On our first day back at the library we were astounded to find so many kindred spirits had gathered in our modest space to continue the research of materials-based story play. Some parents said they'd come to break up the monotony of the holiday week. But let's give them WAY more credit. Parents are our best collaborators because they care to seek out quality experiences for their children in a warm, friendly environment that accepts all participants. The easy thing to do would be to set children in front of a screen and check out. But parents need connection too. They need to find people who want to give their children quality, real-life experiences and just be in communion with other adults at the same time. A Big High-Five to every parent who made the trek out to our creative space!
Children took to the room with ease, owning the space, adding their insights and asking permission (which is almost always granted with only a bit of question) to explore a new material in our "Curious Cabinet".
One child asked politely what the balls of colorful yarn were intend for. She is a student of the Waldorf school, so wondered if it was for "Twiddling", a term I was unfamiliar with, but with which my teaching partner Kristin was well versed. The child carefully inquired, "Because I have never been here, I don't know what you use that for". I asked her to teach me this word and she found a willing partner to do so. They held the ends and delicately, purposefully, twisted the two colors into a long, lovely braid. Afterward, I also invited her think outside of her usual method of using yarn. Eventually, she created a beautiful woven circle on a metallic sheet of packing paper from a pizza take-out restaurant. It later became part of our lovely hanging "stones" installation in front of the projector.
My nine-year-old daughter was a gift to the day as she was on winter break from school. She spent a significant period of time playing her guitar and discovered over the half hour that she could figure out how to pay most any children's favorite tune with three simple chords. She backed up a story read by an older participant, our dear friend Heaven (co-actor in Spirit Ship) who read the book "Milo and the Magic Stones" to a riveted audience of children who huddled around her. After the reading, the children offered ideas for how they might create their own magic stones on velum with markers. These also became beautiful additions to our hanging stones installation. If we were to have a permanent space, these creations would live for an extended time to be mused and marveled at. Who knows what their presence could inspire for future workshops!
Our colleague Linda, a play facilitator, joined today to read a treasured book "My Head is Full of Colors". Sadly out of print, this remarkable book tells the story of girl's journey through her own passions and interests in a way that children can identify. Linda's reading had children riveted.
Our always present projector sat beside a box of growing luminous objects for light and color exploration. All of the children eventually took their turns exploring the shaped and colors illuminated on the wall. Eventually we learned that placing the projector on the floor lent itself to more easy access. We are still learning! But we love the element of light as a material always gracing the space with it's potential.
Another boy peered into the "Curious Cabinet" and found a jar of small plastic animal figures. He asked me politely if it was okay to play with them. Of course I acquiesced. I tend to allow new materials to "mix" with the ones we set out. This can, of course, create some chaos, and the issue should be thoughtfully addressed. At a Reggo-Emilia conference I attended at Leslie University some eight-years-ago, the conversation involved "mixing materials" and how Reggio-Emelia philosophy differed from the more organized philosophy of Montessori. The debate involved wondering why materials should be so segregated as outlined by some Montessori schools. I have to agree with the former, as I am an avid proponent that children will surprise us with their industriousness if we allow it.
A couple of six-year-old boys were also in house for our winter break workshop. The boys brought a rambunctious energy to the mix, playing with animal figures and telling stories at a table together. Boys often look for "characters" with faces. They are trying to investigate relationships and voice through the figurative form. It is more literal than the amorphous shapes and tops we also have on hand. Eventually one discovered that colored velum feels good to cut into mosaic squares. A bowl filled and filled and filled until red, yellow, green and blue squares were settled into a tin. We reached out to some children to create a mosaic pattern on the floor.
CREATIVITY TAKES TIME
We must, as artists and educators remember that. When children enter a space they are new to, they need time to organize what is available. They need to navigate the space and seek out relationships with others. We cannot force the issue as adults. It isn't fair to do so. But a turn to jumping and more aggressive behavior for boys is not wrong. It will pass. Eventually children gravitate to the salient nature of materials.
We had the added caveat of attending to multi-aged groups. Our wonderful older children serve as guides for the younger but also need time to hone their own creative inklings. We had set out a table of real stones to be painted. Few children recoiled from that prospect. There is a calming effect of painting that even children as young as three can accomplish. We were inspired by one young child who had much experience with painting as her mother said she provides that experience frequently for her daughter at home. In fact, this young child's fine motor control was exceptional, as the mother claimed she also knows how to eat with chopsticks! Let's never again pigeonhole children into what we think they "should" be able to do based on age.
Repurposed CD boxes were also a huge hit of the day. Our oldest participant, Heaven, commenced to create displays of our materials in rainbow fashion. We decided to have big ideas for these. So many things can be placed inside! We had beautiful pieces of colorful plastic bags, tissue paper, puzzle pieces, paint sample papers, pop cycle sticks, fabric, and the list goes on! We explored what materials were transparent in the light and also which new positioning could occur with the juxtaposition of boxes on boxes.
While we are committed to "loose parts" in discovery of making, we found that several children wanted and needed the element of the permanent. They wanted glue or tape to secure their artwork upon a surface. Children as young as three were asking for such as material. We offered tape and even tissue with water to save the forms in a way that could be mounted and displayed.
Circles abounded throughout the day. This was not intentional. But seemed so in keeping with the story of the magic stones. Later we discovered that all the children's creation would become part of a beautiful hanging installation!
Our two older children were invited to create a rainbow installation on the wall. We LOVE installation art and encourage collaboration in this effort. Over time, we feel that a space can easily be transformed by the children themselves. It is their world, their visual residence. We want them to understand that every aspect of the space belongs to them to create visual transformation. Art is everywhere and materials are their friends...open and available...a malleable resource.
The abilities and wisdoms of children varied today. Each came with personal skills, gifts, ideas, experiences to amaze. We are forever amazed at what children can do. We want to provide the tools and the guidance to open minds and to help children show who they are. They will remember that experience more than anything else. We guarantee it. Sounds like a sales pitch but we are not selling. We are documenting. Come learn with us!