Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Children as Photographers and Documentors

Caroline:  I was making a house with a dance floor on the top. The bottom floor has a kitchen, living room and bedroom. I was thinking that it would be a good house for the bears. I had problems with the boys because they were taking down my structure I fixed it back it back but I felt disappointed with them I didn't know where they were so I couldn't talk to them. You need to keep the magna tiles balanced when you are making it. If someone takes a tile then the whole thing knocks down. My favorite thing to build with is manga tiles.

We ask the children to use the tablet to document their work, ideas and the process of their working during morning and afternoon experiences. As we sit and review the pictures at the end of the day, we find the perspective of the photographer intriguing. Framing is a big piece of capturing a moment with a camera. What is intriquing to the photographer?

"The photographers problem is a simple one: what shall he include, what shall he reject? The line of decision between in and out is the picture's edge." The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski

I Wanna Take Me a Picture by Wendy Ewald shares her experiences as a photographer working with children all over the world.

"When two people tell stories about the same event, what they remember and choose to tell is different."

"Framing is perhaps the most difficult and important lesson in teaching photography. As Westerners, we are used to seeing our world framed by devices such as televisions and computer screens, and, of course, picture frames. Yet we rarely think about how our way of experiencing the world has been constricted by these ubiquitous rectangles."

Please note that all pictures were taken by the children. However, each child choose a photograph (that they may or may not have taken) to explain their own work with the material.

Zack: You are suppose to do the red first. It makes it harder.
Cal: Yeah you have to figure out where the yellow goes. It easier to start with the yellow but we like making it harder. It is a math puzzle because there are shapes. Random and cool shapes like a diamond, square and a para something (parallelogram)

Samuel: I like  riding the bike when I first get to school because sometimes I am really tired and when I am really tired I wake up. It makes me feel like I am riding my real bike and that is one of my favorite things to do.

Eve: I built the fairy house and Annabel came over and helped build it and then we both decided to come over and build a little town close to it. We used blue pebble for the lake and things that looked like glass for the water. We used colors that are pretty colors. There is a garden with grass and a path with blocks. We used pine cones that looked like roses. I try to make it look like real life. I think about all different houses and then I make them. I was trying to make it look like my best friends house because it has an upstairs and a downstairs.

Lorelai: We were making a house. I made a gate at the front door. and then you go up the ramp into the front room with some furniture. There is a basement too. It was kinda hard to use the materials because sometimes it would not work and then other times it would.  Sometimes they would not stick on to each other. 

Charlie; I made a tunnel house. We wanted to make them longer and one for Scarlett. We wanted the tunnel house to have a curve. Scarlett was a puppy and I was a baby kitten. It took like an hour to make it and I did not want to take it down. We built a slide  out of it. We slid out of our house.

Scarlett: We played in it. We did not have owners but we were friends. It was hard to take it down. It was sad. We would leave our house and play in the field.

Julia: Well first I just got a pattern. I started at the bottom and then went to the top but on the second I started on the top of the pattern and went down. It was hard to decide which card to do because there were so many. It was also hard to find the right color because they were on top of each other. Patterns are when you keep doing the same colors in the same order all over again..

Penelope: What I did here was I tried to sound out each letter of the  picture of the pen and pig. I was trying to match each letter that I did with  a "p". When we were in circle Mary said that we need two blues and one red. We were making a letter pattern. It was really hard to figure out the last letter.

Bryce: I did these materials too. I sounded out the word pen and that is how I did this. I knew that pen started with the letter "p". I figured out the second letter the same way I did the first.  You have to find the letter after you sound the letter out. They are lower case letters.

Annabel: I was trying to make a house but it kept falling so I asked for some clips and then my house was stable. I like to make these houses because they are fun to go inside. I make a bed inside my house and I lie down on my bed. I make the houses wide and not skinny. Sometimes if it is too skinny you can't go inside of it. It is touch to make the fabric stay there and clip it on.

Avery: I made the cat and took the picture. The cat is made out of shapes like triangles, rectangles, diamonds, .
Kenny: I made a sailboat. I started with an ocean and then I made the sailboat. I think it is best if you make something  that is real because no one else would know what it is if it is not real. I can make snakes.  I noticed that they were different colors and all the same shapes are the same colors. There are triangles, squares and diamonds.

Zoey: I took this picture after I made it. This is a meteor heading to Earth. It is after the dinosaurs died. It would break everything down except for the baby dinosaur. They gave birth which then they gave birth and it kept going on. We are suppose to take a picture of our work but I did not get it that well because I didn't get the whole meteor passage like it went so fast that it is still there in the sky.

Shayna: This is a funny person because it has triangle legs and a diamond in the middle.  And a really funny shaped head. It has a blue diamond in the middle of its stomach and two diamonds on the bottom. I made some people with Charlie and Lorelai. It is a challenge to put them into a shape because they are in shapes already and then you have to put them in a different shape. We just started and it looked like a person so we made it more.

Sydney and Kate: We make one hundred houses. Fairies live in these houses.
Sometimes they will go outside to steal money but sometimes they go to little or big beds. If the lights are on the little fairies glow up to the sky. Syd makes the perfect house for them. Sometimes when we make the doors so they can go outside and squeeze through the door. They play in the gardens and they play in the grass and pick the flowers. They use goo to play and necklaces that attach.  They always have birthday parties. They play and play and they never go to bed. On their birthday they sleep through their birthday celebration. 

Delving Deeper into Metaphor

Shayna: I am really active at night but I can't fall asleep at night so I would rather be nocturnal. I would like to fly. I am falling and getting ready to catch a branch . So the sun is at the top of the paper. 

After the death of the baby squirrels, the children often considered the feelings and thinking of the babies and their family.  They seemed to easily embody these animals and imagine what life was like as a squirrel living in our garden. 

The next few quotes originate from the book I have been referring to recently called A Country Called Childhood  by Jay Griffiths.

"Playing different roles by pretending to be different animals, children are nurturing their own animated selves. They are also practicing  the realization that there are other minds."

We have been thinking about metaphor and the innate ability of  children  to consider the similarities that exit between two unrelated things. They are able to access language in a poetic way that accurately defines the  relationship.

Why the allure of a metaphor?

"Metaphors are prowling round the mind. Wanting to be free of the prosaic single-reference of factual speech and wanting the sheer adventure, the glee of the unfenced world of metaphor, where things are set free of their single meanings, to fly like birds, to skiff like a water boatman."

Why  do children have such an aptitude for metaphors?

"When meeting something new children carry its meaning across from something they already know."

The Provocation

We asked the children to think of a problem that they currently experience. What animal might you become to help you solve this problem or "bump".

 Kate: I would be a butterfly because they are so beautiful and they fly. I like to fly better than walking. Plus my sister always has to make all of the rules and I would just make my own butterfly rules.   Kate the Butterfly soars over Nada's car. Zack: You have to be a caterpillar first Kate and live in a cocoon.

Samuel: I always want to go to Fox and play on the playground but it is locked. If I was a cat I could climb the fence and jump over and play. 

Cal: I am a wildcat and can jump really high and catch some wind.

Bryce: I am a werewolf. I would howl so I could not hear my sister scream and I would scare her when she was screaming at me. But I sorta don't want to be werewolf because they are bald.

Syd: I am a unicorn. I can fly because they have wings. I don't like it when my dad drives to school and I have to listen to my Dad's music and just stare at a seat. If  I could fly to school and land at McDonalds I would land and eat.

Caroline: I am a dolphin and I just swim all day. I wouldn't have to go to school and wear clothes. I would just play with my friends.

Avery: Bats don't have to go to bed and they don't have to get dressed in the morning. I would happy as a bat.

Eve: I would like to be a cat because they can twist their legs and land on their feet. I would never fall if I was a cat. They can jump really high and run really fast.

Charlie: One time I saw a cat video and a cat slid under the cat door. I would like to do that. When I climb trees I don't have to use branches.  I would use claws.

Kenny: I would be a spider because I could spin a big web and capture bees. I was stung by two bees this year.  (perhaps some revenge)
Annabel: You could suck their blood.
Kenny: Spiders dont suck blood they such the insides out of the insects. 

Julia: I don't like to pick up my room. If I had tentacles it would be easy to pick up my room.

Zoey: Yeah but if you had tentacles all your stuff would stick to the suction cups and your mom would have to pull it off.

Later Julia said: If I was an octopus I could use my suction cups to climb up our refrigerator and eat the cookies at the top of the refrigerator.

Zack: I would be a black bat and I would fly and be awake at night and eat flies unless I was a fruit bat. I could hang upside down from the top of trees.  I have a hard time going to sleep

Scarlett: I am a dragon and I would swish my tail and whoosh down on my enemies. I would always be safe.

Zoey: I want to be a kitty. I like to cuddle and I could just rub myself whenever I want. I would be cute, defenseless and fuzzy and soft. 

Penelope: Dolphins jump and drink and swim and eat. They go in the sea and never go to school or wear clothes. This would be great to be a dolphin.

Annabel: I want to fly up into the clouds. I don't like to walk because it is so tiring. I would play in the clouds. I would want to be either a falcon or a bald eagle.

Lorelai: I could run faster than I run now and get things that I want to eat. I can't eat when I want to now.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thinking in Metaphor

Vea Vecchi was one of the first atelierista's appointed to the Reggio Emilia schools in the 1970's.

In my very humble opinion, Vea is a poet, philosopher and a visionary.  When I attended a conference in Portland, Oregon Vea spoke regarding the power of thinking  in metaphor. A child's rich imagination often relies on symbol and representation. This inclination is a wellspring for the development of metaphor. This year I again had the pleasure of hearing Vea Vecchi talk in Italy and she stated the following: 
"A metaphor offers many layers of interpretation and does not require a certain explanation."
Thinking in metaphors is fueled by flexibility and creativity.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have had my nose stuck in a book entitled , A Country Called Childhood  by Jay Griffiths. Take a look at what he says about metaphor.

Children are musicians of thought:they transpose from the key of fact to the key of magic. How? Thought metaphor. Children understand metaphor instinctively--and this is a breathtaking idea. If they didn't imagine how difficult it would be to explain it to them. As it is, I know that you can put an empty Heinz baked bean tin on a rug with a child who has barely learned to speak and tell the child the rug is the sea and the bean tin is a boat and there it is in his mind. A boat carrying its cargo across to the other side, just as the word 'metaphor' itself does. as we've seen from meta, 'across' and phor, 'carry', There is a metaphor within the very word itself. 

 "Children understand metaphor instinctively." Wow!

 Children are  constantly assimilating new language and understandings and as they accommodate this learning to what they know they compare and contrast.  Metaphors occur at the intersection between the appearance and the essence of an object or experience. 

We embrace metaphor as we work with the many languages of the classroom------writing, sketching, painting, drama, building,clay.......

Cheri offered the following example of metaphoric thinking captured in the studio.

Cheri's gleanings:
Observational drawing is a daily practice that the children have learned to do with patient focus and increased confidence. It requires coming back, over and over again to the details of the items in view. They are encouraged to draw what they see, and not what they imagine. Being challenged to define the facts and temper their imagination can be exhausting for young children. Finding ways to make this critical practice fun, can be challenging for teachers. 
Following our many sessions of drawing a human pelvis and a turtle pelvis, photocopies allowed them the freedom to revisit their factual drawings with a different intention. They were encouraged to use their full imagination to create something completely divergent from their previous drawings.  Re-observing the detailed shapes from all angles, delighted them in the discovery of utter goofiness and provided a new magic to their diligence.

Each of these images began as an observational sketch of a human pelvis but they were reinvented

A monster      Kenny

                                                      A princess  Sidney

                                       a winged bug Zoey

                                                                      a turtle Avery

                           A bowl of ice cream Shayna

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Transformative Power of Animals

In a prior post we published the transcript of the children reacting to the discovery of two small squirrel babies that we found deceased in the garden after watching them play ten minutes earlier. It was a difficult afternoon but we unpacked the experience with our eighth grade reading buddies and then began a long process of trying to make sense of what we witnessed and also prepare for a ceremony to say goodbye.

I recently purchased a book entitled A Country Called Childhood Children and the Exuberant World written by Jay Griffiths. I recognize so much of what I read in the book as the truths I have been privileged to observe in early childhood. The author devotes one chapter to the primal connection young children have to animals.

Animals matter to children as companions, as consolers, as comprehenders. A child's psyche leans to the animal world and talk of children brought up by animals exert an uncanny fascination. Animals, though, are important to children in a further sense: they are guides to thought. They lead children to leaps of imagination. 

Wondering what a wasp is thinking or what a tree might feel in the wind is a part of the mind's development, practicing the quick spring of empathy. Children ascribe meaning, intent and emotion to animals. Faithful to  the anthropomorphism until they are ridiculed out of it, children nurture a relationship with the animal world  whereby they become party to extra sensitivities, to other stories and a diversity of viewpoints.

These truths about the relationship between children and animals required that we listen carefully to the thinking of the children and honor their intentions regarding the baby squirrels.

The children felt strongly that the squirrels should be buried in the garden where they lived. Shayna felt that we should bury them and place a marker so we would always know where to find the squirrels. Zoey shared that she wanted to  bury the squirrels with acorns and a blanket so they would be ready for their next life.. Kenny thought it might be a good idea to make a tombstone.

Collectively, the children felt it was important to make cards and express our feelings to the squirrels. As cards were created  in the school studio with Anna,  several Kindergartners  made crowns for the squirrels. Another group of children accompanied Pippin into the garden to look for the perfect location to bury the squirrels. When they returned to the classroom they reviewed the options and drew a map to document the possible locations.  

Pippin and his group led our class to consider the possibilities. We knew it was important that the site was quiet and private.

 As we were studying one of the locations, the Kindergartners realized that there were two empty shelves built into the brick wall. We felt that this would be an ideal space to place commemorative statues of the two baby squirrels.

Anna worked with a group of children to sculpt these statues using clay in the school studio. The sculptures are currently in the kiln and  will be unveiled at a later date.

We also had some big questions that continued to plaque us. The children wanted to understand  how the squirrels died. What made them fall from the tree? Were they dead before they fell or after they fell from the tree? Was another wild animal responsible for their death. Bryce expressed an interest in making a book to document his theory. Several children wanted to be involved in this process.

Shayna: When they were not looking the squirrels stepped one foot off the branch and they fell out of the tree, hit the ground, hit their heads and started bleeding.

Kenny: This is a picture of a snake chasing one of the squirrels. The snake caught the squirrel and bit the squirrels and they fell off.

Bryce: The squirrels fell out of the trees and then they were bit by fire ants and they died. Fire ants are something that bites you and it has fire in it and dies.

Caroline: The squirrels were playing the tree and then they fell down and they got up and saw a bunny. The bunny attacked them to eat them and then they died.

Shayna: The two squirrels were on either side of the tree. Two Kindergartens were also on either side of the tree raking leaves. I think that the Kindergartens accidentally raked the squirrels and that's how they died.

Kate: One side of the picture is the good side and the other side is the bad part. The squirrels are falling and the snake got them and he killed them because it has a rattlesnake.

Often when we are working in the Kindergarten studio, conversations unfold. In this particular conversation the  children discussed the concept of death. What happened to the squirrels after they died?

Sydney: They will come back alive.

Zach: The get buried under their grave stone.

Penelope: They come back alive again as a baby squirrel.

Zoey: Right after they die their should go up to heaven and they are still alive.

Zach : We still need to tell the family because their babies never came home.

Sydney: God takes them up to heaven. God is invisible and he is inside of us. He can break into little pieces.

This thinking provoked the idea that squirrels might need additional supplies as they move forward in their journey. Each morning Cheri is in the Kindergarten studio. Several children expressed their intention to  sew items for the squirrels to either comfort them in the grave or in their after life. Each child began with a pattern prior to sewing. 

Renditions of the squirrel babies were crafted and many soft and cozy pillows,too.

Beds and sleeping bags were made  to keep the squirrels comfortable and warm.

A few days prior to the Squirrel Ceremony we brought  the sewn items, the cards and the crowns to the children in circle. We shared several burial customs of  indigenous people as well as ancient civilizations. They seemed to favor several of the stories. One talked about a South American group of people who create effigies of their lost ones and keep it close as a remembrance of their life. It is very similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. 

We offered the option of finding a permanent home for the effigies of the two squirrels in the classroom as well as their sewn items of comfort. This generated many thoughts and reactions. 

We will publish the transcript of the conversation as well as the ceremony in our next post. 

This story is not finished. There are still so many feelings and deep thinking that continue to ebb and flow and seep out. Animals and the love they generate in children  have a transformative power.

Stay tuned........