Spring has sprung and fully swung, as we head towards summer in our Little Seahorse class! In my second year here in Florida, I am longing for the cool earth that lies beneath the layer of autumn’s decomposing leaves, tiny buds that find their way through spring’s last snow, up towards the gently warming sun. I see the importance in creating, with intention, ways to honor the springtime here, welcoming freshness and new life into our beings and into our school!
Our community spruce up day was enlivening with energy and generosity from children and families of all ages~ new trees and plants placed warmly into the ground, citrus trees pruned, watermelon seedlings begun, and play spaces cleared, tidied and made magical again! From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU ALL! In the spirit of fresh, new life, the early childhood children each planted a spring basket, first hands in dirt, seeds in dirt, then water sprinkled daily to help them sprout and grow. And who will live nestled in the green sprouted grass? Bunnies, of course, stitched with love and care by each child. The pride they feel in their handwork is a gift of stability and self esteem!
Community building continues to be our focus in our Little Seahorse Nursery. Building and deepening connection to our earth, our friendships and ourselves are our healthy priorities! This includes inquisitive nature immersion, supported conflict resolution, and nurturing our daily intake and output of compassion, empathy and overall peacefulness.
We love to talk about our families and home, learning about siblings, parents, grandparents and pets, bringing the familiarity of home into our school lives, our home away from home. Listening to each other is a skill that betters with practice. Learning to value, with love and curiosity, what our friends have to say, as well as what we have to say, is one way of honing this skill. How can we model for our children genuine interest in what they share? How can we help them to feel loved and heard and held each day? How can we nurture their sense of security, trust and ability to stand by their needs, beliefs, experiences and wonderings?
During circle and throughout the morning, we have turned our focus to heart centering songs and movements that help our hearts to be open and full. From an open heart sprouts gratitude. With gratitude, blooms limitless compassion, kindness and joy.
This special song, with its simple dance has been shared with hundreds of children in circles wide: I open my eyes to you, I open my heart to you, Together we raise our hearts to the sun, And together we are opening our loving hearts as one!
Additionally, we have added breath exercises to our second morning circle. Please do ask your children to share them with you! Bee breath: A deep breath in, followed by a long hummmmmmmmm. Calming and soothing, this is a helpful breath to help quiet and listen inward. Snake breath: A deep breath in, followed by a long, centering sssssssssss. Both centering and enlivening, this breath calms the nervous system and awakens the mind and heart’s eye. Butterfly breath: Slow gentle breaths in and out, while softly floating one’s “wings” up and down. A welcome return to feeling grounded and in one’s body and breath. Bunny breath: A Seahorse favorite! Fingers poised in classic bunny ears position, take a deep invigorating breath in the nose, followed by several quick blows out the mouth, finished with a last long exhale. Bunny ears flop (like quotation marks) with each exhale! A fun and grounding way to calm down when upset or overactive, to focus when needed and to get the breath moving.
And, lastly, an old favorite: There’s a little wheel a turning in my heart….We love sharing what we each have in our hearts and making up our own for each child’s contribution! I am amazed and tickled at what is living in these children’s hearts~ Dinosaurs-a-chomping, rainbows-a-sparkling, mommy’s hugs-a-hugging, songs-a-singing, and so on! HAPPY SPRING~ And thank you always for sharing these beautiful, bright children with all of us at Mangrove. We are so blessed! To Loving Hearts, Ms Shivani and Ms Jamie
Sandpiper VPK and Starfish Kindergarten
Dear Starfish-and Sandpiper Parents, During the month of March we were farmers who sowed seeds and tend to our fields. When “ Oats and beans and barley “ grow, we enjoyed working on our fields during circle time. From imaginary bunnies who appeared magically from a handkerchief and could be fed a finger-carrot, to little seeds that were jumping out of the ground after a longer sleep in wintry earth.
“ Sleep provides growth and life renewing processes as well as the bridge to becoming truly human!” Rudolf Steiner said,that “ before the age of nine, the most important thing is for children to learn how to sleep.”
Sleep is the only time that the body restores and renews its forces from the demands of the day, and the only time that physical growth occurs, is during this time. During waking hours, there is no possibility for new cell growth. The child learns to sleep by having adults that understand the profound importance of sleep. Sacrifices are usually necessary today to create a rhythmic lifestyle that allows for an unhurried pace. A slow, even tempo with rests at regular intervals. The sleep-wake rhythm supports human growth and consciousness. So rhythm is the balance between the life processes of rest and movement.
This is why in our Kindergarten we are always about rhythm. In- and out breathing. Contraction and expansion. Indoor-and outdoor play. Free play and a group circle for story time, for example. And story time is a happy time at Mangrove School. We created an outside story nook in our play garden and your children love to go there once a day, sitting in the shade if the lush green roof of our bushes and trees and listen to springtime tales.
In the classroom we are busy painting with two colors and explore what happens on the pre-soaked paper. We were also tending to our own grown spring baskets. Daily observation and watering were your children’s chores...and how well they did!!
The excitement was huge when the first seeds began to sprout and continued to flow right back into our circle, where the children experienced the awakening of spring. This makes a wholesome circle of life, which young children can relate to. And this, to me, is the most beautiful and sacred way to guide young ones into our world.
In the month of April our circle contained of a mother hen and father rooster nest, which are hatching the eggs. The children got to do this puppet play after me modeling it for a few days. We learned a polish haying song and its movements, where " Tatus and I" go through the whole cycle of sowing the seeds, mowing the hay, selling it and so forth. Within this movement song the children learned the weekdays as well. Daily repetition for about 4 weeks lets the circle really sink in and make it more and more enjoyable for the children, who can't wait for their own favorite part of the circle. This makes a wholesome circle of life, which young children can relate to, and this, to me, is the most beautiful and sacred way to guide young ones into our world.
With much gratitude and love for all our wonderful families, Ms.Birte and Ms.Kalin
During the month of March, the 1st Grade worked on word groups and have covered, words with the following word groups: ad,ag,an,aw, ay,ed,et,eg, and en. They created words and made up sentences with them as well. In addition they have also been working on their reading, with great pleasure with the books that are at the front of the classroom. Math has been exciting too; they worked on writing 61-100 in their Main Lesson books, practiced addition and practiced subtraction. The last item for our main lesson is the Pentatonic Flute. We are singing the song and then playing it on the flute. The children are practicing very hard and will be showing everyone at the Year End Assembly.
We also spent a week on form drawing and the children combined straight lines and curves to form Ribbon Motifs. Ribbon Motifs are fun to do and it helps them to form their letters. Ribbon Motifs can also be used to make a border on a main lesson page. For Story/Drawing we conitnued The Trumpet of the Swan. This is the story of a swan named Louis, who can’t speak and develops with the help of his friends the ability to read and write and play the trumpet. He has many adventures and finds a mate, to live happily ever after.
Our specialty classes have included, Handwork(Ms. Laura), Meditation(Ms. Natalie), French and Gardening(Ms. Jessica). In handowrk they have moced from casting on to beginning to knit. The first project is a cat, made from a square. Knitting is supportive of fine motor coordination, right and left sign of the brain development and of course, just plain fun to sit in a circle and be able to chat. In Gardening, the children planted carrots and strawberries, and they have even been able to eat both, this past month! Our special thanks goes out to Ms. Stephanie for doing cooking every month with the class. In addition, Marielle Lallo and Ms. Stephanie came in and showed us all about their three week visit to Dubai, France, Italy, and Sri Lanka. Marielle, who is one of our first graders, made a poster with all the destinations on a map for her classmates to see. She had pictures and talked about the sights in detail. It was wonderful and very informative! Ms. Kalin also came in shortly after Chinese New Year, to share a special Japanese holiday with the class, a festival called Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival/ Girl’s Day
Forest Friday was fun too! Mr. Geoff did a wonderful presentation for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grades at Crowley. It was about the compass and learning about North, East, South and West. There were games to learn the directions and a stick in the ground to see how the sun moves across the sky. They could then use this knowledge when out in the woods hiking.
In April we explored words with EW, IB, ID, IG, IlL, IM ,IN, IP, IT, and IX in them. It was fun to copy them in our main lesson notebooks and to make up sentences using them. The children continue to enjoy reading the books in the classroom and to play school with each other with their new found words. They have increased their knowledge of sight words and that has helped them to progress with their reading.
April has also been a review of Math concepts such as skip counting. The children practiced counting by 2,3,5 and 10’s. We played with the concept of money and they learned about place value. We played a game where each child was a ones or a tens or a hundreds or a thousands place. I would call out for the ones place to switch with the hundreds place and they had to know what they were and where to change. Then I would call out for another switch. It was great fun and they were learning about place values! This naturally related to money and they learned about the values of money and what each was worth. We played a game where I would place a value on their lunch and they would have to pick the right money, from the money tray (bank) and buy their lunch. They really enjoyed this and this led into many rousing games of Life in the class during indoor freeplay.
Flute continues, as does watercolor painting. We are now using 5 colors to create rainbow pictures with a story about how each color relates to another, and this includes more steps and details. For Story/Drawing we are now reading Mother West Wind. There are many stories about animals and each chapter tells a new adventure. One of the stories is the retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare. It is a little different as the tortoise holds onto the foxes tail and rides along for most of the journey and then when all the other animals are tired he slowly walks back to the finish line, to win. The children like to hear about animal characters and many of these stories mirror their feelings and actions in their own lives. Handwork continues with more knitting and now most of the children are working along and chatting in the knitting circle. It is great fun and they enjoy showing each other how far they have come. Besides their sense of accomplishment they are strengthening their hands and creating stronger pathways in their brains for learning.
Thank you to Ms. Stephanie for doing the cooking class with the children . It is the highlight of their month to have that class with her. We have one last class for May and the children are looking forward to it. It’s pizza, using the Kindergarten’s own recipe for bread to use as the crust. We are coming to the end of the school year and it has been a very rich one full of experiences and learning. Best wishes, Ms. Laura
The second graders recently completed a short form drawing block. They practiced forms from the beginning of the year as well as adding new mirrored forms. In addition, they continue to practice drawing with their hands, but also with their feet! This always adds a challenge to a drawing that they assure me is too easy for them! The lovely spring weather has found us outside a lot. We brought our words outside to write and practice, adding lots of movement to their growing reading skills.
The children enjoyed our “Walk around the Block Day”! They we so excited to not do any “work”, only walk around the block all day! Oh! And counting steps, tallying steps, adding steps, estimating steps, guessing steps, writing down all the steps, and of course practicing their place value skills by reading all the numbers......but NO WORK!!! ~Mrs McMillan
Third grade segued out of Origin Stories into the Shelters and Dwellings unit where we learned about the different domiciles created and used by people throughout history. The students created wonderful drawings of the different types of ancient homes and we used poems as a way of learning about the various craftsmen and women who are needed in each stage of modern home building. The unit culminated in the students creating a vision of their own dream homes. We also read great books like Planet Earth II where we learned about the various climates of the world and the animals that live within them. We worked on basic math skills such as multiplication, division, and counting money. In English, we worked a great deal on various skills such as recognizing long vowels, recognizing and creating our own acronyms, using contractions, proper nouns, capitalization, and much more.
We began March with the study of Geometry. We learned different aspects of the circle with our round classroom rug. With rope, a yardstick, and a trundle wheel, students were able to measure and show examples of chords, tangents, secants, radius, diameter, circumference and arcs. We then took our tools outside and, working in teams, drew several large circles with chalk. Children were asked to draw one circle with a radius of 6 feet and another with the diameter of 8 feet. We explored equivalent, isosceles, and right triangles on the soccer field by playing keep-away from a defender. Consensus was reached that forming an isosceles triangle with teammates was the least effective triangle for passing the ball to each other with a defender in the middle. We took back to the basketball court, got in our teams, and drew the types of triangles after being given the lengths of a base or a side. The children used a rope knotted into 3, 4, and 5 foot lengths to create their right triangle just like the Egyptians long ago utilized to cut the massive stone blocks for their pyramids. Other topics we studied included lines, rays, and line segments.
After the conclusion of geometry, we spent a day revisiting pyramids with the help of David Macaulay’s book, Pyramid. After learning the basics of construction, we determined the ratio of a typical pyramid’s base to its height. Thus a challenge was created for a portion of Kite Day at the beach: construct a pyramid with a base at least three and a half feet long and at least 2 feet high. The two teams masterfully met the challenge, uniting their attention to detail with knowledge of perfect sand/water ratios for building sand pyramids. Students, in their hour of focused work, began empathizing with the Egyptians forced to build pyramids, which sometimes took up much of their entire lives!
Following spring break we turned our attention to the second block of North American Geography. Regions visited included the Rocky Mountains, the Basin and Range, The Coastal Range (from Alaska to Mexico), California, and John Muir’s beloved Yosemite National Park.
As April rolled in, we visited last two ecoregions in our second North American Geography block, the Appalachian Mountains and the South Atlantic Coast. In a departure from our previous approach, children were given brochures, educative pamphlets, and field guides acquired from my visits to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, and Southern Appalachian Forests. Working in teams, they learned about and then taught the rest of the class about their topic. We learned of various points of interest along the Blue Ridge Parkway in both Virginia and North Carolina, the high concentration of particular species of plants and animal in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, the formation and subsequent erosion of the enormous Appalachian Mountains, and finally keystone species of the forests that grow on and around the mountains. After all the lessons were taught, students created compositions on what they learned from each other.
We swiftly shifted our attention to preparing for our much anticipated camping trip. We organized ourselves into roles so that each would play an essential part. During our planning phase, students gathered information and took action in the realms of learning about potential hazards, creating a list of needed gear, writing out directions of how to get to our destinations, organizing and keeping track of supplies and everyone’s jobs, figuring out a food menu that met everyone’s needs, facilitating discussions as a whole class and individuals whose jobs overlapped, and keeping the big picture in mind to name a few. It certainly was a marvel to witness the realization of the amount of planning it takes as well as the high investment these children had in the real life project! The investment didn’t end with the planning, as the students took the lead in deciding where to set up the tents, who would prep/cook/clean each meal, follow and adjust the itinerary as needed, make sure people were hydrated and fed, and so forth. With great resiliency and character, the class triumphed over the difficulties of a 7-mile canoe trip, celebrated multiple times in the clear spring water, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. The week following our trip, each child composed a story of the trip down the Juniper Run from their perspective. After self-editing and revising, as well as peer editing and revising, the children completed their North American Geography Main Lesson Books with a story of their very own.
From here we turned our attention to our second block of Ancient Civilizations, beginning with the creation story of the Greeks. While many students have great familiarity of Greek Myths, students heard various stories of the Titans as well as stories that honed in on the personalities, characteristics, and significant moments that defined the Olympian Gods and Goddesses. Students drew a map of Greece and its many islands without any guiding lines. With lessons on proportion and shapes, students sketched of the heads of Zeus and Hera. We then expanded to consider upper body proportion (including hands) in our drawing of Athena. A relatively concise version of Homer’s long tale, The Illiad, was told. The Gods fell to the level of the humans in this war, continuously meddling on one side or the other and even attacking each other. In a shift from previous mythologies, the Gods couldn’t make things better. Students showed exquisite comprehension in their compositions about this long war between the Greeks and Trojans. We look forward to hearing about Odysseus’ journey home as we move into the month of May.
Thanks, Mr. Jon
As the earth awakened to spring we continued our own awakening in physics. As previously mentioned, this year in Physics we aim to grasp their attention, engage their feeling, and stimulate their curiosity, as to how phenomena work. “How?” is the essential question of Physics this year. Through demonstrations, investigations, and activities we seek to foster the ability to make observations and draw conclusions, based not only what we experienced, but our previous knowledge and observations as well. This year we also add in the process of quantifying and measuring, which assists them in objectivity, and helps refine their studies. Their lab reports reflect their ability to not only record their observations, but to reflect upon and synthesize this information with what they have previously observed in nature or in everyday life.
Our study of thermodynamics began with an experience. We filled three large bowls with water of various temperatures. One cold, one room temperature, and one hot. Each student had a chance to place one hand in the cold water, with the other in the hot water at the same time. Then, after accustomed to the temperature, they removed both hands at the same time and placed both simultaneously in the room temperature water. They were surprised by the “weird” feeling of one hand feeling hot, and the other cold at the same time, in the same water. This demonstration showed them that we are very sensitive to temperature changes, as well as how our impressions are subject to perspective. We reviewed the three states of matter, but more importantly, their transformation, and this was the major theme of this physics unit. The students had the opportunity to observe state changes from solid to liquid, liquid to sold, liquid to gas, gas to liquid, and from solid to gas. As we made observations and quantified them, they then needed to connect these experiences to natural phenomena they already were aware of.
Our next unit included electricity, which we studied separately from magnetism last year. This year we expanded our study by also exploring the relationship between these two forces, mysterious as they are. Many of the experiments we replicate we discovered accidentally, which adds to the drama of this subject. We looked at how we can not only generate static electricity as we did last year, but how we can store it to charge other objects, thus not seeing it necessarily as separate from “electricity” but understanding the basic concept of a current. We first created a simple electrophorus, which consists of a charging plate, charge transfer disk and insulated handle using simple household objects. First invented by Alessandro Volta, with the electrophorus the students were able to see again and again that the charge could be stored and transferred, as we touched it or by bringing it towards the electroscope. We also used it to to light up up a small light bulb via induction, by bringing the charged plate near the electrical foot contact, learning the flow of the negative charges flowing from the wool, which we used to charge the plate, to the pan, to the bulb. They also explored the materials and created their own experiments. BY doing this over a few days they also learned about how humidity affects static charges dissipating into the air. Using common household items to demonstrate these concepts also leaves the students with the impression that science isn’t something reserved for laboratories or scientists, it’s everywhere, and can be explored by anyone. Next we looked at the chemical reactions that can generate electricity. Several students volunteered to generate electricity in their mouths using clean copper and zinc strips on the sides of their tongue. When the strips touched, they experienced a sour taste as the electric current stimulated their tongues. Next we used various fruits to see which would also produce a current. Then we created a circuit of various fruits, powering a small clock. I really wanted to impress upon them that it is really all about relationships: when certain materials come together, electricity is generated naturally, and although we cannot see them, how electrons are moving in this chemical reaction. We also begin to discuss how humans can then choose to harness this naturally occurring energy in a responsible way. Once we experienced chemical reactions creating electricity, we then saw how this relates to magnetism. By using a 6 volt dry cell and uninsulated copper wire, we could easily see that by connecting the wire to the battery the wire was able to attract iron filings. Once the wire was detached from the battery, the filings fell off. They also saw this same wire, when attached, could deflect a compass. The students then had a chance to make their own electromagnet with insulated copper wire, nails and dry cells. Comparing these to a magnet, we see that this is always magnetic, yet an electromagnet can be turned on and off by disconnecting it from the power source, again showing the power of harnessing electricity.
Our last unit of Physics for the block was mechanics, which included the six simple machines. This was a new topic to them this year, as the students own bodies are now developing a new relationship to the forces in the world. The lever was first introduced by taking many different household levers and seeing if the students could identify what they had in common. After some time they realized that they all provided us with some sort of “leverage” in our task, leverage meaning an increase in force, distance, or speed. We then discussed what a lever was, and we learned about the different classes of levers, (1,2,3) and how their load, effort and fulcrum could help students identify which lever they were. The next day we looked at something more quantifiable using a first class lever. The students were tasked to see how they could balance each other on the see saw. First we used two students of roughly the same size. Then we tried to balance a smaller student with a larger student, equal distances from the fulcrum. What did they need to do to balance? They were able to see easily that they needed to move closer or further from the fulcrum in order to balance unequal weight, but we began to take some measurements to make see if a relationship existed. Once back upstairs we examined the measurements to find that indeed a mathematical ratio was present. We then also looked at all types of levers to see the relative distances between the three components, and calculated their mechanical advantage. We saw that with the third class lever, there wasn’t one of increased weight, but of increased distance - think of the small motion one needs to make, to sweep with a broom, the small amount of movement results in great movement at the load arm. One other exercise we did was find other examples of levers and see if we could identify which class they were by labeling the three components. For example we drew out a row boat with an oar and then debated what type of lever the oar was. Needless to say, it was a lively debate, mostly regarding, what is the load?
We looked briefly at the wheel and axle by having students carry a load across the field (one of their friends) then again across the field in a wagon. Thank goodness for wheels, a major invention in the history of mankind, working supremely with the axle, allowing the wheel to spin in a balanced circle, taking on weight and increasing the speed of labor.
Next we looked at the inclined plane, also used from ancient times to lighten human labor. By using the form of a triangle, with one end of higher elevation than the opposite end, the inclined plane is between the horizontal and vertical planes. We identified other examples of inclined planes, and then did an investigation of heights and lengths to derive a formula for its mechanical advantage. Certainly through common sense we could see that certain inclines are not that advantageous, but again, it’s about quantifying now.
Next we looked at the wedge as a variation of the inclined plane (it is actually two inclined planes) and how it transfers the force applied to its end out to the sides. We first drove nails into stumps to see this in action, with the force being applied to the head of the nail, and the output moving out from the sides of the nail. Then we looked at other examples, such as a zipper, and finally compared this to a different machine, the screw. By using triangles of paper wrapped around a pencil we could see that this is actually a twisted inclined plane around a central cylinder, in which something is moved from a higher position to a lower position or conversely, but in a series of circles, thereby conserving horizontal space.
Also using wood, we felt the difference between hammering in a nail and then how easily a screw can be driven into wood. Then we compared different screws. Is it better to have more revolutions on a screw or less? We also looked at this design in other objects - a spiral staircase, light bulb, faucet, and bottle cap for example. We also looked at Archimedes screw, used to transfer water from a low-lying location to a higher location, possibly used even earlier than he, in Ancient Babylon.
We saved the pulley for the last of the simple machines since it incorporates others into its being; it is basically a class 2 lever, going over a curved surface, thus they were first introduced to the simplest of pulleys, showing the effort being pulled down, the fulcrum in the axel, and then the load on the other end. They were able to see that by pulling down the weight would go up, but when does it become advantageous to do so, rather than to just pick it up yourself? We looked at the fixed pulley, which has no real mechanical advantage, with 1 rope part supporting the load, and the distance pulled equalling the distance lifted. We then tested various pulleys in the classroom and had the students try to rig various weights up and down, then discussed what we saw. They were able to derive a simple formula for mechanical advantage, and could then quickly calculate what the effort needed based on the mechanical advantage of the pulley. By penetrating these principles they are ready to understand more complex processes and machines, in fact for the weeks following this block the students frequently identified levers, inclined planes or pulleys around us as well as discussed their relative mechanical advantages.
Perspective Drawing included using two vanishing points to suspend cubes in the air, which will become future buildings and more! In April we also enjoyed a session with architect Mr Dominic sketching some of the overlooked yet intriguing architecture of our school buildings.
This semester we began reading a story of survival of two young men not much older than these students, Far North, which became a theme we explored in the spring, as we compared the survival skills needed by the characters in the book, in Northwest Yukon Territory to Florida. We also continued to assess and practice our own survival skills through Florida specific resources, now including shelter building and food foraging more formally.
Our final historical period of the year, the Renaissance, was approached from the perspective of art history. We did this through the biographies of several artists, some more famous that others, all with valuable contributions to the evolution of art, which helped us understand the political, social, religious changes of the times. We actually began pre-Renaissance, with artist Cimabue. We looked at his art, still in the Medieval period and this left the students somewhat flat, as his artwork was, well, somewhat flat. They learned what was considered the signature of this time period - black or gold background, bodies stacked together in an unnatural way, each subject, of course a religious figure, and with a similar blank expression and gesture. Although Cimabue’s work did not draw the students in, the legend of his discovery of a young artist did; a young shepard he happened upon, whose artistic talent was expressed in drawings on the ground with rocks and sticks. This artist has been called the father of modern art, in fact! Was it Leonardo they asked? No, but I’ll continue… Seeing promise in this young artist, Cimabue took this young man on as an apprentice. Apprenticeships, at the time of course were known for being greuling, despite being appropriate for young people of 13-14, yet the biography of this artist revealed a sly sense of humor that perhaps made this period in his life more bearable. While Cimabue was on an errand, taking a break from his work, apprentice Giotto,(we have never heard of him they exclaimed!) based on his keen observation, painted a very realistic fly on the painting. When his master returned, he saw the fly and tried to shoo it away, then, becoming increasingly impatient, began to slap at it, before realizing it was a painting! His natural talent compelled Cimabue to bring Giotto to a large painting project of the Life of St Francis in frescoes in Assisi, and this work made him known as a painter. Before our eyes we saw the apprentice, once plucked from obscurity, surpassing the master, and bringing about a sort of pre-Renaissance, with the introduction of elements of nature, vibrant colors, and much to their relief, varied human expression.
By the 14th century his reputation was widespread and he was tasked to paint the interior of the Scrovegni Chapel, which included 37 separate scenes, over 3 levels on the wall, which was not easy work, requiring squeezing into odd spaces, often in dampness. In close ups of these panels we witnessed a humanizing of spiritual beings, with musculature, warmth, agony, a tear. He brought in elements of nature - gone was the gold background, of the Byzantine style, and we began to see hints of perspective by eye, movement of the subjects, shadow and light, vivid colors, and figures in the painting reacting in many ways. This became the foundation for the Renaissance that was to come, work based on Giotto’s observations and memory, not models. Through his various works we see example after example of this, and it was this fidelity to the living world that gives him the rightful title of Father of Modern Art.
With Giotto we also detailed the art of biography - how to tell one that people want to read. We decided a bold statement would be the ideal beginning, rather than simply beginning with their birth. For Giotto, this statement included an interesting fact: Leonardo (who they were clamoring for) considered him to be his greatest predecessor, stating in fact, that he could never equal him. Leonardo also attributed Giotto’s greatness to his true teacher, nature.
Our next artist biography, Brunelleschi, was a surprising connection for the students, as he was another lesser known artist who started out as a goldsmith. In his day, most commissions or opportunities were chosen by the Pope, so as a young man he had the opportunity to be in a competition to create the bronze doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence The competition was to create a gilded bronze panel from the Old Testament of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Although Brunelleschi was highly skilled, he actually did not win, instead he was bested by the person who would become his lifelong rival, Ghiberti. We compared both entries, and found that although they were very different, both were incredibly talented in their own right.(Side note: Michelangelo referred to Ghiberti’s doors “The Gates of Paradise”) In consolation, Brunelleschi went to Rome with Donatello, once a grand city, but by then in decay.
Yet, this crumbling city drew him into the classical world; he was completely overwhelmed, sketching, thinking, marvelling at the classical arches and use of light, the placement of pillars and steps. This experience made a lifelong impression on him and his impulse was to stop sculpting and bring back the classical impulse to modern architecture to Florence. In Florence, where Brunelleschi was from, it was incredibly dense, everything was cramped together so it was hard to really see in perspective, they way he was able to in Rome. Thus, his loss in the contest actually changed his life in ways he could not have predicted. His contribution had a great impact on the world, one that still influences architecture today.
At the same time the Platonic Academy was flourishing, bringing forth other classical elements, and providing something other than Christianity as a guide. Realizing they had become acquainted with the Father of Modern Architecture, the students were ready to write a good story, but we were actually missing a big part that came later in his life. At the age of about 42, another contest came up, although this time he actually won, and this time it was to build a grand dome, to be larger than the Pantheon in Rome. He needed to work with bricks, creating an octagonal design, not cement like the Romans had; in fact it ended up being 4 million bricks, and they had to be slightly beveled, which had not been done before. He finally settled on 2 domes, an outer and an inner, which ended up weighing 37,000 tons, and took about 16 years to finish. A main concern of his had been safety, so he came up with all kinds of inventions to support his workers, such as hoists and pulleys, even a lift with a reverse gear, and many of which were patented. He even provided lunch halfway up the dome to prevent his workers from having to go all the way up and down mid-way through the day, potentially drinking in town and coming back to work unable to perform their tasks safely. The students loved the thought of this, and the idea of an engineer, bringing art and technology together, and one who worked quite a bit to understand the laws of perspective and reflection. They were tasked to draw the dome from photograph, and found its size, compared to a person in the photograph, to be wondrous.
As part of this block we learned of a few other artists on a smaller scale, such as Fra Angelico, the monk from San Marco who would embellish the cells of fellow monks as suggested by Cosimo Medici, who retreated there. The students went through various works of art of his, and could see the influence of Giotto in the humanized religious figures, use of perspective, expressions and gestures. We also looked at the work of Masaccio, a short lived artist who added depth and expression to his paintings, bringing color, light and life to chapel walls in his frescoes. There was a simplicity yet accuracy in his perspective, an a softening of the background that contributed to a realistic look. With Masaccio we also saw for the first time the trend of bringing the artists and other contemporaries into the painting as one detail of the fresco included Masolino, Masaccio, Donatello and Brunelleschi. We also looked at Botticelli, in the Adoration of the Magi, featuring a brightly colored group including Lorenzo de Medici who had commissioned the painting, as well as Botticelli himself, looking at us, with an expression of interest in our response. Botticelli did many circular paintings in which he was able to capture incredible depth in a small space. We examined the details of these paintings and what they could tell us about what was happening in Europe at the time. We noticed a much more adorned Mary, much more than the Medieval Mary we saw in earlier works, as well as detailed fabric, drapery and design, and hair of a variety of textures and shapes. In his signature work, “The Birth of Venus”, with a pagan theme, there is no Christian iconography at all, so we discussed why, then compared to his later works which were much more pius. It is said that Botticelli became influenced by Girolamo Savonarola an Italian Dominican friar and preacher who became very influential in Florence during this time with his puritanical views, and direct opposition to secular art and culture, including the Medici family. At this point we discussed how the Medici family came to be so wealthy and influential in the first place, Savonarola's concern over the deterioration of the church, and his consolidation of power to influence the lack of morality in Florence. Meanwhile, during all this mayhem, we saw the rise of some of the most famous celebrated artists of all time.
Chronologically, Leonardo, whose reputation of course preceded him, came first, yet there were still many details unknown to the students which made him utterly fascinating to them. We began with the printing press, which had been invented just a few years before Leonardo’s birth, but had a significant impact on his early life. He was illegitimate, which meant he could not become a lawyer like his father. However it was his father who also noted his great promise as an artist, even at a young age, and so he would bring him paper from his law office, as now thanks to the printing press, it was now less expensive as it was being manufactured in Europe rather than imported from the east. Leonardo eventually became an apprentice to Verrocchio, a sculptor, around age 14. It was during this time that Leonardo was given the opportunity to add an angel to one of his master’s paintings, to which Verrocchio is said to have exclaimed, “I shall never paint again, for here is my master.” Leonardo also helped Verrocchio develop the crane that would help lift a huge sphere 300 feet in the air, in order to complete Brunelleschi’s dome.
Leonardo was able to get his own commissions at a young age, having caught the eye of Lorenzo de Medici, however many of his projects or ideas were not brought to fruition. For example, he worked with various art forms, including bronze sculpture but at the time all the bronze was needed for canons for war. Leonardo also had a great fascination with war machines, sketching and detailing pages and pages of inventions for war weaponry improvement, for example a multi barreled machine gun type, and fortifications for Milan, where he lived for some time, in case of invasion. Although he was more of a loner, and particularly liked to complete his artwork alone, he was fascinated with the observation of people and loved to capture the essence of socializing in his work. His work was imbued with an incredible amount of life. He also observed nature with objective detachment, venturing to places no one else would go; his sketch of the Arno River Valley was the first known landscape without a human in it. He believed there were 18 gestures humans made and had a remarkable eye for details like this, as well as the larger picture. He also exhumed bodies, first studying the skeleton and muscles, then proceeded to study the role of individual parts of the body in mechanical activity. In turn, this led him to the study of the internal organs, and his findings from these studies were recorded in detailed anatomical drawings, which are among the most significant achievements of Renaissance science. We actually first brought Leonardo's notes during our Humn Physiology block in December!
He of course was commissioned by monks to paint “The Last Supper”, a complete study of human emotion, on the wall of the refectory, however, although it has been reproduced time and again, most don’t realize this was painted directly on the wall, above a door, with life sized figures. This took a considerable amount of time and planning, to create an exactness in his single point perspective; it is said that he used a tack and string to perfect the angles. He also experimented with different paint blends, which took some knowledge of chemistry. Unfortunately the paint began to peel off the wall not long after it was completed. However, Leonardo had already moved on, and would not return to fix it, as it was finished in his mind. As he had many interests, just the fact that he had finished it at all was a great accomplishment.
His powerful observational skills led him to study light and shadow extensively. He wrote copious pages about the various grades of shadow and when they appear, how light and shadow interact, of course with careful diagrams. He created another type of painting technique, sfumato, a sort of hazy atmospheric effect, using the most subtle gradients between light and dark; even a painting like the “Mona Lisa” the most famous porttrait maybe ever, included this signature effect.
He was so curious, in that he had this observant nature of the most delicate leaf or flower, and then on the other hand he also had a fascination with weapons of mass destruction, thus both the creative and destructive forces of nature. He was on the threshold of hydraulics, electricity, and magnetism; his biography truly celebrates the nature of the adolescent boy, who are often in a state of periodic eruption and explosion. The kids were fascinated by Leonardo; they saw a complex person, an incredible artist, a flawed man, an eager observer who valued solitude. They saw the gray areas of being human - a brilliant, copious note taker, an inventor, with a keen interest in mechanics, carpentry, architecture, chemistry, and more, but one who didn’t always finish what he started. To say he was filled with polarities, would be an understatement; with Leonardo, they could see that people can be many things at the same time. Leonardo was left handed which was considered even more unusual than it is now, and wrote in mirror writing, something our students had the chance to try as well. There was much fascination with the details of his life, but most importantly the students could see how he brought the Renaissance forward, in many ways.
Our next artist was perhaps the most surprising. His reputation preceded him as well, and many felt they already knew enough to not like him. So we began with a poem, in order to look at this artist in a different light:
No mortal thing enthralled these longing eyes
When perfect peace in thy fair face I found;
But far within, where all is holy ground,
My soul felt Love, her comrade of the skies:
For she was born with God in Paradise;
Nor all the shows of beauty shed around
This fair false world her wings to earth have bound:
Unto the Love of Loves aloft she flies.
Nay, things that suffer death, quench not the fire
Of deathless spirits; nor eternity
Serves sordid Time, that withers all things rare.
Not love but lawless impulse is desire:
That slays the soul; our love makes still more fair
Our friends on earth, fairer in death on high.
Who was this contemplative poet? In fact it was none other than the fiery, temperamental Michelangelo Buonarroti! This artist, was also a poet, writing copious sonnets over his lifetime. Again, people contain polarities, on the one hand he was said to be short tempered and irritable, yet also self-reflective.
A gifted but humble poet, Michelangelo was an arrogant force of nature when it came to sculpting, and later painting. His childhood was not easy, his mother died when he was very young, and his father was not only not supportive of his artistic interests but was even more fiery than his son and was said to become abusive towards him when the topic of art was brought up. He was eventually able to become an apprentice to Ghirlandaio, a fresco painter, much to father’s dismay. After some time he was tapped to join Lorenzo de Medici’s sculpture garden, which was much like a school for sculptors. Like Leonardo had also done, Michelangelo exhumed bodies for the purpose of art, and by the age of 16 he had completed two major works: the Battle of the Centaurs and Madonna of the Stairs. When Michelangelo was 17, Lorenzo died, this was the time of Savonarola's shift of power; Michelangelo, despite his piety, did not care for Savonarola's strong ego. During this time Michelangelo left Florence, making a name for himself elsewhere. When in Rome he spent a great deal of time studying the ruins, and not long afterwards, he was tasked to sculpt a pieta, by a french ambassador. He completed this from a single block of marble, and became perhaps the greatest work on earth at that time. The students were astonished by the utter smoothness of the marble, increible refinements of the subject: the living form of Mary and the lifeless form of Jesus, Mary’s headpieces, with intricate drapery folds, and Jesus’ face, a serene perfection. The finished piece was approximately 6 feet by 6 feet, and was placed in St Peter’s to be viewed by the public, although he had not signed the work to identify it as his own. Not long after, Michelangelo overheard two worshippers saying the work belonged to another much older well known sculptor, leaving him incensed. That night he was said to have broken in and chiseled into a sash of the sculpture his declaration of creation. The next day he had such incredible remorse, and he pledged never again to sign his work. He is human after all, as it turns out!
Despite the ups and downs of 16th century Florence, once it became a Republic, Michelangelo is asked to return, to complete a great sculpture of David, by the wool guild. He worked on the 19' piece of marble for 3 long years, and when finished was relocated to the Palazzo Vecchio from its original location in the buttresses of the Cathedral of Florence, as it was too large and heavy.
In order to transport it archways needed to be removed, streets widened, taking 40 men 5 days to move it. Florence was astounded by this work, David before battle, unlike any other reproduction before him, tense yet confident when faced with his huge opponent.His interpretation of the David is different from earlier versions by Florentine Renaissance artists, such as the previously mentioned Verrocchio, Ghiberti and Donatello, who depicted a triumphant version of the young hero, standing victorious over Goliath’s severed head. Michelangelo chose to depict David before the battle: alert and ready for combat. The slingshot David carried over his shoulder, is barely visible implying that his victory was due more to his cleverness than to his brute force. Seeing the close up of the sculpted hands was awe inspiring for the students - the veins of his hands, the musculature, again, with an incredible life like quality, as if ready to spring into action. Coincidentally, we will see a reproduction of this work up close when we visit Ringling next month! Michelangelo was just 26 years old when he took on the task, creating a masterpiece that still leaves us in awe, more than 500 years after it was created.
After this time, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint a battle scene on an opposite wall from Leonardo. As previously mentioned, neither was very gregarious and preferred to work alone, and they were generally rivals, despite their age difference. Neither work was completed due to dwindling funds. Michelangelo was then called to Rome, by Pope Julius II, another powerful choleric type, who called upon some of the finest artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael, to further his mission of restoring Rome to its ancient glory. Michelangelo, being primarily a sculptor was surprised to hear he was asked to do something much larger than he had ever done before, but with paint, namely, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which was the Pope’s personal chapel. This room was about 65’ long, and 30 feet up in the air, with a ceiling originally dark blue with stars. Pope Julius asked instead for a rendering of the 12 disciples. Michelangelo was reticent, and quite honestly insulted, to take this on, as he felt he was not a painter; he actually thought it to be inferior to sculpting. Painting a fresco on the wall was challenging enough, how on earth could he possibly do this on a ceiling? Michelangelo dreaded this, yet even he could not have imagined how incredibly agonizing this job would be. Of course he did write a very candid poem about the experience that enthralled the students with its irreverance!
This work is easily the greatest accomplishment of the time period, despite the great challenge of getting the right perspective without it looking distorted from the floor, and still having the greatest heights of heaven receding into the distance. His health did fail him because of his work ethic; he often forgot to eat, forgot to sleep, didn’t bathe, and he completed the work all on his own. The students were able to try painting on their backs and found their arms hurt after not too long, they couldn’t possibly imagine doing this year after year. Despite being two fiery individuals, Michelangelo was able to change the original design concept from the 12 apostles to the Old Testament, beginning with the breath of God, an image the students reproduced in pastels. The final finished piece astounded the students, as they thought it contained ornamental architecture, when in fact it was simply paint, giving the appearance of sculpture. We looked at various iconic scenes up close, as well as other lesser recognized portions that contained vivid color, colored shadows, and tremendous expression.
After this we looked at some of his later works such as the tomb of Lorenzo and Guillermo di Medici, the tomb of Pope Julius II, and the Laurentian Library staircase, showing his talent in architecture, and another large fresco in Rome, although he swore he never would again. He painted the Last Judgement, originally painted completely naked, later clothed which we will discuss next year when we discuss the Reformation. The students were amazed by his longevity, and ability to work so powerfully at an old age; even into his late 70’s when carving with apprentices he worked much faster then they did, without any caution at all, due to his tremendous forces of will. In the end, they found a way beyond Michelangelo's rough exterior, to admire him for his tremendous artistic contributions to the world.
Raphael’s biography was brief, as was his life. Due to a lack of drama, personality, fire, or interesting flaws, the students were far less drawn to him than the others. Our focus with Raphael began with his unique upbringing, having been orphaned at a young age; he took over his father's studio at age 11, initiating what would become an incredible work ethic. He proved himself to be organized and business savvy. We looked at his work through the influence of first Leonardo and later Michelangelo, as well as how we could see his own signature style, that was different from the latter masters. He was intriguing in that he produced much more artwork than both combined. He was also a gifted teacher, creating basically a school of Raphael, and it was his students that were able to seamlessly complete his unfinished work after his untimely death. We explored some of his techniques, which included prefabricated figures, and tapestry cartoon tacked into the wall like a constellation of along a fresco. He was also one of the few artists of his time that embraced the concept of reproductions. His most famous painting, and the most fun to analyze was of course “School of Athens”,a symbol of the marriage of art, philosophy, and science that was a hallmark of the Italian Renaissance. This brought the students back to our study of Ancient Greece in 5th grade as well, as we recalled the philosophies of Plato and his student Aristotle, two of the main figures in the painting. He included himself, as well as Michelangelo in the painting, who was unwashed in soiled clothing next to a block of marble. Leonardo was said to be used as a model for Plato. We tried to imagine the types of conversations that would be occurring in the painting. As Raphael brought our study of the Renaissance to a close, we also compared the three masters, as he was very different from the earlier two. For example, he was actually quite gregarious and social unlike both Leonardo and Michelangelo. Perhaps it was his general harmonious attitude that displaced Leonardo as Michelangelo’s most despised rival! Overall, the essential point of this period is to help them see the power of the individual in impacting change, and perhaps plant a seed of how they might impact change.
Math continued with percents, including the many tricks one can use to solve percentage problems, by using the percents we want to memorize to solve for “hard” percents. This will continue to be reviewed for mastery. We also continued our algebraic word problems: I read to them a word problem such as, “find a number, when multiplied by 3 and diminished by 2, becomes 16”, then they write the equation in algebraic form (in this case 3x-2=16) Do you know what x is? This helps their “fluency”, and they love the challenge of translation. Next the will write their own.
Of course the highlight of our spirng was our class camping trip! Several days in the springs with no agenda other than taking care of ourselves and each other was exactly what was needed to celebrate another eventful year together. We also took a trip to Orlando to visit the Cirque du Soleil Luzia show - sn incredible inspiration!
We also worked on our capacity for organization, as we have assignments to complete, what would help us to remember what we still had outstanding? We created a class calendar, visible on the chalkboard, and introduced student calendar and clipboards to help us to remember our responsibilities.
Although they have become more and more capable of holding themselves each day, adolescence also has a less accepted undercurrent of fragility that is important to recognize and honor. Self-doubt, self-consciousness, and a feeling of being alone are common, even among a closely knit group of really cool kids. It is a hard age to be, with so much transformation happening, those that they are acutely aware of, as in their bodies, as well as those that simply silently wreak havoc on them as in the rapid brain changes happening that make things like mood swings so very common, yet truly scary for them. Intense fears and avoidances can begin to steal their typically mellow, open ways, so we have also spent a lot of time on emotional self care. Helping them to understand and cope with normal developmental feelings can be incredibly fortifying, as they begin to open up to understanding that others might also have fears or anxieties that they don’t speak about. We did a sound meditation, a burning bowl ceremony, and began to practice daily rituals of gratitude and recognition of our gifts. Each day we begin by centering ourselves, as we always have, with our beginning verse, but we also add in other things, such as short meditations, time to just breathe, be present, share, or whatever feels right in the moment. They are so very rambunctious on the outside, but deep inside they need such care for this new being they are, just like a newborn, and this is the image I carry of them as I meet them each day.
With Gratitude, Ms Erin