No Drama

We are lucky enough to have an education researcher who visits our classroom once a week to give us feedback on our work and to help us collect documentation.  This week, as we were debriefing, he looked quizzically at me and remarked… “hey, I’ve noticed you don’t have a dramatic play centre any more.”  It’s true – we don’t.  We haven’t for a few weeks and I’m pretty sure that last year we stopped having one at around the same time of year.  Here’s why: we don’t need one.

I’ve started each of the past three years with some kind of dramatic play area – often a play kitchen – set up in the classroom.  We’ve allowed this to morph into other things: a pet store, a forest, a doctor’s office, a fire hall, a camp site, etc… using input from the students and donations from their families.

It serves a purpose at the beginning of the year; it’s a good bridge for those who have been in child care and it helps them all to feel secure, having a centre where they know for certain what they’re supposed to do.  Role play in familiar roles like mother, father, doctor, and nurse is a type of play that most children have encountered before coming to school either at home or in child care.  But… it really loses its purpose after a while and it seems to create behaviour problems as students move the materials from that centre all over the room, requiring reminders to return it all at the end of the play block.

What I’ve noticed is that over time, the whole room becomes a dramatic play centre.  To quote my amazing ECE “wherever they are, they have dramatic play – they make every centre a dramatic centre.”  Here is a snapshot of what was happening during one five-minute period this morning.

Some are kids are playing cats, others are playing butterfly tag on the carpet – waving their arms the way we practiced at the dance studio, tagging each other and giggling uproariously.

girls playing butterfly tag on the carpet

Three children are playing banana car (a car that brings bananas) in the block area. “LG: Madame, we made a banana car and TN and BQ are on the banana car!”  Next to them, two girls are building a house and playing inside it. The kids from the banana car approach. “LG: Pretend it’s a babies dance show – it’s time for baby’s dance show… get on the train.”  They get back on their banana car.

One of the girls in the block house says “this is the baby’s house so everyone step back” and the kids from the banana car join in the house play.

FN and SN are playing doctor in the library and several boys are playing doctor’s office inside the cube.

one girl using a toy otoscope to look in another girl's ear

The marble run also has dramatic play components as the children seem to imagine themselves as the marble, moving with it as it goes down the run and celebrating its descent as though they are the ones who have run a race.

boys playing with wooden marble run

This is in five minutes! Five minutes!

We just don’t need a dramatic play centre any more; it can’t be contained in one space.  The drama is nowhere because it is everywhere!

Bejewelled Creations

One of my favourite things about the Reggio Emilia approach is its focus on the Arts as valuable languages of expression for children and adults.  Whereas in traditional schooling, we tend to treat the arts, at best, as a nice but unnecessary frill, something we can relegate to Friday afternoons when children are at their worst and can’t handle any ‘serious work’ – the hidden curriculum being that we don’t think Art is hard work, we don’t validate it as a career path, and we don’t value what it teaches us – all well-intentioned, I’m sure.  But is it true?  Ken Robinson, and many others (Maxine Greene comes to mind), would disagree.

sculpture made with plasticine, beads, wire, and little gold roses

I always have lingering in the back of my head that developing good fine motor skills are a critical part of the kindergarten experience.  Partly, this is because of all of the conversations I’ve had with teachers that have centrered on the misconception that the only way to teach fine-motor skills is by using worksheets (colouring, cutting).  But there’s another, more personal reason.  When my eldest child was recovering from surgery he had as an infant, I sat beside him as he slept and marvelled at how small the sutures were (the things you fixate on when you’re exhausted).  They were impossibly small.  How could anyone have such precise fine motor skills?  And what am I doing in these early years to make sure that children have the fine motor skills they need to pursue any career they want – even pediatric surgery?

child's hands manipulating a bead with sculpture in the foreground

The arts are one of my solutions.

There is more fine motor development in making a sculpture than there could ever be in a worksheet.

triangular sculpture with two bases and patterning of the beads between the bases

This week we’ve returned to a favourite activity – beading – but with a twist.  A parent donated thicker, heavier wire than we’ve had in the past and they were able to create 3-D sculptures using plasticine as a base.  It has presented many challenges.  Stringing the small beads and buttons onto the wire after struggling to pick them up, bending the wire, and manipulating the harder plasticine.  We’ve also noted that they’ve had to think about the structural integrity of their sculptures and have tried a variety of strategies to get them to stand on their own.   There’s also been lots of learning demonstrated in patterning and measurement.

They’ve had a blast working with these new and familiar materials and their creations are just beautiful.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

wire sculptures displayed on a shelf

 

 

 

An awesome boy

Let me tell you about my friend LB.

LB is one of those kids that you follow around sometimes because, often, when he chooses to do something, it’s something worth noticing.

LB is curious and creative.  He is also verbal and physical – when he’s upset you know it and when he’s happy he lights up a room.

When LB arrived at school last year he rarely put pencil to paper.  In fact, I documented the few times he produced something on paper last year because it was so rare.  He had very little interest in drawing but was intrigued by the properties of the material… what can you do with paint? How does it feel?

Here is one of those rare moments from LB’s first year at school.

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And now… now as I prepare for the melancholy and bittersweet task of saying goodbye to the children I have been with for two years… just look at how far he’s come.  The detail, the imagination, the self-expression.  I’m in awe.

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Chairs: An open-ended material.

All last year, the only thing the children ever made out of chairs were forts or houses.  They would gather the chairs into a circle, drape a piece of cloth over the backs of the chairs, attach the cloth to the chairs with clips, and play underneath, snug as bugs in a rug.  This year, however, the chairs have taken on an entirely different dimension in our classroom.  They are used as stages, buildings, and most strikingly for me, as vehicles.  One of their favourite things to do, particularly the boys, is to create a vehicle using two chairs, using the legs of the chair in front of them as controls and shifters (interesting in an era when most of us drive automatic transmission cars).  On Friday, following a fire drill, we had three separate fire stations on the go, complete with captains, walkie talkies, hoses, and lots of very noisy fire trucks.  I wonder… do other children use chairs this way?  How are chairs being used in your classes?fire trucks

Observational Drawings… les lilas

This weekend the lilacs bloomed. My own small daughter, while walking past them, poetically named them “blueberry daffodils” which, in my totally biased opinion, was very apt. This morning, the children began observational drawings of some lilac blooms I collected on my way to school. We’ve been noticing, in several contexts, how much stronger their observational skills have become over the course of the year. It was interesting to observe how differently, and how much like themselves, they draw. Some have little patience for details while others are extremely detail oriented and spend a long time perfecting their drawings. Others create several drafts before settling on one they like.  Others still use the initial stimuli (the flowers) as a jumping off point for something else entirely. AC used it to help her draw a flower print wedding dress.  We observed the children giving each other feedback about how true-to-life their drawings were.  Should you put a sun in your drawing when there isn’t a sun in the classroom?

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