Friday, September 25, 2015

Reaching Out: How Young Children Connect

How do young children connect? How do relationships form? We observe that all children want to connect with each other, and they go about it in nuanced ways, using eye contact, body language and, of course, a smile, to forge new friendships. It is the second full week of school and we are already seeing these children reach out to one another with joy.                                                                         

Without using words, these children shared strawberries, delighting in their communal play.

Laughter is a great connector.
Acts of compassion, even those from pretend play, foster positive emotions and strengthen bonds. Here the children are helping each other out of the "mud."

These children mirrored each other's actions for several minutes, becoming more engaged with each motion.

Finding connections fosters a sense of security and increases self confidence.

Stepping Back: Watching Children Solve a Problem

Uh oh. A ball got stuck in a bamboo pipe. How could we reach it? Of course the children's first idea was to come to a teacher, but I put on my best innocent, quizzical face and said, "Oh dear. It's stuck. Does anyone have any ideas for getting it out?"

Many children assured me they could help, but their hands were too big to fit in the pipe. They also tried to push it out with another ball, but that didn't work either. They could think of no other way to solve the problem. Since they were stumped, I suggested we write a note to another classroom of older children to ask for help. They wrote a note to the Garden Room.
Another ball did not push the stuck ball out.

It's really far down in there.

The Garden Room children were eating snack, but one child had an idea right away. "I know how to get it out! You need something smaller to stick in it. We could try my sword."
A Garden Room child pushes the ball out with his sword, while a Forest Room child watches.

After watching the Garden Room child carefully, this Forest Room child promptly came back to our classroom and stuck the ball back in the bamboo pipe. I watched as he started to put his hand in, then stopped. I could see him thinking. Was he remembering that his hand didn't work? He looked around the classroom and found a magnetic wand, which he used to push the ball out. He was so pleased with himself that he repeated the process many times.

Magnetic wand in hand, ready to pop the ball out.

How capable young children are! By not interfering, but only supporting, I was privileged to watch an older child help a younger one solve a problem, and watch the younger one apply this new knowledge in his classroom. We love these cross-age learning opportunities, and the constant ways children show us their thinking, if we only step back and allow them the time and space to do their work.

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!