<art> + <work>

I love to see how words take shape in the lives of the children and families I study with. I know what happens in our study sessions together, but I'm always curious about what their conversations about words and language and literacy look like outside of those appointments.

On display in my office and elsewhere in my home are several pieces of art that various clients have created for me, both children and adults, that tell me something about their outside-the-lesson life. The "Inspire" painting above hangs next to my bed, part of a few reminders I have for the start and end of each day. "Inspire" was a word this talented artist and I had studied in a session, and she was indeed inspired to capture the moment. I love this painting so much. When this same student was younger, her mama 'caught' her making her own word matrix for <pancake> on an easel in her bedroom.

In one of my offices, I have  a mixed-media paint and concrete canvas I commissioned from a young adult who once feared that the art degree he wanted would be out of reach for him because of his struggles with literacy. Now, he often uses words and books as media to express his identity as an artist with dyslexia. Watching him grow up and have experience as a working artist is incredibly meaningful, and as a fringe benefit I became great friends with his wonderful mom.

I cherish all of the artwork my students – adult and children – see fit to offer me. I know that accepting gifts from clients can run up against ethical concerns in many business situations, and I know that it's important to weigh those considerations. Since my students don't get anything in return for their gifts, I've decided to be a gracious recipient, because I think that telling a 10-year-old that their painting is an ethical problem is a worse decision than just saying a sincere thank you. I know as a parent how I'd want that handled if it were my child.

This past week, I heard from two students out of the blue – one former, one current. The former one reached out to tell me that he graduated with his Ph.D. in chemistry in December, and was heading to a post-doctoral position with the National Institutes of Health to do brain research. He sent me a photo of himself and his lovely new bride, and updated me on the last couple years of his life.

"I can still remember being frustrated to the point of tears not being able to read and now I read every day extensively," he wrote. "Thank you." It's easy to forget that we have not only a momentary impact on our kids, but a lasting one as well. He's not an artist, but his relationship with words outside of our long-ago, brick-laying study sessions has grown into the cathedral I'm always aiming for.

The second student is in the talented artist contingent, and she sent me an email to share a comic that she had made, based on something I had said in a lesson. I think it's brilliant, and adorable, and funny. The character is relatable and sweet. It's especially funny to me because we joke about how often religion comes up in word study, even though I don't intend it to.

Here it is, shared with permission:

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