“The moment we enter into a routine we are dead.”
It takes a certain disposition to be able to continually move away from a place of satisfaction and comfort, and enter into situations of complexity and uncertainty.
I am thinking about the culture of education in America, where certainty and authoritative knowledge-giving are the norm, and ambiguity all but non-existant in our schools.
I am also thinking about the role of the Hundred Languages and their potential to counter the pervasive routine and complacency as, by nature, the expressive languages offer the opportunity to share differences and newness.
Children went outside yesterday to draw the birds and nesting area in the wall near the school’s entrance. As luck would have it, the birds were not home at that time. All of the children, however, chose to draw the nests with birds in them: mama birds, baby birds, and eggs.
The teacher asked the children if they actually saw the birds in the wall, encouraging them to draw what they see. I whispered to her, “they can’t, they don’t want to separate out the life.” I was reminded of Vea Vecchi’s words in “Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia,” p.7:
“Taking leaves as an example, Goethe argued that the terminology used to name their various parts was unsatisfactory, using words which are too abstract, too far removed from the life built up by related structures. Saying ‘stem’ has little meaning if it is not placed in a relationship of growth and life with other living elements.”
and, on p. 8:
“An empathetic attitude, the sympathy or antipathy towards something we do not investigate indifferently, produces a relationship with what brings us to introduce a ‘beat of life’ into explorations we carry out. “
The children would not? could not? draw an inanimate wall without the birds living inside. They brought life and empathy to the empty bricks, as they spoke and drew about warm places, mama birds, and babies. They gave the wall a “pulse of life” (Vecchi, p. 7) that it did not have, and imagined relationships of caring and nurturing.
I just finished reading What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young. I underlined many sections, but this one struck a particular chord, p.180:
“from the San Bushman presented in the introduction:
If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. we make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.”
I am wondering how often when I observe I am recognizing, and how often I am simply looking?
I made a promise to myself this year to include technology as one of the “Hundred Languages.” Not that I am reticent, but it has never been in the forefront of my mind in my work with children. Having good technology really helps, and my own studies this summer-a Photoshop class, makes me more comfortable navigating various draw programs.
This week I began introducing the Bamboo tablet to some 4.5/5 year old children. I am watching carefully and with fascination as they navigate and investigate. I am learning and wondering alongside them as they discover new possibilities with the media. I am stumped sometimes by not being able to undo or fix something. The children, however, are not frustrated or impatient. They are excited and available and willing to experiment with abandon.
Below are my notes, following one child’s first drawing (I didn’t take photographs of all of the steps, so I hand-drew some of them). I also learned a lot by this close observation of Maeve and other children I worked with. I noticed that some children explored all the tools, some stayed with one, some explored options, some were intentional about what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. All children used their “mistakes” as launching points. They liked the ease of erasing and undoing, in fact one child asked first thing “how do I erase?” I love Maeve’s comment towards the end (after close to 30 minutes of working): “This is just like drawing!”
I like when I become aware of something I hadn’t been aware of before. Like Thursday morning, when four 2 1/2 year olds were using beads and wire for a mobile. Three children threaded beads onto the wire, and when the bead got to the bottom of the wire, they kept on threading…resulting in the bead landing on the floor. They did this numerous times, most getting frustrated at a certain point. They were upset about the beads coming off but did not how to stop it from happening. Laura, above, saw the problem differently–she stopped the bead 3 inches from the bottom of the wire, attentive to the inclination of the strand. She could predict the cause and effect of gravity on the unsecured bead. So interesting…I am curious to observe more.
It is a common misconception about the Reggio Approach that “everything comes from the child.” Without putting children and teachers on opposite sides of the fence, it is important to consider the role of the adult in the genesis and development of the work. An example:
A school has a shared classroom, where the Yellow Class comes Mondays and Tuesdays, and the Red Class comes Wednesdays and Thursdays. Teachers explained how in past years, children in one class would inevitably ask questions about the other children’s presence–noticed on mailboxes, cubbies, and documentation in the classroom. “Who are these other children?” they wanted to know.
We talked about how the shared classroom could be a rich area for projects and experiences. (See our notes below):
- “Capitalizing on the shared space situation a resource:
Children in the past have noticed the presence of other children. How many ways can you find to encourage exchange and relationship building? Message centers, shared projects, adding on to each other’s work, etc. How can you document this “invisible relationship?” Be ready for recording children’s comments and actions connected to recognizing their other classmates, and their desire (we think) to know them.”
After the first week of school, we had our first staff meeting, and talked about “where projects come from.” Were we being too didactic? Not listening to the children enough? Are these ideas only from the adult? A Yellow Class teacher recounted how one child looked up at the cubbies and asked “Who is that?” If we hadn’t discussed the possibility and potential of the relationship between the two classrooms, if we hadn’t had, as Carlina Rinaldi puts it “sensitive antannae,” would the teacher have picked up on that child’s curiosity? Probably not. How teachers proceed, how they think about the process of progettazione around this “invisible relationship” now depends on the reactions and interactions of the children, documented and analyzed by the teachers. We threw a ball around, children caught it, and so now what?
These were two descriptions written by a teacher on a panel displaying many different kinds of messages children had written to friends in the first week of school. The teacher had carefully selected messages to display in order to highlight their diversity; some had writing, some drawing, some were beautifully folded and cut.
By the use of the exclamation point in “Anton copied William’s name from the board !” and the lack of one after the statement about the girl who drew her friend, the teacher inadvertently showed a bias for the written language, which she did not intend to do.
Details matter, our choices matter, and we must be conscious and aware of, and deliberate in every choice we make.
My husband Todd started in an enviable new position this school year, as Adventure Coordinator at a public charter school. This morning at 4am, we were both awake, trying hard to go back to sleep but unable to quell the storm of things- to-do racing through our minds. Todd and I talked about all the different directions he is pulled in, all of the things there are to do at the start of a school year in particular. It is important to remember that above all, our list of things-to-do to should reflect being prepared for children as the top priority. So when you are faced with many demands, begin with those that directly influence life in the classroom. Because isn’t ensuring the highest quality of experiences for children the reason why we are educators in the first place?
At Community Forklift: http://communityforklift.com/
I bought a few things for St. John’s and my sons tried them out this morning…cool!