Teaching

SEEDs for Autism and a Place to Grow

I work with young adults on the autism spectrum.

In other words, my days are spent with some of the most

fascinating, honest and creative individuals

I have ever known.

I am there to lift them up..

and encourage them to grow.

I am also their writing instructor.

In addition to a monthly newsletter,

my students create the content for their own blog

where they can share all their unique interests

and experiences with the world.

I am glad to be a part of it.

SEEDs for Autism is a vocational training program that teaches young adults on the autism spectrum a multitude of job skills focused on the arts. For more information about this life-changing program,  please visit SEEDs for Autism.

Snowmen, Ice Cream Cones and the Art of Doing the Best You Can

Me and Anna under the rainbow..

 

My husband and I volunteer as art teachers

for a group of inner city kids in downtown Phoenix.

One evening, we were joined by a particularly shy little girl.

Sitting in front of a blank piece of paper,

she whispered that she couldn’t think of anything to draw.

I asked her if there was something she wanted me to draw.

“A snowman!” she said, touching the picture of Olaf on her t-shirt.

“Okay,” I said – rising to the challenge..

“I never drew him before, but I am going to do the best I can.”

The girl watched me intently.

A few minutes later, I showed the little girl my drawing.

Smiling, she looked down at her blank piece of paper

and announced with great conviction,

“I am going to draw an ice cream cone. I never drew one before

but I am going to do the best I can.”

She drew a wonderful ice cream cone, covered in sprinkles with a cherry on top..

and after that, she drew the picture you see above.

I thanked her

and then I got something in my eye.

Sowing Seeds and the Art of Sharing Knowledge

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“The Church of Instinct”, “As Above So Below” and “From the Old House” by Michele Bledsoe

 

First and foremost, I am a painter..

but I am other things as well.

 

I have learned a lot

throughout the course of my life..

cultivating valuable skills

that I have worked hard to accumulate.

Through trial and error

I have gained experience..

And with years of practice

I’ve learned to do things

that I used to think were

miles beyond my capabilities.

 

I suppose I could hold a series of costly workshops

on a number of  topics..

everything from social media marketing

to formatting and publishing ebooks.

 

Or maybe I could hoard my knowledge

and use these skills for myself alone.

 

Instead,

I went in a different direction..

choosing to focus more on

what good can I do through sharing my various gifts

rather than how much money I can make

selling them.

 

So now I spend my days

working with young adults within the autism spectrum..

teaching them

everything I’ve learned.

 

Maybe that’s not the path

to making myself a ton of money..

but by sowing these seeds

and watching my students grow

I am already rich beyond measure.

 

 

Pencils, Paper and the Power of Art

One of the kids took this picture... I need to keep my feet of the table when I draw.

One of the kids took this picture… I need to keep my feet off the table when I draw.

As a volunteer art teacher
I am back to spending Monday evenings
sharing the experience of art
with a group of inner-city kids.

My art class is probably not what you’d expect to see..
Nothing spectacular, really.

Basically, we just show up
grab a bunch of paper and pencils
fling the door open wide
sit down
and start drawing.

Slowly
the kids trickle in..
and one by one
they sit down and join us.

Soon, we are elbow to elbow
drawing together.
We talk, we laugh,
we share experiences..

No paints or pastels
No paintbrushes or easels
No scissors, glitter and glue
No elaborate materials or expensive supplies.
No preconceived projects
or instructions to follow..
yet somehow
a lesson unfolds.

So, what is this amazing thing
that draws all those kids into our room
And holds their attention…?

Such is the power of art.

michele quote

Anthropomorphic Worms and the Art of Quiet Conversation

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“Every new friend is a new adventure.. the start of more memories.” Patrick Lindsay

 

My husband and I volunteer to teach art to a group of inner city kids in downtown Phoenix.

Since we have been doing this for a couple of years now,

we see a lot of familiar faces..

but we always leave the classroom door wide open

for anyone new who wants to join us.

 

Last night, I was sitting at a table, drawing

when a group of rambunctious boys

came shouting and stumbling into the room.

I did not raise my voice..

I did not say, “Be quiet!”

I did not tell them to “Settle down!”

I did not stand up..

and I did not stop drawing.

Almost immediately, the boys came over to where I was sitting..

and I smiled at them.

“It’s easier to draw when it is quiet.” I said softly.

Then the boys took one look at the bizarre anthropomorphic worm creature I was working on

and immediately sat down at the table with me.

They were so intrigued by the weird imaginary creature I had created..

They asked questions, made comments

and the conversation grew and grew.

We talked and laughed…

pretty soon, we were all happily drawing together.

One boy suggested I add a pair of wings to my monstrosity, which I did.

Unfortunately, I do not have a picture to show you

because I gave it away.

Such is the power of art.

 

Paper Butterflies and the Art of Changing the World

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I volunteer to teach art to a group of inner city kids in downtown, Phoenix. In the summer, classes are longer and I am there for over three hours during the afternoon. Strange as it may sound, I like to go there unprepared. No lesson plan, no preconceived projects designed to hold their attention and occupy their time. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I have noticed that when I walk into that room with no expectations and open heart, a lesson will unfold.

Sitting at tables drawing together, I spontaneously picked up a piece of paper and folded it into an origami butterfly. The girl sitting next to me asked if I would show her how to make one. Yes, I told her.. of course I will.

We moved onto the floor at the other end of the room, followed by two more girls. Step by step, the four of us slowly folded pieces of paper into butterflies. While we worked, I kept talking – stopping whenever someone got lost, backing up a few steps, gently encouraging them and taking the time to make sure everyone was following along.

“The first time is the hardest,” I explained. “With each butterfly you make, it will get a little easier.”

Sure enough, after about three or four butterflies, they were really getting the hang of it.

A group of other kids wandered over to where we were sitting and asked if I would teach them how to make butterflies, too. “Yes, of course,” I replied..  then I turned to my three butterfly-makers and said, “These are your teachers.”

The girls looked at me, surprised. “You can do this,” I told them. Then I grabbed a piece of paper and waited for the lesson to begin.

Throughout the day, more and more children came into the room – “Is this the origami class?” they would ask. Yes, I replied – welcoming them into the group. Every time a new student sat down, a new teacher would be there to help them learn. Each teacher that emerged, taught their students with the same gentleness, patience and encouragement that I first showed to the three little girls. I heard them softly repeat my words to each other, explaining how the first time is the hardest.. how with each butterfly, it will get a little easier.

Although I only taught three girls, about 40 kids learned how to make butterflies that day.

How can I even begin to explain how it felt to watch the chain-reaction that unfolded before me? Children as students, learning and becoming teachers; sharing their knowledge and empowering new teachers. Over and over, the cycle continued..  like the ripples of so many stones tossed into an endless river.

When I walked into that room I was a teacher. But when I became a student, a lesson unfolded with the delicate whisper of paper butterfly wings.. and the power to change the world.

 

 

Empty Books and the Art of Speaking Without Words

TheWayITalk2

“The Way I Talk” by Michele Bledsoe

Local poet and writer, Manuel Paul Arenas and Half-Price Books generously donated an assorted collection of blank journals to give to the children at the center where I volunteer.

I handed out many journals this summer, and this is the story of one of them.

During class, I looked up and saw a little girl hovering in the doorway. She was hesitant, extremely shy and awkward. With encouraging words, I somehow managed to coax her into the room.

She stared at me intently, but said nothing.

I asked her if she kept a diary.. if she knew what a journal was for.

She remained silent, but her stare intensified.

I could tell she was listening to every word I said.

So, I went on – explaining how a journal was a book where you can write down your dreams. You could fill it with stories, pictures and poetry. A place where you could say anything and express yourself completely without saying a word.

Then I handed one of those beautiful, little books to this silent child and told her, “This is your journal.”

Her eyes opened wide as she stared at the book in her hands, and sat down in the nearest chair. I watched as she examined her new journal.. turning it over and over in her hands. Then she grabbed a pencil, put her head down and began to write and write and write.

Throughout the day, groups of kids came and left. But despite the chaos in the room, that little girl remained sitting at a table by herself, head down and furiously writing.

Eventually, she came up for air.. and spoke briefly. Just a random comment, but I suddenly understood the reason for her silence. My heart went out to her – this beautiful child had a pronounced speech impediment.

As artists, we understand how life changing it is to be able to express yourself creatively. These children come from difficult circumstances.. and the simple gift of an empty book may be all it takes to change a life.

Thank you, Manny. And thank you, Half-Price Books for your wonderful gift.

So much more than just an assortment of blank books – your generous and loving donation gave a silent child a very powerful voice.