Friday, February 17, 2012

How Do You Spend Your Time?

Recently I was asked to do some research into all different untapped resources to help youth at risk. The range of topics included positive youth development, connecting parents and teens, workforce and life skills prep, nurturing natural talents, and what popped out at me--recreation and leisure. In searching for all kinds of successful models from abroad, I remembered a friend from way back when who happened to have done a PhD in our specific topic of recreation and leisure! I contacted her and found out that she just happens to be living in Haifa for a few months and would be very interested in working with Ashalim. So I scheduled a few meetings connecting her with various projects managers in our department and was privileged to participate in several invigorating discussions. We are now moving forward with our collaboration and will be seeing how we can use my friend as the expert resource she is.  But this is not the point of my story. All of this talk about recreation and leisure has gotten me thinking about what it means to spend your time and what leisure really is. Here are some illuminating lessons I think we could all learn from:

Lesson 1: "What Do You Do vs. How Do You Spend Your Free Time?"
When you meet someone, what is one of the first question almost everyone asks? You got it--what do you do? My friend asks instead how people spend their free time. When a person answers, not only does can it inspire you into action yourself, but it also tells you a great deal about that person. Next time you meet someone, instead of asking what they do for a living, ask them how they spend their time, and you will discover that person's passions. How do I tend to spend my free time? Cooking, playing piano, composing music, going to parks, writing, and seeking out cultural events. How do you spend yours?

Lesson 2: Leisure is a State of Mind, Not a Function
I realized the other day that time just flew by following an especially inspiring meeting at the Haifa Museum. In order to prepare for the meeting, I had put in hours and hours of work writing detailed lesson plans with all the trimmings: aim, objective, I do, We do, You do, differentiation, scaffolding for multiple intelligences, background and applicable examples from a famous artist, materials, alternatives, extension lessons, and more. The meeting itself last three hours, with vigorous note-taking and lively debate and discussion. And I LOVED the whole process. According to my friend the PhD, when work is truly exciting, productive, and meaningful a person's job can turn into their leisure. The way you fill your time is what matters. Of course we all have to do things we don't like in order to meet a goal, but when the overall picture is directly linked to a passion, then just watch how the time flies and just how energizing that time can be!

Lesson 3: Leisure AS Learning, Leisure THROUGH Learning, Leisure FOR Learning
Everything had its nuances and leisure and recreation are no different. One of the ingredients for a successful, fulfilling life is knowing how to use time effectively and make the most of the interests, resources, and choices one has. Leisure is not just something we define as that well-deserved and dreamed of nap on a rare Saturday afternoon. It is also what do we do when we're not at work, when we're on vacation, in those few special minutes we have free each day? People can learn how to harness their confidence, attention span, goals, and interests in a way that allows us not only to make the best use of our time but also feel satisfied in how we spent our days. It is important for people working with children to understand how powerful the function of leisure, time, and choice can be and help them to learn how to make the best choices for themselves. One thing we are doing in Ashalim in developing our national arts program is giving children a chance to be exposed to the thrilling wholeness one can feel when expressing themselves through art. But exposure is only half the battle. Children then need to be given the right space, environment, tools, instruction, and support to continue to nurture a new-found talent or skill to the point where they gain the most enjoyment from it. What leisure have you nurtured in your own life?

Lesson 4: Serious Leisure
There is a concept that once a person commits a certain amount of energy, practice, and interest in a pastime it becomes more than just something one does for fun. There is a spectrum of ways to spend one's time, and they are all important ingredients to a satisfying, uplifting life. One needs time to just do nothing and know that is perfectly necessary just as much as one needs to be involved in interesting activities and hobbies that inspire and fulfill.  So there are several questions one can ask themselves: What do I prioritize when I have only a little free time? How do I want to spend my vacations? What hobbies or extracurricular activities excite me? How much do I simply let my mind rest? How much do I participate in intellectually stimulating activities? How much time do I devote to working on a goal? Is there a balance in how I spend my time? Is there a way I could even things out? Start by taking the time to reflect on how you spend your time each day by logging what you do. Then go over it and see how you can change it to maximize ultimate fulfillment.

Lesson 5: Seek Out New Things and Live The Moment
This is something that I am constantly trying to do and through this new lens of leisure I feel even more invigorated to try to grab life by the heels and take advantage of the unique opportunity I have sought out for myself this year. But living the moment and affecting your life path doesn't have to come with the grand gesture of making a big life change. It can be as simple as saying, "You know what? I've always wanted to learn how to mosaic tile." and then seeking it out. I think that after my biweekly meetings in Haifa I will do just that and join my friend in the cheery, electric little mosaic tiling studio she has begun to take lessons out and make my own little works of mosaic tiled beauty. I have also been carving out a chunk of time each day for my writing and have been trying to explore the wonderful country of Israel that I have landed in for a year. I'm going to stop beating myself up (or at least TRY to stop) about what I have not yet accomplished or done or time wasted and instead try to celebrate the time that was well spent, the new people I have met, and the great new things I have learned. How will you live in the moment?

And so my question is, how do you spend your free time? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ashalim: ART II

Oh my goodness, what a week this has been. I began to add a second day to each after school and after two days in the same place, I feel like I'm really starting to make a great connection with the children.  Yesterday many were puzzled when I showed up a day early and when I explained that I'll begin coming an extra day every other week, most of them pumped their fists, jumped in the air, and yelled, "yesh!" which is my favorite Israeli expression and means "there is" or "I have" but kind of translates more as yayyyyy! But wow are the kids difficult. They come with all different needs--broken families, difficulties with learning, difficulties at home, language barriers, poverty, everything I saw in my work in the Bronx and Harlem and more. But here, instead of influencing them as their classroom teacher, I have been afforded the unique opportunity to come at the problem from a different angle.

Here in Israel, every program connected to youth at risk seems to revolve around three central themes that are very connected: providing a family/home environment, academic support, and therapy. So even the after schools, through their daily routine of a beginning meeting, a hot meal, homework, outside play, an activity, and an ending discussion, approach the children's needs through the lens of all three mindsets. And I get to help them through the expression of art. We not only provide them with exposure to new fields of thought, famous artists, artwork, and art movements, and technique, but every lesson builds on itself and is also geared towards helping the children to become more confident, experimental artists as they improve their skills. I am so proud of what we have accomplished so far!

Today we continued our exploration of spots and were given more of a background into Seurat and pointillism. We talked about shadow and light, the use of color, and density of dots to create the effect we want. The children began by sketching out a landscape with light, simple lines and then carefully filled them in with dots of color. Through this work, they're not only learning about composition, color, and technique, but also about patience, planning, and the development of a piece of work. The results are already incredible!

Take a look at today's work: 

We drew outlines and began to fill them in. Take a look at how E. drew such careful branches for his tree. It's simply gorgeous.

Some more examples of beginning with dots around the outline. See how A. filled in one part of the sun with density of colorful dots to create a fuller shadow. I spoke to her about the idea of a light source and explained that the shadow should be on the left side of everything in the picture. 

S. is thinking more about color than light and shadow. She is thinking about mixing cool colors together and warm colors together. All of the children are taking their time. 


Just look at the gorgeous work on this one that E. began. We also talked about the idea that clouds aren't just white--they have a lot of color to them also. She's going to work to add shape and volume to them next time we meet. 

Examples I Prepared
For each lesson, I prepare a sample piece and then also do a demo of how to accomplish the finished look. I showed them this picture and explained how I added more color and denser dots to places where I wanted more shadow and more spread out dots to where I wanted more light. 

 Then I walked around and showed them the different effects between up close and far away. 

Up close
Far away

I can't wait to see how the kids' work comes out and hope this teaches them patience, creativity, and a new technique!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ashalim: ART

Each week, I teach an art lesson at each of the after school programs where I work. We have already studied line and space and this week, we focused on the dot. We are learning how to use different artistic elements to create a composition and at the same time, learning about famous artists and how to interpret a piece of art. The art lessons have been very successful and it's been really fun to see how the kids each interpret the project.

Here are some of the goodies from this past week, where we combined our knowledge of space with the beginnings of pointillism:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Birthday of the Trees

Oh, Mr. Lorax...
Every year on Earth Day, I plan an entire recycle, renew, reuse unit for my first graders. We make a KWL chart gathering what we already know, what we want to know, and making space for what we learned throughout. We do a nonfiction research unit and read about environmental issues and in writing learning how to draft a persuasive letter, which we then send to local and state representatives trying to convince them to care about our environmental cause. One year we sent our letters to Obama and received a generic, yet official reply!  In science, we talk about matter and explore how our knowledge of solid, liquid, and gas can make us more environmentally aware, and in math we do our surveys and representations unit, during which children go around asking important questions they care about like, "Do you always recycle your paper?" and then create bar graphs, pictographs, and other representations of what they learned about their parents, teachers, and peers.

My first poppy sighting!
We then culminate the unit with a student-led service project to beautify our school and/or local community, and often invite our parents for a healthy food Earth Day celebration on April 22nd. Throughout, during read aloud, I highlight the books I love, like "The Giving Tree" and my all time favorite, "The Lorax." For all who have never seen, I highly encourage you to watch the video based on the book. I tear up every time. (Side note- apparently 3D-CGI version is coming out in 2012! I'm so excited!!! However, I will always pledge my allegiance to the original.)

This unit is among one of my favorites because it exposes the children to so many new, important lifelong lessons: environmental awareness, of course, but also community activism, the power of the word, using data to make informed decisions, using information to persuade and make an argument, work together in the community, and so much more. Plus, we get to sing about swomee swans and barbaloots.

But here in Israel the unit I so love takes on a whole new meaning as I cherish yet another singular chance of experiencing the connection between the Jewish holidays and the seasonal cycle in real time. Today is Tu B'shevat, the Jewish Festival of the Trees, and whereas in New York everything is iced and frozen over, here, the almond trees are in full bloom and the poppies are springing up for air throughout the fields. I even red that people were turned away from the nature preserves in the Golan because it was too crowded. Imagine that--an entire country and an entire people celebrating the beauty of nature on this one, unique day. And I got to be a part of it.

To begin with, for the past few days, an incessant children's song we used to sing at Hebrew School has been ringing through my ears. It goes,

Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, b'shevat,
Sure signs of Tu B'shevat
tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, b'shevat,
tu b'shevat, tu b'shevat, tu b'shevat.

(Crouch down and begin slowly rising in the air, hands up high)
You grow, you grow, you grow, you grow! 

(Make tree-like poses)


Back to chorus!

The shuk
Then, there are the trips to the shuk, where almost every stand is overflowing with dried fruits and seasonal nuts, the symbols of the holiday.  At work, there are plates of dried mishmish (apricots), coconut, dates, figs, almonds, and more sprawled on every surface. And then, I got to plant a tree! Yesterday, my friend and I went with a huge group of children to make peanut necklaces for the birds and to plant new seedlings in the thick, clay earthy ground. We took a little hike to see the shkedia, learned about the existence of hundreds of turtles who used to live in the valley and that there were only three left now. Then we took in the blossoming of the almond trees, the beginnings of the pregim, poppies, and then gathered around a bunch of thin little green leafed things and worked our butts off to get them into the ground.

I find it so spiritual and lovely that Judaism has a holiday devoted to the trees. And it's even more amazing to be here for it, breathing in the exact words we sing, and picking the fruit of the earth that naturally springs from the ground exactly at this time, in this most beautiful of lands.

How to plant a tree:

1. Stand proudly with hoe. Pretend that it's not too heavy and the digging is a piece of cake. Whatever you do, don't take your eyes from the prize.

2. Keep digging. Make a determined face. Helps if you purse your lips like I did. The sunglasses also serve a functional purpose of keeping hair out of eyes. You may have to scrape some caked-on mud from the back of the hoe and while you do, the sharp metal attachment might loosen and spin. Pretend that's just part of the game. Yup, just another day's work digging a hole for the tree.

3. Spin around in a circle a little. This will make it look like you're doing a really stand up job. It will make you look strong and like an expert. Just keep spinning around and digging, and hope that the hole will be deep enough. Soon!

4. Just keep digging! It will be over soon! Remember you are doing a special, very important thing. Remember you only have to plant one tree. Dig, dig, dig!

5. Look up with a serious face and say, "hey, hand me that sapling? I have to test the hole." This is actually a clever guise for taking a break, but look contemplative and add a few hmmm's to the mix. It will make it look like you mean business.

6. When you just can't lift the hoe any more, pretend the hole is deep enough, even if it isn't. Say something like, "Yeah, that should cover it!" And then smash the ground around the sapling and shovel over a heap of dirt. It will cover your sapling and make it look real good.

7. Push down the last bit of dirt, stand up, wipe your hands proudly on your jeans like you don't even care you're getting dirt caked all over it.

8. Nod and pose for a picture. Say, "Oh yeah, that little tree is going to do real well, it's in a place with optimum conditions, I can tell." Nod a little more and then walk away quickly before anyone notices that the sapling is tilting a little to the side!

After you are finished, you might want to eat some special Tu B'shevat fruits, like dried apricots and dates. Mmmmmm.

Happy Tu B'shevat, everyone!!!