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.


Friday, February 27, 2015

The Big Deal About Shadows

The Forest Room children have been interested in shadows this winter. The garden is a lovely place to see them: it might be cold outside but the sun shines brightly and shadows are hard to miss.

The children discovered they could hide their shadows by standing in the shadow of a teacher. They do this over and over on sunny days. Why? What are they thinking? Might children, who have limited control over their lives, find satisfaction when they have power over the location of their shadows? What properties of light and dark, of their ability to manipulate their bodies within the environment, are they internalizing as they play with shadows?

A child observes how her shadow changes as she crouches...

... and stands.
 There are always many questions to ask when children are exploring a new idea.

What is important about shadows? What is the big idea underlying their fascination? We teachers are constantly listening and observing to learn the intent behind children's interests, and to help the children delve further into their investigations.

"Look! My shadow disappeared!"
It just so happened that I stumbled across this sentence in my recent reading: "Light, or some aspect of it (rainbows, reflection, shadow, transparency, color), seems to compel children's intellects--is it part of "Invisibility" as Big Idea?"-Pam Oken-Wright and Marty Gravett, Teaching and Learning: Collaborative Exploration of the Reggio Emilia Approach.

What do children know and think about invisibility? What is it about light in all its aspects that is so appealing?

We continue to explore shadows, and daily discover something new. Their shadows are so beautiful.

Shadows can even grow out of the top of a teacher's head.

Can shadows touch each other even though the people are not touching?
What is meaningful for the children about shadows? We brainstorm ways to help the children explore this idea. Can we find ways to mark how shadows move as time passes?  Can we find shadows of other objects in the garden? Perhaps we might learn more about shadows through our exploration of light in the light studio and in the classroom. We continue to carry our camera with us, delighting in the children's daily discoveries, in our communal, never-ending quest to learn more.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


He wanted to give her a gift.  Something special, as a token of their friendship.
Since he knows that she loves bunnies, he decided to draw a bunny for her.
 He also drew a small kitty face on the top of the page, because her classroom symbol is a kitty.
 He worked on the drawing and then presented it to her.
She smiled.
She looked at the drawing carefully and said, "But it doesn't have ears"
So he returned to the drawing table and added some ears.

He took the drawing back to her.  She studied it and said, "But it doesn't have a nose."
He returned to the drawing table and added a nose.
When he showed her the drawing with the nose, she said, "But it doesn't have an attacher" (this is her word for the line between the nose and the lips, which I have since learned is called a philtrum).
Once again he returned to the drawing table and added the "attacher"
This dance between them continued - each time he presented his drawing, she examined it and made recommendations, and each time he listened carefully and then revised his drawing.  During this process he also worked on the kitty drawing.  As the bunny drawing evolved, he began to modify the kitty drawing, adding spots and an "attacher."  He also glued both of their symbols onto the page.
Finally after numerous revisions he gave her the completed picture.
She smiled and said, "Thanks"
Then she asked him to add it to her display of bunny and kitty drawings, which he did.
As you will have noticed, there's some powerful teaching and learning going on between these three year olds.  She gently scaffolds and supports his drawing, while he listens carefully and follows her suggestions.  This lesson in listening and looking results in a significantly more complex drawing.

When we establish a classroom culture that gives children the latitude to work from their strengths, the results are impressive.  Observing this interaction between these two children confirms our belief that even very young children are skilled mentors and tutors.

The bunny drawing is a sweet and thoughtful gift between friends, but the real gift for us is seeing how capable and competent young children are.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Final Boarding Call

"Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it."
(attributed to Buddha but disputed)

At first we just wanted them to stop, 

really, enough with the paper airplanes!

Everyday, more and more planes…

                               popsicle sticks,

                                                                        re-purposed materials.  

It seemed like every time they went to the studio, they came back with an airplane.

Finally, we realized it was like the superhero play, you can’t just turn it off.

                                                               Then we remembered,
                                    remembered, remembered: 
go where they are,
in their enthusiasm,
                                            take a chance,
                                                                          and try to fly. 

The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.  - Terry Orlick

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Exploring Light (After Dark) in Richmond

Going together to see the InLight celebration at Monroe Park seemed a logical choice for the Forest Room children who have been fascinated by the light studio in the basement of our school. We explore light in a variety of ways there with a light table, disco ball and overhead projector for shadow play. We were all very excited about this opportunity. I brought my family and could identify with the dynamics of noticing how cold it was, how dark and really difficult it was to see each other even as we stood elbow to elbow. There were lots of people there waiting and anticipating an evening exploring light.

We met on the steps of Sacred Heart Cathedral where people were invited to make lanterns to carry in a parade.  There was loud drumming music and many people had already gathered by the time we arrived.   It was very cold and our families huddled together as we waited for the parade to begin.


  We filed into line with all of the shivering                                                                                               masses and were awed by some people wearing                                                                                       costumes that lit up, and others who swirled                                                                                             luminescent hoops in the air.

Back in the classroom, a few children shared their observations.

Luna: "I heard loud drumming music (covering her
ears) like this ( then patting her knees with her hands.)
I liked the colors on the walls. Some of them
were moving quickly and some moved slow!"
                                                                                                 Giuseppe: "I liked the man lit up."

Fran and I wondered how our children and families felt about the evening. It was bitter cold and there were so many people. The drumming was loud and frightened some children in the darkness. It was interesting to me to see illuminated figures appearing among the crowd. Some buildings were lit up and children were exploring their shadows there. Sacred Heart Cathedral came alive as projected images of colored bubbles moved up its outer walls. It is interesting how those things that caused  fearful reactions were the most celebrated in retrospect! 

We would like to invite you to share your thoughts about our InLight excursion. What was your experience at InLight?  What was your child's?  Did this classroom trip change how you view our city of Richmond?  Please comment and let us know.