excerpted from Playing and Reality by D.W. Winnicott, 1971


The place where cultural experience is located is the potential space between the individual and the environment. The same can be said of playing. Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested in play... This area [this potential space] has been contrasted with inner or personal psychic reality and with the actual world in which the individual lives, which can be objectively perceived. I have located this potential area of experience in the potential space between the individual and the environment...

Attention is drawn to the fact that this potential space is a highly variable factor (from individual to individual), whereas the two other locations--personal or psychic reality and the actual world--are relatively constant, one being biologically determined and the other being common property.

The potential space between mother and baby, between child and family, between the individual and society or the world, depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living.

Why teach the Elementary "I" School project?


This project is designed to enlarge each student’s potential space for creativity by enlarging the discursive space of the classroom.

What thoughts, feelings, ideas, and stories can be mentioned and discussed in the classroom?

Moments from our pasts are often formative, constituting who we are and what we will become.

These personal stories are not available to us for experiencing and acting upon unless they are remembered and retold.


The Elementary "I" Project is about encountering our own earlier selves, experiencing them, engaging them, and reflecting on what lessons they have to teach us about our work as teachers today.

Seeing the wisdom of our earlier selves allows us to see and cultivate the wisdom of our students. In a dialogical style of teaching, we learn as we teach, giving to our students the tools they need to structure and tell the stories of their lives. To do this effectively we need to remember the ways we were and were not enabled to share our thoughts and feelings in our own educations. Through artmaking, our students learn to tell and hear their own stories in their richness, complexities, contradictions, and possibilities.

In this project, we’ll connect the development of visual and verbal literacy. We’ll consider how images can generate discussion, analysis, engagement, and critical thinking and writing. We’ll consider how familiarity with various styles of modern artmaking can free young (and more mature) artists from the constraints of visual realism, allowing them to explore their own realities. We’ll see how skills such as alternative practices for imaging space, attention to detail and composition, and strategies for creating elegant and simple human figures, constitute a language to express and explore inner self.

Using words and images together helps a student to find his or her authentic voice. Helping students visualize and share their personal stories tells them that their lives are important, that their experiences are a valuable contribution to the school and society.


Telling his or her story allows the young person to feel the sense of agency and possibility that comes from being seen and being heard.

Artmaking and storytelling allow youths and the youth in adults to remember, to grow, to learn, to make, and to make things happen.


Teachers, enlarge the space for discussing the full experience of education. Share your Elementary "I" stories with your students.


Olivia Gude, 2000