The teachers shared their project-related pictures through Google Drive and Google Photos. During our first ZenLive virtual meeting, they referred to these as they shared their planning, their process and their observations. What emerged is that they had created a structured process in which they chose activities and planned their sequence to move towards a common pre-determined final production, i.e. a Kandinsky-circle fall tree. Within this process, they observed the children, interacted with them, provided materials and resources needed. They were sensitive to the children’s reactions and interests and responded by adjusting the process as well as the goal they had set.
The seed of the next step in our team’s discussion and learning process was provided by Natalie’s use of an “Exploration table” on which she presented a variety of round-shaped materials and Christiane’s “Observation table” table on which she presented a variety of natural materials. Those two tables came from two different perspectives and intentions.
Natalie's Exploration Table
Christiane's Observation Table
In Natalies’s words:
"I put it out there, and thought ‘Let’s see what happens’. I’ll just change it. Have them create some kind of images with shapes. They have had experience before [with art work that is ephemeral]. It’s really hard for them [not to keep their creation]. But they’re so good. They just create, have fun, and if they want me to take a picture, I can take a picture and put in their portfolio binder. But [I tell them] ‘Don’t make it permanent’. And they do that. They respect that. And they respect putting everything back in its own place. It’s kind of fun actually [that they enjoy sorting things back into their containers]. Usually this is my plasticine/play dough table, but I’m looking forward to changing it up and see what else they can create with the stuff I’m just going to put there: my Exploration Table."
Natalie compares it to building sand castles on the beach.
“You create and play, and the next day it’s no longer there so you can start over again.”
Christiane’s intentions with the natural materials were quite different. As she explains it, to pique the children’s interest, she typically hides materials in a bag, tells them she discovered something and asks whether they would like to see what she found. In this instance, she had collected a variety of bark samples. She engaged a discussion during which she drew their attention to their properties: lines, colour, textures, etc. These and other natural materials were then left on the table for the children to observe more closely during their art creation. So when they painted, they tried to recreate the texture of a tree. As a result she observed the children attempting to recreate the lines on the barks in a variety of ways and with different size paintbrushes.
|Natalie’s Exploration Table highlighted the potential of free play/exploration with materials; |
Christiane’s Observation Table provided natural materials which served as models to inspire art work.
As we discussed these two approaches the teachers had intuitively implemented, they reflected deeply on their practice and articulated a number of key insights:
1. Their project was still too focused on the creation of a final product. As a result, learning steps had been chosen and scaffolded to enable attaining the product end-goal.
2. Children’s play in their classes is mostly outcome based. Many children have become helpless when faced with exploration play: they await instructions on what to do. They have been trained to produce rather than explore and tinker.
3. When children explore freely, they make non-permanent creations. There are no mistakes in this type of free exploration. They become engrossed, involved, and they enjoy it. They want to go back, re-create, add-on or copy what someone else did. It gives them opportunity to go back, try again, make no mistakes and just have fun, which is how children learn!
4. Rather than guiding the activities to an “artificial” outcome (i.e. draw/paint a tree with Kandinsky circles), they could have provided a variety of materials to let the children explore in an open-ended setting over several days. Then art could have been a way for the children to communicate their ideas not just making pretty pictures or demonstrating art techniques. Art can become one of the languages of children’s expression.