by Carrie Kirk
Some of you may remember that my youngest son attends one of the IPS magnet schools. IPS #60 is the Butler Lab School which is a collaborative educational effort between our city's public school system and Butler University. George began in a parochial school and made the switch to Butler Lab only at the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year. I knew it was going to be quite a transition for him. Tipping me off was on the first day, George walking into his combined second and third grade classroom -- a very open space with areas of activities - and asking, "Where's my desk?"
George came into this environment with the most amazing handwriting. Truly. My friends and family would see examples of his work hanging on the fridge and ooh and aah over it. In his new school, however, George threw his perfect script out the window. In place of it, though, he has "published" (class-produced books) some wonderful stories, learning about the power of a hook sentence. He scrawls now but he has become a storyteller.
Same with his studio time. Studio is what they call art class. Rachel Kesling is the studio teacher, and she's young, energetic and open to new ideas. Rachel focuses not on being an art educator but rather working to always merge with what is happening in the children's classrooms. "Studio is project-based and interdisciplinary," she explains. And when I come to observe a studio time, which coincidentally is my son's time with art, I understand. Butler Lab is a culture that is always reinforcing connections. It could be connections amongst the classroom and school community. It's also the connections between what the children are exploring in various areas of the building and merging them as one.
My son's class is way into yoga. Seriously, I have seen photos of these twenty-some kids in the cobra position. They meditate, which as George explains "helps with their stress." I took a year of yoga instruction for my 200-hour certification and my abilities don't come close to my son's. He knows so many poses and does what I don't -- practices weekly. Because these kids are exploring yoga, they are also making a book of illustrated poses during their studio time, from downward dog to child's pose. And as I meandered through the bright and spacious studio classroom, that was just one of the projects the kids could work on. Some were carding sheep's wool. Others were dyeing the yarn made from the sheep's wool, using jars filled with liquefied turmeric, coffee or even avocado. A table of kids were using watercolors to paint the jars of color being used for the dyeing.
There was choice. There was instruction. There was order. There was laughter and discussion. There was not chaos. There was not "teacher talk, kids do not." There was not just one way -- one thing to do and one way to do it. Education is not always going to be fun and light like a game, but this came close AND was getting the lessons across. The lessons of collaboration, self-control and creativity.
Just this past week, I saw Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot at IRT. It's a playful whodunit mystery based on William Gillette, who was a star of the American stage during the early part of the 20th century. He wrote the play Sherlock Holmes in collaboration with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and he starred in it with enormous success. In the play, Gillette is portrayed as a free-spirited actor and inventor. When accused by an old flame that Gillette treats everything as a joke, he gives a terrific monologue about life being a game. In it he says, "We (actors) don't want to be grownups. We're all Peter Pans and a good thing it is too. I don't want to leave all the fun behind because I've reached some magical age of regret ... I don't treat life as a joke -- I treat it as the most glorious game ever invented."
In art, can't we inspire our children to approach it much like the glorious game it should be? Yes, it requires discipline, but it first taps into the spirit of creativity. The child must say to him or herself, "Let's see ... can I do this? Let's find out."