All of this is a great forest. Inside the forest is the child. The forest is beautiful, fascinating, green, and full of hopes; there are no paths. Although it isn`t easy, we have to make our own paths, as teachers and children and families, in the forest. Sometimes we find ourselves together within the forest, sometimes we may get lost from each other, sometimes we’ll greet each other from far away across the forest; but its living together in this forest that is important. And this living together is not easy.
Early learning professionals, in their pursuit of the new—the innovative—too often overlook the traditions that inform the sector’s approach to pedagogy. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Spodek & Saracho (2003) remind us that only by building and understanding the past, can we come to understand the practices of the present and seek better…
Schoolyards aren’t often the best place to go exploring. Most of the excitement has been tamed out of them in the interest of safety. They are mowed, and raked, the equipment inspected and rules established. They are fun but they aren’t known for adventure. That’s why we take community walks, so that we can have those exciting experiences of not always knowing what’s around the corner. We can’t always leave the property, however, as community walks require extra adults.
Fortunately, there are often corners of wilderness left standing around the edges of the schoolyard, small areas where small people can feel like they are stepping into a great unknown, where the mowers don’t go and where the goldenrod grows higher than your head.
It all started because of our fascination with ice.
The puddles in the schoolyard have been icing over as the temperature dips below freezing each night.
The children have been fascinated by the sheets of thin ice that are floating on the surface each morning and take delight in smashing it, feeling it, and in spite of our best efforts, tasting it.
Once they’ve exhausted the supply of ice near the school, they go in search of more ice, in the smaller puddles in the field.
This quest lead them to the back of the field where the grass grows long and there is a patch of brush that probably resembles what the landscape looked like 50 years ago, before our school was built. The ground is squishy and soft and in places there is a lot of standing water. The children were undeterred and plunged into the brush. BU said: “This is a great adventure.”
We found frost on one side of the field and noticed that there wasn’t frost on the other side. We wondered why.
KN thought it was because it had snowed on one side but not on the other. AQ noticed that there was only frost where the sun wasn’t shining and she inferred that the frost had already melted on the sunny side of the field.
FN found grass and plants frozen into the ice.
We have also been having conversations about why some ice is clear and other ice is white, we have observed ice melting, and we have also tried painting with ice!
Today we started with a beautiful provocation in the art studio. Fall colours of paint, mixed with soap thank goodness, and a variety of fall harvest fruits and vegetables to print with. I demonstrated how to use the fruits and vegetables to print and how each one could be used several times before needing to be re-inked. The children were eager to get going and could barely contain their enthusiasm; this was the first time we’d put out paint this year!
They started using the materials and everything was predictable… at first.
And then things started to get interesting.
In the end, they decided to use their fingers to make prints and use the vegetables and fruit to scrape away the layers of paint. Several children went home more multi-coloured than they came to school. I should know better by now that there is always this experimentation phase when you introduce a new material. Children always need time to feel the material, to find out what it can do, and to play with it before they can use it as a medium of self-expression. One drop of paint at a time!
We are enamoured of technology in schools. SmartBoards, iPads, laptop programs, we love it all and we tend to latch on to it without much critical thinking about what we may be giving up in order to make time and space for all those screens. There is much to be gained, I’ll admit – heavens, I’m here writing a blog, on a laptop screen, something that didn’t exist when I started teaching. Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.
But… there’s also a lot that we loose. I have a SmartBoard for the first time this year and I can’t help but notice the way it magnetically attracts kids to it, like moths to a flame. Some children will quite happily stand staring at the big screen, even when they’re not involved in the activity we’re doing. They have to be encouraged to go and play, something that usually isn’t required. Screens are very engaging. They also have a certain anesthetic quality; I’ve noticed that children are sedated by them.
Over the years I’ve become interested in some of the practices of Waldorf Schools, particularly in their focus on handicrafts. I went to university with several Waldorf School graduates and they could knit from a ball of wool in their pockets while walking across the campus and carrying on a conversation. For Kindergarten students, I’m interested in how knitting, crocheting, and, this year, needlepoint, can help to develop fine motor skills while engaging them creatively. I’ve found that it’s a great outlet for their creativity and that we often also end up discussing math concepts of measurement, number sense, and shape.
Last year we had a year-long inquiry into textiles which included crocheting, knitting, and string games (which we learned by watching YouTube videos, ironically). This year we’ve started with needlepoint. It’s all abstract experimentation right now but perhaps soon children will start to use it more as a drawing medium.
The supplies have started to arrive; it’s like a big birthday party. We don’t often have new supplies arriving en masse in public education so when it happens we (and I’m referring to the adults here) get a little silly. I performed a memorable happy dance in the hallway; I may never live it down.
I’m always amazed by novelty and the impact it has on children (adults too) – you would think it would get old, but it really doesn’t. When our carpet first arrived, all the children, as a collective, lay down on the floor and rubbed their cheeks against the nubby surface. They just soaked it in, loving the feeling and enjoying the warmth after 2 weeks of sitting on cold tiles. Simple thing, big impact on our lives.
Another piece of equipment that arrived at the same time was an instant favourite, as it has been every year. This toy seems to lend itself to sophisticated mathematical thinking; the relationships between 2-D and 3-D shapes, which shapes tessellate well and which do not, how to use one shape to build another. All of these things I had anticipated because I’ve seen them before. What I’ve never seen is the impact of having so many of a material on the quality of children’s play. This year we ordered double the number of tiles. Just look at what they’ve been able to accomplish!
One of the best thing about having so many of these tiles is that while one group of students is using them on the light table, another group can be using them on the floor or on a table (or a couch in this case). That’s what BG was doing last week.
BG called me over to show me what he had made. He had used the equilateral triangles to create two hexagons which he had linked together, nearly making three hexagons. We discussed what he had made and I introduced the name of his new shape.
DW had been watching us as we had this conversation and came over to show me that he could use two triangles to make a square.
BG then tried to make a square using his triangles but came up with a diamond instead.
Why do some triangles make squares when you put them together while others don’t… what’s the difference? You can see in this photo that BG has completed his third hexagon.
The next day, I kept noticing more and more students using shapes (both tiles and wooden blocks) to make new shapes and experimenting with tessellation. I’m intrigued at how these ideas spread. DW was listening to my conversation with BG… did other students notice? Were they observing on the sidelines without me noticing or is there some other process at work here? This week we’re going to share these observations with the whole group – I’m excited to see where it goes from here!