Coloring rice was the project of the day. White rice, water color paints, plastic bags, two teachers, and eight Explorers were the ingredients needed for this plan. Each child was asked, "What color rice would you like to make?"
"Blue, yellow, pink, light green, turquoise, dark green, orange, and purple," were the answers that rang through the classroom.
In teams of two the students came to the craft table to make their colored rice. Each Explorer helped put the rice into a plastic bag, watercolor paint was added, and the bag was sealed.
Once the paint and rice were sealed in the bag, the work and fun began. The rice and paint must be shaken, squeezed, and shaken some more for them to mix. Everyone enjoyed watching the rice transform from white to colored as they shook their bags. "Oh look, it's changing color," said one student. "This is hard work," agreed two boys working together at the table.
When the last grain of rice was colored, the bags were collected in the sensory table. The colors looked beautiful together. "Together, the colors look like a rainbow," many Explorers observed.
As a class, we decided to make a "rainbow" as we poured the rice out of the individual bags and into the sensory table. The children took turns carefully pouring arcs of rice into the table until the bags were empty and the design complete. As we sat looking at our creation, it became clear that we were all attached to the rainbow. "How were we going to mix up the rice without upsetting the Explorers?" was the question on my mind.
We decided to each, one at a time, run a finger through the arcs of the rainbow to see what would happen. Some children made small straight lines, others longer curved lines. All were a bit apprehensive to make their lines, not wanting to mess up the rainbow. But as their fingers moved through the rice, the Explorers liked the feeling, and even the results. The grains of rice began to mix and merge. This offered new sensation and another kind of beauty that most of the class appreciated. One Explorer, Karl, was not buying it. He loved the rainbow and its order. He stood looking at it, wanting to hold on to the colored arcs. We offered to take a picture of it, and that helped him let go a bit. As Karl stood admiring the rainbow he said, "I'm going to miss it." Then he took a deep breath, stuck both hands into the rice, and mixed it all up with vigor and purpose.
The experience stayed with me. I loved Karl's openness about his feelings and his ability to do what he must do—let go. He recognized that the rainbow was temporary and that its time was up. As he mixed the rice, he relaxed and enjoyed the feeling and flow of the rice in the table. I wanted talk about living moments, being present, witnessing cycles. It felt like a teachable moment I needed to express with words. Instead, I took a deep breath, stuck both hands into the rice, and enjoyed the feeling and visual flow of the rice with Karl.
When I recounted Karl's experience to Jeanie, the director at Schoolmates, she suggested I show the Explorers the Andy Goldsworthy book. We often give the students natural materials to build and create with, and when we do, we usually, pull out a much-loved Goldsworthy book for inspiration and provocation. He says about his art, "Each work grows, stays, decays—integral parts of a cycle…" The materials used in Goldsworthy's art often include brightly coloured flowers, icicles, leaves, mud, pinecones, snow, stone, twigs, and thorns. Rivers and Tides is a documentary about Goldsworthy and his work.