Parallel play teaching

I drew today… well, it was a collage really, (but it could have been drawing if that is what the children had been doing when I arrived at their table) and I wished afterwards that I could have  recorded it , because I think that the value of a teacher creating art alongside children is that one can scaffold their learning dispositions (rather than their learning content) by how one models and shares one’s thinking processes.

I have watched teachers who can do a quick cartoon of a dog or some such, Disney style… and they are just doing a party trick which they have practised… they are not modelling creativity, playfulness, problem solving, or resourcefulness or self talk or any such stuff. They are just performing, entertaining. I don’t like this style of drawing in front of children. It definitely suggests there is a right way. And apparently this is supposed to be the biggest hazard  of drawing in front of children: should we therefore not sing, dance, garden, write, cook, sew, go on the trampolines, read, etc  in front of children? Should we not do any activity that requires a modicum of creativity and decision making? I don’t agree but I do believe that the WAY you do something in front of a child will powerfully influence the degree to which you empower or disempower children’s learning dispositions.

If you had been a fly on the wall that morning in this kindergarten, you might have heard any number of sentences from me like the following..it began as follows…and of course there were pauses and other conversations and other people’s voices, but hopefully you will get the idea!

“Oooh, I like what you have done with the little squares. I want to try that.. how did you make them curve? (tries it)Oh look, they are a different colour on the other side…I thought I had a pattern but I didn’t…

What could I use for eyes? Hmm, maybe not that..  that doesn’t do what I want, and it’s hard to cut…oh look,. I could cut circles out of this crepe paper.. where are the scissors? You are having trouble with those scissors? Try another pair ! sometimes it’s the scissors, not you , that are the problem…. some scissors are rubbish!

I need a mouth… what did you use? Oh look I can move it and here it looks like she is a bit crazy, and here it makes her look happy… or even upside down!! Now she looks pretty sad about something! I’ll put it so she is smiling! ”

Oh, her head is so big, there’ s not much room for her body. Rats. Maybe I could do a different mouth, higher up… ? or move her neck?

Now something thin for arms? Hmm,  sticks, straws? Maybe straws, maybe I should fix the other sellotape holder so we can both reach it… there we go…

Now fingers.. little bits of pink wool! oh but they don’t stay where I want them… wait! I could use a glue stick.. oh, you don’t have any? Do you know where I can find some? Right, I’m back.that’s better..now they stay in place and THEN I can stick them down properly with sellotape..

Oh lordy, she needs clothes.. what, you think she looks like a witch?  Oh because of her big round scary eyes? You’re going to make a scary witch? (children are coming and going) I’d like to see how you make your witch  look scary… they have warts on their noses? oh, yes, there’s the witch in “Room on the broom”, isn’t there? does she have a wart on her nose? Well, mine is a happy witch.. see, she has a feather in her hat… (sings yankee doodle) I wonder what colour I should  make her hair.. what colour do you call  your hair, Charlotte? Red…maybe this crayon? do you think this crayon looks close to your hair colour? Maybe I should add a little brown? I think I ‘ll make the ends a bit curly so it looks more like hair… yes, you do have curly hair, Martha… maybe I mean ‘wavy’?… yes, that sounds better/ more like what I mean ..wavy.. yes, that looks good… I like that!

Back to the eyes… see how, if you look in my eyes, there is a big round part? And in the middle is a little black circle? I think my eyes look scary cos they don’t have the middle bit.. the pupil… (cuts two tiny paper pupils and tries them out in different positions.. surprised, eye rolling dismissal, looking left , looking right, looking catatonic.. looking angry) … I think this position makes her look friendly… there we go.. now  a dress.. oh, she could have an orange dress to match her fiery coloured hair.. I’ll scrumple it so that it looks more like cloth.. oh nice.. and I’ll scrumple the waist so it’s a skirt… oh now she needs boots! Dancing boots!! She is getting happier and happier.. how do you make boots… that looks weird… what do boots look like? Maybe I will draw it first and then cut it out… I’ll draw it on the back… oh, that’s better! Nice green dancing boots…

What! Your scary witch is threatening mine? Because I haven’t got a broom stick? You’ve got a red broomstick.. and what’s that yellow part on your picture?…. A wand!! Oh lordy.. a wand..I don’t have one!  What!? You’re turning me into a frog! No, I’m a happy go lucky witch… I don’t want to be a frog.. you’re going to change me back? What, now I’m a kangaroo? (Starts to sing, because the words  have a very bouncy rhythm)

 

I’m a  happy go lucky kangaroo                                                                                                                                             I eat frogs                                                                                                                                                                              Why don’t you?

I used to be a witch,                                                                                                                                                                  I’m not anymore                                                                                                                                                            Someone mean came to the door                                                                                                                                     She waved her wand   (what rhymes with wand? Pond! Oh thank you that’s good)                                                  And threw me in the pond                                                                                                                                                And I’m not a happy go lucky witch any more!

 

So what did I do in fact? I like to think that I succeeded in being non-didactic and that I modeled some of the vast potential of the various materials, that I modeled ways to talk to oneself while being creative, that I indicated that I thoroughly valued and respected their way of working because basically I was being rather child-like and playful and whimsical and sanguine myself. I hope I strongly modeled that there is no ‘right way’.

One of the books which they read to the children at this kindergarten also reinforces and affirms the concept of ‘no right way’ and that book is called ‘If Picasso painted a snowman”. Well worth a look.

This next post is about how children learn and it refers to two very different methods of research, both of which came up with the same answer, which is that “direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning”. Check it out. One of them is the work of Alison Gopnik, whose research is repeatedly stunning, It seems to affirm that what I was doing was probably pedagogically going along the right tracks. “Wow! look at this,  I wonder what this does?” When a teacher acts clueless, full of wonder and curiosity and a bit like a fellow child,  the children are much more likely to respond with intelligent, thoughtful, playful explorations of discovery on their own.

And here to the right, is that clueless playful adult, who had a really good time, and really likes her batty witch!

Nikau palms…what can you do with them? A rich resource indeed!

What indeed? Cots. caves, guitars, masks, funnels, trolleys, roofs, art…. a long list. So here they are! First some images and then some

An interior of the Nikau Palm Grove at Kohaihai – Kahurangi National Park, West Coast, New Zealand

 

creations

 

 

 

 

 

.So there they are … glorious and lush and frequently dropping these magnificent bowls.

And Maori used them for medicine but especially for roofing. I was going to have a  nikau  roof for my first  house and I received lessons from marvellous women in Kennedy Bay. The fronds have a pleated groove down the centre like a little drain, so if you place them the right way up, once woven, they naturally guide any water down off the roof. Check out this website for more details of building strategies.http://www.mangatowai.maori.nz/WharenikauA.html

 

Some young people doing the Duke  of Edinburgh award  followed a similar principle to make this beautiful roof.

http://cuehaven.com/2014/02/03/duke-of-edinburghs-hillary-award-grove-hut/

 

It did not endure the weather because they did not do what the Maori people did, which is to create the delicious patterns that you see from the inside underneath and then stack heaps more fronds on top,,,and replace them annually or so. It makes it look rather scruffy but then it works and it is still beautiful from underneath.  See the other link above.

What else can you make? this woman learned how to weave table decorations and hangi covers and got to learn how to make fire and all sorts on a wonderful day in Pakuranga.

http://annasfoodsafari.blogspot.co.nz/2011/06/closer-to-home.html

But then there are the true and whacky artists like Julian Rosenberg who creates gorgeous and functional musical instruments using the dried nikau bowl as the sounding chamber. They are all different shapes and they all play beautifully.

http://www.moehaumusic.info/links-to-other-artistsmusic-supplies-and-audio-engineers.html

And James Harcourt who creates masks out of the nikau frond and does delicious artwork on them. This is his website link.

http://www.jamesharcourt.co.nz/nikau-masks.html

 

or you can simply paint on them….or make a bronze art work out of the shape….

And then there are my ideas!!  A cradle, a cave, a home, a bowl, a go kart, a funnel…. and there are no doubt many more! You will see one drying upside down on my stove because it rained and when I finally decided to take photos, it had reverted in shape somewhat. You have to wedge them open while they dry and once dried, they hold their shape with vigorous determination! The cave I cut part of the front away… dead easy while damp, very hard when dry… much more brittle. Good luck.

 

 

Geometry concepts evolve into the story of The Squabbling Leaves.

I went for  a walk and was musing on the possibilities of various plants that I could take with me for a one day relieving opportunity. Building houses with  strips of gum bark found yesterday while lying under the trees’ leafy shade, and then huge dried karaka  leaves. Looking at different leaves and possible ways to use them. My focus shifted to the fact that they have ERO visiting and want me to incorporate  maths into my mattimes and impress the inspectors.

Then thinking of the geometrical shapes of houses… teepees, yurts, castles, mansions, caves and so on. And the language for the shapes and started thinking about all the different shapes, and then textures, and then sizes of leaves. Curved,  pointed, round, triangular, square, thin, wide,  large and small, wrinkly, shiny…. so  many wonderful descriptive adjectives. Another inadvertent language outcome.

 

 

It became obvious that just talking about shapes would be a whole lot less engaging than if I could weave the geometry and attributes of the different leaves into a story.I picked some and as I walked home a story evolved!   And here it is:  The squabble of the leaves….

I was also thinking about some key qualities that good children’s stories often have… repetition, rhythm, rhyme, including experiences, events, objects that are meaningful to the children/child, giving space for memory and imagination,using voice and gesture.  And through the process of walking and dreaming and considering, I came up with a story. I wondered about the 100 day challenge and whether I should give myself that discipline so that I get better at it!

The mother returns for her baby……
The baby fairy surrounded by the competitive leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this might be a story for a group of children who are very competitive and lack a sense of community. One could tell it more than once and one could also do the same thing with flowers… some have scent, some have medicinal qualiities and some have longlasting qualities, others have colour for dying fabric, and others become vegetables. Many varied virtues… each different, each valid. A simple message, a powerful message!

 

Here  is a wonderful imaginative story somebody wrote about the evolutionary adaptation of the pitcher plant, complete with repetitive refrain!

 http://www.itellyouastory.com/fairy-tales-fables/fable-fairy-tales/1317-wonderful-pitcher-plant.html 

pitcher plant Rather well

Loose parts in story telling

Today I had the pleasure of one day’s work in a distant kindergarten. Story telling is rapidly becoming mydefault setting and I decided, since it was wet and uninspired but we were sheltered outside around a big table, to record the vignettes and stories which the children volunteered as I got to know them.  I drew and then wrote about one girl and her absent brother and their  matching raincoats, then about a scarecrow made by another boy at his church out of a spoon and an iceblock stick which he brought to share at  mat time, about how one girl was going to go to Hawaii and swim with the dolphins, learn to surf and eat a coconut! Such diversity and colour and range! Soon they were writing their own books, adding illustrations and then dictating the words for me to write.

A story about one girl’s mother who disappeared into a ‘pink mole’ for three repetitive pages ( she drew her in pink, and then surrounded  her in pink and disappeared her. I was relieved when she emerged, albeit with a broken foot and needing support from her daughter! Another wrote about a monster who ruined a party by throwing all the cupcakes up into a tree.  One book was all spots, page after page, but getting less and less………’as she got tireder and tireder and tireder’. To my surprise on the last page was a picture of a very  happy large person. And the girl dictated to me… ‘and so she had a spot of something to eat and was happy and not tired any more’. What a great sense of word play! Or maybe she was unaware of it?

I learnt every child’s name, was supported by the children to get them right and learn more about them and be introduced . The boys came later but once they saw what was up, they were into it as well. ‘This is a zoo, and here is a burglar, He wants to steal the laser light from off the sleeping elephant’s trunk, but the dog barked and the elephant woke up and the burglar fell off the zoo and smashed his head’.

I read the whole book to them at the end of the day and had their complete attention as they listened to a record of their whole rich and diverse community and looked at pictures they had drawn or helped me to draw. I left the book there for them, so I have no photos to share. I have never done this before quite this way but it was wonderful to have a sense of really meeting each child in their own context, occasionally having to explain what I was doing and asking if they could clarify what their play involved  so that I could write it down, but mostly just taking what was volunteered and recording it, or simply recording what I observed.

Again, I am struck by how storytelling makes use of the theory of loose parts as much as play does. When the children have free range in their minds and memories of everything that they have ever imagined, heard, seen  or read about, they are at complete liberty to assemble characters, props and landscapes in whatever way they like and the results are , as usual, creative, playful and delicious. I wish I had made a photo copy. One could even enlarge it and make it into a re-visitable document. I wrote it but it was very definitely ‘their’ book.