Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Building Relationships: Exploring Our Richmond With Visitors From The Institute

Our school invited interested visitors to come and see our work with children, using the Reggio approach, during our spring Institute. Visitors were able to see children working and playing in our classrooms, hear Lella Gandini, who has led the United States initiative to spread Reggio concepts, and Ben Mardell, who shared his experiences with Project Zero. Our guests were also able to hear about our experiences here at Sabot at Stony Point from preschool and lower school teachers. On the last day of the conference, Anna Golden, our studio teacher, gave the visitors a provocation: to co- construct a structure using a choice of materials or musical/movement interpretation to make visible how the teacher connects the child to the city. This provocation was inspired by our school wide intention to study "Our Richmond" this year as a way to bring our children to the city as contributing members of the community. How would the children view the city and what ways would they think of to interact with the places and people they encountered?

The Forest Room's interest in the Light Studio made our decision to provide building materials reflecting or obstructing light a natural provocation for our visitors in the Light Studio. The visitors worked together collaboratively to construct their vision of the teacher connecting the child to the city. They used the materials to represent the child looking through a tunnel pathway leading to a city of color and magical illumination.The participants also thoroughly explored concepts of connection and reflection as they worked.

The visitors left the structure in place so the Forest Room children could see it. The children approached the structure and stood around it, moving from carpet square to carpet square to get a view from different angles.

Lauren, our studio teacher, asked the children to see themselves as part of the city.

The tunnel, representing the magical pathway of connection


 The beauty and  the complexity of the mirrored blocks, light sources and  images projected on the wall were inspiring to the visitors as they made connections to their representation of beauty and complexity in the relationships between the teacher, the child and the people of the city. 

The children told us what they noticed:

Z: "Look right there in the tunnel."
J: "I wonder why there's a tunnel."
G: "If we go under the tunnel it will take us way over there."
G:"I notice the light turning round and round but never getting mixed up too bad. Things are going crazy."
Z: "I saw a house and the bird goes inside and goes 'tweet tweet!'"
A: "A bird is flying into the house over there by Zoe."
G: "I see a crown."

Children playing at the light table after these observations called the structure a castle and immediately began fixing  food and medicine for sick puppies and kitties.

Lauren wanted to see how the children interacted with similar materials in the classroom and studio. Could they replicate the structure in any way? We placed pictures of the structure at the light table, the easel, and the block area.

                        We continued to provide materials from the structure on the light table.

I. wanted to see if the globe fit over the tube and J. dropped various building materials down the tube. He played a game of making the materials disappear and then giggled when he lifted the tube while watching them fall out.

L's airplane

S made food for G.


Making a pathway to the structure


What we noticed was that the children used the materials in ways that made sense to them. They "messed about" and created stories about their ideas. They played together, taking on roles and then leaving the ideas so they could explore how to get a golf ball out of a container with a narrow neck. We have seen children interact with each other and "new materials" in this way before they are able to use them in new ways.

Making pathways has been an interest of the children as they make roads with the carpet squares in the light studio, taking them to "Grandma and Grandpa's house", to the fire, and now to the new structure the Institute visitors left for us. We have taken the children's interest in pathways to the classroom when the children are signing in by asking them to drawing their houses to see if they could represent the roads between their homes, our school and other places of their interest in our city.

We kept bringing the children back to their idea of mapping their homes and their city. Lauren provided some ribbons to represent roads on the light table, and by using their favorite cars from the classroom they created a hospital, an ice cream store, a toll bridge, a train station and train track.

A made a bridge over water and started a toll bridge game.

The toll cost money.

The bridge connected the town where several children lived.

There was an ice cream shop and a hospital.

J built a train for I's track.

In the classroom we brought the children back to the city map of Richmond where we had placed origami houses in September to represent where our homes were in relation to Sabot School. It was fun to use string to form the roads connecting each other's houses. The children were reminded of how the places we live are in relation to our school and the city of Richmond.

One day a group of children were getting really excited while playing and were invited to bring their fire truck game to the art table to draw a story. They drew the fire station and placed the fire trucks there waiting to be called when suddenly Guiseppe yelled out, "My house is on fire!" The fire trucks drove from the station to his house to put the fire out. Other children came and added their houses and roads, connecting them to each other. A child from the Rainbow Room joined them and, after waiting to understand their game, he added Sabot School and his own house to the map which developed from telling and drawing the story. 

Burning house, fire station, roads and Sabot School

                                                        Alices' smiley face and family

Sabot School by Rainbow Room friend

Isaac's fire station

It has been exciting to see the youngest children respond to the structure the visitors from the Institute left for them. They were surprised by the structure's beauty and intricate pathways, as indicated when they pointed out the tunnel and wondered about why you would need a tunnel in the city. The Forest Room children have developed strong relationships with each other this year as they tell their stories, moving through the space of the light studio.  After a period of time messing about with the materials from the structure,  they were able to represent their stories in more ways as they interpreted distances between where they "live" and the places they love to meet each other, like the ice cream store and the toll bridge. The children have once again explored their internal map by moving through the space in the light studio, exploring with the materials until finally they were building and representing places that were important to them by drawing them on paper as a map. The children's stories were about helping each other to get from their house to visit a friend, to help put out a fire or to get ice cream together. There were toll roads, bridges and rivers. They built a hospital to help those in need and they built their beloved Sabot School. The Forest Room children have created a replica of their city noting the places that are important to them. We now have a view into "Our Richmond".

"Parents have to have an idea of a school in motion, because the children move around all the time and not only physically; for their minds and social exchanges are in continuous motion, just as their language is." - Loris Mallaguzzi

Thursday, April 30, 2015

"There Was A Bear In The Wild All By Himself."

The children's stories in the light studio were compelling to them so I asked them to draw a picture of their words as I read them. One way of helping children slow down is to ask them to draw something by looking at it very closely or by asking them to represent an idea that is important to them. The children took their clipboards to the light studio to represent their stories by drawing them. I read Solace's words, "There was a bear in the wild all by himself." Her story poured out on the paper.

Isaac drew the forest and then the path through the forest.

As I look at their illustrations, I see something interesting. With Loris Malaguzzi's quote in mind, "... for their minds and social exchanges are in continuous motion, just as their language is," I see how Isaac represents the movement of their bodies and their narration by drawing the path through the forest.  Solace could not stop "writing" her story. For a short period of time drawing became the way to tell the story, the movement. They are representing on paper the ideas they have been representing with their bodies.

Here are some illustrations of another story. 

"They were walking on the bridge and falling into the water. A catcher got you and pulled you into the boat." 


In keeping with our observations about this group of children, when they finished their drawings they sprang up into action, running and calling out to each other over their shoulders, in movement once again.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Suspense In The Light Studio

Solace, Luna and Augusta found a pipe and a golf ball in the light studio. The light table and overhead projector were on and Solace balanced the ball on the pipe while talking into her "mike".  She stood on a stool looking into the light of the overhead and began,

                                          "There was a bear in the wild all by himself!"


                                           "You could see... but when the wind came
                                       you could hear a sound from the door.  The 
                                       sound went "shoo, shoo, shoo." The wolves
                                       came. Whispering came."

                                            "And then the wolf came and shut the door.
                                        and the dog came and the owl went " woo, 
                                        woo, woo."'


                             Luna: "A special cloud came down and then the lightning
                                        and there was a storm coming. Then, in the sky, there
                                        was OOH, OOHHH.

The girls waited for each friend to tell their idea and then the understood expectation was that the "mike" would  be past on to the next friend. They listened to each other with intensity and there was a feeling of shared suspense as they added on each part of the story. They seemed to be aware of the elements they were contributing but also were thrilled by the effect of their collective story. They were intent as they were listening to the suspenseful tone, the spooky sounds and characters.  I was  surprised that the ghost and the butterfly saved the day. The attention they gave to rhyming words and sounds also indicates the children growing in their understanding of language. The trust they have for each other to wait, listen and create stories is steeped in hours of play in our classroom, light studio and in the garden.


Shadow Play: Bats

The light studio is an extension of our classroom. It is the spark that keeps our Forest Room alive and once the children began to notice their shadows, their play took on new fervor. Our group is very kinesthetic and stories evolve best when the children are moving from one area to another. At first it felt like they needed to be reigned in. Their play appeared to be disorganized but what I noticed was  this group of children are masters at co-creating stories. They are able to use each other's ideas to craft and extend their narratives while moving to act out the story.

Solace watched her shadow one day and said,

                                          "I wanted to be a bat. I was not a scary bat."



                                               Guiseppe: "I was fighting with bad guys."

                                                   "We had to eat some cheese."

                                 "The bats went to the playground and the bat cave."

Another day Solace, Giuseppe and Isaac stood flapping their bat wings when Solace began,

                                         "I am Little Flower Bat." Guiseppe: "I'm Brother 
                                     bat." Isaac: "I'm Big Brother Bat."

As they began to weave their story, their bodies sailed off the stools, running over to the light table in the corner and then back to the middle where the floor drops down in a slant to the doorway. 

"They went in their rocket ships to Grandpa's house on the beach. They sailed on the boat and got to Grandma's house. They caught some gold fish and ate them at home. Brother Bat rolled down the hill into the dark, dark, water cave. Big Brother Bat helped Brother Bat back up the hill."
Loris Malaguzzi was a founding member of Reggio schools, beloved studio teacher and social activist who worked to change the image of the child to that of being powerful thinkers and meaningful contributors to society. He once said, "Parents have to have an idea of a school in motion, because the children move around all the time and not only physically; for their minds and social exchanges are in continuous motion, just as their language is." When I read this quote I said "Yes! It is true. This is their important work! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Shadows Play Into Stories

The In Light experience in downtown Richmond provided the Forest Room children and families with some observations to ponder. Luna was excited that she saw bubbles that were moving up and down on the walls of the building. These were  projections of colored bubbles creating shadows. With this new interest in mind our focus in the light studio shifted  to ways to create shadows. How could we get the children to notice their shadows? What would the shadows mean to them? How would they use their shadows?

The children had been fascinated with a disco ball casting colors around the light studio.  I chose to turn off the disco ball and see what the children would do with the light of the overhead projector and the light table aglow with a few scattered beads and colored stones. As they moved about, would they see their shadows? It took a while for them to notice. They ran back and forth, changing the patterns of beads and stones from one light source to the other. They were truly in the moment and concentrated on the materials. I noticed they played together, talking to each other as they also  began  to weave stories each day. Blocks were added to the light studio and some of the children built, but they rarely noticed the shadows the buildings made. When I pointed point out how tall a tower looked on the wall they would look with surprise. Each day they they seemed to notice their shadows a little more.

One day a group of girls sat on a bench in a row facing the wall.  We started talking about our shadows and I thought that maybe beginning a story would help them see how our shadows could interact.

I chose to start the story with the black bunny because they walk past this image painted on the basement wall on their way to the light studio each day.  It often seems to be on their minds.

I began with, "The black bunny came hopping over to Augusta's house and asked, "Do you have anything for me to eat?" and Augusta answered, "Yes," and handed my shadow bunny some food. The black bunny visited Alice and then Zoe. Each responded in much the same way.  Several days later we were eating snack and the pictures of the story hung nearby. The story evolved from the children like this:

                                                      In the light of the moon....

                                                There was a black rabbit. He was jumping away
                                                because he was scared.  He jumped over the fence
                                                and met Augusta. "Do you have any plums?" he
                                                asked. Augusta offered him some plums.

                                                 Then he hopped over to Alice's House. "Do
                                                 you have any plums?" he asked her. She said "Yes!"
                                                 and gave the rabbit some too.

                                                He hopped off merrily to Zoe's house and asked,
                                                "Do you have any plums?" "Yes!" said Zoe and
                                                she opened her mouth.
Zoe's twist of humor at the end made everybody laugh. The story had taken on new meaning for them.

 It was happenstance that these girls were eating snack at the same time but the documentation was intentional; it drew them in and sparked their desire to tell the story again.  Augusta still asks her friends to play the black rabbit game in the light studio. Not only do the children now notice their shadows interacting, they wanted to relive the story and make it their own.  The shadows came to play as part of the story!

What does this mean for this group of children? These children are two years old and turning three. They are learning language and ways of connecting with each other through play. They scaffold each other through their imaginations and ways of interacting. They are able to enrich each other's use of language and are able to take on different perspectives through play which translates into their story. They share their humor and their patience as they give each other turns to share their part of the story. We didn't know what would happen when we began to help the children notice their shadows but stories have sprung forth and there are more to come.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The star that went to the sky

The star that went to the sky...

One day John showed a star in our morning meeting that he had created out of "melty" beads in the classroom. John had carefully arranged many tiny beads on a star-shaped template, which the teacher then ironed, resulting in a solid object that John strung onto a necklace. He was very proud of his star.

Jeremy saw the star and exclaimed, "Now it can go live in the sky!"

Seeing this comment as a foundation for a great story, I invited several children, including Jeremy and John, to write a story about a star going to live in the sky.

Here is the story that unfolded:

It started as a circle. 

And then it slowly started to melt...and it started to grow a circle... and it has points! 

It exploded into stardust!
Stars are made out of stardust!

It went all the way down to the bottom of the sky.

The star saw a man sinking into a river.
He saved his life!

The man bravely hugged the side of the river.
The star lifted him out.
The man was too heavy and he dropped him into the river!
The man lifted himself up.
The star made him into a constellation in the sky...because that's where people go from the river.

He's mad at the star.
He wanted to stay in his house with his family.

The end.
(By John, Jeremy, Logan, Pierce, and Tucker)

I love the complexity of this story: the authors begin their narrative with a creation story about the star, then add a human element with the man in danger in the river. The story concludes with the man feeling angry about being taken away from Earth (but perhaps the star was happy to have him in the sky?) Everyone was satisfied with the conclusion: after all, not all stories end happily. In fact, the authors utilize similar mechanics found in Greek or Roman mythology- a plot which includes human struggle, supernatural intervention, and a conflicted, bittersweet ending. Maybe ancient myths are actually stories invented by children, and amended by adults (because let's be honest, some myths have very grown-up themes!) It's not hard to tap into a child's deep understanding of the human condition; it's present and ready to be shared. We just have to take the time to listen.