Archive for September, 2014

Guiding Guided Play

Posted 26 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

Well, it never made it into the editorials in the NY Times, but here is my response to Gina Bellafante’s article, “Guiding Guided Play.”

The merits of progressive education may be beneficial to less privileged children. (Bellafante, Guiding Guided Play,” New York Times, September 7, 2014). However, her description of environments such as the dramatic play area, misses the essence of complex play. It is not to “sound out the spelling of a word like ‘pizza.’” Rather, imitation, symbolic representation, negotiation, conversation, cooperation, and imagination are important benefits and should be valued equally with spelling mastery. Attributing a hierarchy to disciplines diminishes the importance of experiences that make a well-rounded, life-long learner. Society must recognize the inherent worth of all domains of learning to eliminate achievement gaps. What affluent children gain by “conversations about the mechanics of Congress …or the history of bagels…” is not information, but, as Ms. Farina knows, the ability to converse and sustain relationships, “some of the most important training of all.”

On revisiting

Posted 11 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials

I think one of the reasons children don’t often revisit their drawings–go back to them and spend time on them, make revisions and edits–is because they are not articulating the problems in the drawing. Drawing is exhausting, it is a never-ending series of decisions and consequences. If you don’t have a problem in a drawing there is no mind attached to what you are doing. Maybe if we can find ways, words, or gestures to help children verbalize and articulate what they are figuring out, if we can create that environment of trust and respect where to care means you can share points of view, children will engage more deeply with their work because they are, by nature, problem solvers. 


Drawing is Fun

Posted 09 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

Last week in the garden at Miner Elementary School in Washington, D.C., children found a baby ear of corn on the ground near the stalk. Fascinated by this “baby,” children were excited by an invitation to take the corn back to the classroom and draw its portrait. At least 7 children clamored around me, touching and smelling the underdeveloped kernals. They were fascinated by the markers, pencils and colored pencils, and eager to start drawing–until they made their first mark. One boy repeatedly said he couldn’t do it, another child was “finished” within seconds, and another snuck away to dramatic play before I noticed she was not at the table.

photo 5

Organizing an environment for drawing (see also: Drawing Choices, September 8, 2014) another aspect I considered was joy. What would children like to draw? What has meaning for them? At first I started collecting natural materials: shells, rocks, starfish, leaves, but realized that though I know children find these materials fascinating and interesting, they also love teapots and dolls and trucks and Slinkys. I began a collection of these items to launch the area, and children can continue to add to and edit the collection to reflect their personal favorites–maybe a Minecraft Creeper or Frozen character, maybe a spaceship or a special stuffed animal. Special objects can become scenarios or stories for children to imagine and draw.


The intention is to make drawing joyful, to change the culture around drawing from an exacting, torturous exercise to an engaging, imaginative and positive experience.

Drawing Choices

Posted 08 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

photo 1

So many choices! At St. John’s, we are researching, studying, and re-thinking, drawing. It is complex to make choices about materials. I am overwhelmed with possibilities as I stare into our fantastic closet–filled with many years of accumulated and well-organized treasures. Organizing one area in a 4-year-old classroom with drawing surfaces, I needed to decide on the variables–all white papers? Colored and white papers? Colored and white and patterned papers? All the same size? Or maybe different textures? Or maybe different weight papers? Or a mix of everything? Of course, children will develop this area along with us, but as a provocation I need to articulate the choices that are made, and be intentional about materials that are selected, or curated.

The papers I decided on to begin with are all whites, and different weights, textures and sizes. White is the constant here, and I think that seeing variations of the most familiar drawing surface–white paper–could make a big impression. It will be interesting to discover with children, among other things, how the paper itself influences the quality of marks. I think that children (and adults) would choose a paper based more on their color and pattern preference than the difference in weight or tooth of the paper. The monochromatic palette forces subtle detail to the forefront, features that are often obscured when color and pattern are present.



Transition Week

Posted 01 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

You know what my two sons said about the first week of school?

Middle Schooler: “Ugh, enough of this get-to-know-you stuff. I am only learning something in my Chinese class, he’s the only one who’s teaching us anything.”

High Schooler: “Another week of review and routines, it’s boring.”

As an advocate of “transition week,” I am thinking/rethinking long and hard about the beginning of school,  about how to establish routines and classroom culture while simultaneously engaging children’s curiosity and insatiable desire to learn.