Double Weekly Roundup: Reggio, Representation, and Forts

Another double roundup this week as I took last week off from blogging. Thanks Miss K. for holding down the fort for us both! Luckily there seems to be some common highlights of both this week and last: water (surprise!), forts (again) (surprise!), and ending the week with a treat cooked over a fire. 

First, water, and some context. A few weeks ago I started reading this book, having been inspired to do so at a David Hawkins/Reggio seminar I attended in March. 

I really love to read, but even still I am always surprised at how much a good book reinvigorates me and rekindles my passion for my work. I usually save teaching-related books for the summer, but I couldn't resist this one, and the excitement it's causing me is actually really well timed. I always find I need a bit of fuel for my fire at this time of the school year.

Anyway, as I'm reading, I'm coming to understand that one of the fundamental tenets of the Reggio method is to constantly ask the child to represent his/her understanding of the world with various media. Lots of teachers do this, I think, but the difference, it seems to me, is that Reggio teachers then look at those representations with an attitude of great respect, believing them to have been created with intention, and believing that they communicate something of real import and value. For me, this also has to do with seeing kids as more than cute.

This question I saw at the David Hawkins/Reggio seminar I attended at the Acorn School in Newmarket in March has really stuck with me and is informing the way I'm hearing and looking at my students, their play, and their representations of the world. 

This question I saw at the David Hawkins/Reggio seminar I attended at the Acorn School in Newmarket in March has really stuck with me and is informing the way I'm hearing and looking at my students, their play, and their representations of the world. 

With this new stance toward what our students would produce, last Monday we asked them to draw the waterfall we had hiked to the previous Friday.

First we had them use pencil only, and as Miss K. and I circled around asking the children to explain their drawings, L., one of our youngest K-pals, summed up the problem I hadn't even realized we had presented the kids with in asking them to represent the waterfall, something that moves (in multiple directions, no less), makes sounds, and is three-dimensional, in a drawing, which is two-dimensional, and static: "I couldn't draw it because it went down, down, down into the sand [beside his paper]. So instead I went around and around and around."

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His comment completely changed the way I looked at the rest of the students' work, and during recess, Miss K. and I grouped their drawings according to how it seemed they had solved the problem, wondering if the commonalities corresponded with different ages, or if they had been sitting near each other, and noting that one drawing was unlike any of the others. Some K-pals used lines that went around and around and around like L., while others used straight vertical or horizontal lines, a mixture of both, or, in a few rare cases, diagonal lines. 

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After recess we set out the drawings and had the students examine each others' work for similarities and differences. Then we asked them to return to their drawings (this idea of returning is also one I've learned from Reggio) and they added colour.

Later on last week we had the students draw their answers to the question, "Where does rain come from?" since there seemed to be an endless supply of it falling down. Among the older K-pals there seemed to be some previous understanding of the water cycle: "It's a circle!" was one of the first responses, and many of them agreed. When asked to explain, T. said, "Rain falls into an underground stream, but then it goes back up into a lake." A. added, "Water goes back up to the clouds to drop again." When asked how that could happen, J. theorized that "salt water bounces and normal water floats." We will have to conduct an experiment...

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This week we went down to the lakefront, and while some K-pals continued to explore floating and sinking by throwing different objects into the lake (including a rock that Miss K. tied a rope around!) and others measured the depth of the lake at various spots using sticks and other pieces of rope, I sat down, took out some watercolours, and began to try to paint the lake. I wondered who would be interested, and how they would respond to what I was doing. I hoped they would pay particular attention to the fact that I was painting the lake with browns and greys, and I was curious to see if they would paint the water blue, after having carefully considered the colour of water over the last few weeks. In the end I think we all enjoyed playing with many different colours without much attention to the colour we observed in the lake, and there's lots of value in that, too.

On to forts. Over the last couple of weeks the K-pals have been building a new fort in the lower yard, and a group of forts - the village - in the upper yard. I have found this new round of fort building remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, I've never seen such a big group work together on one fort. I think the entire class has had a hand on the fort in the lower yard. Second, this fort also seems to be more of a home than a "base" for battling with an imagined "enemy" or a rival group of fort builders. It includes many elements, some of them typical - "bedrooms", for example - but it also includes a fire pit, and a garden, and the kids have been working to sweep it "clean". I've recently learned that this re-enacting of the process of civilization is a common kind of play around the world (I had thought my guys were the only one who made "fires"!) and the fort village in the upper yard is similar in that the kids have created a series of forts around a central fire pit, and are dividing themselves up into roles: protector, sweeper, fire keeper, etc. This has been going on for two weeks now, and the game keeps evolving. I love that.

Upper yard fort village, with central fire pit!

Upper yard fort village, with central fire pit!

Clearing away the pine needles in order to "grow plants".

Clearing away the pine needles in order to "grow plants".

Lower yard fort. 

Lower yard fort. 

Sweeping it clean.

Sweeping it clean.

Finally, some shots of how we've been spending our Friday mornings recently!

Banana Boats!

Banana Boats!

Have a great weekend!