Millau, Aveyron, France  August 12, 1999, José Bové, anti-globalization activist
  • Anti-WTO protests  Seattle, WA  December 3, 1999, David Solnit, anti-globalization activist
  • Second Intifada or Al-Aqsa Intifada  Jerusalem, Palestine  September 2000 – January 2005, Qossay Hamed, witness
  •  First gay wedding in the world  AmsterdamNetherlands  April 1, 2001, Job Cohen, mayor of Amsterdam and Louis Rogmans, Ton Jansen, Anne-Marie THUS, Helene Faasen and Peter Wittebroodimages
  • Alter-globalization of the World Social Forum (WSF)  Porto Allegre, Brazil  January 24-31, 2005, Aminata Traoré, political leader
  • Movement against the War in Iraq  Crawford, Texas  August 6, 2005, Cindy Sheehan, pacifist activist dsc_8938a-494x330
  • Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  New York, NY  September 13, 2007, Romeo Saganash, Indigenous Leader
  • Pan Revolution  Reykjavik, Iceland  October 11, 2008, Hördur Torfason, artist and activist
  • Twitter Revolution (Green Movement)  Tehran, Iran  June 13, 2009, Maziar Bahari, journalist
  •  Wikileaks Leak  April 5, 2010, Gaven MacFayden, investigative journalist
  • Indignants (Movement Indignados)  Madrid, Spain  May 15, 2011, Jon Aquirre Such
  • Printemps Erable  Montreal, Quebec  March 22, 2012, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, student leader
  • Election of the SYRIZA Coalition  Athens, Greece  January 25, 2015, Konstantina Kouneva, social organizer fullsizerender3

The film maker explains his concept – a visible awakening of civic consciousness. “Our crazy idea …was to bring together in one place 25 human movements that contain the contemporary collective intelligence. From the first discussions in 2012, we met with fire bearers from all over the world. This exhibition is a sort of hunt for words, facts and gestures to give us hope.”  

In addition to the 18 interviews, visitors have seven more events to digest that include the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change and the Arab Spring, presented in still photographs and text.

Through archival footage and interviews on the front line, we see the Green Movement. The opposition used social media to organize and broadcast protests worldwide against a repressive regime, while the international community got an unprecedented glimpse at Iran's inner turmoil.
Interviews and archival footage give the viewer a front row seat as Iran’s Green Movement uses social media to organize and broadcast protests against a regime of repression. The world got an unprecedented glimpse of this country’s inner turmoil.

But Latulippe does not leave it at that. At the center of the exhibition visitors can give their input to The Constitution of the Future World.  Providing computers to facilitate on-the- spot contributions to a prospective document, the artist will synthesize and publicize the these collective ideas in a year’s time.

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Some of the most compelling comments came through in a film narrative.

“We will need to get inside every crack in the wall….to clear the path to create change.”

“In the years to come, we too will learn to fight against, walk in the shoes of the abused…” 

“And we will recognize one another and become one.”  

“We will raise our voices and know the limits of the unacceptable…”    

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” We will scour all the schools for fire and wind…”  “We know the next time we will be unyielding.”  

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“We can unleash the rivers. Together we have the genius of oceans.”  “We are everywhere.”

It is time to believe in our collective power. We must join together and take action.

hlatulippegunthergamper3-494x414  Thank you Hugo Latulippe ~ Nancy Harris Frohlich

Viewing Photographs to Promote Justice

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One of the most striking and timely exhibitions I’ve witnessed in years brings issues of civil rights to the fore through the lens of the camera. As hate crimes against Muslims, Hispanic Americans, Blacks, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community surge following the US election, the Fogg Museum’s “Vision and Justice: The Art of Citizenship” gets our attention at the same time we reflect on Martin Luther King’s legacy.

 

img_0902Sarah Lewis (Harvard’s Departments of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies) links art, social justice, and African American culture, inviting us to re-experience the beauty and pain of American history through selected photographic images. In this visual display from as far back as the Civil War, Ms. Lewis exposes our capacity for injustice, while reminding us of our belief in humanity. She beckons us to look back and move forward in the spirit of compassion, good will, and positive change.  imgres

In the midst of the Civil War Frederick Douglass told the public that our country’s progress would emerge from its citizens’ exposure to pictures rather than conflict. Lewis gives us face to face contact with decades of injustice while simultaneously reminding us that we are empowered to change our world.  Images like, I AM A MAN, a slogan that challenged and struck down legal segregation, coupled with photographs from artists like Gordon Parks and Kara Walker are poignant symbols of our responsibility to stand up and take action as we look toward an uncertain future.

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Immerse yourself in history; take a stand today.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

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“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” ~ John F. Kennedy

 

Choosing a Path toward the Future

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” ~ Rachel Carson img_7354

Children have a self-confessed passion for nature. When we asked fourth graders at St. George School in Tenants Harbor, ME to tell us where they most liked to be, it was, by a significant margin, in the out of doors.
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Tenants Harbor is just one of the tiny fishing villages on the St. George Peninsula. It lies between the Gulf of Maine and the St. George River, and without going far in any direction, you can be at the edge of a pine forest, a trickling stream, or by the sea.

Collaborating with the local school and the town library, our team of 5 LEAPS of IMAGINATION mentor artists arrived on election day, poised to kick off a 4 week program. Every LEAPS’ project is an offshoot of an existing school program and is rooted in our deep belief in possibility, in human nature, and in our connection with the Earth.

img_7353Our goal for this program was for kids to investigate the natural beauty of their peninsula, and through observation, art making, and literature, be guided toward a deeper understanding of place and self. img_7976Little did we know, when we left our studio and headed down the path to the forest, that the course of our country would change that day. With journal in hand, each young artist chose three objects which would inspire his or her work of art. Our plan was for kids to use those motifs to frame the self-portraits they’d later create.

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img_7366Indeed the decision to focus kids on their relationship to the Earth turned out to be fortuitous. Our overarching themes – trees restore us to stillness and calm; the ocean connects us to our own rhythms; and rooted in our deepest selves, we can stand up for that which we believe, may someday be guideposts for the students we taught. The discussions and artwork that emerged might even become springboards for their future action.

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Their prints, some of which are pictured here, are seedlings of hope, in what seems to many of us, to be a questionable future. ~ Nancy Harris Frohlich

“If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.” ~ Chinese proverb
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Go for It

 

img_5428 “So whatever you want to do, just do it…Making a damn fool of yourself is absolutely essential.” ~ Gloria Steinem

It’s been an extraordinary fall, and on a mid-October trip to the island of Vinalhaven, the color was truly intense. What came as a surprise was its reflection in the local school’s art room.

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Children from kindergarten through twelfth grade attend Vinalhaven School, and they informed me that, “Everybody knows everybody here.” img_5985That’s what art instructor, Heather White, told me too, describing her first year in a new position. Heather, was a seasoned classroom teacher who spent most of her career educating third graders. At the end of six years and then three years later, there was a position in the school’s art department that had become available. “But I didn’t reach for the ring,” she told me. Fearful the first time around, when the job came up again, she went straight to the principal with her request.

Six years later, Heather described her first encounter with high school kids as daunting. With no preparation in art, she reached back to the relationships she’d built with her former third graders. That got her through her first year. The principal had trusted her. The superintendent had trusted her. Now she simply had to believe in and fortify herself.

Heather is a natural, and it’s unlikely that it was the four years of additional coursework required for art certification that made her a brilliant teacher. She got her real training “on the job,” juggling every subject with elementary school kids. I couldn’t miss her buoyancy, coupled with an her intuitive ability to notice and value the essence of every child. She quoted a fourth grader, unable to read, whom she’d had in class earlier that morning. “Look – it’s a leaf floating in the water!” Pointing out a veined golden specimen in a field of blue, Heather was ecstatic. She recognized her student’s unabashed courage.

After an hour’s exchange with her, as it neared 5 PM, it was clear what these two had in common. Passion. She energized the student and the student energized her.

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I’m returning next spring for an extended visit/observation. Something remarkable is happening here, and I want to know more about it.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

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Feeling Connected

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A few weeks ago I got an email about someone I thought I knew. He was going to be the distinguished guest lecturer – a very special individual indeed, at an important local museum event. That feeling of familiarity turned out to be real. The upcoming speaker, Tucker Nichols, had been a student in my first grade class almost 40 years ago. It was obvious to me that on the upcoming occasion, I’d be learning from him.

We met in the lobby of the new Center for Maine Contemporary Art, a moment in time, which I’ll continue to recall in detail. It was then that the warmth of connectivity came over me. This forty-something year old described his six-year old self making a shield and a sword for his first grade medieval studies.

As he went on to talk about what happened next, what he studied, and how he decided to become an artist, he shared his art with the crowd.

images-8We saw a symphony of flowers created from the remains of  house paint that nobody wanted. Full of movement, booming with color, and at the same time glorious in their brazen simplicity, his blooms say everything about the freedom of childhood.images-4

I’ve been thinking about who Tucker is and what I learned from him – about how he thinks and works. So much resonates. As someone who still teaches kids today, I know just what I’ll be integrating (or re-integrating) into my life in schools today. Here goes:

1. As artists and teachers all, spontaneity is what gives our work and our experience meaning.

images-62. Creative thinking takes time. Lots of it. It’s a process that must be honored, the stuff jiggled around a bit, and what comes of it, documented in some way.

images-73. If we are courageous, we’ll let our passions lead us and know when it’s time to leave the other stuff behind. images-2

 4. Ideas sprout up when we’re least expecting them. If we give them life and go back to pull out the weeds later, we’ll surely find some real gems budding in our idea gardens.

images-15. Think symphonically. Go for context. When Nichol’s fictional character, Crabtree, found a way to give randomness order, he suddenly knew where to go next.

6. Use up stuff that the world doesn’t need, and give back new possibilities.

images-97. Make and re-make connections. Good feelings and new thinking grow out of them, reaffirming our convictions and/or setting us out on a new path.

Thank you, Tucker, for giving me, giving the larger world, some new blooms.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

Tucker Nichols attended first grade at Charles River School in Dover, MA, went on to Springside School in PA, and to Brown and Yale to study art. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter, planting the seeds of art making everywhere he goes.

All the art on this BLOG is the work of Tucker Nichols.

 

No More Old School: Time for Change

“I would really like to go back to school. I would love it now.” ~ Fiona Apple

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THE SCHOOL, transformed from traditional classrooms into a massive 30,000 square foot art museum, looks just as it did in its past life on the exterior. Stepping inside, I was astonished. Gleaming white spaces, punctuated by an occasional brick wall left intact and enormous works of art, were the vision of renowned NYC gallery owner, Jack Shainman. Located in the center of the small town of Kinderhook, along the Hudson in Columbia County, NY, THE SCHOOL’s focus is worldwide art.

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IMG_4115One of the most fascinating installations is by the artist, Garnett Puett. Representing the fourth generation of beekeepers, he has designed a series of metal armatures, within which bees have constructed “artworks” in their own medium – honeycomb. In what was once a school bathroom, with exposed brick walls and evidence of former plumbing fixtures, there is a case made of wood and glass. At the back there is a tube filled with worker bees, running to the outside of the building. Traveling in and out, they demonstrate “a communal process and repetition,” two themes that flow throughout the four current installations.

We can learn something from this. In schools like this, where kids once sat in desks, bolted to the ground and apart from their peers, they can now create in cohorts. They can build something powerful. They can let their ideas fly free. And when they keep on keeping on, a small idea can morph into something bolder than they’d ever imagined.
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That’s what happened when Jack Shainman came to town. In a community of  8,000 residents, he helped an old school take on a new life. Once a high school, then an elementary school, THE SCHOOL has become a place where one man’s ideals now reside and where a new kind of learning is now possible for every generation.

There’s something to learn here for everyone. If you’re in the area – don’t miss it. THE SCHOOL is open Saturdays from 10-5.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

“They always say that time changes things, but you have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol

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Kids’ Work: Discovering Light

“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir

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It’s summer time and light abounds. In the first spectacular weeks of the season I had the chance to see what kids could do with freedom, light, and color. At the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s opening ArtLab, kids combined and connected as they saw fit. Working with bits and pieces of colored plastic, fishing wire, tongue depressors, and more, they experimented with objects and the way light and air made magic with them.

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One of the great treats for all was the collaboration among parents, grandparents, and children. Exploring balance and beauty, everyone succeeded.

“In nature, light creates color. In the picture, color creates the light.” ~ Hans Hoffman
IMG_3952 IMG_3914In June, teens from Watershed School’s joint program with Rockland, Maine’s Steel House, exhibited their remarkable semester’s work. It was clear to me that big kids, when given time and materials, find their way into the light. Working with patterns on surfaces, extraordinary things happened. IMG_3678‘Tis the season to let go and let light and color move us. It’s our collective desire and something kids naturally do – to let summer take the lead. We need just believe in the spirit of freedom and take those few moments to discover.IMG_3685IMG_3683

Nancy Harris Frohlich

Antidisciplinary Thinking: In Training

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“The creative jobs of the future will not fit into boxes as neatly labeled and divided as the professions of today. The positions that involve mastery and the use of powerful technologies will be filled by people who combine a range of different skills from different disciplines. These jobs will require not just interdisciplinary but antidisciplinary thinking and doing.” ~ Mitch Resnick, MIT Media Lab

I just completed a seven thousand mile voyage going west across Canada, with an extended itinerary that led east across the United States. I traveled entirely by train. No internet, no access to bits of incoming information or news. It was, for me, a new window into big picture thinking. Although some were alarmed as they boarded VIA Rail from Toronto, most realized that something profound was about to happen en route to Vancouver, and it would reflect the best kind of learning.

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When we awoke the first morning to a wide angle view of the Canadian Shield, I got the full picture of a mineral-rich area of rock. I learned that it evolved somewhere between 4.5 billion and 500 million years ago. One fellow passenger explained that the Shield extends west from Labrador to the Great Lakes, and all the way to the Hudson Bay. Over breakfast, engaging in casual conversation and observing the vistas, I gave thought to this new concept. IMG_0430

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We sped along on the trans-Canadian rail with only brief stops. In the midst of nature’s extremes, from the Plains through the Rockies, I witnessed a majestic whole. My mind felt as wide open as the spaces. Without clutter or interruption, ideas flowed in a soothing, boundary-free stream.

I was astounded to find myself  back in training. And it became clear to me just how my experience could translate into crucial directions for schools.

Taking for a moment, the vantage point of a land even further away, I reflected on the Finnish perspective. Their’s is truly a big picture vision of education. The Finns cultivate active, independent learning, where kids learn to frame, dissect, and figure out diverse solutions to problems with the aid of well-trained teachers. Students work in tandem with their peers, crossing curricular boundaries, as they will when they enter the world of work.

“The aim of Finnish primary education is not ‘school readiness,’ but to promote children’s growth into humane individuals and ethically responsible members of society by guiding them toward responsible action…This framework emphasizes the development of thinking in relation to language and communication, mathematics, ethics and religion, environmental issues, physical development, and arts, and culture. All of these domains must be handled in a way that supports children’s holistic growth.” (Finnish Lessons 2.0, 2015) 
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Learning can be a slow journey into unbounded (antidisciplinary) spaces where minds are free to imagine and students have enough time to envision their own connections. Let’s give our kids the chance to see the big picture – a meaningful context – in an era in which it’s so easy to get lost in the details.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

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In Our Own Hands

IMG_9677“I am interested in the idea of taking art (or museum shows/collections) out of the realm of ‘institution’ and into the hands of the individual; one does not need a formal space to put things in, in order for it to be valid.” ~ Keri Smith

Kids see their own art as pure, authentic, and surprisingly satisfying. Last week, before we broke for school vacation, I was sitting on a chilly cement floor with a group of 30 public school children, having tried our darnedest to fit every child in two second grade classes into a large circle.IMG_9908We’d almost made it around for comments when two young artists volunteered to share a piece of their own art. Proudly, they held their the not-yet-printed collagraph up before the group. From our midst, whether inspired by the complexity of design, or the images before them, came a sudden burst of applause.

Universally acclaimed by every second grade LEAPS of IMAGINATION student, this was an authentic piece of art. How would kids know?
Testing an array of uncommon mediums, new skills or tools, and a tentative plan is a feat that requires an admirable amount of risk taking – the willingness to go out on a limb. For a start, kids are looking for connective tissue and composing a unifying story from their preliminary ideas.

IMG_9880That’s something most young kids in school are willing to do if we present them with  long blocks of uninterrupted time. With virtually no dress rehearsal, and enough resilience to pick themselves up after a fall, they reap real satisfaction from the unpredictable art forms that emerge. IMG_9864

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How can we as teachers make it safe for students of any age to take art, or any subject for that matter, into their own hands? Here is a handful of smart suggestions from Keri Smith’s 2008 book, How to be an Explorer of the World – habits of mind we can generously impart to all.

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1. Always be looking.

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2. Consider everything alive and animate.

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3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.IMG_9668

4. Alter your course often.

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5. Observe for long durations (and short ones).IMG_99446. Notice the stories going on around you.IMG_9817

7. Find patterns and make connections.IMG_9928

8. Document your findings in a variety of ways.

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We can take learning and art making into our own hands if we stop for a moment and view the world through Smith’s lens.

Take a peek….with spring on our doorstep, we can’t go wrong. IMG_7180

Nancy Harris Frohlich