Maker Fest at BNS

The 2nd Annual MAKERFEST rocked the Brooklyn New School cafeteria on January 30. Children of all ages filled the room, painting, weaving, printing, sawing, sanding, sewing and MAKING from 5:30-8:30. Find & Seek brought many recycled materials and colorful tape, and had a weaving area with two large free-standing looms.

Making a house with the big kids!

Making a house with the big kids!

All ages enjoyed weaving.

All ages enjoyed weaving.

A kind daddy cut windows in our cardboard "house."

A kind daddy cut windows in our cardboard "house."

Little ones always love to get into cardboard boxes. We know this, yet every time it happens, the joy is renewed!

Little ones always love to get into cardboard boxes. We know this, yet every time it happens, the joy is renewed!

Robin Koo of Beginnings Nursery/Teaching Beyond the Square.

Robin Koo of Beginnings Nursery/Teaching Beyond the Square.

I was thrilled that Robin Koo of Teaching Beyond the Square could join in the fun at our Find & Seek area. She brought some beautiful open-ended materials from the collection housed at Beginnings Nursery School in NYC. Beginnings, an excellent private preschool run by Jane Racoosin, started the nonprofit Teaching Beyond the Square, to bring their extensive library of recycled and natural materials to the public sector, and to follow their dream of opening up a materials center somewhere in the city. Currently the nonprofit has been sponsoring the Wonder of Learning, the Reggio Emilia exhibition on view at Williamsburg Northside School (299 N 7th St Brooklyn NY 11211) until May 13. More on that amazing phenomenon in an upcoming blogpost!

The Shadow is Opening

I am honored to be a Wonder of Learning Ambassador, and to spread the word about the amazing Reggio Emilia traveling exhibition that will be opening in Brooklyn in mere days. The Wonder of Learning exhibition in NYC is a must-see for all local parents and teachers! Our city is long overdue to experience this show which offers 6000 sq ft of stunning revelations of the capacity and depth of young children's minds. The Wonder of Learning traveling exhibition was last seen in Albuquerque, NM, and I saw it for the first time when it was on view last year in a neighboring state to my NC homeland: Greenville SC. The reason for this show's amazing world travels are the true wonders of learning coming out of the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. It's only right that the many artifacts that constitute the show are making their way around the world: we outside the fold need to better understand how best practice is actually done. Thanks to expert documentation, we can see it firsthand through this show, and not have to travel to Italy. Not that we don't want to!! But this show has proven itself to be an excellent way of disseminating a world class teaching approach, and it has created a devoted following for all things Reggio.

The Studio at Beginnings, in NYC, opens my mind to the potential of children to take part in in-depth materials-exploration and to make powerful and meaningful art. I love this pile of "snakes" a 4-year-old made out of clay.

The Studio at Beginnings, in NYC, opens my mind to the potential of children to take part in in-depth materials-exploration and to make powerful and meaningful art. I love this pile of "snakes" a 4-year-old made out of clay.

We have Jane Racoosin, director of Beginnings Nursery in NYC, and her great staff of thoughtful educators, and the many voices represented within the New York City Encounters with Reggio Emilia (NYCERE), to thank for doing a massive amount of work to bring the show here. I've had the privilege of teaching at Beginnings for a few months this Fall/Winter, and I am so encouraged to see educational wisdom gleaned from the fabled small Italian town taking shape in New York City, with such profound meaning for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. Now is the moment for New Yorkers to consider how to apply what great things we have learned from Italy.  Viewing children's actual work and accompanying documentation from Italy up close and personal is powerful. It can transform our conceptions of children, and for those of us in education, it can galvanize us to reframe our approach to be more child-centered.

The cover of the excellent The Wonder of Learning printed Exhibition Catalog. The ongoing documentation of images and children's words are deceptively simple. There is so much beauty and poetry, recorded in Italy and displayed in the exhibition and its companion book, and we are so excited to see it all in person, this January through May in our own hometown of Brooklyn NY.

The cover of the excellent The Wonder of Learning printed Exhibition Catalog. The ongoing documentation of images and children's words are deceptively simple. There is so much beauty and poetry, recorded in Italy and displayed in the exhibition and its companion book, and we are so excited to see it all in person, this January through May in our own hometown of Brooklyn NY.

In order to provide support to the public sector, Jane founded Teaching Beyond the Square as a non-profit companion organization to her excellent preschool. A key component of which is the Beginnings Materials Center, a sort of mini-REMIDA in NYC, which is run by the amazing Robin Koo, whom some believe has the best job in NYC. This center, otherwise known as the 4th floor of Beginnings, is one of my favorite rooms in the world. When I first walked in, I felt I had stepped into my own dream (of having a materials lab in Red Hook, ie: a library of natural and recycled materials saved and sorted for the sole purpose of young children's explorations). I have been so pleasantly surprised to get to know what Robin Koo and Amy Miller, studio teachers at Beginnings, and fellow alumnae of Columbia Teachers College Art Education department, are up to with this vast collection of materials.

Click image above to see two more images of my daughters in the Beginnings Studio. Note the similarity in color and shape of the blue objects in the box my 2-year-old is holding, and the blue medical boot on my 5-year-old daughter's foot. Willa, 2, went straight for this box of mysterious blue shapes, and stated, "X-Ray Shoes!" Sure enough, they were just that: miniature blue shoes that echoed the shoe shape and color that her sister had to wear post-X-Ray (which happened earlier this same day) and post minor foot fracture. The spot-on nature of this discovery renewed my love of my daughters and my love of working among young children, with open-ended materials like these. I would have never seen these blue objects as mirroring the boot on my daughter's foot, and that's just the point!  How they see: in wise and wonderful ways!  What a joy.

Camille Tomkin, child-whisperer extraordinaire, and my children, 5 and 2, help sort plastic bottle caps which will be used in the Wonder of Learning Ateliers and to fashion multiple installations at the Materials Day on April 18. 

Camille Tomkin, child-whisperer extraordinaire, and my children, 5 and 2, help sort plastic bottle caps which will be used in the Wonder of Learning Ateliers and to fashion multiple installations at the Materials Day on April 18. 

Willa, 2, is my go-to Label Taker Offer (and crayon paper-taker-offer). She's beautifying a white plastic container so that it can live inside the box of WHITE PLASTIC, until the Materials Day rocks Brooklyn on April 18.

Willa, 2, is my go-to Label Taker Offer (and crayon paper-taker-offer). She's beautifying a white plastic container so that it can live inside the box of WHITE PLASTIC, until the Materials Day rocks Brooklyn on April 18.

I donated several boxes of materials to the show, in hopes that my long-saved seed collection, including tiny bags and boxes of wispy milkweed and other ephemeral seeds of unknown origin, from around the world, as well as a cornucopia of plastic, cardboard and wood shapes, could be well appreciated by young and old friends from across New York City. That sounds better than sitting quietly in a dark storage room in our ever-bulging apartment!  My girls and I, along with our friend Camille, helped sort some of these materials the week before the show opened.

My BNS/Beginnings Studio colleague Rachel Schwartzman and her daughter Mila sorted a huge selection of natural objects into a pile marked "WOODLAND ATELIER." We can't wait to take children and educators to this studio and to see them interact with these beautiful materials, some of which include our very own seed and seed pod collection that dates back up to 20 years (see top right corner)!

My BNS/Beginnings Studio colleague Rachel Schwartzman and her daughter Mila sorted a huge selection of natural objects into a pile marked "WOODLAND ATELIER." We can't wait to take children and educators to this studio and to see them interact with these beautiful materials, some of which include our very own seed and seed pod collection that dates back up to 20 years (see top right corner)!

To experience the Wonder of Learning, go to 299 North 7th Street in Brooklyn (L train to Bedford Ave, first stop into Brooklyn, directly across from Union Square), any Wednesday through Sunday from 12-6pm (additional extended hours listed on the website), from January 15 through May 15. The interactive ateliers are worth bringing children to! These include areas that focus on LIGHT, WOODLANDS and OCEAN, to name just a few. The ateliers contain thousands of treasures that children can touch and manipulate. Many of these objects are drawn from the Materials Center at Beginnings Nursery, which houses the best collection of loose parts and recycled art supplies for early childhood in all of NYC.  The talented Robin Koo maintains this library of wonder, in her role as Program Director of Teaching Beyond the Square, and she is curating the ateliers of the Reggio exhibition as well. Because of Robin and Jane's directorial efforts, this show will be a reflection of one of the best preschools in NYC--Beginnings. Not only that, it's a marvelous opportunity to take a look into some of the best preschools in Italy and the world. What does best practice look like in early childhood? Come to Williamsburg and see.

Red Hook: A Tale of Two Cities

“The sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction.”
                  Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (p. 21: Book 1 Ch. 4)

When Hurricane Sandy hit my neighborhood of the past nine years in October of 2012, exactly two years ago today, I had to face a reality that people talk about but don't feel so acutely on a day-to-day basis in our wired, hyper-connected world: Red Hook is a hard place to live. While on a map it seems to be a part of Brooklyn, and one not so far as the crow flies from the steel canyons of Lower Manhattan, anyone who lives here would tell you that it's set apart from the City in more ways than one. If not the expressway built by Robert Moses, cutting Red Hook off from the rest of Brooklyn, then perhaps the crack epidemic of the 80's-90's that killed a local elementary school principal, or the recent reverberations of that crime wave?

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When Hurricane Sandy nearly completely flooded Red Hook, words started running through my head: we are living on the edge. This is not a normal place. The seething underbelly is at hand. Perhaps those thoughts came too late at night, when I was busy juggling care of an infant with planning for Find & Seek. But these thoughts came, and they sat with me, and they colored my perspective of my neighborhood.  After Sandy, Red Hook smelled like motor oil for at least 2 weeks. That's something I've never experienced. Smelling it in the air, seeing it all over the ground, seeing piles of belongings stacked up on every corner, hearing stories of the apocalypse told by friends with flood-borne PTSD, having to tell my girls to put down the sticks we picked up outside (we don't know what's on them), seeing the lines of people coming to the church for food and warm clothing, hearing stories of families staying inside their cold, dark apartments, for fear of the hallways. . . all of these things taught me that Red Hook was suffering.  

But I already knew that. I knew it when I taught 4-year-old students with rotting teeth, in the same school where one teen bound (with tape) a 6-year-old in a stairwell. I knew it when many of my 7-year-old students' imaginative stories included an ambulance.  I knew it when I heard shots at night.  When I heard helicopters overhead. When I heard true stories of robberies at gunpoint. When I found crack viles on my street. When a local teen died under mysterious circumstances, just last year.  Over the past nine years I've lived here, I have come face to face with the reality that Red Hook is really two neighborhoods in one: The world of the Red Hook Houses (NYCHA buildings house around 50% of Red Hook's population of 11,000) and "The Back" (brownstones along cobblestone streets where many of the "gentrifying" families live). In many ways Red Hook's two worlds mirror the discrepancies of power and privilege that have been building in the past century across New York City, one Mayor Bill deBlasio has taken to calling our own Tale of Two Cities, in a Dickensian sense.  While economic inequality is on the rise everywhere in the United States, most would agree that it is more acute here in NYC. It is even more obvious in a neighborhood like Red Hook. A place set apart, literally, from the rest of Brooklyn by the BQE, and removed from transportation more than most neighborhoods are, and if that weren't enough: it's nearly surrounded by water.  For these and many more reasons through the ages, Red Hook has taken on a mythic character.

Over 50% of our Red Hook neighbors reside in NYCHA buildings. Post-Sandy, these buildings have been shrouded in scaffolding, for reasons unknown to many. Mold is rampant. Diesel fumes from external boilers infect the air. Dozens of large trees were cut down in 2014, having been killed by salt water from Sandy.

Over 50% of our Red Hook neighbors reside in NYCHA buildings. Post-Sandy, these buildings have been shrouded in scaffolding, for reasons unknown to many. Mold is rampant. Diesel fumes from external boilers infect the air. Dozens of large trees were cut down in 2014, having been killed by salt water from Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy’s widespread destruction in 2012 set the neighborhood back even more, in one sense, but the storm’s aftermath also pushed neighbors together in ways that non-tragic circumstances haven't been able to do. For many weeks, into months, Red Hook's citizens took account of each other, regardless of which section of the neighborhood they lived in. Great collective efforts were made to work on transformative community restoration.  Bridges were truly built.  But then again, while we (from Red Hook's separate worlds) started talking to each other more than ever when we were all in need, gradually what we think of as "normal" set in again, the lights went on, the basements were pumped dry, the generators were turned off, and we were back to  . . . two cities?  Hopefully not, as evidenced by many great programs that have grown from within Red Hook’s ranks. The neighborhood is open to the development of vibrant partnerships, particularly those which keep children’s best interests in mind.  In this context, we are acutely aware of how our Find & Seek story can function as a vital new link in the larger story of a healing Red Hook.  

(Hope for the future of Red Hook runs high: balloons go up at the Barnacle Parade, 2014. Click image to see more. See video of 1st Annual Barnacle Parade.)

By Kristin Eno