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.


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.


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



Feeling Connected


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








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.


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.

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




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.


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


“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) 

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




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


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.


1. Always be looking.


2. Consider everything alive and animate.


3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.IMG_9668

4. Alter your course often.


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.


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


Technology, Imaginative Thinking, and the Brain

IMG_8941“When technology enables – indeed, encourages – a change in a customary way of doing things, old patterns of response and old understandings are modified accordingly.” ~ Sven Birkerts, Changing the Subject, 2015

Today’s children are learning differently, and we’ve recognized that technology’s got a lot to do with it. In Changing the Subject,  Birkerts asks the question, “How [is technology] affecting the great non-quantifiable intangibles – our thinking, our sense of initiative, our subjective self-grounding?” How is it impacting developing young minds?

I’ve been observing the children we teach in LEAPS of IMAGINATION, noting how freely most are willing to be with both materials and design elements. I’m noticing whether or not a child comfortably jumps into a new experience or sees the way art gets us thinking about subjects like literacy, science, and geography.
IMG_8945IMG_8793We ask for children’s written feedback at the end of a session. Their reports tell us that most are keen to stretch their imaginations –  to experiment and envelop themselves in “making.”

IMG_9070IMG_8910They write, “I like art because I get to imagine anything in the whole wide world!” “I am having a bunch of fun, and I just let myself free with art.”  “Art gets you going! It makes you smarter!” “I use my imagination. When I make art, I feel happy.”


At the opposite end of the spectrum is a small number of children who aren’t sure about how to take the imaginative “leap.” One teacher gave me her perspective, “There are kids who are really smart, but their minds are paralyzed by technology.”  “I just don’t know how to think,” one devoted young video gamer told me.

Birkerts writes, “There is no deep time in this field of flickering impulses, and much of what defines us – contemplation, aesthetic immersion, the sustaining resonance of human interaction, only happens when there is deep time and attention.”


How can we transform our classrooms to enable children, whose brains are constantly adapting to technological turmoil, to become playful again? To take their time and see what happens?  To fashion something whole from things separate? To recover from frustration and reflect on the process? To let one experiment propel the next?

Three years of LEAPS has affirmed my thinking. Kids’ brains are being rewired, yet we can still help to stretch them in every which way imaginable.

IMG_9087IMG_8621We can give them big blocks of time to explore, fail, and collaborate with a peer. One child said to me, “Art takes time. If you are going to be creative, you need time.” That goes for any aspect of the curriculum.

We can provide them with a context that links their learning. If a group is transfixed by insects, launch them into the world of entomology. They will investigate, build connections, and whole heartedly communicate their insights to others – skills that they can use regardless of the subject.

We can invite kids to try their hand at something entirely new. It will level the playing field and give them permission to venture forth. IMG_8889If children are learning differently these days let’s do something remarkably different on their behalf.

With kids in mind,

Nancy Harris Frohlich

Plunging to the Depths: Learning + Ice Cuts

The knowledge of place “comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it.” ~ Wallace Stegner, novelist, environmentalist, historian

IMG_7851If we take the time to notice, we can truly revel in our connection to place. Two fourth graders, recent participants in the LEAPS of IMAGINATION program,* were asked what they love most about living on the coast of Maine. In a jiffy they responded, “That I can look at the sun when it is rising near the ocean,” and, “The harbor and the cool ocean breeze.” In a time in which we scurry from place to place and we focus on one commitment or another, I was ecstatic to hear that kids are passionate about their community near the sea.  IMG_7802

On a blustery winter day in Maine we can’t help but know where we are and what’s going on around us. Today the snow, two feet high, is glistening in the afternoon sun, and icicles hang from the eaves. Winter has unexpectedly carved a formidable place, deep within my soul.

IMG_8017I recently got still another perspective from Eric Aho’s Ice Cuts, exhibited at The Hood Museum, in Hanover, N.H. – breathtaking works that reveal the artist’s experience of the winter landscape over nearly a decade. Each year he cuts a hole in the ice, “a meditation on the nuances of light and color.” “Winter,” says Aho,”takes me to faraway, impossible reaches.” Interweaving past and present, he travels back in time, recalling his father’s ice-harvesting days while experiencing “the depth of the ice, the light of the day, and the reflections of the water.” His artwork brought me marvelously close to that chill of winter.

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IMG_7606IMG_7921Kids Drawing Imaginary Maps

The depth of one’s learning, like the depth of Aho’s ice cuts, offer the ultimate experience for school children. Both in the classroom and in connection to place, making our own meaning lets us deepen our personal narratives and connect to our inner selves. When we are “in this place” we can move from abstraction to memory in school and from memory to abstraction in art.


It’s now common knowledge that children need to plunge into learning. “Deeper learning competencies are what will help students succeed in a dynamic and uncertain world that places a premium on people who are flexible, creative, and innovative.” ** So that is what we must offer them. It’s time to give them the challenge of making “ice cuts” this season, and give them big blocks of time in which to take the plunge. 

There’s more to winter still. And I, for one, am happily sinking my boots into it.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

IMG_8032* LEAPS of IMAGINATION is an in-school art + literature program for public school children, whose art programs have been significantly cut.

**National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future 2016, “How Deeper Learning Can Create a New Vision for Teaching”

Teacher as Artist

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts, since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”               ~ Albert EinsteinIMG_6545 IMG_6531

My first great mentor was Miss Farrell, my Second Grade teacher at Stanley School. On the first day of class, ready to share her passion for horse racing, she stood before her 32 students. On her desk sat an authentic model of a race track. imagesAt the starting gates she’d positioned 4 horses – Tony, Red Badge, Bluebird, and Blackie, the horse to which I was assigned. For my entire Second Grade year, horse racing would be the context in which we learned.

IMG_6508Integrating curriculum requires an imaginative mindset and a vast amount of work. That is just what Charles River School’s Fourth Grade teacher, Teresa Baker, brings to her teaching. Inspiring children with the theme of Ancient Greece, she interweaves geography, history, literacy, math, science, art, and music into a appetizing feast for young learners.IMG_6520IMG_6552


Skillfully linking art and academics, Ms. Baker starts with just a bit of content material and grows the curricular context as she adds each new learning experience. IMG_6554


Children become gods and goddesses, taking on the identities of those with powerful positions in the mythological hierarchy.

They use novel ways of thinking to become creators and inventors. Grappling with big ideas, they pose relevant questions (Why did the Greeks make vases? How did they make them? Do different vases hold different things?), comparing ancient traditions to today’s life patterns. One of Ms. Baker’s goals is for students to represent their understanding in multiple dimensions, on maps, original games, in writing, theater, and musical composition.

When we give children the opportunity to transform their ideas into new and tangible forms, we empower them to have the courage, imagination, and wisdom to become change-makers. Feeling competent about the possibilities, they know that beyond classroom walls, they can affect change in their local communities and wider world. IMG_6538 

IMG_6542Teaching is an art form. With today’s pressure on professionals to better student test scores and integrate developing technology, how many of us take the time to recognize the ways in which teachers stretch children’s thinking? Plunge them into discussions about real world trends?  Teach them to think as a team?

I observed Ms. Baker teaching a lesson in logic. She emphasized strategy, asked Fourth Graders what problems had in common, and noted that,”Not every strategy works for every type of problem.” She reminded students what it means to be organized in one’s thinking, to notice patterns, and that starting with simpler problems that become more complex enables children to confidently apply what they’ve learned.

When we chatted after the lesson I wasn’t surprised to hear Ms. Baker refer to the process as, “It’s all about going deep. When I pull out those (math) manipulatives I’m not just teaching a skill – I’m helping children gain conceptual understanding.”

IMG_6502IMG_6523Ms. Baker knows that her students are more than aware of world issues. Acknowledging their fears and questions, “Why are some religions so different from others? Why do some people kill?”, she believes that talking honestly and appropriately to children will help the next generation to become kinder and more generous individuals. “These kids are the future. I keep telling them, “Be kind – no exceptions!” 

We must affirm our extraordinary teachers and learn from them. Not only are they transforming their classrooms into centers for inventive and strategic thinking, they are  training children to be questioning, collaborative, and proactive members of our world community. She reminded me, “We have power here – to change the world. It’s really important work. It’s uplifting to be part of it! “

Kudos to you, Ms. Baker!   You are moving minds and growing the human spirit.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

Vinalhaven School Children Catch the Design Wave with LEAPS of IMAGINATION


“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in every moment.” ~ Henry David Thoreau IMG_6228






On December 11, Vinalhaven School’s 21 second and third graders launched themselves as artists and creative thinkers at an exhibition of their art at NEW ERA GALLERY. They described, step by step, their work in LEAPS of IMAGINATION, a three-week program integrating art and literacy. Speaking confidently, they clearly felt like experts.

Vinalhaven is an island off the coast of Maine, just over an hour’s ferry ride from the midcoast mainland. There’s a thriving lobster and fishing industry there, and many of the children in our group were from fishing families. As such, they had an enormous knowledge base about boats and the sea. LEAPS gave them the chance to translate their passions into art. IMG_6304

From the beginning, children made connections between literature  and their work as “team members.” Partners learned to negotiate, be considerate of one another’s points of view, and occasionally give up their own idea for the good of the group. For some it all happened naturally. “I thought of space and she thought of a city, and ‘boom,’ we made a city on the moon!”IMG_6243IMG_6276 There was nothing simple about the process. Each day, after zeroing in on literary themes, comparing ‘messages’, and applying them to their work as artists, kids were over the moon. Their positivity propelled their artwork down new paths. We observed children engaged in doing what they love while devoting hours on end to developing increasingly complex art.

Nearly two months after their program had ended, they were “on stage” before a sea of adults. We marveled at the vocabulary they’d retained and the pride that came through as they told the story of making art as twosomes.

IMG_6218IMG_6135With a new sense of self, they were accomplished designers who were riding the wave of success. Their imaginations in gear, there would be no stopping them now. One parent said it all, “This was a wonderful way to show the children’s hard work and make them feel important. This program seemed to make the children very happy, and the hard work done shined through!”

IMG_6267As we look toward the New Year and a future in which young people will be at the helm, what could be more important than giving children the chance to imagine and connect? Synthesize their ideas into something new and make new waves?

With gratitude to the artists who make LEAPS possible – Alexis Iammarino, Sarah Rogers, and Sandy Weisman,

Nancy Harris Frohlich IMG_6169 IMG_6117