We All Die or Do We?

To Die or Not to Die?

That is the question.

“We all die and go to Heaven.”

“We become angels when we die.”

“No we don’t.”
“Yes we do.”
“No we don’t.”
“Yes, we do.”
“All of us die. We turn into angels. And, we go to Heaven!”
A metal pail is thrown.
“We DON’T DIE.” 
“Yes, we do!”
“My Mom said we do. We all die and go to Heaven.”
We are born and we die. 
Or do we?
Our preschool classroom has me question everything about our life and spiritual existence.
Life is death and death is life.
C’est le vie. C’est la mort.

Do we ever really die?

That is the real question.

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Big Brother

The moment we walked in the door questioning eyes were on us: “Who are you?” my coaches asked my brother in law and father figure as he questioned them as to why I wasn’t getting any playtime on the basketball team. My brother is black and I am white based on societal descriptions. He always stood up for me and had my back. From elementary through high school. We would get side way kinds of stares by people who weren’t exposed to different kinds of families.

My mother died when I was turning 10. My (I think biological father) was incarcerated off and on. I was raised by my sister and my brother in law. We were rare and uniquely different. Looking back and reflecting on my upbringing, I realize just how thankful I am. I was exposed to what children normally are not exposed to and as a result I am an eclectic kind of person. I watched and listened to shows, movies and music such as The Sopranos, Poetic Justice and The Streets is Watching. However, I always had someone present and there telling me someone made it or it was directed by someone. Someone made it up from their brain and it was inspired by real life events. I always had someone like my sister or brother in law telling me to cover my eyes during the racy parts.

I have so many memories from playing ball, driving around pretending to be on MTV Cribs to witnessing drug raids to people dying. This was my reality. So, I understand many walks of life. I was and am blessed to be surrounded by real, authentic type love. A rare kind of love that you cannot find. They never had to buy love or material possessions. Getting Chinese takeout, laughing, yelling and crying a lot, playing monopoly and playing ball was enough. It was my foundation of what a family is all about. Not perfect but perfect if you know what I mean.

As a grownup, I am working towards planting seeds where children will make a better life and ultimately a better world by reaching mutual understanding across cultures and perspectives. A world where people will know who each other is the moment they walk in the door. Questioning eyes will fade. The who are you will turn into I know who you are. A place where different families exist and it’s cool and unquestioned. People will stop and stare for how beautifully dynamic and powerful differences are. A place where it’s cool and dope to be different aesthetically, creatively and intellectually.

Moving Canvas

I love a good story.
During my breaks from teaching I travel around the country and I make up stories from my brain. I do this free of charge because I love a good story. When I arrive at the schools ranging from PreK-3rd grade without any books, children stare in disbelief because they are thinking “story time” will be with “books”. I mean right, shouldn’t it be? Duh. But no, I look at them and say, “You won’t believe this, I came all the way here and I forgot my booksBut I started thinking about where books come from?”
Then we talk about our theories of where books come from and answers range widely from an amazon box left on their front porch to a library. We narrow our theories and thinking all the way down to a computer and even further to paper. I ask, “Where do books come from before the paper?” Everyone stares. I point to my brain aka my nugget and mention “our brain”. I tell them I have a backup plan and I’m actually going to make up stories from my brain.
I make up several freestyle ones and some memorized. After, children are invited to make up their very own and/or illustrate my stories (or their own).
I am driven with this crazy idea that I want children to think and to create. I want our children to be inspired and see themselves as authors and illustrators. I also want them to see themselves represented in the story lines.  I want them to draw their characters too. Most often it represents who they are and what they care about.
When children care about the story, the rest handles itself.
*Author’s note: I purposely moved the words to the opposite side.* 

 

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. @jill.telford http://www.fromtheplayground.com

Calling on Harold and His Purple Crayon

“Every line means something.”— Basquiat

Every child. Every human being is different. Each of us mean something just like every line does that Basquait was referring to. To draw a line in the sand due to these differences is indeed unfortunate. We are all a genius.  Genius in Latin literally means to give birth to. If we are all born a genius then how do we remain one as we grow over a human life span?

It’s really simple. It is all about tapping into who we are meant to be at our core. Being exposed to an open ended process way of being and becoming is as much vital for productivity as it is for the soul. How do we do this? How do we focus on the process and not the resulting product? Especially when we are saturated in a product driven world.

The following is what I’ve asked the universe for. And, I’m not going to ask for it again or repeat myself because I believe my deepest desire will manifest. I am already receiving and visualizing it into existence. Here is my vision:

*We take lessons right out of the playbook from a real life practicing developmentally appropriate preschool class room (school) and push it up as a model for our learners from birth through death. Early Childhood Education is from 0 to 8 — and birth through death when you deeply think about it. Learning in itself is for a lifetime. “Life-long learning” isn’t called that for nothing. Just google Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist and see how she rebuilt her brain with the help of her mother who was a former preschool teacher. You can also check out her TED talk here:

https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight?language=en

This leads me to ask: How are our children learning? How are adults learning? How is our elderly learning? What is our quality of life looking like?

For those who know me — they know I do NOT play Bingo so if they see me in a care home 60–70 years from now and I am there playing Bingo as a recreational activity (unless I grew to love Bingo somehow over the next 60 years)— I know on a soul level they would know that I’d much rather be jamming out to an old school R&B 90’s album or Motown (shout-out to the Temptations)preferably while also being outside in nature. With technology — that can happen. Golly, at least open a window!

When I visited a dear friend in a nursing home who had early onset dementia, he was unresponsive and disconnected. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to use the lower level of my brain and fight for his rights or flee and cry. But I did the only thing I knew how to do. I put early childhood education into practice as I met him right where he was to help him. I played some Motown and gospel songs from my phone. I knew he used to listen to that and rightfully should still be jamming out to it. He smiled. He bobbed. A tear rolled down his face. I got chills.

The next visit, I brought baby dolls, stress balls, scented play-dough. He rocked the baby. He squeezed the play-dough. He squeezed the stress-ball. He didn’t want to let any of these items go. He held the baby as though it were real and he started  rocking and humming a song. It reaffirmed that we are so connected to real life experiences. It’s the little things. — He is a father. His children are my age now but his connection to being a father and how he cared for them revealed themselves in the most intimate ways through intentional play. So yes boys and men hold baby dolls!

I also see this manifest itself in the college class I teach in the evening as well. Humans are craving something real and three dimensional. Students care about activities ranging from meaningful field trips, bringing in a meaningful object to write and talk about, having class outside to asking how are we feeling and even breathing together. Slowing down to learn, really learn and care. They want something that they can apply to their real lives. I find that as a teacher and learner when you care — the rest handles itself.

I deeply ask and reflect on how we are being developmentally and appropriately challenged? What is our approach to education? How are we approaching life? How are we taking care of ourselves and each other? Are we doing things just to do it and check it off our list or are we tasting the process? Are we experiencing life and being present?

Are we focused on the product? Or are we enjoying it as Harold did with his purple crayon (I’m guessing purple is his favorite color?) What is your children’s favorite colors? Who are they? What is yours? Working with children and families I face myself and ask myself who I am and who I am becoming. I draw on experience and reflect deeply about our practice and approach. Speaking of “drawing” — a pun very much intended.

Children often draw lines. For example, something like a star and we wonder why it doesn’t look like how we’ve been drawing stars for the past 100 plus years — but that’s where the magic lies. See when you really look at and study a Star and think like an astronomer or the five year old in your classroom — you really gaze and observe the many kinds of stars.

We can never recreate a drawing a child draws. It is intuitive. It is real. It is courageous. I look at the sky and see so many stars dim ones, bright ones and “connected dots” constellations. Children help me to connect the dots of our lives. For that, I am thankful.

We must arrive, see, smell, hear, taste, draw, talk, act, walk, create, shine, dim, fall, feel and die — like a star. Color outside the lines — like Harold. Draw your own lines — I wouldn’t suggest on the walls or floors though — unless BIG paper is covering it.

“Every line means [truly and infinitely] something.” — Basquait. That meaningful line like Harold’s crayon connects every single one of us. Keep connecting those dots to make this world better than how we found it and even better when we leave it behind.

Happy drawing and creating — here’s to you and our world.

The Collective Power of Our Stories

You are powerful.

You are creative. 

Most of all, together our collective voice screams our power and our courageWhere  does this kind of powerful energy come from? And, where   does it live and manifest  itselfget to see it manifest in the stories of our students from children to grown ups.  

Who we are and who we are in a process of becoming is just as important as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.           

By telling our stories we create powerful connectionsHow do you show and share your story? How is your voice heard? Where does your voice resonate the loudest? The softest?

Seriously think and reflect on this. Iit through poetry? Spoken word? Is it in art? Is it  found in a conversation? We recognize through our stories and our lives just how    connected we are and that we are all in a process of becoming. None of us really know  & when we think we do, change occurs and to grow we must grow and go with the change. 

This is how we grow and evolve. This is how we become. 

Tupac Shakur said, “I am coming out 100% real  and I’m not compromising anything.” 

We are found in a single sentence. We are found in a line drawn and extended magnified or minimized like an MC Escher sketch. “Every line means something,” said Basquait.  If every line means something in a drawing, then that also means every curve, every freckle each and every part of us means something too. Every “line” in this life means something.  

Each action or inaction affects all of us even when we don’t think it does, it  does. 

What’s your story? Who are you? Why are you here? How do you want to make your vision a reality and your voice resonate and connect? What are you doing right now to make your vision come to fruition? Where are you? When will you share your story — your voice?

We’re all waiting for you to become you and even when you become you, you will still change and grow. You will get growing pains and experience hurts. What will you do  with it all? You will change. You will evolve.  We are all in a never-ending process of becoming.  

Over and over again. Leveling up or leveling down and around like a run on sentence or drawn out lines. 

We never come to a complete end and when we think we have reached  the end we are reminded again that we are only just beginning.

 

Meditate on This. Breathe, Stretch, Shake.

Mr. Rogers asked, “What do we do with the mad that we feel?” 

Here are some more questions to add onto his first question. What do we do with the excitement we feel? Or the shyness? Or the anxiety? Or an overwhelming sensation? 

What do we do? From children to grown ups? Five years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night inside of a tent. I had shooting pains going up my arm. I was overweight. I had shortness of breath. Each and everyday.

I was already experiencing shortness of breath and day and night sweats. I was prescribed an inhaler due to not catching my breath at times especially on the playground. This evening was a red flag. I experienced a minor heart attack. 

I needed to change my life. What do you do with this? You change your life. I started exercising. My hurts, my hangups,  my exasperation, my sadness and my anxiety dissipated itself into my sweat. I started breathing better. I no longer needed an inhaler. I could breathe big and deep. 

Naturally I dropped into yoga like exercises. I changed my habits and this ultimately changed my life. 

Namaste.

Let Your Voice Ring. Sing Everywhere. Even if You’re Off Key. 

I remember singing in the car with my older sister during my formative years. Janet boomed from our car speakers: “Thats the way, thats the way, thats the way love goes.” We would sing our hearts out. I reminisced about my childhood memories of singing a lot during my last night drive with my other sister and we sang a lot during our road trip.

When is the last time you sang in the car? In the shower? With your family? Singing has endless benefits for our young and old. An Alzheimer’s patient may not remember their name but you know what they can remember? They can remember their favorite song!

Singing in the early education classroom is one of the keys for brain plasticity and growth. During the first five years of life the most connections (think synapses) are made out of the entire lifespan.  Every year of a child’s life is precious, but when it comes to development, the first 8 are the most important. This is when a child becomes the person they are going to be. It is when they learn appropriate behavior, boundaries, empathy and many other important social skills that will remain with them for life. Guess what else will stay with a child for life? Their favorite jams!

Babies are born with more synapses than adults. In a child’s early development stages, the speed of the synapse formation is the greatest from birth until 18 months of age. From 18 months until 3 years of age during the process of cognitive development in kids, synapses continue to form and expand. The number of synapses reaches about 1,000 trillion at this age and because of that a toddler’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain. This is also the reason why toddlers enjoy heavy outdoor activities such as running, jumping and climbing. From 6 to 9 years of age in kids’ development stage, the brain reduces the number of synapses which are not used and they eventually die off.

So sing. Sing your heart out! Play Motown to Country. Most of all sing and dance to your favorite songs and ask families for their favorites. Home school connection is powerful. Even change the lyrics to the songs.

Here are 7 benefits of singing. For more benefits click: https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing

  1. Singing creates a better sense of well being and causes us sensations of feeling good.
  2. Improves concentration, alertness and memory.
  3. Singing strengthens the immune system. That’s right it’s good for our health like an apple. A song a day keeps the doctor away.
  4. Singing is in fact exercise
  5. It helps with sleeping well and getting a good night’s Zzz.
  6. It lowers stress levels
  7. It’s a natural anti-depressant

So, turn the speaker up and sing like no one’s listening or watching!

We’re Bringing Play Back..Yep.

Hello there,

We are preschool educators. After a discussion of how children learn and recognizing our many kinds of learners, we narrowed in on, noticed and talked a lot about recess and recognized the importance coupled by the lack of it. We call recess by another name. For us, recess goes by the name of play.

Often we inform our families to advocate for their child and the kind of learner they are as they grow, move on and become kindergartners. We do this in order for their new school community to be ready. We now realize how we need to take our own advice. So here goes.

Are you ready for our students? Our children will ask you questions: lots of them. Get ready. See, please understand we allowed and followed their lead. We facilitated and encouraged our students to solve many problems socially, cognitively, emotionally, physically, mathematically, creatively, linguistically through play. Not just any kind of play but intentional and meaningful play. We weren’t focused on getting them “ready” because we know you are ready for them. We hope and hold on to that.

As mentioned, we all learn differently and we believe it is a process and are looking to connect and build a relationship with you as we have a lot to learn from one another. We want to connect in order to facilitate and help bring recess and play back to our community. Back to your school. We know it won’t be easy.

However, it will be worth it for all. Our children are showing and sharing with us what they need, it’s time we listen.

Let’s talk and bring back recess.

Preschool Educators

a.k.a TPA: The Play Alliance

I AM a TEACHER. A Letter From Your Early Childhood Educators

198E4AED-2A49-44E1-B4C3-B541220137C8We need your help. Imagine, we’re playing basketball. We’re on the same team and my head is up and I’m looking to pass the ball as I dribble up the court. I need to pass the ball to you. Likewise, pass it back. Back and forth with a series of exchanges which is what we want to have, a good conversation. A conversation that will create an opportunity to score and most of all, solve something bigger together.

So here goes, most of you know we are not daycare workers. We are teachers. We even further distinguish ourselves as an integral part of the life-long learning process as we specialize in early childhood. We’re not elementary, middle school or secondary teachers. We are Early childhood teachers. NAEYC also pushes this with a major initiative called Power to the Profession found here: www.naeyc.org

We are Reggio Inspired teachers and we need help in closing the misunderstanding of who we are in education. We are teachers. We are early childhood educators.

Children learn best through their everyday experiences with the people they love and trust, and when the learning is fun. We, the teachers at TCS, specialize in this. We know how to meet children where they are and help them to where they are going.

A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to five, producing more than a million neural connections each second.

Moreover, the development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment. More info here: https://www.zerotothree.org/espanol

We, you and our communities are connected on the same page and goal of educating our children. We want them to be caring citizens of or world. We want them to be better than us. We want all children to be better than previous generations, no matter where they are from. Zip codes shouldn’t matter when it comes to access to high quality care and learning as all children matter.

There is a major wealth, educational and opportunity gap in our country and do we expect you to fix it? Can we fix it right now? No, but we need to talk about it. We need to start there. Reggio Emilia was founded in social justice. History echoes and now is our time to change and change happens from within a society and systems. We are society. We can lead and start doing the right thing especially since we have the resources.

Reggio Emilia came about during the post-World War II era in Italy, the “…desire to bring change and create anew” accompanied with great economic and social development, including in education.

We are calling for action on three things understanding that we are teachers, closing the wealth and educational achievement gap and most of all, what we teach children: taking care of each other.

With love,

The Play Alliance

#Preschoolisforever #tpa #pta #theplayalliance #thetpa #thepta #teachers #educators #children #families #firstweekofschool

The Power and Genius of Books

While at The Genius of the Book Exhibit in DC https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book something came full circle for me. The exhibition also affirmed why I love and recognize the power of books. Historically, there was and still is a reason why people in power choose to burn books that challenge thinking, status quo and create different and opposing ways of being. Books are powerful.

When selecting books what questions and thoughts materialize in your brain? Many come to my mind each and every time I’m picking out a new book or picking up an old one to read again, especially when choosing literature for children, families and myself. I ask myself what do the illustrations and writing portray? What images are painted in µy mind

For example, look for illustrations of culture, ability and disability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and many more. Are we being portrayed non-stereotypically and in powerful roles?

As noted by an NAEYC article, a list of common and undermining set of stereotypes are when people are portrayed as:

  • Strong, independent girls and women are “manlike”
  • Book-loving or nonathletic boys and men are “effeminate”
  • Latino men talk funny, are lazy, gang members, or wear oversize sombreros
  • Latina women are earth mothers or subservient
  • African American men are gang members, oversexed, or underemployed
  • African American women are too independent, oversexed, or “welfare moms”
  • LGBTQ people are invisible or sexual predators
  • Poor people are invisible or depicted as passively needing help from others
  • American Indians live in teepees, carry bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter
  • People with disabilities are not independent or are to be pitied
  • Arab and/or Muslim men are terrorists
  • Arab and/or Muslim women are voiceless and passive
  • All Muslims are Arab

Some of mine I look for:

  • People are invisible or in a side role not empowering ones
  • Characters matter: who is the hero?
  • The storyline and perspectives in it
  • Gender and are women and men portrayed accurately?
  • Race, culture, ethnicity: is it an authentic and accurate portrayal?

When I see stereotypes in the drawings/illustrations or writing in books, I put it down and move on to another such as suggested: http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books

I am also starting to write letters to publishers.

Another tip: look at the dates and authors. Dates and writers matter.  Research and support people in comparing and contrasting. Also ask why is a book written?   Books are like people, they serve a purpose. For example, If you got a book entitled: Firemen Fight Fires, time to move on because the term Firefighters include everyone and they do more than ride in firetrucks fighting fires anyway. Just saying.

Books and children’s books continue to be an invaluable transmitter of messages we absorb influencing who we are and how we see each another.  Media and books are transmitters of cultures, perspectives and values.  Books reflect our personal identities, diversity and varying relationships among different groups of people.  Books and media (AND ADVERTISEMENTS) portray who matters and creates a positive or negative self-image and concept.  Look at who is advertised/displayed on your outside arena where people perform or play sports. Who is displayed? Are women?

Looking at the Verizon Center, our students did not see women and said, “See, it’s true, we were right, women don’t play basketball.” We walked inside to see the Mystics playing. Talk about a transformative experience.

It is crucial to show and share an eclectic set of books about people like us and different from us (TO CELEBRATE OUR AWESOME DIFFERENCES) and our families. ALL of the books should be non-stereotypical and authentic. *Reminder items to look for: look for dates, portrayal of lifestyles, cultures, social identities, relationships, social change and justice, invisibility and tokenism.*

When discovering new books or reading classic books what questions materialize in your mind?

And speaking of choosing and reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford