In all my years of teaching, I’ve always wanted to get structured feedback on the workshops I do. I always get some, but it’s usually in passing – before recess, or while students line up for lunch – and/or anecdotal.
I’m so excited about and so proud of this five-day curriculum I’ve created and I really wanted to know what really worked and how I could improve it. I got that in spades. The students were so generous and articulate with their feedback, it was astonishing.
(The overall outcomes: too much brainstorming, not nearly enough time with the good copies. Noted!)
But the biggest, most important piece of feedback I got was that they got it. They GOT IT, this whole crazy thing I’ve been doing for 12 years. They got that “a simple letter can make someone’s day.” That you can “write letters to places as if they were people.” That if you “share love around you, it makes everyone happy.” That our “neighbourhoods are better than they think they are.”
Cue the confetti cannons (and the tears!)
In the workshop, we wrote love letters to the school, to the students’ neighbourhoods, and then hide them for strangers to find. THEN, we imagined who found our community letters. From these (incredible!) character sketches, we then wrote letters BACK from these characters. I was so excited about it, and it turns out, so were the students:
I love teaching in schools so much, it often renders me speechless. Case in point:
This morning I was part of something incredible. The students I’ve been working with at Broadacres through tdsbCREATES took love letters they had written to nature to a nearby long term care home. The students sang for the seniors, read their letters aloud (into a microphone! FUN!), then hand delivered their letters to the elderly audience. It was truly exceptional to see these students share what they love about the natural world, and to see the seniors receive these letters. So powerful.
The Grade 4s worked with their teacher on brainstorming what people who don’t get to be outside often would miss and these are a few of the letters they came up with.
Learning what 10-year-olds love about their neighbourhoods never ceases to inspire me. In my residency as an artist mentor through tdsbCREATES, I’ve asked my students at Broadacres to write love letters to the school, and then their neighbourhoods and hide them for strangers to find.
Last week, I decided to see if we could make a big creative leap and imagine who might’ve found the letters they had hidden. And not only that, we then wrote letters back from these (fictional!) strangers.
Check out these incredible letters:
Dear Montgomery Inn,
I love the way you have an almost impossible to beat rustic image. It makes you look like one of the seven wonders of the world. Your farmer’s market has the best fruits and vegtables ever! I hope lots of people know about you
Thank you for the love letter that you hid for someone to find.
Turns out it was me. I was having the worst day ever. The Orlando Magic lost by 50 points, I read a book of mythology where Perseus lost and turned to stone, I wasn’t going to become a detective today but maybe next year. That was before I found your love letter in 15 and 11 Micheal Power Place parking spaces under my windshield wiper. I read your love letter and it helped me get through the day. I read it to the entire police academy. Everyone loved it and asked me who wrote it. I said I don’t know. That letter helped me become a detective. Thank you for the letter. I really want to go to Montgomery Inn know because I love old, rustic scenes.
Signed, Detective Bill Saunders
P.S. can you write me one more letter? The other guys are dying for another love letter during our coffee and donut break!!!
Dear Eatonville Public Library,
I like your books, how I have many choices to choose from. I like your novels, like the genius files, and how you give out free passes to things like the ROM, the AGO, and the Toronto Zoo. I also like how you have these contests, like the super sleuth activity. I like how you have the computer, where you can look for any book and play library games.
Thank you SO, SO, SO, much for the Love Letter I found in the library, in a book. I was feeling VERY sad and down because I was going to go to the zoo, but the Okapi exhibit was closed because of construction! I also got a C+ on a math test, just because I got 3 out of 7!! I also was going to soccer, but they all went on a TRIP!! Thank you for telling me about the bookmark contest, I will definitly try them!! You made me very happy, thank you!
Dear Tom’s Dairy Qeen,
I love your ice cream and burgers I love the area that your in and I love your different tiypes of flavours my favouriteis ice cream flavour is cookie dough my favourite burger has lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, chese, and kechup and that’s what I love about toms dairy Queen.
Thank you for the letter to Toms dairy freeze!
I found it on the picnik table I had the worst day ever but that letter you gave me opened up my day and made it better I loved it THANKS agin! PS I loved it so much that I am going to keep it for ever and every day I will read it and it will make my day the best!
I spend a lot of time outside, especially with my 14-month-old, but being mindful of the time we spend outside has been really incredible. I’ve found new pockets of my neighbourhood to explore, and spent time in favourite parks, biking, and walking, and picnicking.
We’ve biked to the river nearby, even in the rain, and spent hours picnicking in High Park.
We’ve planted milkweed and watched the daffodils, and now the tulips bloom.
My kid had an ant crawl up his arm for the first time, and he touched the rough park of an evergreen in High Park (and learned the great delight of pinecones!)
Thursday was my second (of five!) days at Broadacres P.S. as the tsdbCREATES Artist Mentor and it was somehow even more awesome than my first day.
One Day 1, we wrote love letters to our school (and I can say “our” because it was also my school from Grades 3-5!), and then Day 2, we wrote love letters to our communities. We drew maps of what we loved about our neighhourhoods…
And then joined together and drew a collective map on huge roll of Kraft paper of everything we love about where we live. It was such a large, varied map. It’s such a fascinating thing to uncover the parts of a neighbourhood that collectively fill us to the brim (and hear the stories of why we love these things so much).
We then wrote love letters to the things we loved most. First rough copies:
Then good copies:
Then we made envelopes:
(And on my way home, I spotted this gem by the gym!)
I get to teach, as an Artist Mentor through the tdsbCREATES program. Arts education fills me up like nothing else.
I get to use The Love Lettering Project as the jumping off point for social and civic engagement.
I get to teach at the school I went to for Grades 3-5. My Grade 5 graduation photo is hanging by the office door. It is all so familiar, and yet not. (The school is so much smaller than I remember it! But the field is so much bigger!)
I met my husband at that school (and his photo also hangs by the office in all its 1989 glory)
The Grades 3 and 4 students are incredible. Engaged and creative and inspiring.
The teachers are so wonderful.
There’s a folk dancing club and I get to watch rehearsals during lunch
I get to go back for the next four Thursdays
A brainstorm (Oh, how we love brainstorming at Broadacres!):
What a delightful thing it is to wake up on a Wednesday morning* and sip coffee listening to the delightful voice of Garvia Bailey, and listen to a lovely spot on The Love Lettering Project. I had such an inspiring interview with Jazz FM’s arts reporter, Shirley Camia.
We may not think our city as a muse – in the same way Paris or New York have been for countless artists – but one woman has had a serious love-in with Toronto for years.
The result? Thousands of letters sharing what Lindsay Zier-Vogel appreciates about the city, hidden all over for strangers to find.
*Truth be told, my morning had a few more moving parts, including a pre-8am dentist appointment and a 13-month-old running cars up my legs while trying to get his hands on my coffee mug, but it was still a delightful listen!
Join me and the David Suzuki Foundation on Earth Day and write love letters to nature!
April 22, 2016: 11am-2pm at Brookfield Place on the concourse level (across from Freshly Squeezed Juice Bar!)
And while you’re writing your love letter to nature, sign up for May’s 30×30 Challenge where The David Suzuki Foundation asks people to spend 30 minutes in nature for the 30 days in May.
Add your love letter to nature to twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #lovenature and you’ll be entered to win weekly prizes!!
Love nature and nature will love you back:
After a day, you’ll feel calmer: Spending quiet time in nature lowers your heart rate and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that makes you feel irritable. A 15-minute walk in the woods can decrease cortisol levels by 16 per cent.
After a week, you’ll feel more productive and creative: Time in nature is like meditating. Nature allows the prefrontal cortex — the brain’s command centre — to rest like an overused muscle. It offers inspiring environments that restore our minds, improving productivity and creativity.
After a month, you’ll feel happier and more alive: Research shows that people who take the 30×30 challenge experience an increase in positive emotion and vitality over the course of the month. Negative emotions decline and feelings of awe, fascination and curiosity grow.