Tag Archive | natural materials

Going Smaller – or Bigger

 

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What to do when one activity, which had been fueled by lots of imagination, cooperation and  enthusiasm becomes stagnant and uninspired, yet children still insist on “playing the game” or using the materials? I change the scale!

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We have a group of horse-crazy girls who have insisted on riding the hobby horses every day they are at school. EVERY DAY! They are the best of friends and love to gallop around the lower playground. They are happy and engaged with each other. Yet, the play was the same and there wasn’t any new ideas or problem solving. I invited them up to the Garden Classroom, but nothing really grabbed their attention. I got together with their teachers and we decided to gather the girls and have a meeting. We called this gathering, the “Horse Committee.” After drawing pictures, the committee members shared some interesting facts, such as…

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Horses eat hay, horses have manes, the farmer takes care of the horses, horses can be a boy or a girl and they live in a stable, and stables are made out of wood. Lesser known facts include, horses and mice are good friends.    

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Using this valuable information, I gathered up some materials and let the girls help me create a “small world” of horses.

We started with the materials I had on hand and continued to meet with the original group and others to find out what else is needed.

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One of the most important items had to be made. Air-dried clay was purchased and given to the committee to be made into small mice.

 

As time went on, other animals were added.  A “farmer girl” and her chicken were purchased and instructed to take “care of the horses.” The original “Horse Land” is now a farm and all animals are welcome.

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 I am still gathering information and adding materials. Soon, a stable will be built. Meanwhile, other children have enjoyed interacting with “The Farm” and adding their own bits of knowledge and experiences.

And the original “horse girls?” They will ride up to the back fence in the Garden Classroom, hitch their horses up, and visit to see what is new and play with their favorite horse.  We check in with each other on the progress we are making and see what materials are still needed. As you can see, this little committee had a great time together while expressing their knowledge and using their imaginations. They created a “small world” that expresses their passion and deepened their understanding of their trusted steeds!

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Meanwhile, I had a group of fort builders that started last year with Justin – then in the 3 Day program. He became an expert at pinning cloth together onto branches and loose parts such as tires. He taught this skill to others. The activity continued after he returned as a member of the 5 Day class. Others joined the team and took on different roles. Some built the main structure, using branches or tires, others pinned the clothes together, while others added different accessories such as pillow and books for reading.

Over the weeks, enthusiasm waned, and other activity centers such as writing and the Map Center were drawing a good portion of the “fort builders” away. (Typical for this time of year as the older boys start to show a greater interest in drawing and writing.)  The fort building became more of a solitary activity and I realized something needed to be done to extend the learning and fire up some social interactions.

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After refusing to bring out the cloths one day (YES I DID!) I invited my lone fort builder over to the rug, where lots of natural materials are available for building and one other child was already engaged. He stood there for a moment, and then I offered him some cloths – smaller- but similar to what he had been using before and his eyes lit up. He knew “the language” of cloth and set to work. Same as before, just a smaller scale. The advantage of this new venue, was a greater variety of materials, and possibilities. (I believe I have shared this photo before, but I wanted to tell the “backstory.”)

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One interesting result of this collaboration, was a return to the big fort building, but in a new location. This time, they are using the large branches in a new formation.

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This is fun stuff.  If the activity starts out big- go small. Or, if the activity starts small –go big. I love it!

 With Joy!

Francie

Thrills Found in the Unexpected

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So much of what we do as early childhood educators is provide provocations using some interesting materials in an inviting setting, and step back and observe. No pre-conceived notions; no goals; no expectations. We just provide some open-ended materials that children can interact with using their own ideas to discover and to create. Hopefully, with a little bit of scaffolding on our part (or not) new learning and a greater understanding or appreciation of such things as nature, physics, or math will occur.  I literally hold my breath when a child approaches a table presented with such things as a lump of clay and some seed pods or drawing materials and a magnifying glass near something interesting such as our resident monarch caterpillars and chrysalides.

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Sometimes the expected happens, as when clay was presented last spring and the children designed sculptures using the seed pods. But then the extraordinary happened! After I had explained to the children how slip is used (liquidized clay used as a “glue” to hold pieces of clay together) they started picking up leaves off the ground and painting them with the slip! The results were stunning! Totally unexpected and their discovery inspired me to make these leaves into a permanent art installation. You can see the finished piece in The Garden Classroom on the back fence near the Mud Kitchen.

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The new school year has begun with new materials being presented and old materials presented in new ways. Last year’s newly created Science Lab, this year’s addition of the Mud Kitchen, the Art Cottage and Outdoor Atelier continue to engage and delight the children.

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While I continue to create what I think are inviting provocations, not all are initially observed or get positive reviews There have been two wonderful exceptions (So far!) that have left me feeling really excited. I see lots of potential for artistic endeavors, creative thinking and problem solving.

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From the moment I spotted the little holes in the leaves of our milkweed plants, I knew that a marvelous journey was beginning and all of us at Hanna would be have a grandstand view of the life cycle of one of earth’s most amazing creatures – the monarch butterfly. We have not been disappointed! Most of the children knew that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies, and knew the basic biology of how that happens. Good grief!  These kids were raised on Eric Carle’s great children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar! No need to dwell on this concept. What I was looking and hoping for was a “how” or a “why” to explain and explore the process. The response I got was MUCH different and so lovely. Actually, I was enchanted.“L.” is 4 years-old and attends our 5 Day program.  After drawing a newly discovered monarch chrysalis or “cocoon” as she called it, I asked her about her drawing and this is what she shared with me, without any other prompting.

“It’s a cocoon! Maybe tomorrow it’s going to get into a butterfly.

We need to make a room for it for it to live. There are all kinds of things caterpillars need when they wake up.

A leaf for their bed. There’s a nest where they poo and pee, There’s food. They can have food in a little cup.”

How profound!

This brought out all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings in me. First of all, she pretty much summed up what Abraham Maslow described as the basic, biological and physiological needs of people, not only to survive but which must be met before they can be motivated to achieve the next level of needs.

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Second, I was so taken with L’s feelings of compassion that she expressed through her list of “needs” for this tiny, little creature. She had formed a relationship with the chrysalis, which although quite beautiful, also appears quite lifeless. L saw the potential and appreciated the future of this little green package. I’m not sure that L’s proposal of a “room” for the chrysalis/caterpillar will be very practical, but I was very excited and filled with anticipation as I approached L several days later to get more details from her.

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She was eager to draw out a plan for the room. Choosing oil pastels, L began by drawing a few rainbow hued, rectangles and enclosed them in with a square box. Besides the rainbow, it features a large window. So far, the most significant part of the window is a “rug” just like the one that covers up the window in her bedroom that she “rolls it up and down so I don’t get scared like in the middle, middle dark night.” Oh my!  We’ll talk more on Monday. I’m hoping that another naturalist and artist, B (who is also in the 5 Day program) who was representing the life cycle of the monarchs with oil pastels while L was drawing her room, will join the discussion. I wonder where this investigation will go next! It’s all pretty amazing!

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The second discovery is more serendipitous and took place in a center I created over the summer and expanded this fall. This is actually my favorite part of the Garden Classroom. It features an old-fashioned, maple, colonial style coffee table that you are more likely to find in your grandmother’s living room than in an outdoor classroom. It is now hosting a variety of natural materials such as stones, sticks, seed pods and pinecones. (I received some of them as gifts from my friends C and H in the 3 Day program.) It is also where last year’s leaf creation is being displayed.

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It was here, in this setting against the far back fence where I created what I hope was an opportunity to create without an additional enticement of glue, or clay or even play-dough.  No instructions, just a sheet of black paper behind a matting. I did provide a bit of inspiration by propping up a large format book featuring the art of environmentalist artist Andy Goldsworthy.  The cover features rocks placed in a spiral. I was just hoping that a child would discover the items and appreciate their beauty and see the potential.

 “J” from the 3 Day PM class found these items on his first day of school. I watched from afar as he placed first one stone and then another down on the black construction paper. He framed the stones with some sticks and then added a few more sticks. He was very focused and engaged and working very intentionally. None of the placements was random. Then he walked away.

I went up and admired his work and took several pictures of it as a way to create a permanent record of his lovely art. And then I walked away. 

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An hour or so later, I started to remove J’s arrangement and made a discovery. The center had lost its shade and the paper had been exposed to the sun’s rays. The sun had faded the paper around  the arrangement and created an actual memory of where J had placed the stones and sticks! Now, besides having a digitalized recording, there is an actual piece of art to share with J! J and his family have been on vacation and I have not had a chance to share his new, permanent piece of art with him. I have shared it with some other children and they have created new pieces of faded art. (For lack of a better name or at least until a name is decided by the children.) While not quite as serendipitous as J’s piece, it is still an intriguing art form. I am hoping to gather a group of children to discover their hypothesis as to how this is happening and what else is possible. I’m trying to formulate some questions to get this investigation started. Any ideas?!!!

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This is the type of work that thrills me: provoking a child’s curiosity, to get them thinking creatively and being inspired to go beyond the unexpected! 

With Joy!

Francie