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21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Continuity of Learning Through the Medium of Art

Last term I began some work with a group of children on the topic of lions. We looked at photographs of lions (using one of my favourite books 'A Shadow falls'  - photography by Nick Brandt). We also examined lion models, spent time sharing our current knowledge on lions and went on to complete some observational drawings. 

Lion Before Storm, Sitting Profile Masai Mara 2006

Observational or representational drawing is a method of encouraging children to ‘think deeply’ about any given subject. It encourages children to look closely at, and to communicate what they see; with it, children really ‘learn to see’ (Kolbe, 2005). 

As the children began their first drawings on lions I initially encouraged them to draw what they knew about lions. All these elements that we noticed, we then talked about. As the children worked, I often repeated the same words, ‘look and draw, look and draw’ - thereby encouraging them to spend time on their work - by occasionally looking, stopping and thinking.

The initial art pieces were wonderful and the knowledge the children shared as a group amazed me. Several days later however came the holidays. Over this two week break I was lucky enough to attend a conference where I was reminded of the value in children being able to re-visit their work, of repetition and of continuity of learning. Ready and eager to go at the beginning of a new term, and with my own new learning and knowledge at the forefront of my mind,  I again invited these same children back to re-visit and continue their earlier work with lions.

 In early childhood education we are aware that, ‘Effective learning usually occurs over
time as children practice and master new skills, concepts and techniques. It is rare that significant learning just ‘happens’; 
new learning typically builds on previous knowledge and experience. For this reason, effective learning environments plan for and build in continuity, predictability and repetition’ (NQS-PLP, 2012).

As the children looked again at the lion pictures, models, photographs and our own past drawings of lions, they were all eager to share their understandings, and wanted to complete some further observational drawings. Once again we talked about what we noticed – ‘How come some lions have lots of fur? What’s this called? Why don’t lion cubs have manes?’ I also encouraged the children to draw some of their past and new knowledge through my own questioning with them, ‘Remember how you thought the lions fur looked soft, how you would draw that?  

‘Such extended learning experiences not only engage children in meaningful and absorbing play, but also promote higher level thinking as children recall and make connections to what has been done previously, plan ahead, and review and evaluate their thinking along the way… If we continually change the materials, experiences and resources that children work 
with, then we risk short-changing children’s experiences’ (NQS-PLP, 2012).

Some of the children’s conversations (24.6.14)
Kate: Lions have four legs, two at the front and two at the back. I can see the boy one has more hair. The lion has scratched it's face when it’s fighting.
Teacher: Why do the boy or male lions have more hair?
Payton: Because the girls don’t grow it.
Reese: The boys have a lot of hair that you can’t see the ears, but I think they do have ears.
Mia: That’s called a mane. The girls ones don’t have manes so they can look more beautiful, and so the boys can look like boys.
London-Rose: They have brown skin under the fur and brown legs.
Emma: They have a big round head.
London-Rose: And their whiskers are straight.
Sharlotte: See, some of the mane goes down onto its tummy. The boy lions have long hairs and the girls have short.
Kayden: But the boys and girls have hair on the ends of their tails.

And after re-visiting – a later conversation as we began to examine the face of lions (23-28.7.14)
Payton: The female lions have no hair, but they do have whiskers on the top of their eyebrows. The eyes of a lion are oval shaped, this is a girl lion.
Hezekiah: You mean it’s a female lion, I’ve just learnt that word.
Kate: The eyes are half oval half heart. The nose is out more than ours. There’s fur at the end of the tail. Hmm…this needs me to think, it’s hard to think. The legs are one in front of the other, the back legs look bigger than the front legs. The tummy is curvy on a real lion.
Hezekiah: Those are whiskers and they come out those dots on the face.
Payton: Lions have different noses to us.
Kayden: Shall we draw it, you need to look to draw?’
Peter: Lions are brave and they roar.
Wyatt: They have really loud roars.
London-Rose: And they roar to save their babies.
Wyatt: And leopards…you know lions eat meat.
London-Rose: Yeah, and stuff from people’s bodies like their brains!
Kayden: Lions fight, they fight other lions.

Art is an ideal medium to help children process new information.  With art they can manipulate concepts, put ideas into reality, create images that represent thoughts, and make tangible new concepts for all to see (Wardle, 2000).  Art is the medium through which young children work out experiences, add personal feelings, and record solutions and judgements (Engel, 1995).  Combine this with all the children sharing ideas and gaining each others' perspectives, along with them re-visiting and revising their work, and we see how children move to new levels of awareness. My role here as the teacher was to act as a guide, one where I was careful not to impose my adult ideas and beliefs upon the children.

‘Connections and continuity between learning experiences ... make learning more meaningful’ (DEEWR, 2009).

Now lets look at the drawings completed over this period of time, I think you'll clearly notice how the later art work - completed after a months break - shows far more intricate and finer detail.  Along with all our conversations together, art becomes a way in which we can clearly see learning in motion. We can see how, for children, knowledge develops with the continuity of learning through both repetition and re-visiting.

On drawing 2, we can see that this child becomes very aware of the lions heavy furry mane (how it is large in comparison to the lions face), how the mane grows down the lions back, the outer lid and inner pupil of the lion’s eye, the lion’s ears are apparent, his lion has sharp teeth, whiskers near the lions mouth (along with the small ducts the whiskers grow out of), this lion has a much longer tail and claws on each of its four paws.

Again if we consider these two drawings (the first drawn in June and the second July) the added detail on this child's second drawing is evident. It is especially noticeable around the lion's face with the addition of the fine whiskers, delicate hairs above the eyes and the small furry patch under the lion's mouth.


And finally, examine these two drawings. The differences in the drawings indicate the new levels of awareness this child has reached. We can see on this child's second piece of work that the legs are drawn with more detail and shape and have the addition of paws (compared to the earlier stick legs) and there is also significantly more features added to the lions face.

I would love to show you more of the children's work, but I realise this may then turn into the longest post I have ever written!  I hope however, you have enjoyed the few examples I have been able to share.

Hei konā mai i roto i ngā mihi,

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