© 2010 Marla McLean

The parts without words

The children have finished their Dream Houses. I am in awe of each child. Utterly amazed at the brilliance evident in each piece. Here are a few  to see:Slide7




but the project continues…

The K classrooms’ continuous common thread has been story and the narrative. Inspired by the work of Patsy Cooper (who came to our school for a talk and will be doing a full day retreat with us next month!) and Vivien Paley as well as working with local storyteller Ariana Ross (who will be in residence in the spring with the K classes) through folk and cultural storytelling techniques, and the childrens’ stories that they bring everyday, incredible fluency and ideas have been blossoming.

With this in mind, I decided I would ask each child to create a story that included themselves and their dream house.

Funny thing, I had no idea how to support this “change” of language, from the visual sculptural representations to the oral tradition of storytelling, then to back to a visual form, representing on paper as a book.

How do ideas do this, change form? How are they born?

I know the environment must be conducive to risks, mistakes and possibility. I know that there must be trust in the process for it to happen. But these are things that don’t have verbal instructions. These things are a combination of inner and outer. (A metaphor fitting for the new Hideaway Space in the studio.)


So, I was honest, and I told the children,”I don’t know how you each come up with ideas best, so, I have placed your dream house in front of you if that helps, I have also brought out pens and your sketchbook. Some folks like to make lists, some draw ideas or something that will happen, some write words, and some people like to just think in their heads. I will put on some music, and for at least 5 minutes, I would like you to work on your story ideas. When you are ready to tell me, just let me know.”

I was struck by the seriousness and commitment each group showed after hearing my uncertain words.

Some began drawing or writing with gusto.2boys

Some gazed into the air and then began drawing.

Some looked down at their paper, like Milo,  and then looked up and said I’m ready! Despite a blank page, his story was lush and full.


Ruby created gestural lines, perhaps this act helped her focus, as I must doodle in order to take in a lecture or a meeting.


Finn created drawings with arrows in between, an actual storyboard.finndraw

How fascinating to observe the small moment where something “becomes”.

I will post some of the stories at a later date.

For now, I am savoring magical parts, the parts without words that are also part of the story. The parts that somehow must be nourished for creativity to flourish and the whole story to be told.


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  1. Posted January 31, 2010 at 8:55 am | #

    These are amazing, I’m glad you showed the finished house with the drawings. I love seeing the way they made their ideas become 3d.

  2. Posted January 31, 2010 at 11:33 am | #

    I can’t even decide which ones are my favorites…I think they all are!

  3. Posted January 31, 2010 at 11:50 am | #

    Please tell the children that a teacher in Richmond thinks their work is beautiful and magical!

  4. Posted January 31, 2010 at 1:47 pm | #

    I will, they will be thrilled.

  5. Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm | #

    Wow! Those are wonderful. I love the drawings that they did of their sculptures.
    You continue to be an inspiration.
    It is a process for the teacher to be open so that the children remain open to such creativity.

  6. Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:43 pm | #

    Marla, these are stunning. Thank you for posting. Did you start with rough sketches, then progress to these drawings, and then the 3-D structure? What guidance, if any, did you give them while they were drawing their dream houses? Are the drawings colored in marker, or are there other media in use, too? Thank you again!

  7. Posted February 4, 2010 at 9:15 pm | #

    Thanks so much. If you click on the October 11th post, there’s details in the process. This project was started at the end of the Pre-k year, and when they returned for school in the Fall, there was a great anticipation and gusto that fueled and continues to drive this project. They care, and I think that has been key. That, and just taking as much time as they each needed.

  8. Posted February 4, 2010 at 9:19 pm | #

    Thanks! Can’t wait to settle down and check out your blog too.

  9. Posted February 10, 2010 at 10:14 am | #

    Marla, I’ve used my snowed-in time to go back through your archives and really study this wonderful project. Thank you so much for posting the steps along the way, and giving us a glimpse into your wonderful classroom. As stunning as the results are, it was the process the children took to get there that really took my breath away. I’m so glad I found your blog, and I’m looking forward to keeping up with your future posts. Thanks for being both a teacher and a writer! I’m learning a lot from you!

  10. Posted February 10, 2010 at 11:14 am | #

    Marla, I posted about your dream house project and linked to it today. I’m so inspired by it! Thank you again for sharing it.

  11. Posted November 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm | #

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