Montessori project gets local singer-songwriter's attention

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Rob Selvaggio engages with the children about the concept of love in between songs.When Meg Gulgren first introduced the concept of “love rocks” to her students at Heart Centered Montessori, she liked to imagine the sentiment spreading organically throughout the community as the rocks passed from one person to another. It would start with the paintbrush strokes of preschool children and end, well, who knows where?

For all she knew, that was exactly how things transpired. But the anonymity of the project always kept feedback at a minimum.

Until last month, that is, when Gulgren received an email from a local singer-songwriter named Big Water. He hadn’t found one of the rocks, but he’d heard about the idea through Facebook and was immediately inspired to reach out.

Big Water, whose real name is Rob Selvaggio, was struck by how similar the project was to his own artwork — rocks spelling out the word “love” and mounted on pieces of wood — that he had been creating and selling for years.

“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome, how wonderful,’ ” Selvaggio said. “What a beautiful thing these kids are doing, beautiful thing the teachers are doing.

“I wrote her and said, ‘I’d love to do something with you guys. I don’t know what — I’d come play anything.’”

Based out of Portland, Selvaggio has made a career out of traveling the country to do school workshops on creativity, but generally works with elementary students. This visit to Heart Centered Montessori would be different, then — a foray into the even younger 3- to 6-year-old age group. But Gulgren was immediately intrigued when she saw the email.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Rob Selvaggio plays a song during his visit to Heart Centered Montessori last week.

“He’s just so in line with spreading love,” Gulgren said. “He sent me an email; he didn’t know who I was — just sent it out and thought, ‘Well I’ll see what happens.’ Like a love rock!”

And so Big Water arrived at Heart Centered Montessori on a pristine Tuesday morning last week. He set up with his guitar on the school’s back porch, and eventually found himself seated on a small wooden chair surrounded by the children.

He began by singing lighthearted songs with refrains like “Everything’s going to be all right,” and bracketed the music with direct questions to the children.

“What do you do when you’re having a bad day?” he asked.

A few answered that they played music, drawing a smile from Selvaggio, while others replied that they talked to their parents or simply went to their rooms.

Selvaggio continued with more sing-alongs before transitioning into the second part of his itinerary, which brought love rocks back into the picture. The children broke up into groups of four and were given bags of rocks, the goal being for each of them to spell out the word “love” with the rocks in a way similar to Selvaggio’s artwork.

“Out there in the world, there are rocks like hearts,” Selvaggio said. “They’re like Easter eggs.”

While the students worked, Selvaggio bounced between tables to lend his hand while also engaging them with questions.

“Give me a word for love,” he said to one group.

After a pause, one student replied by saying, “You never want to let go.” Then the words came more rapidly: “Kiss.” “Smiles.” “Hugs.” “Happy.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Chloe Oswald begins to sort her rocks with, clockwise from right, Parker Haynes, Tsai Friedericks and Finley Friedericks.

When the craft work was done, many students had found a way to spell out “love” with the rocks, and Selvaggio ended the activity with a few more songs — including a special “Love Rocks” song that he wrote just for Heart Centered Montessori.

“I think it turned out great,” Gulgren said as Selvaggio packed up to leave. “The kids really got the message, what we’re doing the love rocks for: to spread love. ... I just want to layer that with the kids.”

Going forward, Gulgren plans to keep in touch with Selvaggio and perhaps steer school parents toward any of his upcoming shows. She wants to spread the word throughout the academic community and hopefully bring other schools into the fold.

“I’d love to have other schools join,” Gulgren said.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Students admire their finished love rocks, which singer-songwriter Rob Selvaggio taught them how to make.

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