This is why – Pennie Brownlee…

On an August’s Friday and Saturday of 2012 about 30 parents and educators gathered in Ohauiti’s rural Settler’s Hall to participate in two 1-day workshops with Pennie Brownlee – ‘You’re not the Boss of Me’ and ‘The Nature of Creativity’. The baby goats bleated under the window with the view of further emerald pastures and a distant Mauao as we shared kai catered by Ruby & Roses.

I thought I’d share (in note form) some resonance from the weekend. I’m imagining it may be most useful for those who EXPERIENCED the day, but I’m not going to make limiting assumptions and only send emails to the above, instead I shall publically publish the realisations and takings from the two days, for those who search or stumble… Here flows (here hopes) a whole lot of words from me (via or inspired by Pennie and the others of Ohauiti in August), and maybe some photos, and then some fellow Ohauiti August participants’ words to finish.

‘You’re not the Boss of Me’:
After singing “A Child is Born” accompanied by a recording blasted (to make us all feel ‘safe/supported’ first thing on a Friday) out of a blue and silver ghettoblaster, we began an exploration of the difference between the dynamics of domination and the dynamics of partnership as they relate to adults and children, which included our collective definition of will. One of my favourite definitions offered was: “Following something that is important to you.” Pennie gave Joseph Chilton Pearce’s definition: “Will is a non-volitional energy, to overcome obstacles to learning.”

We were asked to consider the use of will: Had we ever been forced to do something? How did we feel about this? Had we ever been ordered to do something? How did we feel? Made to do something? Our feelings? Told to do something? Feelings? Asked to do something? Feelings? Invited to do something? How did we feel about being invited to do something? Most of us were not keen on being forced, ordered, made or told to do something, but we were fine with being asked or invited. Infants and young children in our culture are seldom asked or invited, so as Pennie pointed out, small wonder most toddlers’ favourite word is no.

We worked our way through another quiz about the degree of respect we show when interacting with babies and young children: Have I ever picked up a child from behind? Have I ever picked up a child or baby without telling them? Have I ever picked up a child or toddler before asking if it was okay? Have I ever picked up a child or baby before waiting to hear their answer? Have I ever taken something out of child’s hand? Have I ever put a hat on a baby or child before asking if it was okay? Have I ever taken off a child’s sweatshirt before waiting for them to be ready? Have I ever washed a child’s face or aided them to blow their nose without checking with them first? And the crunch: would I like it if someone did any of these things to me? All adults in the room agreed we would not like any of the behaviours considered normal ways of behaving with children.

Other resonances:
• Remembered quality family time important/valuable and can be short e.g. walk along the beach together, visit Yatton Park, all eat ice-cream at the beach, sit in the garden together
• Discipline is necessary • Discipline versus punishment? • Discipline is a guidance system
• Never hurt anyone and never hurt anything
• Red Rules (are non-negotiable). Few. Everyone knows what they are e.g. Never hurt anybody (even your parents) • Versus Pink Rules (are negotiable). Few. Everyone knows what they are
• Reminded me of a few other goodie quotes: Starve bad behaviour – Feed good behaviour • When are our children getting most of our attention/focus/feedback? Choose our ‘battles’ (what we give focus to)
• Dr Emmi Pikler reminds us: Do everything WITH the baby/child, never TO the baby/child • Do we see our newborn babies, infants, toddlers, children as people?
• Create win/win situations rather than lose/lose situations in our relationships • Work in a partnership with our children (with all) • Reminded of Eckhart Tolle and Krishnamurti “we are one” the non-separation.
• If we place our thumbs in the palms of our babies’ hands it can calm, sooth, reassure
• Separation from parents is traumatic – consider that almost every Fairy Story involves the horror of separation
• The Model is Imperative (i.e. how we BE as parents shapes our children as opposed to what we say)
• Being parents is an opportunity to clean up or address our own ‘stuff’
• Get ourselves in a calm space when in a partnership with our children
• Keep present • Children live in the present moment
• Chin up – it’s impossible to stay melancholic when the eyes gaze upwards (rather than towards the ground)
• Check In – especially around physical stuff (e.g. changing a nappy, removing clothes, wiping a snotty nose, washing a face after eating…) Would I like it? If I wouldn’t like it, don’t do it
• We must slow down as parents/carers
• Check out Kimberley Crisp’s ‘The Nest’ an Educational Centre in Clive
• German research shows our current ‘offspring’ are less able to perceive subtleties – in texture, colour and form due to the presence of non-subtle plastic, often primary coloured toys
• Take up the challenge – can we never say ‘no’? A child asks for an ice-cream at 9am, we could reply ‘No, you’ve just had your breakfast and we don’t eat ice-creams at breakfast time’ OR ‘Yes, after your afternoon sleep or next time we go to the beach.’ • Win/win versus lose/lose
• Get kids outside. It’s mandatory in Norway early childhood for children to spend 70% of their day outside • No such thing as bad weather only bad clothing
• When you pay something full attention you are in relationship • I reflected on this concept in regards to my relationship with my husband also
• Slow down • Observe • Observe • Observe
• Share the gifts of Dr Masuru Emoto’s “Messages from Water”:

Accentuate the Positive
• In our communication with our selves and others, aim to replace stating what we don’t want, and what’s wrong or not working WITH what is working, what we do want
• The subconscious mind takes me literally and supports me 100% – Reminded me of the first ‘self-help’ book I ever read (as a lost teenager) Louise Hay’s ‘You can Heal Your Life.’
• Will blog about the literature journey of my mind, body and soul.

Recommended authors and reading:
Alfie Kohn, “Punished By Rewards”
Byron Katie, “The Work”
Sue Gerhard, “Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain”
Marshall B Rosenberg, “Non Violent Communication” to sort the verbal partnership behaviour
Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere, “Te Wheke: A Celebration of Infinite Wisdom” for a wholistic model of children’s well-being
Louise Hay, “You Can Heal Your Life”

A random selection of ‘The Nature of Creativity’s treasures:
•  We opened the morning by singing ‘Colours of the Wind’, a song from Pocahontas and talked about our observations of how the Native American Indians relate to land (as suggested in the lyrics)
Recommended to read: “Touch The Earth: A Self Portrait of Indian Existence” compiled by T C McLuhan.
• “The position of the artist is humble. [S]he is essentially a channel” Piet Mondrian
Helpful hint around food and establishing positive/helpful relationships with it borrowed from the Pikler Institute: Never ask or discuss whether your child ‘likes a food’. Never talk about “playing with your food”. Stick with: “Have you finished?” Simple
”The most powerful force in my life is what I say to myself”
• “The Model is Imperative” Joseph Chilton Pearce
We ‘be’ the curriculum: our children (students) ‘download’ us
Ngawaiahuruhuru translates as cherishing waters (amniotic fluid)
Kids learn through their body – they are building a body of knowledge
• ‘Movement is the architect of the brain” Carla Hannaford
• Mums are the ‘trainer wheels of nurture’ (delightful quote)
Offer our kids safe and loved and rich sensory experience
”Knowledge is Experience – Anything else is Information” Albert Einstein
A circle (which we used a traced copy of under our pastel drawings) is a symbol of wholeness and calm e.g. mandala, stain glassed windows in churches
The ‘ah’ sound is the vibration of the divine feminine, the vowel of the heart: e.g. in Maori – as in Papatuanuku and aroha for example
• Aroha translates as ‘the presence of the breath’ • This reminded me that vowel’s carry the emotion of words and consonants the meaning • Interesting that te reo Maori, Japanese and Italian share similar vowel sounds
Children (beings) seek connection rather than seek attention.

Some suggestions specific to encouraging our children’s creativity:
Disclaimer: You could buy/borrow READ Pennie Brownlee’s ‘Magic Places’ and ‘Dance with me in the Heart’ for a much more flowing complete guide to creativity and being in partnership with children. These notes are here to jog memories, and whet appetites…

Creativity is never about activities: it is the process of expressing the things that are important to the artist. Children give two verbal cues when they our need support with their creativity: “You do it for me” and “I can’t.” They may ask you to draw them a horse… and if you do, you take away from them the chance to express what is important to them in their world. 
Never draw for children, rather, talk them into reliving their experience of horses. You could ask, Have you met a horse before? My step-Mum Amondi taught me a trick of feigning ignorance with students, when you can get away with it e.g. I haven’t met a horse before, I’d love to hear what they are like… Who were you with? Could you smell the horse? Did you touch the horse? What sound did it make (questioning the artist’s experience of the ‘thing’, get them to recall their sensory experience). What colour was the horse?

 Never ask children under 7 what the horse looks like – that is not the way they perceive or express their perceptions, even though we do because we are older than 10-11. INSTEAD – get the child to relive their experience. Be aware, once the child has told you about the horse they may no longer wish to draw it – the telling of the experience is already an expression of it, and then they’re off onto the next exploration.

Most) Under 3 year olds aren’t drawing any ‘thing’, they are making marks (scribbling) and experimenting with shapes, colours, and the energy with which they create. The very young work in the abstract, so we never ask a child ‘What is it’ because it isn’t any ‘thing’.
The Creative Process is the most vital stage of the four aspects of creativity we looked at (experience, focus, creative process, art product) – think the Tibetan monk creating a mandala. The art product is not as important to a child artist – or a Tibetan monk – as it is to an adult. 
”Every child is an artist, the problem is, how to remain an artist, once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso.

Never draw for children? The Model is Imperative? I wondered how these two marry. I enjoy (and feel it’s important and powerful) to sit alongside Clara in her creativity and participate. It means I’m present. It means she can see my enjoyment of creating too. It means we are creating together. It means I value creativity. I can create alongside her and not be ‘drawing FOR her’ or moulding (playdough) for her. How do I do this? 
I keep my shapes and explorations abstract, as does she. I take pleasure in exploring geometric shapes, colours, pressing firmly or softly with my medium – but I do not make any recognisable thing. If I do she will want one – and we are in growing-artist-catch-22: she can’t grow if I do it for her. If I’m working with playdough I can roll ball like shapes or long cylindrical shapes rather than construct a turtle or dinosaur. 
Never give children colouring in books.
 The reasons for the ‘nevers’…are in ‘Magic Places’ by Pennie Brownlee. If you have trouble finding the reasons email me and I’ll divulge.

We explored 3 themes in our creativity (and you can see some volunteered results of this in the photographs). Pennie invited us to explore (re-live) and draw (using Dreamland pastels – 48 different colours) three aspects of love. The first was a theme (something ‘thing’ we loved as a child.) I chose my Mum’s garden. Others chose a toy. The second was a person (we could draw ‘them’ or the colour ‘of’ them). The third was some action we loved to do (I chose swimming in the ocean). 
I observed how emotional it was for many (including myself) to draw (and then share with a partner) my ‘experience’ of a loved one. We were reminded (as teachers) that to be asked to draw our family can be a moving experience for the artist – to honour the space/experience. 
If the artist wants feedback from you (as parent or educator) instead of judging what they’ve done (which includes praise or criticism), ask them: “Do you want to tell me about what you’ve created (drawn)?” Make authentic comments on what you see in terms of the shapes or colour e.g. you’ve used my favourite lime green colour OR I can see you’ve used strong lines here and the other side has different dots. The fact we have stopped, been present to the child’s creation, and responded authentically is enough. It’s not required whether we ‘like it’ or not.

“All of the Arts we practice are apprenticeship. The Big Art is our Life.” M C Richards

Here’s a range of others’ reflections from the Saturday:
“I love the venue, devoured the scrummy food, absorbed the company and content. I have never been to a Pennie course before. She is all and more than people have said she is.” Jan Sutherland – The Village

“You have to be in a good place yourself to support the creative process in yourself as well as others/children.” Wendy Twentyman – Reporoa Kindy

“Today was great – most of the recent workshops I’ve done have left me feeling like I’m in school (too much “work in a group but not people you know” or just lectures). Whereas today (and yesterday) I felt like an active participant. Also Pennie has a great sense of humour with kept me engaged.” Kathryn Banks – Parent at Otumoetai Playcentre

“I liked the particular combination of the talking and the doing, the science and the art, the material and the spiritual, and the chance to go back and be (or imagine being) the child at the centre of the experience.” Amy Mansfield – Parent at Freeman’s Bay Playcentre

” Emotional learning, re-learning. Makes me think about being emotionally available for our tamariki and whanau and my teaching kaupapa whanau. Tino pai rawa atu. Te mutunga ke mai o te pai. (The best that could happen).” Glenys Courtney-Strachan – Selwyn Kindy

Kia Ora Pennie for your dedication to our young, for your passionate and compassionate delivery of literally wonderful work. I really appreciate your collected wisdom and thorough inquiry into the life – the soul, the body, the mind – of our children, and encouraging us as carers (parents or educators) to learn to dance in partnership with these young beings. Thank you Jaye for your generosity around this event. We adored the fresh flavour. the vibrant colours and could taste the aroha you gave. A bientot, tout le monde.

One comment

  1. A beautiful blog Emily. Thanks for sharing the wisdom we all have within. So many of us have long forgotten to listen to that wisdom and your prompting gives reminders of how being present for our children can make the world a better place…. ka kite ano Anita X

I love reading your comments, kia ora for taking the time to share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s