About Cat Lynch

CMA Teaching Artist for School Initiatives

Listening Ears and Sensitive Antennae

What does it mean to truly listen— to our students and to each other?

During my first visit to the Bumble Bee classroom as part of CMA’s Imagine That program, I asked the class to tell me what some of their rules were. High on the list was ‘listening.’ When I asked what that meant and what that looked like, the students were happy to show me:

Josiah and Antonio demonstrating for me what it looks like to listen: open eyes, ready ears and mouths closed with a ‘caught bubble’.

Over the past year, as I’ve had the opportunity to work with young children in a variety of programs, this advice has been some of the most helpful I’ve received yet. It’s also been some of the most difficult to understand and put into practice. While I’m definitely not a Listening Expert, there are a few skills I’ve learned that I’m excited to share with you;

1) Be okay with silence. I love talking with people and sharing ideas and stories, but sometimes it’s better as an educator to stay silent- In silence, there’s space for reflection and room for new ideas to emerge.

2) Be present. Just being silent isn’t always listening- I could be composing a grocery list in my head, or thinking about what I’m going to say next, all while being totally silent. In doing so, however, I might miss an important moment or opportunity with a student, friend or colleague. Being fully present and ‘ready to receive’ keeps me from missing something important or jumping to conclusions.


Mary and her granddaughter, Ella, listening, learning and working together during our Young Child Studio program.

When we listen to someone, we are communicating that we care and find their responses valuable. In a building full of exciting, beautiful and provocative objects such as our museum, there are countless opportunities to respond to what we see and listen to responses together.


Like any other skill, deep listening only gets better the more one practices, and the better we are at listening, the more chances  we have to learn or make discoveries.

Putting Visitors to Work

This summer, I am working on an artist research project around how artists use creative spaces, particularly with an eye towards CMA’s Studio. As an artist and educator, I am very interested in the ways a space can influence and inspire us. Here at CMA we have an amazing studio space filled with natural light, high ceilings, and a vast array of wondrous materials at our fingertips. My goal this summer is to study the ways in which staff and visitors use the space and to help cultivate new, self-sustaining systems of organization that will enhance all of our experiences in it.

This past Sunday I hosted my first Studio Workday.  I came in with the intent to do a bit of cleaning out of common-use supplies that were broken or otherwise unusable, and potentially pull in a few visitors to help. I was anticipating one, maybe two families to show interest. What I got instead was a constant stream of visitors curious and excited about the space, many of whom stayed to help. For two hours more than forty visitors helped to test markers and scissors, and to sort tissue paper, colored pencils and  Sharpie markers.

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The end of the day: scissors tested and sorted by size.

Even more delightful and surprising were the conversations I was able to witness. One family spent more than an hour intently sorting colored pencils into warm and cool colors. As they sorted, conversation and discoveries flowed easily between them:

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“Ooo, Mom! Look at this color!”

“Hm. Is it yellow-green? Or more green-yellow?”

“Puwpow! I see Puwpow!” (interpret: purple)

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This family pondered whether black and white are cool or warm colors:
“Well, white is definitely cool, like snow…Black could be cool…yeah, like a shadow!”

Our first Studio Workday was an undeniable success. I will definitely be hosting more Visitor Workdays and Idea-days as this project evolves for a couple of reasons:

1)      because more brains = more ideas, and more ideas = better ideas

2)      to continue to foster the wonderful sense of ownership, care, and community from those who use our space the most.

Thanks everyone who stopped by!