Heart-a-Day #34 “The temple of art is built in words.” Josiah Gilbert Holland

In the forth grade, I had discovered a passion for puppetry. I’m not sure how this came about. I was growing up at the time Sesame Street first aired on television, but I was beyond the academics it was teaching. We had friends of our family who were neighbors with Marie Hitchcock, the San Diego Puppet Lady. She had performed at our elementary school, Golden Avenue in Lemon Grove, California. But I think my love of puppets and puppetry came from a desire to entertain my younger sister and brother. What better way than with puppets?

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mates, would walk us to the local branch of the county library once a month. There I could get lost in the stacks discovering new and curious books on puppets. I felt invigorated hunting for the book I desired using the card catalog (an old school method of organizing books on 3 x 5 cards, alphabetized and using the Dewy Decimal system). Finding the book I was searching filled me with joy and anticipation. That book was The Art of Puppetry by Bill Baird. I checked out the book and took it home. I got lost in the vivid photographs of Punch and Judy, incredible marionettes, and the detailed text. So lost in fact, that I actually lost the book! I was never able to return the book. My family was in no position to, or saw the importance of paying the fines or late fees. A few years back, I stumbled across a copy of the book in a thrift store. Of course I bought it. All the joy and happiness I had in fourth grade came back with it. I should probably return it to the library.

Doing things that you were passionate about as a child with you students is incredibly engaging. On the International Day of the Puppet, March 21, we always make sock puppets. We use them to sing, read to each other, and to act out stories. The students have fun, are learning and enthusiastically engaged. Share your childhood passions with your students and watch them get lost in the discovery of their own passions.

Taking a Break…

Heart-a-Day #33 “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” Thich Nhat Hanh

One of my favorite ways to rest and relax is to get lost in reading a book. The book club I’m a part of recently read The Library Book by Susan Orleans. It focuses around the history of the Los Angeles County Main Library and it’s rebuilding after a devastating fire. It triggered in me my own relationship with libraries over my lifetime.

When I was in first grade, and living in Navy housing in Moffett Field, California, the book mobile would visit once a week. I can imagine I chose to look at current picture books of the time, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Or maybe I found books to encourage my budding curiosity of arts and crafts. The important thing I want to emphasize is that someone ( my mother or teacher I’d have to guess), had instilled in me the importance of reading and looking at books. I can imagine my mom having me gather up my treasure of books from the previous week, walking me the short distance to the book mobile, and setting me free to discover the gems I’d carry home to devour over the next week. I’m sure the joy I get from reading today has it roots in that long gone book mobile in Navy housing, Moffett Field, California.

Do you have a memory of your first encounter with books? Is it a fond one? Take some time to reflect on how books came into your life. Share this memory with someone. Who knows what treasures and gems you may discover.

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer or a license for commercial use. The images are for personal use only. No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr. )

Continue reading Taking a Break…

Back to School

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity” – Charles Mingus

Heart-a-Day #198:  Back to School

The first day of school:  Apprehension.  Fear.  Not sleeping.  Not eating.  Will I be liked?  Can’t I just stay home?

I’m not talking about students.  This is how the teacher feels!

To be honest – and beginning my nineteenth first day of school – most of my First Day fears have subsided.  I think it’s because I’ve become realistic about my expectations.  On First Day 2018, we kept things simple.  We entered the room, settled in and got busy with some table work.  We talked about rules, routines and rituals (like saying the Pledge of Allegiance and learning “I Am Lovable and Capable,” our class anthem.). We practiced using crayons, met new friends, listened to a few stories and sang a few songs.  While I pretty much know what to expect, I have to honor that many of my new students have no concept of school.  That’s why we keep it simple.  We keep it light and easy.  And fun.  We have the rest of the year to dive deeply into learning.  It’s simple.

Can you cast aside your First Day jitters and bring simplicity into your schedule?  Use the simplicity to observe.  “Hmmm, I like how this student is using crayons.  They’ve used them before.” Or maybe…  “How can I support this other student who can’t grasp the routine?”  Giving yourself permission to start the year simply will lead you to a year of strong and successful teaching.


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)


“The primary benefit of practicing any art , whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”  Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Heart-a-Day #32:  Fiesta Island Friday

While teaching is rewarding and fun, it’s also challenging and strenuous.  I need to have activities outside my workday to recharge.  I need time to percolate new ideas for my classroom and students.  So I participate in amateur triathlons.  I started when I turned 50 years old, I suppose as a way to physically challenge myself.  Six years later, I’m still swimming, biking and running in four races each year.  I find the race morning excitement is invigorating.  The sense of community, camaraderie and even the competitiveness is stimulating.  My mind seems to clear when I’m training.  I get inspired by nature and the world around me.  Ideas begin to gel; problems start to solve; things click into place.  There’s joy in these uplifting moments and the physical push gives me a burst of energy, which I can take into my classroom.  The energy fuels creativity.

What activities to you do to recharge yourself?  If you have a passion for gardening, start a container garden.  If you like to doodle and draw; get a notebook, some gel pens and go for it.  Love books?  Spend an hour in a used book store.  Wherever your interests lie, use them to give yourself an energy boost.  Your ability to teach creatively will benefit from it.


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

Fitting It All In

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”  Yo-Yo Ma

Heart-a-Day #31:  Aboriginal

Some days, we just can’t accomplish everything.  There are things I know we should be doing; things I want to be doing; and things we must be doing – literacy, reading and writing, math, physical education, social studies and science.  Yet, there is always an opportunity to add creativity to any of these subjects.  I find that using the arts to teach mandatory content is engaging and motivating.  This gives students exposure to things they might normally not be able to access.  When we read a book, I might turn it into an opera or musical.  We can add essential 21st Century skills, like public speaking and collaboration.  I can add cultural references to make the learning even more relevant.  Even with something like mathematics, we can incorporate music.  The combination of both enables students to count, use timing, patterns and groupings of numbers.  If the stars align, I can even connect a craft or art activity to the lesson.  Let’s be honest: one or two planned things will typically fall off my list each day.  But if I’ve included even the smallest amount of creativity, I’ve made progress.

How can you “fit it all in?”  Can you do a quick dramatic production after reading a story?  Can you retell the story as a rap?  If you’re studying insects, can you have the students act out the life cycle of a butterfly?  Get creative: a quick walk around campus to count the trash cans will expand a social studies lesson to learnings about environmental conservation.  You just might surprise yourself about much you can fit in.



(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

A Bit of Luck?

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.”  Georgia O’keeffe

Heart-a-Day #30:  Lucky Day

While it would make life easier, there’s no luck involved in teaching creatively.  It’s all about planning and taking the occasional – or sometimes frequent —  risks.  When a risk pays off, you might call it “a stroke of luck.”  Nope.  You’re using your professional teaching sense.  I recognize that I’m a trained and educated professional and I know what’s best for my students.  When I decided to add that purple cow poem to our study of cows, it was a risk, but made sense – based on what I know.  As a result, the students enjoyed the playfulness of the poem and learned new vocabulary and sight words.  Our cow portrait drawings enabled new vocabulary and a lesson in perseverance, since we couldn’t draw and water color our pictures in just one sitting.  As a supplemental activity in our study of cows, we made butter.  Was it luck that the heavy cream became butter after we took turns shaking the jar and passing it around to each student?  No.  It was science and math.  We learned about motion, time, volume and the transition of a liquid to a solid.  We explored the physical and emotional feelings of making butter.  We used our senses to discuss how the butter felt, smelled, looked and tasted.  It was a great lesson.  Just lucky?  I don’t think so.

How can you replace luck with creative teaching?  Is there a craft or art project that would perfectly pair with a book you’re currently reading to your students?  Is there a simple song or dance you can use at the beginning of a math skill lesson?  Trust your professional instincts and know that effective teaching isn’t about luck.  It’s about knowing the right thing at the right time for your students.



(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)



Making Time Fly

“The world speaks to me in colours, my soul answers in music.”  Rabindranath Tagore

Heart-a-Day #29: Time Flies

No matter how busy the school schedule, I always make it a priority to add some creativity to our day.  We recently had a visit from the Dairy Council, complete with a real-live cow and calf.  When we returned to the room, I gave everyone a blank piece of paper and gave them two minutes to draw or write everything they’d learned about cows from the presentation.  When they finished, we gathered together and everyone shared their drawings and writings.  But there’s more: I then told the class, “You have one minute to draw or write something you just learned from your friends about cows.” The students hurried to their tables, quickly adding new information.  Then we reconvened to share even more about cows.  Based on the results, there can never be too much cow information.  This project was a quick and easy way to add some creativity to the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a quick song and poem.  As we began our research, we sang the “Purple Cow” poem by Gelett Burgess.  (I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one/but I can tell you anyhow/I’d rather see one than be one.”)  We always try to sing or chant as we change activities.  We listen to music when we’re working  and oftentimes just burst into spontaneous singing.

How can you make time fly in your classroom?  Can you use a simple song or poem to begin a science lesson?  Can your students doodle an image inspired by a book you’ve just read?  Adding just a few minutes of creativity each day does more than make time fly.  It helps students soar!


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)