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

 

 

 

Kickin’ it old school

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.

crocheting a long line of stitches
crocheting a long line of stitches
Focus + fine motor = fabulous
Focus + fine motor = fabulous
Eiffel Tower string game
Eiffel Tower string game
Fine motor development, the way our great grandmothers did it!
Fine motor development, the way our great grandmothers did it!