Advice for the Next President of the United States

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“While we try to teach our children all about life,
they teach us what life is all about.”
— anonymous

You are likely reading this on the brink of our national election.

There have been months of bickering, insult slinging, and behavior that would not be tolerated in most of our classrooms.

Certainly there are adult issues that must be addressed, yet I sometimes wonder that if we remembered more often the voices and ears of children, we might find the margins of compromise that allow debates to become more about the “us” and less about the “them.”

Children truly have wisdom and perspective that adults sometimes forget or lose in the busyness of life.

I am sharing three links in this blog that are the voices of younger children and adolescents. What if those running for political office, as well as those who already hold a policymaking position, and the media gave more time and attention to the wisdom they have to offer?

The first link is a video made by children at the IPS/Butler Lab School. They offer advice to the next President of the United States, which includes the importance of remembering the Golden Rule and why it is best to choose kindness over meanness.

Our children are watching; so how do they reconcile what they are told is appropriate behavior for them and then see adults not modeling it? 

The second video, also by the IPS/Butler Lab School is of the children reading the famous 100 Languages poem by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the internationally known schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Listen carefully and ask yourself, “Am I allowing students to learn and demonstrate their understanding through multiple forms of communication?”

Are you asking the child “to think without hands, to do without head, to listen and not to speak, to understand without joy?”

The third link is one of the most powerful messages I have seen, created by three young adolescents. Their message, cited in unison, provokes deep thinking and questioning about their school experience, their life as a student, and their questions about society and culture. How do we answer the question they raise as to why we ban certain books but we will not ban assault weapons, especially in light of school shootings?

While you may not agree with all of their questions and observations, it will definitely provoke thinking about issues and concerns of today’s adolescents. 

What I found in each of the three messages was the power of a child’s mind and heart and their openness for understanding.

It reminded me of the quote by Aristotle: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

I encourage you to find time to listen to children of any age that surround you and be open to learning from their minds and hearts.

Dr. Ena Shelley has served as dean of the Butler University College of Education (Gamma Nu Chapter) since 2005, championing the College’s mission “to prepare educators for schools, not as they are, but as they should be for all learners.” She has taught courses on early childhood education and kindergarten instruction since joining the college faculty in 1982. In 2012, she presented at the Indianapolis TEDx conference on “The Solutions Within.” Watch her TEDx Talk by clicking here.

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Art—A Necessity for Development

Having taught Fine Arts for decades in New York City public school middle and lower grades, I was delighted to be invited to visit a Lower East Side Settlement House with the prospect of presenting an early childhood Reggio-inspired art program for their Early Head Start.

Excited, hopeful, filled with plans and ideas of collaboration and artistic outreach to the community of my childhood—where my father, as a young boy, played on sports teams and my mother worked as a Settlement House secretary—brought tears of nostalgic joy.

I studied Reggio concepts at Bank Street College, visited many Reggio-inspired nurseries, read countless books on beautiful objects, concepts, and methods for incorporating Reggio into American schools. I attended workshops and programs throughout New York City on Reggio philosophies.

I was assigned two classes of older two-year-olds and met with each class for close to 1 hour once a week. Gaining their engagement, awareness, and reception to my program was not an easy task, as the teachers were quite set in their ways.

Yet, I forged ahead to introduce a newer, more creative approach.

My focus was on nature—the changing of the seasons, color, shapes, textures, incorporating awareness by seeing, talking, touching. We looked at the trees, the patterns on the leaves, and the natural world around us. As we transitioned from summer to fall, we looked at the light, the sun, shadows, and colors. I decided to transform the rooms through color and translucency by using tracing paper and opaque papers with collage and painting.

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Over the weeks, the children began to create wonderful panels that were placed on the windows. We created paper trees with leaves and crunched up tissue paper in orange, green, and red hues.

We observed the branches of trees outside our room dancing in the shadows of our window shades and made crowns of leaves for our hair. Our winter trees became snowy and bare. The blues, whites, silvers, and greys of winter were dramatic on the windows. Panels of cotton ball snow and ice were created with paint and mobiles attached to twigs. Spring heralded soft greens and pinks, yellow and lavender-blue colors in paint and collage.

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Our spring exploded in tissue paper blossoms and birds in nests, eggs, and flowers on our spring tree.

We made fairy head pieces for our hair and looked at the trees in blossom. We also explored with clay and created stabiles referencing Alexander Calder’s works using our own pipe cleaners, tissue paper, and found objects.

I encouraged the teachers to follow through with documenting techniques of inquiry as the children had much to say and discuss.

As my program winds down, I am hopeful that the staff will continue with the efforts I proposed and developed. The families and children were greatly inspirational and the need to explore and express ideas enriches and expands the capabilities of the children.

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Working at the Settlement House was a great experience for me on many levels, and I appreciate the opportunity to connect as a teacher and artist—especially with the educational changes imposed by testing and the rigidity in learning.

Creativity is vital, and children need to emerge and flourish through exploration and hands-on experiences.

Art is a necessity for such development.

Today, many Reggio programs are based in private nurseries and learning facilities in inner cities, which is of benefit to children and families. Still, many families of very young children lack access to this exceptional teaching and learning method, which has the potential to support and nourish creativity within individuals, families and entire communities.

Ms. Adele Phyllis Unterberg is an Art Teacher in New York City and has both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from New York University in Fine Arts Education.