Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beneath the faery house: Nature-Thinking

Faery Houses may be the new Bird Houses for community activity and fundraising!  a Wisconsin version .  Nonetheless, Faery Houses can be a personal, classroom, and family activity.  I'm tinkering with the ways to present it, so it invites people into a dreamy creative process and not just speed them to a Thing. I tried an adult version MARKINGS.

The local sawmill, Laroe's, has a pile of cut-offs for the taking.  These might be the bases for this project. I like using easily available, yet unusual, materials.

DECEMBER, 2013   
I started working with a local kindergarten-1st grade class, (about twenty-three 5 and 6-year olds).   The general topic is "Faery Houses"... an off-shoot of my lifelong activity working with natural materials.
It's a way to explore Nature-Thinking: alternative ways of seeing, thinking, sensing that balance and complement the traditional logic or machine-thinking required in many situations.  It's a chance to develop different kinds of thinking talents. And it's a way of involving people who are more nature-oriented. I learned this a few years ago in a related project at the same school.

I had 40 minutes. The first ten were during a mid-morning snack of various fruit slices and it ended as the children went to lunch. During the first few slices of fruit, I was introduced and welcomed: "Hello, Mr Mack, Buenos Dias".  I had been previewed as a maker of things, things with natural materials and the father of a former student of the teacher. "I had Mr Mack's daughter in class, now she's having a baby!"   (What's the hidden lesson in this? Deal with him and you too will have a baby?)

I started by asking them what they were already making in the nearby woods; what trees were their favorite; I was told that they had already made many faery houses from all natural materials under the Big Sycamore.  "But it's all covered with snow right now." 

I said I'd like to learn more about what they knew about faeries.
I heard about wings and faery mounds and bottoms of trees.  No one had actually seen a faery. I asked if faeries were "nice".  Silence and then yes and no.  They can be either, or both.

I asked if we could do some projects together to learn more about faeries.. and maybe draw some pictures.  OK!  I said I had three different jobs:

I asked if there was anybody who was a good Looker?  Several hands went up.  I put down a stack of picture books on faeries, elves, trolls, angels and asked the group to look through them.  This was a popular activity.

I had Brian Froud's book on Faeries, and a few others.  I have an original copy of Waugh's Clan of the Munes from 1917  I plan to bring in.

Was anybody a good Counter?
Several more hands and I put down a box of those Artist Trading Cards: -- 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" cards either blank or cut/recycled from something. I asked the Counters to give everybody four of these.

Is anybody a good Rememberer?  One boy groaned about how bad he was at remembering. I said that I'd brought two special Chairs for Remembering.  That when you sit in these chairs, it helps you remember what you like about nature and what you really know about faeries.

Whoosh!       Books got opened, cards counted and chairs sat in...
then cards got made: words, wings, bodies drawn colored, named...
The Chairs for Remembering were a big hit.  I invited the users to close their eyes, take a few deep breaths...In and Out, In and Out and "Remember times in nature, in the back yard, the park, the woods .  Remember those smells, the colors, the animals and bugs and leaves you saw... Remember what you liked most about being in nature... Now when you open your eyes try to draw what you remember"
Just a form of meditation, mindfulness? 
The Cards themselves were another hit.  Everybody knew about cards. They are small, safe little things to keep, to trade. Mr. Mack, can I keep six?       Yes.

I go back in January. We'll see where this goes.  The "structure" of this engagement is like its goal... to learn more about The Organic Way.  Even the words of Nature-Thinking are fundamentally are different from Machine-Thinking: seed, grow, digest, fallow, fertilize, compost, cook, raw, whither, harvest, tend.  These are nice farmer-y words, but let's see what happens when they get applied. Is there the patience, tolerance for THINGS not to appear right away?  in a period?

 JANUARY        Visit Two:  No Snack!   I did more Cards and talked about the Faery Houses.
The Snows of the winter slowed things down a bit. Thank you.

February 21, I came back in with 12 small slab cut-offs with a dozen holes of two different diameters drilled in the perimeter; a box of sticks ("kindling"); some yarn, acorns, and several pieces of thin bamboo and pine boughs from old Christmas door rope trimming.

I wanted to see just how much was enough to get all this going.  As a teacher, I have over-prepared many times and, I think, made the experience one of Following Directions rather than discovering how to make something.  In another recent situation, I referred to this as "teaching from the middle"

The kids got it immediately and began finding the right size sticks for the right holes.

Key in this was Grampa-Ed-With-the-Drill to add those extra holes.  

Homework.  I wanted some buy-in from the students, so the teacher asked if they could Find some natural materials to bring in to share.

February 28
There were baggies and bags of pine boughs, sticks, leaves, orphaned dry flower arrangements and a bit of dryer lint... YES!  This helped the kids participate in the project in their own ways.  I asked how they got all this great stuff.  My sister, my mother, my father, my friend... This is the group/community part of making something. Lots of people can have a part. It's much more than just getting a Project Finished.

That day we continued to elaborate the 12 ones we started.
They were still working in groups of three: Two K-1 students and a 5th Grade Buddy.  The projects grew taller, more complex, more fragile.  (There were a few times when I thought I was primarily working with a bunch of 5th Graders with Kindergarteners just watching)

To Glue or Not 
I got asked, mostly by the teachers, about using glue.  I had not given it too much thought.  We started by pressure-fitting the sticks into the slabs, then relying on gravity to help out. Glue makes things so permanent.  Keeping it all fragile may have a value... we'll see.  I remembered that this is not my first time thinking about the Permanence of Fairy Houses.

Here's an exchange with the teacher about NOT doing anymore building tomorrow.  (What is special here is that two of the older classes send in "buddies" to work with the younger students.  So this mixed age/skill grouping allows for a very rich and progressive experience.)
I was thinking of having them look at what they've done and develop a story about the Faery House (in group for 20 min) and then share as many 2-minute versions as time allows.  I don't think we have to build more this week.   How does that sound to you?
Good. They can chat with the buddies and the buddies can take some notes.  When they leave, we can develop the writing.  Big variety of levels when it comes to writing! 

Great Shift of Energy!!!  ... from the manic fussiness of building to the alpha-state dreaming about what built-object actually does.  
To help this, I brought in four Wands, to put all the children in the right mind for imagining what happens in these Faery Houses.  I turned off the lights and the three adults went around the room encouraging mindfulness:

Reality Footnotes
Faery House? No! A Boat.
1. Inevitable side chatter during it all. One girl to another:   
Why do you always get mad at ME and never HER!!?

2. The Teacher covered the tables with newspapers.
Two of the boys got very distracted by ads for toy Transformers on the newspaper and had to be reminded that the project was Faery Houses.  They then built a Boat with an Anchor.

3. Exchanges in the Classroom: 
Mr. Mack, I don't have a chair.  
Mr Mack, my buddy is sick today.
Mr. Mack, are there any more sticks? 
Mr. Mack, I don't have any thoughts!
There is NOT a bathroom in my Faery House.

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