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  • jenniferksweeney

The Sandbox: Creative Learning for Families at Home

Updated: Aug 7, 2020


Hi, I'm Jennifer. If you've gotten this far, then you know I am a poet. I value the meaning and material of language, its texture and music and flexibility, its ability to transcend, to wonder, to exact experience in fresh new ways. And for most of my life, I have also been a teacher of various ages and subjects. One of my first teaching jobs was a twelve year position at the Adda Clevenger Jr. Prep and Theater School in San Francisco, a K-8 school taught largely by artists, writers, singers, musicians, and actors who often created their own creative curriculum. There I taught dance, creative writing, creative expression, reading, language arts, and science to a range of grades. I went on to teach in many other capacities and currently lead poetry workshops at the University of Redlands.

I also have two sons, ages 6 and 10, and though I've casually shared many activities I developed in my teaching career with them, the pandemic and the shift to "distance learning" has brought me waist-deep back into that toolbox to revisit and gather these activities in earnest for the coming year. We are all unmoored, desperately trying to keep kids off screens yet engaged while likely balancing our own piecemeal careers from a distance, and while there are a ton of resources in a million places on the internet, it's often an overload with little direction. Fumbling around myself, I wanted to share low-material activities in one place that can be done with little prep, but that are unique in the way they invite creativity, process-play, and engagement with the natural world as these are all remedies for the inevitable screen presence of our children's lives in this current moment.

Whether you are homeschooling with your own curriculum, following a guided at-home program from your district, or having your child participate in a distance learning classroom with a set teacher via the computer or a hybrid learning plan, you are more involved in your child's education than you have ever been before. I think of these activities as experiences in levity because that is often the effect of them, an afterglow of discovery, of being saturated in the creative process. With that in mind, I have created some different areas of exploration and will add a few new activities weekly until I am wiped out of ideas :) These will be low-material, making do with what you have or using natural materials, so don't worry, no mason jars, LED lights, or laminators needed. No extra steps to make it "cute" and "instagramable." This is process learning, and it's sorely absent from most education programs.

A note on process-play: It is by and large my experience that we often steer kids into "making a pretty thing"--where the focus is on following a series of steps, using a model, working toward the finished product, having that product resemble something intended--and while this has lots of value, we fall short on showing children how to be engaged in the sensory process of exploring textures, words, shapes, materials, color and following an interior sense of exploration. The art, nature, and writing activities I share on here are all based on process--not pointed toward a defined thing, not rushing to completion, but open to follow a unique path and appreciate the surprise of arrival. What do we make when we don't know what we are making? What is discovered? This kind of learning lends itself wonderfully to adults doing the activities with children, older siblings doing them with younger, and everyone processing with some open-ended discussion afterward. I'll share some specific ways to do that, but know that the growth here is unique and of wondrous value. And it is also a perfect foil for what I sense might be for many kids a more structured, more screen-reliant, less kinesthetic school year of distance learning.

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