Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Class Engaged!

Today, I had the honor and pleasure to be invited to give a Zentangle lesson at a local elementary school by a friend and neighbor who teaches there.  She had taken my very first Zentangle class a few weeks ago and wanted to share it with her fifth graders.  This was the perfect time, as school is winding down and kids are getting antsy to be indoors.

And it went wonderfully well.

I gave them each a kit with tiles, a pen, pencil, and a special Zentangle bookmark.  And then I began drawing on my easel.

We started with the word "Zentangle"--a combination of Zen (which refers to Japanese meditation--I didn't mention Buddhism) and art, or a tangle of lines.  Zentangle drawing is an art in which you can elicit meditative feelings of calm and focus by creating repetitive patterns in beautiful works of art.

I started with some questions:
Have you ever felt angry, sad, scared, nervous, tired, bored, frustrated?  How did your body feel when you felt those emotions?  How is it different when you are happy or satisfied or excited?  I told them that meditation was a way to transcend some of those emotions, especially the negative ones, a way to rest and calm their bodies and minds--by using their breath!  Everyone breathes, you can do it anywhere, without any supplies, like when you're tired of waiting in line or scared to go into the doctor's office.  And so we tried a short breath meditation--in through your nose, out through your mouth.  Feel the change in temperature, the breath over your lips, the rise and fall of your chest.  A few of them giggled, some huffed and snorted and sighed, but they tried it for several moments.   I tried to stay away from cliches like "being grounded" and "center yourself."

And then we started.  They pulled out their kits, with the tiles, pen, pencil, and bookmark.   I worked through the steps at my post-it flip pad and easel (with big black marker and gray shading marker)--gratitude and appreciation, corner dots, border, string, tangle shade, initial and sign, and appreciate again--while they followed along on their tiles.  We did a pretty typical first tile--z-shaped tile with basic strings crescent moon, hollibaugh, florz, and printemps.  I told them about a lot of variations (which only make sense if you know Zentangle)--drawing squiggles or loops in their borders, putting dots between auras in crescent moon, shading the spaces behind the lines in hollibaugh, shading the lines of hollibaugh, putting dots in the spaces behind the lines of hollibaugh, drawing printemps or crescent moons in the spaces of hollibaugh, putting other shapes at the intersections of florz, making big and little spirals in printemps, connecting the lines of hollibaugh to the lines of florz, putting a few printemps in the spaces of hollibaugh or florz.  Several of the kids gave the variations a try.  It's a lot like the first tile I ever did in my own first Zentangle class last year on retreat.  While they drew, I kept a somewhat constant Zentangle narrative going, while I walked around the room:

  • If they can write "iSCO," they can do most of the strokes in Zentangle patterns
  • No eraser = no mistakes (but, just in case, I pretended to mess up and then showed them Bronx Cheer to cover it  up)
  • What does a "hollibaugh" really look like?  Nobody knows!  There is no right or real in Zentangle.    The names are non-descriptive, just a way to give us a shorthand for talking about the art and to each other
  • Shade as part of the design (not trying to create consistent internal light source)
  • Look at tile at arm's length
  • Turn it around to look at it from several angles--no right side up!
  • Go your own pace
  • Everyone is different so make it your own
  • Go back to your breath meditation if you get frustrated
  • Borders are made to be crossed
  • Lines don't have to be straight 

While they finished up their first tile and placed it on my tablecloth for the class mosaic, I  showed them the Apprentice video chapter 6 of Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas talking about how they were inspired to create the steps of Zentangle.  I then explained that Maria and Rick didn't invent patterns (those are everywhere--in nature and human-made items), that they came up with the list of steps to access meditation through art.  We looked at the class mosaic and saw how the tiles were all different, all creative and all individual--with same instructions!  Then I distributed Apprentice letter to parents and announced that they were all Zentangle Apprentices.  Harkening back to the beginning, I asked them how they felt now.  "Good," they yelled.  I told them they could tap into this feeling, creativity, and beauty whenever they needed or wanted to.
I was there about an hour and they were so focused, curious, and excited.  I even gave them two extra tangles (zander and pokeroot) because they wanted to learn more, even though I had to rush them.  I pointed to the tangled border of their Apprentice letter to parents and said there were so many patterns--they could even make up some!  (If they'd name them after me.)

I was surprised with how hesitant they already were at 10 - 11 years old to make a mistake; most of them admitted being very hesitant when looking at a blank piece of paper and asked to create something.  But once we got the dots, borders, and strings on the tiles, they settled in.  Still, at each step, they wanted reassurance that they weren't "wrong" and that their designs were "good."  Both the teacher and I kept reiterating that there were no mistakes, that they made the creative choices, that different was okay.  Even still, at the end, a couple of students wouldn't join their tiles to the mosaic. 

But they begged the teacher to do more Zentangle patterns.  I left the Apprentice DVD with the teacher and two extra tiles for each kid (plus some extra pens in case some broke.)  I told them they could look up Zentangle online and find all kinds of patterns, that they could make greeting cards or pencil cases or whatever they wanted.  The teacher said it was the most focused her class had ever been all year.

Maybe next year, we should offer the lesson in the beginning of the year, and then the teacher can introduce new tangles as they go and the students can add them to projects at Valentine's Day or Mother's Day; they can tangle when they are anxious about a test or done with their work.  I know I would have loved it when I was a student, just like these kids did.  Just like I love it now.

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