New World Kids (1) Now on Sale!

My co-author Susan Marcus and I and Dr. Cindy Herbert, another colleague from LAL days have been working on a rewrite/expanded new book for parents, to be released this fall by Greenleaf Book Group. It will be titled "The Missing Alphabet." (Isn't that cool?) 

And to get ready, we are having a great sale on the last book for our readers and supporters., So if you would like another (or a first) copy of NEW WORLD KIDS, and the accompanying teacher's guide don't miss this special deal. If you are interested, please order through Foundry Media directly -- the info is in the letter below (YOU ALL count at "a person at one of our events" since I consider reading this blog an event, so you are eligible for the special pricing):

Dear New World Kids reader:


This Fall, the authors of New World Kids, the Parents Guide to Creative Thinking, will be publishing a new book, The Missing Alphabet, a Parent's Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids. In preparation for the release of the this book, we want to extend a special offer to of our customers:
Now until  May 30 we are offering New World Kids, The Parents' Guide to Creative Thinking at $7.00 per copy and New World Kids, The Teachers' Guide at $10.00 per copy both with free shipping! That compares to the list price of $14.95/$19.95 + shipping! This offer is being made only to those people who purchased from our website over the past couple of years or in person at one of our events.
Texas residents will have to pay 8.25% sales tax (sorry!) and we will only accept checks. Purchases will be shipped Media Mail.

Please place your order by replying to this message to, calculating the total cost (with applicable sales tax per above). We will ship your books immediately and you can send us your check.
If you have any questions, email us at or call us at 512-328-1920.



The Seeds You Sow

Gary Sweeny's art work sums it up.

Here, I step back and send a message that goes beyond this specific travel experience, one perhaps that will resonate with my  artist friends and readers who perhaps are a bit confused by all this education stuff making its appearance on my blog.

The bigger lesson is: I am reminded minute by minute during this trip that we all do reap the seeds we sow. This trip that will last a little less than 3 weeks is like walking into a garden I planted 8-9-10- even 20 years ago. Perhaps forest is more apt than garden since I see these teachers as towering trees in their local forests.

As a teacher of creativity and art techniques  I discover daily  that what really matters is the process, not the product. Seeing the work these teachers are doing in Central America is not seeing their work in a museum, it's not seeing an exhibit, rather it's an amazing exhibition of talent and dedication on the ground, often in situations that would daunt the most dedicated U.S. teacher. (I know I have complained bitterly about situations, classrooms and resources that are far richer and more supported than the day-to-day schools that many of these teachers experience.)

For example, many of those who teach in rural schools teach large classes (30 or so 4 year olds at a time). Schools here are just making the transition to full days, so most teachers teach two 5 hour classes, often of different grades. Primary teachers have three different classes a day. Supplies are often basic; in rural areas many students drop out before grade 6 because they are needed for work in order for their families to eat and keep shelter over their heads. Many schools have no potable water, pit toilets and bare walls. 

But the teachers are resourceful, and we feel (as do they) that the CASS experience has made them more resourceful, able to develop curriculum appropriate for their worlds and for the future to come, for the best education possible for their students, far beyond the rote learning/teaching models that most of them started with.

I challenge all of us in the "first world" to make careful use of our so abundant resources, to recycle, to stay focused on creative work rather than creative consumption, to live as lightly as we can, with the knowlege that our wealth is riding on the barefeet of many children and adults in other situations. The world is small, and our "neighborhood" is growing more crowded and more diverse. You can't get on one of the planes to El Salvador without realizing that we are all Americans, dispite political borders.

If you'd like to know more about the educational work here and in Guatemala, check our the What can School Be? blog at

The Breakfast Project

A tiny followup -- here are the pictures the  Think Like a Pro New World Kids collected during their media project this summer at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Would you believe that in only 4 days we got photos from literally around the world-- even Afganistan!

The photos are posted on the museum's Flikr page:

New World Kids in Dallas

The team  (Susan Marcus, Dr. Cynthia Herbert and me ) is in Dallas preparing for a teacher training for Big Thought's afterschool programs. This is a pilot group of 25 or so teahers, and we've prepared a 9-week curriculum, with future units related to come. It's exciting to know that 25 or so groups of 5-to-6 year olds in Dallas Public School classes will be having a wonderful adventure with the Sensory Alphabet this fall.

New World Kids is our foundation class for creative thought, as described in the book of the same name - that one aimed at parents (or grandparents).

I'll be checking in daily with photos and other info on the NWK blog site. And then it's back to art quilts for a while.

P.S. The photo above is from the last NWK summer program at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CN. We also had a similar progam run last week at the Dallas Museum of Art. Next-- the Exploratorium and Big Thought!

NOTE: I didn't checkin daily or even once. No internet connection where we were staying or where we were teaching. Boy, do I miss it when I don't have it! Even WITH a smart phone. Here are some pics from the week, though:




Think Like a Pro


Skip this one (too) if you are just interested in my fiber art work. I'm on location in Connecticut working with 7-9 year olds on creative projects. Here's a link to our BREAKFAST PROJECT.


And here (I hope) is a link to our movie: "Lost in Tiger Swamp"


Lost at Tiger Swamp from Susie Monday on Vimeo.



Lost at Tiger Swamp from Susie Monday on Vimeo.


Questions for Artists and Would-bes

This is a rerun, but a friend asked me for it last week, so here it is again. And reading it was a happy nudge out of the doldrums. Onto the drudgery of finishing! This is long, so you might want to print it out and work on it in your journal over the next few days/weeks/months.


Assessing Strengths (A disclosure – this list was adapted from one written about observing children for our NEW WORLD KIDS book. But, why not? We need to make and reflect on the same observations about ourselves in order to find our paths as artists, our visual voices on the page.)

One-on-one. One-of-a-kind. Each of us is absolutely unrepeatable.

How do you look at yourself with new eyes, outside of the daily get-dones and to-dos? It helps to have a certain distance, an anthropologist’s viewpoint even. Step beyond judgment (this is good stuff; this is bad) into a position of value-free observation. It often helps to use comparative information--sometimes it’s easiest to see your own unique combo plate, when its sitting on the table next to someone else’s menu choices.

Here’s a checklist to help you observe, collect and compare. Start with observation. Ask a friend or colleague to use a camera to catch your typical actions and behaviors, or just reflect and write. Or try setting up some self-portraits that capture the real you. Answer the questions from your present life AND from memories of what you were like as a child. Are there parts of the “real you” that have faded from sight? Been dampened by circumstance or age?

How do I sound? What’s my voice like? Do I hear clumping or tiptoeing or trotting through space? Do I have soft or strong sound qualities? Am I talking fast or mulling things over before I speaks? Am I a story always in the telling, or a dramatic announcer of all things important?

How do I move? Am I a whirlwind at the center of any activity or a slow observer who has to watch before jumping in? Do I have wings on his feet and a kinesthetic grasp of each and every movement through space? Or not? Do I have a facility with hand-eye coordination, or am I a person whose favorite exercise is mental gymnastics? Do I fidget and wiggle my way through the day, daintily twirl at every opportunity, or cut through space with conviction, ignoring obstacles and rules at every turn?

What is my rhythm? If I clapped a rhythmic score, would it be regular and evenly paced? Or erratic and unpredictable? Would I be a march or a tango? A jive or a three-ring circus? Am I fast, slow, somewhere in between? Surprising or forthright?

How do I use my face and eyes? Am I an open book? Or a mysterious stranger who seldom lets my emotions show? Is drama the operative word? Or is methodical my method? What happens when I meet a stranger? Am I out there or on the sidelines keeping score?
How do I present a public face? Is it different from the private life behind my front door? How do others respond to me?

What kind of roles and functions do I take on? Alpha dog? Follower? Listener? Starring role? Backstage director? Conformist? Devil’s Advocate?

What makes me laugh? What makes me funny? Where’s my funny bone? What brings me joy? What is sure to bring a smile to my face?

What questions do I ask over and over and over again? Am I a “What?” or a “Why?” a “How do I?” or a “What if I?”

What makes my work different than anyone else’s? One-of-a-kind?

Another way to collect information about yourself is to note preferences – the things I collect, choose, concentrate my efforts on. Here’s a second checklist of observations and inventories to make.

What catches my eye? Movement? Color? Light and shadow? Strong patterns? Interesting shapes? Or is it all about touch? Or movement? Or telling the story?

What holds my attention? What things do I do for longer than other people seem to do them? Music? Putting things together? Routine chores or tasks with repeating actions? Puzzles and brainteasers? Walking or running or other movements?


What do I surround myself with? The choices of clothing, of possessions for my home, for regular activities? Is it other people? Color? Music? Animals? Things to build with? Stuff that moves?

What qualities do my favorite free-time activities have? Are they all big or small movement activities? Do they have procedures or linear rules? Do I see strong sensuous qualities, tactile elements or sound and motion? How about emotional or analytic components?

What does I collect, naturally? What gets picked up on the street, from a dollar store? Rocks and shells? Magazines, bugs, or little glittery bits of foil and glass? If I could make a collection of anything, would it be hats or robots, ribbons or sports equipment? Do I find and save magazine pictures, maps or cartoons? Character dolls or jokes? Stacks of fabric and threads or antique lace?

What kinds of things -- especially in a new place or space – am I most likely to comment about or remember? The people or the colors? The sound or the story? The size or the materials? The construction and engineering or the aesthetics and theatrical sense?

What does I pick up? Save? Store? Look up on the internet or follow up from a TV or radio show?
What are the qualities of the materials I like best? Track these favorites through the sensory alphabet! (Line, color, shape, movement, space, texture, light, sound, rhythm)

COLOR: Are these materials colorful or monochromatic? What kinds of colors? Bright or subtle? Dark or bright? Contrasting or soothing? You may HAVE to have that new box of watercolors or oil pastels, while another person just needs a big black permanent marker or a Chinese calligraphy brush and ink.

TEXTURE: How do the materials you like feel to the touch? Are they smooth or nubby, plastic or hard, malleable or rigid, natural or manmade? Is that collection of glass jars on your window a textural necessity or a set of shapes to arrange with little hidden dramas in your mind?

SHAPE: Do these materials – clothes, games, collectables, art media, favorite objects -- have definite shapes? Or are they ambiguous or amorphous? Are they simple in contour or intricate? Do they have structural parts or components? Is a morning in one museum gallery or a day in the sand at the beach the ultimate entertainment?

MOVEMENT: Do my favorite materials move? Or have movement implicit in them? Is there a rhythm to them or to their use? Is the movement smooth, fast or floating? Humorous, serious or unstable? Do I simply have to move no matter what or where?

SOUND: Do these favorites make sounds? Either by design or by my use? What kind of sound quality – musical or percussive, wind or string, whistling or thudding? Is there a definite rhythm to the sound produced? Do I make sounds with things that no one else would ever think to turn into an instrument?

RHYTHM: Are they stacked or patterned? Put in order or grouped? Repeated or reorganized over and over? Put away in categories or lumped together any old way? Is there a rhythm to her play, a beginning, middle and end? Does patterned work or games with words or rhymes have a particular charm?

LINE: Do these favorite materials have a linear quality? Are they curved or angular? Strongly directional, repetitive or meandering? Is there always a storyline going on, a movie in the mind?

LIGHT: Is this material one that has qualities of light, dark, opacity, transperancy? I like to play with light and shadow?

SPACE: What spatial qualities do the materials have? Are these favorite materials two- dimensional or three-dimensional (ie, given a choice do I choose clay or paper-and-pen?) What’s
the scale I like best to work with – a desktop or a playing field, tiny miniatures or large brushes and a 6-ft tall roll of paper? A wall-sized quilt or multiples of mini artist trading cards?

OTHER ASPECTS: What spaces and places do I prefer for my free time? Am I always on the porch or in my bedroom or other private space? Alone in the backyard or in the kitchen with everyone else? Do I need a run in the park to stay healthy and sane? Is time alone essential? Or is time spent with a group mandatory and energizing? Am I always planning parties or trying to avoid them?
When we interact, is it playful or serious? Directive? Organized? Improvisational?
When we work together on a task, do I stay on track or need to come and go? Do I need a process or a product? Do I have to know why, or why not? Where’s the payoff?

When we play, do I want to be the boss of you? Or want to watch and follow? Am I open to coaching or resistant to change? Do I worry about getting it “right”? Am I making up new rules as we go along? Or sticking to a strategy?

New World Kids in Connecticut

Here's the latest on our New World Kids summer programs:

TITLE: New World Kids: Creativity Workshops (Ages 5 & 6)
Venue: Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum / Ridgefield
Category: Children's
Date: 07/19/10 - 07/31/10
Time: 09:30AM h - 12:00PM h

Monday, July 19
7/19 to 7/31, Monday to Friday; 9:30 to 12 noon; plus two events for parents

The Aldrich invites a new group of young children to participate in the fourth summer of this innovative program focused on building creative thinkers, New World Kids and the Next Literacy. This summer, twelve children will explore a new way of looking at and understanding the world around them, and parents will learn about the individual strengths that will help their children to learn productively in the future. The Museum believes in the importance of developing programs that prepare young minds to learn and grow in a future that will require visual literacy and innovation. New World Kids is a program proven to engage children with the creative thinking processes, the capacity to invent with many media, the ability to think across disciplines, and the reliance on (and joy in) the imagination.

These skills are taught through what the program developer and author, Susan Marcus, calls The Sensory Alphabet: the building blocks of creative literacy. Just as basic as the traditional alphabet used in teaching the traditional literacies of reading and writing, it is the basis of our sensory connection to the world—line, color, texture, movement, sound, rhythm, space, light, and shape. The Sensory Alphabet will multiply a child’s early repertoire of ways to symbolize, understand, and communicate ideas. Each day children will explore an element of The Sensory Alphabet by collecting ideas, engaging in open-ended activities, reflecting on their work, and hearing from people in the community about what it is like to think and work the way they do. It is our intention that each child will attain a sense of “I can do that!” at some point in the program. The involvement of parents is a key aspect of New World Kids. Prior to its start, Aldrich educators will meet with parents to discuss the cognitive research that went into the design of the program and to learn about some of the individual characteristics of each child. At the end of the program, the educators will organize an informal exhibition, which will include the children’s work and documentation of both the children’s and teachers’ reflections on their creative strengths. The process of preparing for the exhibition and talking about it with family will give each child an important opportunity to reflect on his/her individual choices and strengths, and will give parents an insight into the natural abilities of their children. Parents are also invited to purchase a New World Kids 2009 yearbook, available in the fall, as a tool to engage children about their experiences.

This year Susan is adding an "alumni" course for older kids called Think Like a Pro. Here's what she'll be doing. I'm heading to Connecticut for the last week to help with the production and technology.

With July ushering itself in at the end of the week, I am writing to touch base with you all about Think Like a Pro, the next step in the New World Kids path to creative literacy. I am thrilled that we have 12 of our New World Kids returning, representing all three summers that we have offered the program.

As you know, Think Like a Pro begins on July 19 and runs Monday through Friday from 1:30 - 4:00 PM. On Saturday July 31 at 1:00 PM, families are invited to the Museum for a presentation of the students' work and a celebration of each child's contribution.

In Think Like  a Pro, we will focus on helping the children become aware of their own individual constellation of strengths, by experiencing various thinking processes and reflecting on them. They will again work with adult professionals, who will model their own way of thinking, introduce new digital media,  and coach the kids through a creative project. Students will explore the qualities of thinking used in the 2-D realm with graphics and patterns, 3-D thinkers who are makers and builders, the kinetic sensibility involving sound and movement, and the social sensibility relating to people, groups, cultures, and roles. Throughout the weeks, they will experiment with different ways to record and present all of the new information they gather. It is our goal that by the end of the program, the kids will not only participate in many new experiences, but go the next step in being able to reflect on their own thinking and learning.

Deja Vu

Sometimes, it takes time for things to come around, to come to fruition, to make sense.

In a former life as an arts-in-education designer and educator, my colleagues and I fought an uphill battle to demonstrate the importance of creative thought as a lynchpin of public (and private) education. Although our non-profit, Learning about Learning Educational Foundation, was a model program, garnered prestigious awards, and for 15 years succeeded with finding funding and delivering amazing programs, training and products, we knew we were ahead of our times. Since the foundation closed in 1986, neuroscience and brain research has affirmed what we knew from experience: we humans construct our knowledge; we create meaning and knowledge from rich environments; metacognitive practice and understanding aids our development; and that each of us is an absolutely unique learner and creator.

What we also know: Children, given access to individual strenghts as creative beings; given processes to nurture, communicate and work from their creative selves could find pathways to success -- in school, in life, in careers.

Susan Marcus and I worked for several years to write and publish NEW WORLD KIDS, The Parents' Guide to Creative Thinking, for the parent audience -- mainly because we knew the frustration of trying to turn the huge bureaucratic bulk of the educational "system," and because we wanted the proven tools we had developed for nurturing creative thought to be in parents' hands. Now, with the book published, the educational -- particularly the outside-of-school educational world is paying attention (again?).

Susan, Cindy Herbert (another colleague from LAL) and I just completed a teacher training session for 20 plus educators -- about half of them from the Dallas Museum of Art -- and another batch from other out-of-school-time programs. The immediate aim was to train the DMA folks to run a two-week 5-year-olds' program this summer based on the book and on the program that has been operating in Ridgefield, CN, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

The immediate program will be great -- and we know from Aldrich -- an eye-opening experience for parents and their kids who participate. But more importantly, we see that perhaps these ideas are coming to fruition in a new scale and scope. One of the wonderful things about the Dallas time was that we reconnected with others whose common foundation -- exposure and work with one time or another with Paul Baker -- led to an immediate ability to speak the same language.

Now, I have to figure out how this new strand (I guess, it's acually an old strand re-spun) fits into my life as a working artist. What do I want to do with these new demands to teach, train, create materials? How do I continue my own creative journey? We (Susan, Cindy and I) are wise in our own strenghts and interests, know what and how we want to live our lives (and that's not in an airport or motel room on the road).

Plus on top of all this, I'm blossoming with possibilities for my own quilting-arts teaching -- I've been asked to tape a segment for Quilting Arts TV and a one-hour workshop for the Quilting Arts video series. Wowser. Plus I AM going to do my own on-line teaching and launch a test by the end of the month.

And the winner is...

From New World Kids, The Parents' Guide to Creative Thinking.

I had a drawing for a copy of New World Kids from those who had commented on my blog posts or guest blog posts during the last two weeks of February. The winner is Laura Ann, who commented on the quilting blog, on a post I wrote about my process and influences as an art quilt maker. The book will go out to Laura Ann as soon as she sends me her snail mail info. Keep an eye on the blog to join in for future book drawings! And keep those comments coming. I love to have feedback from those who peruse these posts -- and I know from my site stats that more than 1500 hundred "unique" readers check in regularly! That's not a lot by web standards, but it makes me happy!

If you're a parent or grandparent or teacher, you might also want to check in with my recent posts on the New World Kids blog (I've started writing there regularly about kid-creativity issues at the advice of our new publicists, Austin-based Phenix & Phenix). I've found some great links to information about recent research on the effects of digital media on children's and young peoples' cognitive development.

And while I'm doing this little back-story business, remember my artist's reception in San Antonio at Northwest Vista College on Wednesday, March 18 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come by to see my solo show,  a short artist's talk, the beautiful new buildings on campus (so many San Antonians don't even know this vibrant campus exists!) and have a little nosh. The exhibit is in the Lago Vista room of the Cypress Campus Center -- it's next to the big (empty for now) lake in the center of the campus, head east or ask a student where the cafeteria is!


Finding Your Voice, Your Path


We all want our work to be distintive and unique. Really, don't we? No matter how much we admire the work we see of other artists, when we embark on the journey of living the artist's life, we want our work to sing with our own voice. I think there are several parts to finding that voice, that path (if voice in a visual sense seems too mixed a metaphor). I also think the process is similar no matter your medium and whatever the field you pursue, be it art, quiltmaking, physics or cookery. As I've been teaching this past week, and heading into two more workshops this week -- one in Austin for the Austin Fiber Artists and my own recurring Artist Journal/Artist Journey retreat this weekend -- this piece I wrote a couple of years ago -- and revised for the upcoming events -- bears repeating. Today, Part One:

Think about "Pure Form:"

I believe – and my belief is supported by more than 30 years of work with children in creative learning environments – that each of us is born with an innate preference/leaning toward a particular way of perceiving and giving form that is directly connected to what I (and my colleagues in this work) call the Sensory Alphabet. This vocabulary of non-verbal qualities – line, color, shape, space, light, texture, movement, sound and rhythm -- is a way of thinking about and organizing one’s individual strengths of perception and invention. Looking at one’s preferences and natural tendencies through this lens serves as both a way to self discovery and as a bridge to understand other creative work. This vocabulary is not just an artistic one – it can hold as true to creative work in business as in design, in science as in art.

If you think about letters of the alphabet as being the building blocks of literacy (both spoken and read and write) and numbers as the building blocks of mathmatics and physics, then the Sensory Alphabet is what can be a symbol system for everything else (and even math and words, sinces it's more primal, more connected to our bodies and minds in a very basic way.)

Think about which of these constructs is easiest for you to notice, to manipulate, to play with –is it pattern (rhythm) or texture or color? What did you love as a young child? Which of these elements are most important to you in your home, your environment? What artists do you resonate to? Design exercises and experiences for yourself that feed your mind’s natural interests, or find teachers that share your sensibilities (look at their work and see what they say about it) who can provide classes that feed your perceptual strengths.

An understanding of your own creative style in terms of this vocabulary can be the starting place for finding your voice – and even help you find the best and strongest medium for work. For example, if color is my strong suite, I might take time to do dye and discharge samples, study Albers and other colorist’s work, take photos exploring color themes, investigate watercolor and glazing, look at color as understood by chemists and physicists, etc. If movement is a strong suite, I might see how to incorporate moving elements in my textile work, take up techniques that use my body in strenuous and challenging fashion, look at how movement blurs an image and how to capture that sense with dyeing or printing, I might even want to dye fabrics and construct garments for dance performances or architectural installations with moving components.

Most of us have three or four of these strong suites that interact in interesting ways and can pose intriguing puzzles for our work. Tracking down your strongest perceptual elements is usually just a matter of paying attention to preference, to what you notice in a space, to the materials that call your name. Journaling about childhood preferences and doing detective work in your closet, your home, your memory bank can help you name your sensory strengths.

Our book, New World Kids, The Parent's Guide to Creative Thinking includes investigations and invention activities for adults as well as for adults and children, despite the title. We think parents need to nurture their own experience with this alphabet in order to recognize their children's strengths and learning styles. Here's an example for TEXTURE -- since most of us who end up in the fiber arts are almost certainly drawing on some interest and facility for texture, I figure it might spur you own with some Sensory Alphabet play!

From NEW WORLD KIDS, all rights reserved.

TEXTURE investigations to do on your own:

1. Examine your wardrobe and make a texture inventory.
What textures really suit you? What feels good against your
skin? Make a point to buy something with a pleasing texture
the next time you shop.
2. Cook a meal with a conscious plan to include contrasting
textures, as the Japanese do. Do certain kinds of tastes correspond
to certain kinds of textures? Think temperature as well
as crisp, creamy, grainy, smooth.
3. Where can you experience coarse, slimy, mushy, matted,
abrasive, elastic, sleazy, itchy, silky, downy, frothy, fuzzy?
Consciously create one new tactile experience each day for a
4. Listen to different music with an ear toward texture: contemporary
jazz, baroque, chant and heavy metal are a few contrasting
genres to try.
5. Visit a museum’s textile or fiber arts exhibitions or explore
some online exhibitions or galleries. Try one or more
of these key words for a search: fashion, art quilts, traditional
quilts, art cloth, knitting, weaving, wearable art, basketry, fiber
arts, shibori, batik.
6. Study and write a poem about the textures of your body,
inside and out.