Thursday, October 3, 2019

What are they learning?

I don’t know what they’re learning.

I felt a glimpse of unknowing when the newscaster questioned me with: “Tell us what they are learning, Shannon.”

In truth, I chose Fly Swatter painting for the news bit because I knew it would be eye-catching and it would be messy and it’s very engaging.

Typically, when you see children doing fly swatter painting, you see smiling faces translating to JOY.

Is joy an acceptable learning outcome?

What about that younger child (or older child or even the adult) who shyly watches others fly swatter painting and they slowly creep closer and closer...desperately wanting to do it but just not ready to take the leap. And, the parent who sits with them seeing their longing.

People associate me with messy things. Which, I have spent some time arguing and offering defenses for but what if I just claim that right here and now. Wonder Studio is MESSY.

I think I resist the label (as I resist almost every single label) because that was never my intention when first envisioning Wonder Studio.

However, I am continually surprised at how people react to messy situations.

But, the person that surprises me the most is myself.

If I could relate it to something describable although I think it’s almost indescribable,
It’s both my spiritual practice and it’s my work as an artist.

The curiosity that I have in seeing how folks interpret my art everyday is why I keep coming back. Honestly, I imagined that the newscaster would be banging the fly swatters and maybe for a moment lose himself in the moment.
But, the surprise and not disappointment, it’s all just information, I don’t judge these reactions… The surprise was he shrunk away from it...he asked me for an explanation.
If you're an artist or a person who is creative, you may understand how perplexing these questions can be.
“What is it?”
“Tell me why you did this?”
“What does it mean?”
 I don’t always have good answers.

In teacher’s college, we spent a solid 3 years studying child development, best practice, all kinds of pedagogy. We made lesson plans that addressed all areas of learning. And, I won’t lie. That experience made me a knowledgeable teacher.
I can find a cognitive, gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, mathematical, sensory, scientific support for everything I offer at Wonder Studio.

However, my intention for Wonder Studio was NEVER about making kids smarter.
My intention was always about Expression.

It may sound hippie and it may sound hokie. But, I want to see kids and perhaps even adults, LOST in a single moment. The moment where there is nothing else. Just feeling.

Through meditation, I see how hard it is to uncover what the heck I am even feeling. But, if I am able to dig deep enough and really just look at it. Not try and brush it aside or tell myself to buck up and keep moving. But, to just sit and look at it. I see how it almost immediately dissipates when I make friends with it.

I will tell you the truth. When I came outside, at one point, during the news cast and I saw that there was bright RED paint splattered all over the concrete wall!
The new wall of the new building of the space graciously offered to me by Shorecrest.
I was feeling that spark of pure panic.
What if the Headmaster walks by at this moment?
But, as I have practiced over and over again, I quickly offered myself compassion and said (to myself), we always figure this out.
At the end of the news segment and the end of the class, mostly everyone was gone. Except for my dear friend and co-teachers Amy and her 6 year old daughter, Janey.
I got the hose out and I started wetting down the paint covered concrete wall.
Janey quickly joined me.
We scrubbed and hosed and all the paint was cleaned up.
Janey had as much joy cleaning up the wall as she probably did in contributing to it (I will confirm that I have no idea if she was a participant in that or not, doesn’t matter).
 What did she learn?
And what did I learn?
EVERYTHING in life is messy. But if you have a friend to help you clean up, it’s all good.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Summer 2019 Week 1: Good Enough

I am filled with so much joy as we embarked on our first week of summer play at Wonder Studio. 

To be surrounded by parents and caregivers who delight in the play of children is such a gift. Adults who so value the power of play and who want to know more about these little beings that have been entrusted to all of us.

I thank you for joining us at Wonder Studio on this journey.
One of my favorite things about Wonder Studio and what I always loved about bringing my own children is learning about who they were.

One of my secret joys is sitting in the chair ready to greet these faces as they enter the studio space. I want to greet them as you all know but I love to watch their eyes as they look around in wonder at what we have spent hours preparing for them.

I always think of Mr. Disney and feel connected to his delight in creating a special universe where children's eyes are bright, hopeful, and joyful as they embark on their trip.

I know that Choo Choo painting may not be on the same scale as the Mad Hatter Tea party ride but I relate with the same desire to witness and be a part of a special world created for children that invokes Wonder.

Wonder Studio is meant to be a place where we can research children...see what motivates them, see what frustrates them...understand their secret natures.

However, I diverge from Disney in that I wanted this place to be a place where children are not passive receivers of joy (which is a wonderful kind of reception) but instead are invited to create joy from within. All the materials and how they are used at Wonder Studio is up to the child and her imagination.

We have lumps of clay not pre-formed into a mouse that can talk but instead the clay is an invitation of openness to become whatever the child imagines.
Imagination was the word on the chalkboard this past week.

Einstein shared his wisdom that the path to true wisdom is Imagination.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
No photo description available.

I sometimes get carried away with offering too many choices at Wonder Studio but my hope is NOT for the child to do each experience but instead for the child to have the opportunity to see these choices and we can observe what they choose. In the choice they make, if the grown up they come with has the same curiosity that I have and allows them to make this choice, we can learn about the child but more importantly, the child can learn about himself.

I was so pleased to see a caregiver who encouraged her little one as he played with the blocks and dinosaurs for at least a 1/2 hour. She never rushed him along, she didn't take over his play, she was beside him, smiling, and seeing him. She held a presence with him that allowed him to know that his desire was important.
It's difficult to do that all day long everyday...but if we can offer it for a hour or two at Wonder Studio, Disney, or at the park, then we have done our best and our best is always good enough!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Summer 2019 Registration and Schedule!!

Summer Studio 2019!! At The Wonder Studio!!!

6 weeks:  Summer Special: 2 hour classes!! 9am – 11am
(18 mos. – to all Ages !!)        
Tuesdays with Shannon – Arts and Science (Loving Caregiver + Child)
Wednesdays with Shannon – Arts and Science(Loving Caregiver + Child)
Thursdays with Jamilee  Arts and Science (Loving Caregiver + Child)
 Fridays with Jamilee Arts and Science (Loving Caregiver + Child)
Space is limited:

What happens at Summer Studio? ...-Beautiful Chaos

All families are invited with children ages 18 mos. And up!  Come to the Studio in your bathing suit and prepared for some fun in the sun.  Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays will offer 2 hours of Wonder Studio experiences indoors and outdoors.
We are exploring the arts with elements of Paint, Sculpture, Collage, Printmaking, Music, Storytelling and LOTS more!
Science explorations include:  observing and interacting with various critters each week, investigating the Water Lab, playing with flubber, and much much more!
The last 15 minutes of classes will be dedicated to a sing along with all the favorite Wonder Studio songs!
Come to All 6 weeks, come for 2 days a week or one… OR pick a week, pick a day!  Lots of options!

**There is a 4 day minimum for enrollment purposes.**

Summer Schedule: 
No Classes on July 4

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Self-Care September, Full Moon Touch Drawing and Steamakers

Self-Care September

Yes, I'm going to bug you about how are you taking care of you? One day, I will make such a great Grandma!!
But really, Life is meant to be inspired and enjoyed...don't just get through it. Make a goal this month to do something (maybe multiple somethings) that feed your soul. Write it down, put a little check box beside it and it will even feel good when you check it off.
Sometimes, we are not even sure what are the things that feed our soul? So, just experiment...Brainstorm...

Don't wait for a the self-care into your everyday routine...
A friend was just telling me that Thursday nights are her night to go out with friends or even by herself (you may or may not see her pictured above with me on a Thursday night).
My husband loves to take walks on his lunch break at a local nature preserve...
We spend so much time helping our children to fill their time with developing hobbies and interests, why do we not spend that same amount of time discovering our own?
It doesn't phase us at all (well maybe a little) to drive our children to piano lessons, karate, music class, Wonder Studio, multiple times a week...What about us?
Here's a poem remembered by a friend, written by our friend, Anonymous :

As I walked by Myself:
As I walked by myself,
and talked to myself.
Myself said unto me,
"Look to thyself,
take care of thyself,
for nobody cares for thee.'
I answered myself,
and said to myself
In the self-same repartee,
Look to thyself
or not look to thyself,
the self-same thing will be.'

One way to Take care of yourself is of course one of my favorites:
Our Next Full Moon Touch Drawing class date is:
Saturday, September 22nd 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Register here:

Working Parents, Grandmas, Caregivers,
Saturday Wonder Studio classes are Still open for Registration...This is great for those School-Aged kids (pre-school ages too!) who can't come to Wonder Studio during the week...they can still get their Arts and Science sensory immersion in on the weekend! You can register here:

Are you curious to tour Shorecrest Preparatory School? You guys know that I am a huge fan...I have been a teacher at Shorecrest, I send my children to Shorecrest, and I have my business at Shorecrest. The SteaMaker's event is a low-key but extremely fun time that allows you and your family to come and see the school, play, have fun and get a tour of the facilities and even meet some teachers. Come and learn about this wonderful place!
Register here:

Friday, September 7, 2018

This is for you.

"Mom, Coco (our cat) did something really bad"...these are not the words you want to hear first thing in the morning. Oh, God here it comes. "He pooped right on my bed as I was laying there." 
Noooooooo!! Please. No.
Ok. So many thoughts rushing in my head at this moment. Wait, does this mean I can still go for a run this morning?
Do I finish making Artie's lunch?
Can I hide somewhere? I need to make a comfy beautiful hiding spot in a closet somewhere.
Am I going to throw up when I clean up the poop?
Can Blaise (my husband) clean it up?
Is there someone I can call?
Is there a poem I can write to express how I really feel about cats pooping on beds first thing in the morning?
I mean, I woke up feeling great...Visions of family fun planting a garden. This is the year. We are going to do it...we will grow some beautiful cucumbers.
Well, I did need to wash her sheets's been quite a while and she's allergic to dust mites. Maybe Coco is a blessing in disguise.
This smattering of thoughts and ideas all in about 10 seconds in real time.
Life with children. Life with pets. Life. Life. Life.
It's complicated, right?
We are racing through it trying to sift through the muck and poop to find maybe leave something behind that is beautiful.
That is the work of the artist...of the creative. And that's you. And that's me. We are all the artist of our own lives.
I was listening to Glennon Doyle on Liz Gilbert's podcast Magic Lessons. She said something so profound and shocking at the same time.
Why did she do her art? What kept her moving forward in the midst of chaos and people criticizing her...??
She said the thing which no one dares to say.
She wants to be Seen.
She wants to leave her mark on the world.
Wow. I was blown away by her brave response. It's something we have such a hard time allowing ourselves to feel, but to say it out loud.
We have been told that we are a narcissistic society. It makes us so scared to share our light with others.
We are not unique in our fear of rejection, in our fear of the shadows. But our gifts to the world are very unique.
Brene Brown says, "The only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born out of creativity."
So, today, I did run. My husband did clean up the poop. And, I am here serving you as I write these words. Taking the chance to be open, to let you know that I see you and in turn hope to be seen.
I collect feathers. Dirty freshly fallen from birds feathers. Sometimes, they even have little bugs on them but most of the time they are beautiful.
Today, I picked up a big feather while on my run and I held it on my run feeling like it was a gift from someone or something.
Then, I saw another feather. I picked up that one too. Then another, then another. Soon, I was seeing feathers EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I don't think I can pick up all these feathers. Cars are driving by seeing this lady running while holding a bunch of feathers. Is that weird?
But, each feather feels special. Each one unique in it's own way. Birds leave these feathers wherever they land, not missing them or even noticing.
So, I will leave you this feather...a poem I wrote a while back...
It's hard for me to share but I think and I hope you'll laugh a little too.
At the end is the "thing" I wrote about but try and guess as you read the poem.

I think on this always.
Sitting there...
Stinks...or maybe even perfectly clean.
I know I always need it
But I don't want it in my head
screaming at me
Laughing at my trying to ignore it.
I gather it from all over this place.
I won't make it the way they want you to.
It all goes in together
Spinning, filling, squeezing
Whatever it was.
Always wanting me to deal with the next cycle.
Why would something so mundane be so like the moon?
I shake it.
Each damn one.
I heard someone say this could
be meditative joy.
it doesn't deserve a poem.
I'll put it away for now.
It'll come back again and again.
Again and again.

-The Laundry

Hope to see you soon!!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Decision Fatigue

One of the first shocks of motherhood was right after we came home from the hospital with my new baby girl. So so tired. Overwhelmed and intensely anxious about keeping this little bundle of joy alive.
My husband happily announced that his mom was going to deliver some Carrabbas for dinner. He asked, "What would you like?" I burst into tears and stated that there was no way I could possibly make that decision in that moment.
I remember him assuring me that he would decide and then about an hour later, food appeared in my lap  and all was right in the world. I truly was taken aback at the total overwhelm I felt in trying to decide what I could eat for dinner and also equally surprised at the extreme gratefulness I felt towards my husband when he just decided for me.

I have been listening to many different productivity podcasts and ted talks trying to understand how to set up routines for my life that can help me feel less stressed and have more space in my brain for ideas, more patience with my husband and children, etc...
The one system that continually emerges is: narrowing down the number of decisions you have to make each day.
For example:
Having the same breakfast every morning is "One less decision I have to make that day", says Dilbert creator Scott Adams.
Parenthood is filled with second guesses. Should I have said that? Is it ok to limit this? Was that a reasonable boundary? We are bombarded with conflicting views on EVERYTHING. We are even comparing apples to apples these days. What if I let my child eat a non-organic apple?

I feel this struggle as a mom. So many decisions to make and then wondering if I made the right decision. It's exhausting.
But, I really see the struggle in our children. More and more I see that children are suffering from decision fatigue. The parent well meaning aims to give the child more independence in hopes that the child will be more amicable...more willing to behave if they have some choice. However, the opposite usually occurs. Crying, tantrums, disagreeable, confusion.

There's a happy medium here. However, whenever I find myself yelling more, stressed more, feeling resentful towards my family...I am triggered to pull in the reins. More limits, less decisions for the kids. Every time it works.
It would be interesting to see the actual number of decisions we must make each day and then try to cut it in half. How would that affect us?
How would it affect our children?
I think it's a gift. As that dinner of Carrabbas was all those years ago...I felt grateful to not have to make one more decision as I was in a deep state of learning. Learning what my daughter needed. Learning a new routine. Feeling feelings that I never dreamed before.
Does this sound like what a toddler might go through?
As they get older, it starts to become more obvious that they are ready for a few more decisions but in times of high stress, high anxiety. Give them the gift of Decision. Decide.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How to set up a home-made Valentine's station at home...and why! by Alison Cotter

I remember reading that Eric Clapton has to schedule time at his music studio to be creative, or else it just doesn’t happen for him.  I thought that when you are a creative genius, creativity just uncontrollably oozes out of you at all times.  But it isn’t so: you have to make time for yourself to be creative.

We are all creative.  Every last one of us.  And we need to be creative.  We deserve to be creative.  Some of us listen to that need more than others.  Why?  What is so important about creativity?  Well, for one, it makes us engage in divergent thinking instead of convergent thinking. 

 Most of the time, we are engaged in convergent thinking: we start with several ideas and whittle them down into one idea.  With divergent thinking, we are doing the opposite.  We are starting with one idea and expanding that one into as many ideas that we can.  This shift in thinking helps us to be flexible, original, innovative, and offers us a new perspective.  It also forces us to use our imagination.

A friend recently heard someone say, “You can live a life without creativity; it is possible.”  That thought made my friend cry.  I would argue that you can not; you should not. But that is where a lot of us are headed leading such busy, over-scheduled lives.

The magazine Psychology Today researched “Everyday Creativity,” and found outstanding benefits.  Did you know that…

It helps people to adapt and thrive,
It improves their immune functioning (it’s flu season people!),
It helps them cope with aging,
It teaches resilience,
It improves relationships,

It gives people a greater sense of well-being and personal growth.


But, where is the time and the space to make that happen?  At Wonder Studio, of course!  But I am always looking to expand that one hour of open-ended, uninterrupted, no-expectation creative time to our lives at home.  It is so important to mental health, but we have to make it easy and realistic, or it won’t happen.

So, how do we do it? Here is an easy idea.  Every year, at the beginning of February, I get a fold out table out of our garage and put it smack dab into our office/music room.  It doesn’t fit very well, and it’s an eye sore, but it stays up for at least two weeks (gasp!).  I fill it with art materials: fabric, yarn needles, stickers, papers, old magazines, scissors, glue, cold glue guns, old red tissue paper from the holidays, recyclables – you name it, it’s on the table.

My family comes and goes as we are inspired to create or as we are thinking about someone, and we use the table to create class, family, and friend valentines.  As we move through the table we think:

What do I find interesting…
What if…
How does this work together…
Who does this remind me of…

I know that it is super easy to grab that pre-made, commercial Valentine that all the classmates have heard about, and I do love the store-bought variety.  My son and I found army guys that said, “Love is a Battlefield,” which spawned a great conversation about Pat Benatar and 80’s music and ended at “Greased Lightning” (don’t ask).  But I dare say, that is not the point of this holiday.  You may argue that it is a commercialized, contrived, hoax of a holiday, but I am going to argue that the point of Valentine’s Day is the authentic expression of love for others.  Which is something that we really need right now in our society.

The authentic expression of love for others.

By providing the art materials and the free time with this “Valentine’s Table,” I expect my kids (and myself) to be creative. I expect them to create heart-felt, original art that expresses their true feelings for another person.  Over these two weeks, I watch and hear my kids evaluate their relationships with each of their classmates.  They think about who those people really are, what their passions are, and how they appreciate their personalities being in their lives.  They also learn how to take these themes and move them into a visual, physical form of self-expression.  They engage in a very sophisticated form of thought.  Even though their products may not look that sophisticated.

This self-expression comes easy with their close friends.  But more poignant is when they have to make a Valentine for someone who they perceive to be mean or who they don’t connect with. 

My son experienced this with a girl in his class.  After an in-depth discussion about bossiness, he realized that he didn’t really know much about her.  So, he asked his best friend (who has a crush on her – Shhh!) why she is so great.  He found out that she plays football with her older brother, and she loves FSU and ducks.  He was so inspired by how much they have in common, that he wrote her a poem:

Which was almost as good as his “Baseballs are blue and helmets are hard,” poem that he then made after that.

This would have never happened if I would have caved and bought the packaged Valentine from the store.
It SURELY would not have happened if I got on Pinterest with the kids and picked out a handmade Valentine craft to make.  End products disrupt the creative process and lead us away from authentic self-expression.  (Think convergent verses divergent). I know it is hard; I love Pinterest too.

Be authentic.  Be original. 

Our children must hear this and see this from us.  It must be our expectation of them. Do you know what else they need to hear?

Be Vulnerable.

When Valentine’s Day comes and it is time to pass cards out, my kids are so excited to share what they have worked so hard on.  But they are also nervous, usually about the ones they are giving to kids that they don’t feel close to.  There is a hesitation when wondering how their creativity and art will be received.  Sometimes, there is even panic.

Is it good enough?
Am I good enough? 
Did I risk too much?

Vulnerability is a fast track to personal growth.  Teaching our kids to “show up” and “put themselves out there” will help them to be brave and to take risks in all areas of life.  From personal relationships and careers to being a colleague that is easy to work with, vulnerability and creativity work well for people.


This is what you improve for your family when you allow them time and space to create.  It allows us to become more informed versions of ourselves while helping us connect with others and the world around us.

My family (all 5 of us) found ourselves at the kitchen table a few nights ago doing our Valentines together.  I don’t know how we all got there – the materials were available and we were available, so it happened.  We sat around for almost two hours creating together.  We laughed, heard stories about each other’s daily lives, were inspired by each other’s art, and challenged our artistic capabilities.  There might have even been a few unicorns and rainbows.

This beautiful space eventually dissolved into an argument about toothpaste and who is going to go first, but in those couple of hours, I so deeply felt how great we all are together, how cool my kids are, and why Brian and I started this crazy, exhausting adventure of having a family.

For love.