Apr 9, 2007

ANWA in Tucson -- Meet Jennifer Leigh

by Rene Allen and Jen Leigh

Jen teaches kindergarten in Tucson, is an ANWA member, holds a Masters degree in Library Science and has recently been moved into a leadership position at her school. The following is her vision/position paper on Creativity.

Critical Creativity

My physicist husband had a conversation with his co-workers recently in which the subject of American creativity came up. In his lab, he works with people of many nationalities (in fact, he's the only native-born U.S. Citizen). Several of the workers mentioned that they had often observed that while they and many of their friends were excellent computational theoreticians, they collectively felt that many of the most innovative ideas came from their American counterparts. They then talked about their high stress childhoods and all of the intense studying they did at very young ages, and how they felt this may be the cause of their studious natures as adults. My husband talked of his childhood, and his fellow scientists were struck by the amount of free time he had had playing soccer and tennis, going to scout camps, goofing around in his backyard, and generally playing.

After discussing these ideas with my husband, I woke up in a panic last week with one question plaguing me...what is happening to our creativity? My mind raced through the seemingly infinite range of goods and services readily available to the American public. Birthday party stores, home decorating centers, .......... I wondered to myself, “What has happened to my own creativity? What have I done with my talents?”

I remember dance classes, piano lessons, art teachers, and the many opportunities I was afforded when I was a child. I also reminisce upon the things I did not have in my youngest years: store-bought clothes, instant pre-packaged foods, disposable diapers, electronic toys, and a myriad of other “necessities” I have so come to rely on in the raising of my own children.

I think of my mom who seemed always so strict, efficient, managerial, and polished. Although the bulk of my childhood took place in the 70's (a time rich with stirrings of liberated womanhood), my mom grew and canned her own fruits and vegetables, sewed our holiday dresses, packed our lunches with homemade bread and jam, and was known to decorate her home with paintings she'd painted, draperies and trimmings she'd sewn herself, and even furniture she'd designed and built. I say this not to make all of us feel inadequate in our liberated, enlightened state, but I mention it in terms of how much I miss the “do it yourself” ideal which she worked so hard to engender in her children.

I work each day with your precious children, and it gives me great pause to reflect on the spirit of creativity which I see alive in them. They do not fear making mistakes. If something is not exactly what they had first envisioned, they either begin again, or try something new. They transfer each new idea or concept into a new arena. I have seen a lesson on flight show up minutes later on the playground as children imitate birds. I have enjoyed watching bubble painting, yarn and construction paper kite creation, miming, playing “kitties and doggies”, superhero adventures, and the hammering and nailing and gluing of everything from wood to bottle caps to buttons to juice lids.

Several adults over the past few weeks have shared a similar thought with me. They have come into the Kindergarten room and marveled at all of the “kid-made” and “teacher-made” materials. Some have been confused and asked me, “What is this for?....I've never seen anything like it.” To clarify some of these questions: The huge red hanging thing is the students' “Ant Project” complete with “lags”, “abmn”, “torx”, and “hd”. Yes, the woven article on the wall is a rug, and yes, it does have a bird, pearls, ribbon, feathers, and other sundry things woven into it. The twig hanging from the ceiling above our art table DOES serve a purpose. It casts interesting shadows on our workspace and is an excellent place to hang shiny, tissue papery, and other artistic creations that might not get adequate billing if stuffed into a scrapbook immediately. We, as a Kindergarten class, are very pleased with all of our “Not-A-Boxes” which include a duck, a monster truck, a tunnel, a model house, and other fantastic creations. And finally, YES, we are aware that bicycle pieces are hanging from our ceiling (thanks to a recent field trip to BICAS, and our accompanying “wheel unit”).

I first came to this school with my older son 6 years ago. At that time I had little appreciation for the notable absence of worksheets, flash cards, memorization “drill and kill”, and other activities which were not a part of our academic day. Today, as I watch my second child flourish here, I gratefully acknowledge the vast creativity displayed by the parents, grandparents, staff, and community at large which is so evident within these gentle, nurturing classrooms and yards. I watch with wonder and hope at these precious children as they cover themselves with mud, scale trees to collect seeds, run with a chicken and a duck, smear paint on anything they can find, and then settle into a lap to enjoy a story.

I think of Mrs. R. demonstrating for us that cooking can be an art that children can enjoy (and still eat the final product). I think of Mrs. L. showing us how a juice cap becomes precious when a child's picture and a magnet are involved. I think of Mrs. S. sifting through second hand stores to find treasures for her classroom walls. I think of Mrs. Sj. and the variety of surprises and treasures that mysteriously appear in digging pits and gardens. I think of Mrs. B. and her math games (which parents always seem to ask ME first how to play...). I think of Mrs. W. and her tie-dye escapades with 18 Kindergartners simultaneously. I think of these women and other dedicated people who help this school be what it is and I have a feeling that despite the disposable diapers, prepackaged foods, and electronic toys that many of our children will ultimately experience, their creativity will still flourish because it was nurtured here at this school during the critical early development years.

I also quip that spending more time at this institution certainly has increased the flow of my own creative juices – the Kindergarten children have “Mrs. Leigh” thinking up silly songs in German again – something she hasn't thought to do for a very long time.


  1. Yea! G'don'ya, and all that. Great post, Rene, and great performance Jen.

    I suspect much of my appreciation comes because you say so well what I believe. There's a special joy in creativity--of doing something good--that would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to be equaled or excelled in any other manner.

    We are natural creators. We create homes, families, babies, meals, atmosphere, friendships, music, art, literature, athletic bodies, ambiance, and even spare time. Creativity is as old as this earth Christ created, as young as this very second, it fills the world, yet is personalized in each individual. Hooray for all creators and their lovely creations--and for teachers of all kinds who show us the way.

  2. I love your post! Great to meet you Jen! My son-in-law used to tease my daughter about her playing with "trash" as a child. You know...paper towel tubes, oatmeal boxes, soup cans, etc. My kids loved to make "potions" and build cities and fantasy worlds. They spent hours playing "the paper game"...a role-playing game created by my son using his Dad's discarded blueprint drawings...if we only knew then it was marketable!!!

    Thanks for the memories, Jen! Now I am tempted to approach our principal about improving the creativity at our school!


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