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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, 31 January 2017

Building relationships through art

Over the last week all the Mairtown tamariki have begun to return to kindergarten after their long 4-week summer holiday. This year at Mairtown we have 15 new children and their whānau starting with us, and whilst kindergarten is a familiar place for the remainder of our children, whether you are new or not, returning after so many days away can be an anxious time for many.

Obviously, all the teachers at Mairtown like to try and ease this anxiety as much as possible and one way we do this is by focusing on individual relationships and a child’s sense of belonging. I know, and have seen first-hand, how important this is. All children need to feel that they are in a safe environment where they are cared and loved by the people around them, where their individual needs for support, respect and friendships will be met and that if they encounter any problems they know that they have people who they can turn to for help  – with this comes a sense of belonging.

Relationships within an early childhood setting, I feel, are one of the most important aspects of enabling children to feel safe, feel welcomed and as if this is ‘their place’. We only need to reflect on the importance of relationships in our own lives and learning as adults; how positive relationships can empower us and leave us feeling fulfilled yet negative ones can drain us of energy and make us feel deflated. As our NZ Early Childhood Curriculum, Te Whāriki, states, “It is clearly acknowledged that the relationships and the environments that children experience have a direct impact on their learning and development.”

In the beginning weeks of a new term – especially after such a long break – I see my role as a teacher to be about gaining a sense of connectedness and re-establishing past (as well as working towards new) relationships with the children and their whānau.

This year on the first day of term, I was sitting outside doing just this. With a small group of children, I chatted about my holidays and they all opened and shared freely their experiences. Some talked about Christmas day, others camping, whilst some even shared more exotic trips abroad.

As these early days of the term have slowly passed and everyone has begun to settle back in, the topic of the summer holidays has continued eagerly, and more and more children have wanted to come and share stories and experiences with me and their friends.

As the children began to recount and reflect on their special events I asked them if they’d like to draw a picture to support their words. Art as a means of communication is something we value greatly at Mairtown and as the children began to draw it was clear they were each choosing very different experiences to reflect upon to one another – experiences for them that clearly carried meaning and importance.

Teacher and author Kolbe states that, ‘Drawing allows children to channel their thoughts in an uninterrupted flow from mind to paper’ and I believe this really happens. The drawings the children created were instinctive, simple and allowed our tamariki time to both draw and chat simultaneously; these two methods of communication go hand in hand and beautifully complement each other.

This particular work, is often referred to as ‘a language experience story’ or ‘recounting’.  Recounting is verbally describing familiar events and experiences. Recounting provides children with opportunities to talk about things…the choice of topic can often be left to the child (Genisio, 2008).

While most older children (for instance those at school) may be invited to write about experiences, younger children can share their personal experiences with others through completing a drawing whilst an adult can act as a scribe for their verbal words (Luongo-Orlando, 2010). What is interesting about this type of drawing is that it requires children to draw from memory – a very different skill to drawing from the imagination or from observation – and it requires children to think visually whilst also expressing themselves verbally. 

‘For children art is primarily a means of expression, and it becomes a language of thought, therefore it changes as the child grows. The fact that children interact and share ideas when they are drawing, shows that drawing plays a role in developing children’s vocabulary’ (Anim, 2012).

From my personal experience when I work with children on recounting stories through verbal and visual means, one of the most important things is to work in small groups of 2-4 friends. My initial aim when engaging in this work is to build relationships and connectedness and a small audience is very reassuring for children, as well as having the benefit of extending the experience of having a few friends who listen with interest, themselves then being inclined to share and recount their own personal stories.

As the teacher, I also have to be mindful to listen myself, and to stop chatting (which is quite difficult at times!). Whilst I have observed some children will chat and draw their recounts almost hurriedly in a rush to share their information, other like to think and ponder over the important elements of their stories.

Here is a selection of some of the recounts produced by our tamariki. I can’t help but feel that although this is devised as a means for extending literacy (certainly I have noticed vocabulary is always more detailed and expressive when in this type of work), it is a beautiful way to reconnect with the children, to share stories, to listen to one another, to learn and understand each other, to respect each other; to build our empathy, sensitivity and ultimately our relationships with one another and of course our sense of belonging.

Franchi: "My best thing was always going to the beach. I went swimming with Mumma, Juno and Aunty Rosie. I saw little fish in the water as I went under the water and opened my eyes with goggles. I had to keep my feet kicking cause then I can float, my arms were up the top. They were Raina’s goggles; she was at the beach. I climbed rocks, they were sharp. Raina’s on the top of the deep water and under the water too. We were swimming out in the ocean at Wellingtons bay. No mummies and daddies were there as they were on the boat, which had a big flag on it. I saw a big shark and Raina saw a big shark too. The water is really deep, I tried to stand up but my head was still under the water. Juno couldn’t go as only I can float. Juno was on the boat”.

Maxwell: "I went to Queenstown and went on the money digger. It was yellow and it swings around and it has a wheel you hold and it had controls up the top with buttons to press. It takes money to make it swing round."

Ryker: "Look, there were teddies at treasure island. I was in a tent at treasure island, it’s yellow. I went on a flying fox; it was so far far away. The flying fox went faster and faster and faster and faster.”

Carter: “I stayed at my land building as we’re building a house. And I stayed as my nanna and poppas for a sleep over – just me! I stayed up early, we went shopping and we buyed drinks and food and we got sprinkles (giggles with delight). I lived at the top”.

Drawing is a communication tool which children use to express ideas, not only in externalising their own thoughts but as a means of clarifying for others what it is they are thinking (Schiller, 2004)

Mā te wā, Christine