Good to think with

“Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.”

Edward Morgan Forster, A Room with a View


Family Learning hacks from the IKEA catalog

Below are quotations from the 2017 IKEA catalog, followed by some reflections on my practice as a family educator in museums. #deadserious

Imperfect is perfect enough: The “perfect” dinner party doesn’t exist…Friends, family and neighbors are all invited. Push together the tables, put a handful of flatware in a jar and grab any seat you can find. This is a family-style dinner where it’s ok to spill–and put your elbows on the table. (12)

  • Family programs are messy and informal. 
  • Family programs might not meet expectations. As educators, we can let go of our picture of what a “perfect” family program looks like. Also, we can communicate to participants that the outcome might not match their expectations…and that that’s ok.
  • “Family” is a big tent: everyone is invited. When everyone is invited, things get messy and sometimes elbows can get in the way. That’s all part of it. That’s the work and the joy.

The no-rules family dinner: These days, the family dinner is whatever – and wherever – we want it to be. But there’s one thing we can all agree on – that being together is what we care about. A comfy dining spot we never want to leave is where we tell our stories, create memories and throw out the old rules. So eat at the table. Eat under the table. Eat on the sofa. Or eat in a tent. As long as it’s together. (14)

Share a meal – anywhere: …The days of “have to” are over. Go ahead and eat around a coffee table. Sit on the sofa. Or on the floor. Because it doesn’t really matter where we eat – just that we get to be together. (24)

Chaos-free company: The living room is a busy place. It’s a snug spot for relaxing, a hub for socializing as a family, and the room of choice for everyone to do their own thing…Comfortable yet clever seating for every body in the house, and smart storage for tidying up diverse interests creates space for what truly matters – getting all those bodies together. (88)

  • Family learning spaces should be flexible enough to accommodate different types of learners.
  • Accessibility is not a luxury, an afterthought, or a “nice thing to do”: it is necessary to get people together, to create what truly matters.
  • Comfort leads to sharing, storytelling, risk-taking, and memory-making.
  • Above all, families value togetherness.

The passion project table: The dining table has long been used for a lot more than just eating. So we’re breaking with tradition and renaming this one the “project table” – a hub of the home where everyone gathers to play and work (a little). Here are all of the books, supplies and good lighting needed to plan a far away trip, do some homework or make something beautiful. It’s a convenient, cozy spot to get creative. (18)

  • Different activities can take place in the same space, provided the workstation is flexible and convenient. Activities can serve different audiences in the same space at the same time.
  • Having materials and inspiration close at hand promotes creativity.
  • Adults can model work and play for children in the same space.
  • Understanding the reality of how spaces are being used helps us meet the needs of current visitors and strategically plan for the future.
  • A well-designed space can encourage creativity by allowing users to alternate between learning modalities (and signalling that such shifts are desirable).

The dream dining area: The dining area is where we gather – to share a meal, tell stories and make grand plans. It’s important to get it just the way you want it because the atmosphere helps create these moments – big and small… (21)

  • The very act of gathering is generative: together time can lead to storytelling, ideation, and planning.
  • Design matters: atmosphere creates opportunities to deepen connections and increase feelings of affiliation.

Stress-free socializing: …It’s the no-expectations dinner party, where it’s ok to put your guests to work. Everyone cooks together in an atmosphere that’s casual and cozy – a pressure-less affair that allows you to be the guest too. (36)

  • Invite families to become co-creators: solicit input and receive it joyfully, authentically, and with gratitude. Relax the hierarchy of designer/facilitator and participant.
  • Museum staff are people, too. Programs that allow facilitators to relax and enjoy the experience make for happier times for everyone.

Cooking is the best part of the meal: In this family kitchen, there are never too many cooks. All of the counter space can be found on the big island, a place to stand elbow-to-elbow while each peels, chops and dices up their part of the meal…It ensures that everyone can be involved in a family ritual that brings us closer – and creates some messy memories. (46)

  • Activities designed for different bodies, ages, and interests can happen in parallel while moving toward a shared goal.
  • Rituals promote feelings of security and confidence.
  • The mundane is extraordinary and can be an opportunity for families to make memories together.

Climbing and cuddling: Precious moments with our kids are the memories that stay with us. But in the everyday, it can be hard to find time for those moments. So we came up with an unconventional fix. We brought the bunk bed out of the kids’ room and put it in the living room – giving it a refined and mature aesthetic. It’s part jungle gym and part cozy sofa, a piece that lets kids be kids and adults be adults – together. (90)

Tidy toys, happy parents: The living room is the together room – a place for parents to unwind and kids to play. But in many homes, playtime is when the toy box explodes with books, blocks and stuffed bears. Handsome toy storage can be hung low or placed on the floor, making it easier for kids to reach. This way clean-up can happen as a family – a moment of togetherness that also restores a bit of sanity. (116)

  • A well-designed space opens opportunities for togetherness that otherwise would pass us by.
  • Spaces can be structured to encourage us to be our best selves, help each other, and do good. Anyone of any age can contribute to “shalom in the home.”
  • Aesthetics are important for everyone. Children’s materials and storage can be pleasing to kids and grown-ups alike, encouraging everyone to take care of communal spaces.

Small acts, big change: Most of us are aware of the impact our daily lives can have on the planet, but “being sustainable” feels like a big job. The thing we often forget, though, is that we’re not supposed to do it alone. The key is finding small ways to do our part. Because when we add up these small acts, that’s when the big change really happens. (61)

Why good design is democratic: …Democratic design helps us raise the bar for making better products for more people – better because they’re developed with an understanding that people want things that work and make life easier (function), that are beautiful (form), demand value for money (quality), care about the planet (sustainability), and are affordable (low price). (171)

I mean, that’s it, right?


Dr. Mimi Ito: Teens in the Digital Age

A few months ago, I was invited to attend a new lecture series called Selah, a program of the Janet & Jake Farber Teen Experiential Educator Network. Selah brings teen educators high-quality speakers, discussing tangible, needs-reflective topics about the field of Jewish Experiential Education.  The goal is to grow the community and encourage greater knowledge-sharing and relationship-building between the teen educators across the Los Angeles geographic and Jewish landscapes.

The February lecture was given by Dr. Mizuko Ito, who spoke about Teens in the Digital Age. Dr. Ito is a cultural anthropologist specializing in learning and new media, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. Her current research focuses on how to support socially connected learning experiences for young people. With the support of the MacArthur Foundation, she helped launch the Connected Learning Alliance, dedicated to realizing a world where all young people have equitable access to learning opportunities that are social, participatory, driven by personal needs and interests, and oriented toward educational, civic and economic opportunity. Additionally, she chaired a MacArthur Foundation research network on Connected Learning with an interdisciplinary group of researchers seeking to study and design for connected learning environments.

Here are some of the questions and puzzles that Dr. Ito raised in her lecture at Selah:

  • What happens when digitally-engaged kids enter an education space? Much of Dr. Ito’s research focuses on teens’ sharing and communication outside of traditional education spaces. The behaviors that teachers dislike in the classroom (students going on Facebook or crowd-sourcing test answers) are useful communication skills in other contexts. Kids using technology to disengage in a learning space is a signal of disconnected learning.
  • In the changing ecosystem of learning opportunities, the gap between families’ investment in informal learning is growing along socio-economic lines. All families feel an urgency to enrich their children’s educational experience with out-of-school programs. There is a growing sense that it is not enough to achieve in formal learning contexts. Currently, however, there is a $9,000 spending gap for out-of-school enrichment programs between families of high vs low socio-economic status. As public schools deliver fewer services and opportunities for hands-on/arts education, families who need the most are getting the least.
  • Kids are now learning in an era of abundance. The internet has opened up webs of formal and informal learning opportunities. Learning does not take place solely within the walls of a school; online affinity groups (fandoms), meetups, MOOCs, gaming, etc. offer learning opportunities to connected youth.
  • As educators and parents, how do we help kids connect the dots and leverage learning opportunities? Young people are struggling to connect learning across domains. When students have a hard time understanding how their diverse experiences fit together, we can ask ourselves: What aspects of a child’s environment are hampering learning? What can an educator or organization do to support learning?

These are some crowd-sourced tips for supporting digitally-engaged kids:

  • Affirm the learning that is already happening and name the skills that kids are building.
  • Be intentional about the purpose of school learning (connect skills to career paths)
  • Mentorship is key. The Great Jobs, Great Lives Gallup-Purdue Index Report found that meaningful relationships between students and professors impacted the long-term well-being of college grads.
  • Identify trends in interests and free-time choice: “What about these activities is interesting to you?”
  • Help kids connect their play to their learning, and affirm their emerging identity.

My biggest takeaway from Dr. Ito’s lecture is this: It’s not a capacity problem. It’s a matchmaking problem. No one organization will meet all of the needs of all learners. I am energized by the idea that the Skirball fits into a landscape of informal learning in LA. Even thought we don’t have the staff capacity or budget to launch a super in-depth teen program right now (compared with some of our peer institutions nationwide, who are doing amazing  and awe-inspiring work with teens), Dr. Ito’s lecture helped me re-frame the work we are doing. I am looking forward to deepening the connection between the interests of our current teen corps members and staff expertise/museum resources while moving the teen volunteer program into closer alignment with the Skirball’s mission (particularly around social justice, equity, and access).



Still Thinking About…: A Roundup

Caillebotte and Monet at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s ongoing exhibition Degas to Chagall: Important Loans from the Armand Hammer Foundation. Um, hello Hammer frames.

Gustave Caillebotte, Square at Argenteuil, 1883, Oil on canvas, Armand Hammer Collection, Los Angeles.

Mel Bochner’s wordy self-portrait at the Jewish Museum.


Mel Bochner, Self/Portrait, 2013.

Also at the Jewish Museum: Repetition and Difference. Archival, contemporary, thoughtful, pretty damn brave.


Left: Amalia Pica, Stabile (with confetti) (detail), 2012. Paper and transparent adhesive tape. Courtesy the artist and MARC FOXX, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Redemeyer, 2013. Right: Spice Containers, anonymous artist. Poland and Russia, 19th century. Silver. The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Harry G. Friednman, and the Rose and Benjamin Mintz Collection.

Anthony Discenza and Peter Straub‘s maddening installation about “the obscure 19-century artists’ movement known as Das Beben” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. I read through it, paused, went back to the beginning, sat down for a bit, smiled, frowned, and then watched a few other people do the same. We all discussed, and then agreed that there is a 90% chance that Das Beben is not real. But I still don’t know. I still. Don’t. Know.


Josh Greene’s Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, also at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. (These Jewish museums, man!) So cozy. So right up my alley.


Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. Photo by Johnna Arnold.

Power and pathos at the Getty, obvs.

Victorious Athlete, “The Getty Bronze,” 300-100 B.C., bronze and copper. The J. Paul Getty Museum

Creamsicle-colored plaster surrogates at MOCA.

Allan McCollum, 60 Plaster Surrogates (No. 3), 1982-1990, enamel on hydrostone, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Toshio Shibata’s giant, textured photos of the built landscape at PEM a few years ago.


Toshio Shibata, Kurioso City, Tochigi Prefecture, 1989

Rebecca Baumann’s colorful, emotional roller-coaster of a clock. (And the rest of Baumann’s practice, which I wrote about here.)


Rebecca Baumann, Automated Color Field (2011), 100 flip-clocks, paper, 130 x 360 x 9 cm, 24 hours. Photography: Andrew Curtis. Originally commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for NEW11

…AND the entire Color Fields show at the Bakalar & Paine Galleries last year. My first time touching art! Profoundly impactful. Profoundly fun.


Sonia Falcone, Campo de Color, 2015.


My itinerary at the Gardner: First Floor

There was a golden period of three months or so when I was training to be a volunteer at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Unfortunately/fortunately, I wasn’t able to continue on as a volunteer since I got an amazing position in the education department at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Before leaving Boston, I took a few trips to the Gardner to say goodbye to some of my favorites. So here, recorded for posterity: my personal itinerary of the Gardner.

The Courtyard


This is not the best picture of the Courtyard. It is nigh impossible to get the best picture of the Courtyard, because no picture can capture all of the hidden nooks and crannies, the soaring Palazzo walls, the giant glass roof, the steamy greenery, the shock of white marble behind orange blossoms, the nasturtiums cascading from the balconies, the quiet echo of conversation on every floor, the scratching of pencils on sketch paper, the sighs of visitors walking in and then stopping cold, the smell of old stone and fresh blooms and clover and ferns…

Anyway, this is not what you see when you first walk in. (You actually enter behind those arches on the left.) I love to stop immediately upon entering the courtyard and notice the change in light and temperature. Once I’m adjusted, I can then look around me. But only after a moment. The glass tunnel between the new wing and the historic palace is a good transition space, but it’s not quite enough. That light-dark-light thing gets me every time: the bright natural and LED light of the new wing, the dark shadows of the side entrance to the historic palace, and finally that beautiful filtered light that’s just green with vegetation and pink from the Palazzo walls and shadowy from the arcade of arches. #dead

Now that photography is allowed in the Courtyard, maybe someone will get the perfect shot.

Sargent, El Jaleo

Yea, yea, everyone goes to see El Jaleo. It’s good. Legitimately good. The sense of movement, the chiaroscuro, that dude snoozing (or is he singing?), the unnatural pose of the dancer, the looming shadows. It’s good.


John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo, 1882

El Jaleo is huge. It’s also fitted into a nook built expressly for it, surrounded by objects chosen to highlight the colors and materials and textures, next to a mirror that reflects it and extends it. Mrs. Gardner (in her infinite wisdom) sort of stole this piece from her family member and built a whole environment around it. Basically, I go to see El Jaleo in its place. You know, it’s good. But it’s so much better in its own place.

Votive Stele


Votive Stele, Chinese (Eastern Wei dynasty)

I didn’t give this stele a second glance until I took the audio tour. I don’t remember exactly what made me stop and look closer, but oh boy, there’s a whole story going on with this serene-looking beaut. Check out the backside, featuring an assumption-ish scene from the Lotus Sutra.

Gaeta Reliefs

There is a group of four reliefs on the wall of the Courtyard right outside the Spanish Cloister, but images are not available on the Gardner’s website. (But you can find them on pp. 62-64 of Sculpture in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museumavailable free online!) They look like the symbols of the four evangelists, except one is a deer and one is a basilisk. They are kind of mysterious in their provenance. (Maybe from the Duomo? I’m going to perpetuate that rumor.) (JK, the catalog authors are pretty sure they’re from the church of S. Lucia in Gaeta.) I like those.

Scenes of the Passion


Retable: Scenes of the Passion, French, c. 1425

As a former medievalist, I can’t not stop at a Passion scene. This one, though, is all about the clothes for me: look at that drapery! The hose! The shoes! The hats!  I love to paint it in with my mind to get the full fifteenth century effect (maybe some mi-parti going on?). The whole thing looks as though it’s about to spring into rowdy, loud, technicolor action.

Roman Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus: Revelers Gathering Grapes,

Sarcophagus: Revelers Gathering Grapes, Roman, c. 225

I didn’t quite get how important this sarcophagus was until I listened to the audio tour. (TL;DR: Do the audio tour.) It traveled from Athens to Rome in the 3rd century and lived in the Palazzo Farnese and Villa Sciarra until the 19th century, inspiring Baroque and Mannerist artists with its optic elongation and fabulous pagan imagery. As you pass from medieval architectural ornaments in the Courtyard to cinquecento paintings one flight up, it’s worth stopping to marvel at this antique treasure.

I did a nice long looking session with this sarcophagus one afternoon, and the relationships between the figures came alive. Sorting out the arms was a task in itself, and the gazes, too, are all mixed up and interconnected. It’s ridiculously expressive and dramatic and human (/demi-godish). And funny. (That guy to the right of center pulling down the maenad’s drapery: priceless.)

I tried seeing it the way Renaissance artists would see it. I didn’t even get close. But the effort in itself was rewarding.


Teaching mindfulness to kids

Reposted from the Skirball education staff blog.

What is mindfulness, anyway?

There are many different ways to define mindfulness. One of my favorite short definition comes from Mitra Manesh, mindfulness educator and founder of Rumi Rooms:

Mindfulness is nonreactive awareness and acceptance of the present moment.

Let’s break that down:

  • nonreactive: Observing what is without emotional involvement or judgement.
  • awareness:  The ability to be conscious of thoughts, emotions, and sensations without labeling, interpreting, or judging those perceptions. The power of pure observation.
  • acceptance: “Loving-kindness” or “unconditional friendliness” toward what is.
  • present moment: “Being here now” rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Mindfulness is different from-but related to-Buddhist meditation. The secular practice of mindfulness is a research-based set of approaches for bringing attention to the present in order to lower stress, improve health, and increase self-awareness.  Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, was one of the first secular mindfulness practices to be adopted widely in the United States. Since then, thousands of studies have documented the positive impacts of mindfulness, and hundreds of programs have been launched in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and even museums!

Let Jon Kabat-Zinn tell you more:

Mindfulness in formal education

The research has spoken: mindful awareness has a positive impact on students’ attention, executive function,  emotional regulation, pro-social dispositions, social skills, and self-compassion. There is an increasing number of programs offering mindfulness instruction to students and school-aged children.

The Inner Kids program was first taught in LA schools throughout the 2000s, and continues to be used in schools and other educational spaces. Inner Kids uses games, activities, and direct instruction to teach the New ABCs: Attention, Balance, and Compassion. A randomized controlled study of the program led by UCLA found that this program can have positive impacts on students with executive function difficulties. Inner Kids co-founder Susan Kaiser Greenland teaches parents how to cultivate mindfulness with their children in her book The Mindful Child. Annaka Harris, an Inner Kids volunteer, posted a free set of guided meditations for children that focus on “friendly wishes,” mindful hearing, and mindful breathing.

The Hawn Foundation (as in Goldie) created a program called MindUP. MindUP “teaches social and emotional learning skills that link cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindful awareness training utilizing a brain centric approach.” The 15 sequenced lessons are aligned with all state standards (including Common Core!!) and support academic performance and personal growth.

Mindful Schools is a national non-profit providing curriculum training and professional development to classroom teachers and educators. To see the Mindful Schools program in action, check out the short film Healthy Habits of Mind below.

Other school-based programs include Mindfulness in Schools, CARE for Teachers at the Garrison Institute, Modern Mindfulness, and Inward Bound Mindfulness Education. Some research centers studying mindfulness and youth include the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University, the Stanford Early Life Stress Research and Pediatric Anxiety Program, the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin, and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

# Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Kids: A Listicle Roundup

Here is a roundup of listicles offering some tips for teaching mindfulness to kids at home and out in the world. There are lots of variations on mindful breathing, mindful hearing, and mindful eating activities. There are some unique ones in there, too: I think my favorite is the Spiderman meditation!

Example activity: Mind Jars

Photo: Meagan Estep

Photo: Meagan Estep

Mind jars are simple tools to illustrate basic concepts in mindfulness.  The glitter in the jar represents your thoughts and emotions. When you shake the jar, you can watch your thoughts and feelings whirl around (like when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or upset). As the glitter slowly settles down, you can feel yourself calm down!

Meagan Estep, Teacher Programs Coordinator at the Phillips Collection in DC, wrote this blog post about making mind jars to open a gallery experience with families.

There are loads of instructions for making your own mind jar out there on the interwebs.

But let the kiddos themselves tell you about mind jars…


Books for kids:

Books for families and educators:

Want to learn more?

The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center is a great resource for learning more. They teach a 6-week introductory practice class, host free meditation podcasts on their website, and guide free weekly drop-in meditations all over campus.

Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography.

-Henry David Thoreau


For mature readers, a meditation lolz: