The Green Pumpkin

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Posted 17 Sep 2010 in observation, projects, role of teacher

I had a great discussion yesterday at Walker Jones EC. The school and the community have an urban farm, in an empty lot across the street from the school. Preschool children have begun visiting the farm in small groups, and teachers are recording observations and conversations, and collecting graphic representations and video of the first forays into this new environment. A group of children is fascinated by the green pumpkin growing in the patch–most often the pumpkins we see, especially around Halloween, are orange. Teachers planned to have children mix colors of paint to match that of the pumpkin, and paint its portrait. In this format I cannot share the entire discussion, but some really important things emerged.

1. Slowing down. Teachers had been recording and documenting, but not REVIEWING the documents together with colleagues in order to make decisions and organize provocations. These provocations–the bounce back to children, are the most , or should be the most intelligent and sensitive decisions we can make as educators, all the while staying very close to children. The documents we collect also serve as a memory, and so giving time to the process of revisiting and analyzing is possible. If there is a richness and complexity to the situation, children’s enthusiasm will be there in a few days.

2. Reading between the lines. Interpreting children’s words and making meaning from our documentation is difficult, to say the least, and requires a leap of faith and good intention. This is where I think the values of a school and the influence of ‘fields of knowledge’ (to use a phrase from Reggio) play a big role. In the green pumpkin situation, I think we can go beyond the portrait, beyond measuring the pumpkin’s size, or charting its weight-go beyond activities about the pumpkin. For what the children might observe in the changes of the color of the pumpkin is mimicked in the leaves on the trees, and is also a sign of the coming of fall. Seasons, change, even death, might become important to this conversation. But we must not jump to conclusions without going back to #1-the action of revisiting.

3. Our bias. I asked the teachers to look and listen more closely on their trips to the farm. To observe with open minds, and not rule out possibilities just because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived schema of a farm curriculum. Maybe the butterflies are intriguing, maybe the fruits and vegetables, or the beautiful colors of the garden, or the farmer who tends the farm. Or maybe the action of crossing the street or weaving their bodies through the rows of string beans or the sounds of the insects and cars. As educators we need to be able to hear/see things that don’t necessarily fit in the box. This kind of sensitive and open listening is central to the work.

I hope to be able to post more about the continuation of this project…

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