TNCS Lower Elementary Students Make Sense of Mindfulness!

On Thursday, April 19th, a very special—and very familiar—visitor came to The New Century School to see TNCS 1st- and 2nd-graders. Johns Hopkins child psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish joined Mrs. Krysta Jenks’ and Sra. Barbara Sanchez’s homerooms to talk about mindfulness.

Dr. Perry-Parrish has formerly given presentations to TNCS families, to TNCS faculty, and to Chinese teachers visiting TNCS, and she has even contributed as a guest blogger to Immersed, but workshopping with students was a first.

Lower Elementary Mindfulness Workshops

Mrs. Jenks explains that she invited Dr. Perry-Parrish in to talk in order “to begin integrating mindfulness practices in the school day. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of practicing mindfulness. It helps students regulate emotions, develop coping skills, and increases curiosity,” said Mrs. Jenks.

For this age group. Dr. Perry-Parrish needed a point of entry that would grab and hold their attention. That way in was through their senses—touch, smell, taste, seeing, and hearing: “I came today to do some activities about how we can notice different things around us and in ourselves,” she explained. Next, she introduced terms and asked the group to define them, beginning with “psychologist.” “Brain doctor” was the agreed-on definition. Next was “meditation”:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Has anybody heard of meditation before? What is it?
Students: It’s something that you do in yoga. It’s a way to calm your mind.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Why would we need to calm our mind?
Students: Stress, angry, crazy. Sometimes stupid.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does anybody get angry?  We have all different kinds of feelings and maybe we want like [a student] said to calm our minds down.

After setting the scene in this way, Dr. Perry-Parrish let students vote on in what order they would perform three activities: A tasting thing, a feeling thing with the hands, and a listening thing.

Not surprisingly, given that these activities were happening pre-lunch, both groups opted for the “tasting thing” first.

The Tasting Thing

After first verifying that no one had a dairy allergy, Dr. Perry-Parrish asked students to form a circle on the classroom rug and sit criss-cross with one hand open on one knee with eyes closed. While placing a single yogurt raisin in each child’s open palm, she explained what she was doing:

I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. I’m going to give you one little thing that we’re going to taste, but, before we do that, we’re going to use another sense, our hand sense. I don’t want you to use your eyes because I want you to be curious like a scientist. We’re going to practice using different parts of our senses and we’re going to start by just holding this thing. As I put it in your hand, I want you to start feeling it, and I want you thinking about what it feels like.

She then proceeded through a series of questions with various answers, a sampling of which are given here:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does this thing feel light or heavy?
Students: Light.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it have a smell?
Students: Yes
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What does it smell like?
Students: A jelly bean..
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel smooth or rough?
Students: Rough.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel like it fell off a tree or came from a store?
Students: A store.

“Now I want you to put this thing in your mouth and just hold it there for a couple of seconds—no biting,” she instructed.

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it taste sour or sweet?
Students: Sugary.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Take one bite and tell me what it tastes like.
Students: A yogurt raisin.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Who knew as soon as I put it in your hand?
Students: Me.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: How?
Students: I felt it before.

Finally, she brought home the mindfulness message in a way that they could really grasp: “Before you put it in your mouth were you feeling super excited to eat it right away? Do you ever have that feeling of I want to do something really fast but I have to slow down? It can be super hard to wait sometimes.”

The Feeling Thing with the Hands

The second activity involved placing an ice cube in each student’s hand and making all kinds of observations about it. Several children commented that they didn’t like it when the ice made their hand cold, and one had a very strong urge to eat it. This led to a very rich discussion about “sticking it out” (the hand eventually became numb, so the “pain” was no longer felt) as well as about self-restraint. “Does that happen sometimes when you have an uncomfortable feeling, and then we wait a little while until we get used to it?” asked Dr. Perry-Parrish.

In closing, she asked what surprised them about the ice experiment to get them to see that being mindful shows you things you might otherwise miss. They found that the ice melted at all different rates (why?). “Did you have any different emotions that you weren’t expecting?” “Hungry!”

The Listening Thing

The final activity involved the Fiona Apple song, Extraordinary Machine. “Everybody sit down and put on your listening ears. You guys do music class right? I bet you know all kinds of different instruments. So this is what I want you to do. Every time you hear a different instrument I want you to put a finger up. I want to see how many we count.”

At the end, the number of instruments discerned varied widely. Dr. Parry-Parrish explained: “I think we all heard different kinds of things. Were we all listening to the same song? Did we all hear different kinds of things? Why do you think we counted different kinds of things? People have different ear drums so they might hear different things.”

Dr. Perry-Parrish: What if I stopped listening for a minute and started thinking about how hungry for lunch I am? Do you think I could have missed some? Does that ever happen when we’re talking to people?
Students: Yeah.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does that ever happen to you guys when you’re listening to a lesson from your teacher?
Students: Yeah, a lot, like when my mom asks me to do something.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What can we do when that happens so we’re paying attention? Sometimes it’s just noticing when we’re listening and when we are not.

She then played Extraordinary Machine again while students made their counts a second time, and they compared results. The number of instruments discerned rose dramatically. “Was there something different about how we were listening the first time compared to the second time?” she asked.

Paying Attention to What’s Happening Right Now

After the three activities with each class, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought it all home:

The thing that we did today has a special funny word called mindfulness. Have you ever heard of that word before? All it means is that we’re paying attention to what’s happening right now. Another mindful thing to do with your body is just notice what parts of your body move when you’re walking compared to when you’re going down the stairs. It’s a little bit different. Maybe the muscles feel a little different. Maybe you’re looking at things a little different. So, anytime you’re noticing something that’s happening right now, that’s a way to do mindfulness.

The underlying message is that children can use mindfulness to help cope with negative feelings. “Remember how we talked about all those different feelings that we have like happy, hungry, nervous?” she asked. “Something that can help us with those feelings is by asking ourselves what’s happening right now. There’s all kinds of things that we can notice, and that can help us feel less sad or not too excited.”

“The kids were really into using their senses to observe their experiences,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish of her visit to TNCS. “It was really fun helping them learn that they could have different observations during the same experience. Hopefully, teaching kids mindfulness gives them another tool to learn from their experiences,” she said.

Mrs. Jenks agreed. “We were fortunate to have Dr. Perry-Parrish lend her skill set in leading students through mindful awareness practices. I am hoping we can continue to use mindfulness at TNCS to help foster emotional growth in students.”

The other side of that coin is that mindfulness can also promote happiness. Developing self-regulation, awareness, and patience skills opens children up to the world around them—a feast for the senses, and the mind.

Want to try some mindfulness activities at home? Check out Mindfulness Activities for Children And Teens: 25 Fun Exercises For Kids from Positive Psychology.

TNCS Gardens for Earth Day!

Earth Day happens on Sunday, April 22nd this year, with the theme “End Plastic Pollution”. But celebrating our planet is an everyday occurrence at The New Century School—green energy, ecological conservation, and sustainable gardening practices are themes TNCS students are very familiar with, as these are fundamental tenets of the school.

Earth Day itself is always special, though. For the second year in a row, for example, the TNCS Parent Council headed up Sakina Ligon, will host a Family Fun Day that, among lots of other super fun activities, includes crafting with recyclables (see below). TNCS Past year’s Earth Day observances include TNCS Takes Earth Day by Storm and Go Native for Earth Day 2016!

Greenhouse Effect!

Earth Day 2018, however, is extra special. Why? The greenhouse is back up and running, to the delight of students, staff, and families alike. With the changes in the lunch program for the 2017–2018 school year, the greenhouse lay dormant for a few months. Not so any longer! Meet Manuel Cueva, who joined TNCS in September as part of the new kitchen staff and has now taken over as Gardener.

tncs-earth-day-greenhouseSr. Cueva is originally from Cajamarca City, Peru, where he was a construction supervisor and engineer. “I worked at an NGO, IINCAP Jorge Basadre, focused on community development. I worked on projects related to the environment, youth development, health, community banking, and ending child labor,” he said. He came to the United States in June 2016.

Now that he’s here, he has begun working with TNCS students, teaching them to grow produce from seeds. “I like working with my hands and working outside, and I love taking care of nature,” he explained. They started last month, planting indoors, and, as the seedlings have grown sturdy enough, they are gradually moving them into the greenhouse beds (lovingly built last year by TNCS volunteers).

Sr. Cueva has worked with every TNCS class, from the 2-year-olds right on up through the middle schoolers. They have planted marigolds, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, and radishes, and any edible produce will be used in school lunch.

Trabajo del Jardin Abajo

On Friday, April 20th, Sr. Cueva took Professor Manuel’s students to the greenhouse for some transplanting.

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From the photos, it’s clear that students thoroughly enjoyed their greenhouse time as well as all of the advance preparation with the seedlings they lovingly raised. But children also learn and benefit in many other ways from growing things.

Through gardening, they can develop new skills, such as the sense of responsibility they derive from caring for plants; the scientific understanding they gain as they learn about cause and effect (plants will die without water, but thrive when they are properly tended); self-confidence from achieving their goals and enjoying the nutritious food they have grown; and the love of nature that develops as they learn about the outdoor environment in a safe and pleasant place. From there, stewardship of the environment also develops naturally.

Physical activity, collaboration, and discovery are also built-in benefits that TNCS students will realize through gardening. For more on the science-backed ways gardening is good for children, read, Gardening with Kids: How It Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body, and Soul.

Do you have suggestions, recommendation, advice, or questions? Sr. Cueva is eager to hear your thoughts. “If anyone has ideas or suggestions for the green house, please let me know,” he asks.

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Visit AVAM!

Last week, Immersed profiled self-taught Baltimore multimedia artist Matt Muirhead’s visit to The New Century School to present his crankie to a rapt group of preprimary students (read TNCS Preprimary Gets Wounds Up for a Very Special Art Show). This week, some of the older students give their inner artists a turn.

Teachers Nameeta Sharma and Jon Wallace escorted the 3rd- through 7th-graders on a field trip to the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), a true Baltimore gem. “We wanted to expose the students to Baltimore art as well as make that connection with what [art teacher Jenny Miller] teaches and frequently discusses,” said Mrs. Sharma. “These students love to be hands on, and we try to make opportunities available to them to deepen their understanding and engage them.”

“We are the National Museum for Self-Taught Artisans”

(No really–Congress said so!) It’s a great fit. Like TNCS, AVAM is special in so many ways. AVAM was founded in 1995 by Rebecca Alban Hoffberger who envisioned a “museum and education center that would emphasize intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius.” Rather than displaying specific artists or styles, themed exhibitions circulate through AVAM to complement its permanent installations.
The museum’s 7 educational goals are:

  1. Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.
  2. Engender respect for and delight in the gifts of others.
  3. Increase awareness of the wide variety of choices available in life for all … particularly students
  4. Encourage each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths
  5. Promote the use of innate intelligence, intuition, self-exploration, and creative self-reliance.
  6. Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.
  7. Empower the individual to choose to do that something really, really well.

TNCS’s visit began in the Jim Rouse Visionary Center with an introduction and a run-through of the rules by museum educators Sara and Emily. They explained that AVAM features truly visionary art, which they defined as “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.” The visionary artist typically receives an inspirational message or vision that he or she is compelled to manifest, often not considering the manifestation to be actual art. Another key characteristic of visionary art is the use of unusual materials.

To get the most out of this wondrous experience, the large group split into two, with 3rd- and 4th-graders first taking a docent-led tour of the exhibits in the main building, and 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-graders heading upstairs to make some art in The Thou Art Creative Classroom. The groups then switched activities.

The Great Mystery Show

The main exhibit currently is The Great Mystery Show, which “. . .  artfully peels away the veil of the unknown, playfully exploring mystery as that one secret power behind great art, science, and pursuit of the sacred . . . [in a] wildly visual exaltation of the strangeness and wonder of Life itself.” The viewer gets transported to other-worldly realms, lost in the experience. TNCS students deemed it “cool.” 

Planetary Pendants

The group not touring was busy making. In a craft inspired by featured AVAM artist Edward Woltemate and also tying into The Great Mystery Show exhibit, TNCS students created their own wearable planets out of Perler beads. Woltemate and other visionary artists create imaginary worlds or explore the mysteries of the existing universe through their art.
To get their minds spinning, TNCS students were asked to consider whether they would create an imaginary planet or reproduce a known one. Would it have rings? What kind of weather would it have and would the weather be visible in the planet’s atmosphere? Is the planet inhabited? If so, by what or whom? What do the inhabitants eat? 

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TNCS students are incredibly fortunate to not only have this world-renowned museum of “outsider art” (also known as “intuitive art,” “raw art,” or “art brut”) just a couple of neighborhoods away but also to have teachers who understand the importance of taking them there. Visiting museums and engaging with art paves the way for students to live richly and meaningfully. It also connects them with their fellow humans and their humanity, helping them to become responsible world citizens.

More Great AVAM Offerings

The list would be never-ending, but here are some highlights that shouldn’t be missed!

TNCS Preprimary Gets Wound Up for a Very Special Art Show!

The Arts are an extremely important part of daily life at The New Century School . . . and that’s true for all students, in all divisions, from preprimary right up through middle school. Earlier this year, the 2- and 3-year-olds in the Spanish immersion classrooms were treated to a visit by Baltimore multimedia artist Matt Muirhead.

Mr. Muirhead is originally from Ulverston in the Lake District in Northern England but came to the United States with his family in 1983. He was drawn to art after finding himself at a bit of a loose end after high school. He decided to make use of his long-time skill with drawing cartoons and went to work as an artist, a career he knew would hold his interest. He currently paints, does screen printing, makes musical instruments, and plays in a musical duo with his partner McKenzie.

A Long and Winding Art Form

TNCS preprimary teacher Laura Noletto (“Sra. Lala”) invited Mr. Muirhead to present his “crankie,” a storytelling art form originating in the 19th century when it was known as a “moving panorama.” Picture a scroll wound onto two spools, all housed inside a box (or suitcase, for example). The scroll is illustrated and attached to a crank; as the crank is turned, a visual story literally unwinds. The storytelling is typically enhanced by narration and music, or even puppets, in Mr. Muirhead’s case. Sounds pretty neat, right?

Baltimore is home to Crankie Fest, a celebration of these scrolling beauties, established by another Baltimore artist, Kathleen Fahey. The 5th annual Crankie Fest happened in January at the Creative Alliance, with Mr. Muirhead participating along with a host of other crankie artists. (*See a video from the 2016 Crankie Fest below.)

Sra. Lala explains that she was first introduced to crankies when she came to Baltimore: “As an art researcher and an educator, I was fascinated with this form of art that is like a sculpture mixed with music mixed with painting that moves like a musical box with the artist telling a story or a narrative,” she said. “Mr. Muirhead’s crankies are like love letters to Baltimore—he is painting landmarks, like Patterson Park and Penn Station, and telling the story of Baltimore.” She explains that although all crankies are built on the same basic principles, they vary widely in construction, especially in the crank mechanism. Having attended the 2018 Crankie Fest, she has seen quite a number of crankies but considers Mr. Muirhead’s the most advanced she has ever seen. “The crankie culture is growing,” said Sra. Lala, “and I think we’re going to see it more. It’s blooming.”

Artists in the Classroom

Seeing the crankie culture spreading and flourishing coupled with wanting to do something special for TNCS preprimary students for Valentine’s Day gave Sra. Lala an idea: “Bringing [Mr. Muirhead] and his crankie to TNCS was to show the kids their city and celebrate it. I thought it would show them where they are, where we’re living. He makes a lot of references to the city and uses a lot of color.” “A Walk through Baltimore” (working title) features a cat puppet strolling through Baltimore neighborhoods and encountering other animals to the accompaniment of a kalimba (also known as thumb piano, marímbula, and mbira) attached to the crankie. To make the story age appropriate for TNCS preprimary students, Mr. Muirhead simply slowed things down a bit and interacted with his audience. “The crankie was also an educational tool,” explained Sra. Lala, “because we would name the animals in Spanish—perro, gato—during the presentation.”

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Mr. Muirhead says he enjoyed bringing his crankie to TNCS. “It was so great,” he said. “Those kids are adorable. Although I had heard it was difficult to keep 2-year-olds’ attention, they were really into it.”

Sra. Lala hopes to expose her students to more art and artists and vice versa. She sees great potential in this interaction:

I’m always interested when an artist meets very young children because in many ways they are similar in how they see life. Both groups are in love with life and very sensitive and perceptive, so they get along naturally well. This has been a great opportunity to see what happens, and it worked wonderfully—you can see how focused and attentive the children are. At TNCS, we have an alternative way of teaching, and this is an example. [Mr. Muirhead] got really inspired by the dynamic, so now we know we can bring other artists in Baltimore to connect with the students. Everyone was very happy about it.

Although this was her first such “experiment” at TNCS, Sra. Lala did similar things at the college where she taught in Venezuela. “By the end of my experience I had 30 artists at the school,” she recounts. “That took a while to get to know the community, to find the artists, and make the connections, but I love that as an educator. It’s very inspiring for both ends because my students helped the artists create, and the artists got an appreciative audience.”

She envisions having local artists join her classroom at TNCS at least a few times a year going forward, given the success of Mr. Muirhead’s visit and the wonder inspired by “A Walk through Baltimore.”

Meet Crankie!

Here is “A Walk through Baltimore” in its original, non-slowed-down form. Prepare to be mesmerized.

And, if you need to see it in person, Mr. Muirhead will be one of the featured artists at Nights on the Fringe, “a weekend-long curated cabaret hosted by Charm City Fringe, June 8th and 9th.” You can also see his paintings on display at The Charmery in Hampden and at Java Joe’s in downtown Baltimore. For even more art by Matt Muirhead, follow mattmuirheadartist on Instagram.

*Want more crankie?