As I start each day by opening up the Art Cottage, removing plastic tarps and uncovering the sensory table, I frequently experience a feeling of apprehension. The feeling comes from fear that I won’t have it right. Fear that the materials or activities I have chosen will not appeal to the children. There will be nothing that sparks their curiosity or sense of wonder. It will all fall flat. A total fail.
Well, it is usually not that much of a fiasco! There will always be an activity that appeals to certain children. The Mud Kitchen or Science Lab will usually draw a crowd.
The challenge is to stimulate an ongoing investigation. An investigation that becomes real learning experience filled with the children’s enthusiasm, ideas and theories. Such was our Black & White Investigation that took place two years ago. (The culminating project, “Gray Clouds in a Rainy Sky” can be seen inside the Art Cottage.) This was a project truly led by the children and their ideas.
We are now working on the Monarch Project. This project involves reflecting on our own experiences when we welcomed monarch butterflies to the Garden Classroom, and how to commemorate that wonderful event.
So far, our investigation has been interesting and captivating for several groups of children. We started a collection of art representing the life cycle of the monarchs (using paint specially mixed to create a “monarch palette”) and we are starting to get some ideas about what kind of home monarchs prefer and where they reside: not “facts,” but real creative, inventive type of information that involves some critical thinking. For instance, my friend Colton shared with me that a monarch lives “Up in the sky, flying so high!”
So here is the challenge. And, my unexpected delight!
I want to involve our wonderful and exuberant 2 year old “Trannies” (Transition Class) in a way that is authentic, where the children make a real contribution, and not just a token representation. The challenge is representing their curiosity and intellect in an innovative manner that doesn’t necessarily depend on language or representational art.
Last week, after careful consideration, I presented some materials to our youngest naturalists. Using a large mirror as a base, I added some flubber (school glue mixed with an equal amount of liquid starch) and my collection of plastic monarch models, some books on butterflies and other elements to make it beautiful and enticing.
It didn’t fail to attract. The first group of children focused on the flubber and interacted with it in the expected manner by stretching it. Then, one child, and then another, started pressing the butterflies and caterpillars into the flubber. They noticed the impressions left by the models and reacted with absolute delight! Several children took photos using their classroom cameras.
Then something totally unexpected happened. Miles brought over a metal set of tongs from the science table where it was being used to pick up corks and other floating objects in the water.
I was thrilled to see him use the tongs to pick up a butterfly and proceeded to lift it up as high as he could reach and made the monarch “fly.” This was an authentic representation of this young student’s understanding about butterflies and their locomotion.
As others joined him with their own sets of tongs, I joined in on their laughter and delight as butterflies (and even a caterpillar!) flew all around me.
I finished the day feeling very satisfied. This was a day where curiosity, creativity and wonder fueled the imagination and inspired me for what steps to take next. Certainly, success and not failure!