The e11 Way

There was the telltale drop of dried glue on her forearm and another on her shirt as well, but I only noticed this when we sat down and talked. When I first arrived, she was organizing dismissal and checking in with grandparents, parents, and children as they exited e11 Creative Workshop for Children in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Maria Navaratne is a woman who works, hands, feet, body, and soul with children. She, working collaboratively with her husband Alain and other creative teachers, moved into the current location just as the Waldo Canyon Fire loomed and jumped canyons, streets, and houses just above them. It is truly a magical space.

I didn't say anything about the glue, there was too much to share and we were speaking in a shorthand, fast and furious, because we both knew there was so much to share. I had a conference call scheduled and had to leave at a certain time, but the glue, along with other things spoken and seen, was one of those little blips that reveal a kindred spirit. I hope that even now, as an early childhood person reads this, he or she reaches and finds one of those dried glue spots stuck just so, forgotten after a busy and productive day, and finds a moment to smile.

Three years ago, I first met Maria along with one of e11's teachers, Julie Lavigne, during another Colorado visit. At that time, Maria's e11 Playschool was located in her house. That meeting was invigorating and uplifting and over the years that followed I paid close attention to her move to their current location. This was a woman on a mission.

During this most recent, sadly rushed visit, we talked loose parts, licensing, scrap, risk, and sewing machines. As I walked around, I had so many moments of "I have that" along with "I want that" moments. I was happy when I saw the pulley system and heard her story about the wishing well one of the children made with it -- the play stopped only for a moment, but the evidence plain to see. In fact, there were layers upon layers of evidence of creative problem solving -- the voices of the children were positively echoing throughout the whole place, indoors and out, their play a chapter in an ever-growing story of growth. Maria's voice and vision for the spaces can be seen at every turn.

At one point, early in the tour, I asked her about a particular collage piece. They have a giant easel, along with several smaller ones. She began the story of the collage at the beginning, "This is a piece of wallpaper, edged in tape, which will later reveal a is the e11 way." She then proceeded to tell me the visual and tactile problem-solving that occurred as well as the social interactions that led to the work-still-in-progress. This story expressed so much about 'the e11 way'. There is the care and the knowledge of materials and how to provide a platform for visual art. There is also that crucial bit that is built on such a platform -- collaborative learning at its best.

It is through these kind of visits that my own practice is galvanized and I am reassured that we are not alone. There others who have "a way" or a set of guiding principles that are tried and true, and truly ours, leaving plenty of room for risk and success. Each way might be different, in large or small ways, but they belong to each of us.

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