'Remarkable things can happen when children work in small groups investigating topics that fascinate them as they build on each other’s discoveries and explanations'. Ursula Kolbe
However, as time moved on and our work gradually progressed we began to discuss the idea of translating the stunning 2-dimensional drawings and paintings that had been created, into 3 dimensional sculptures. As their teacher, my aim here was to continue to pursue the children’s interest in these gorgeous flowers, in particular the structural element of them, to encourage the children to continue their work as the self-motivated scientists they had become so far. So, with a focus on structure, detail and texture, (I really felt we needed to use a textural resource), we initially turned to clay. At Mairtown we are very familiar with using clay, so this also seemed a natural choice for the children and one that everyone was happy about, diving eagerly in.
Thinking in three dimensions demands an imaginative leap, and the plastic malleable nature of clay makes it an ideal medium for learning about form (NCCA).
Clay is a medium we value greatly at Mairtown, and it’s for that reason that it is available almost every day for the children to explore and create with. One of the great things about clay is that it is highly responsive to touch whilst also being very forgiving. As soon as children pick up their clay they instinctively begin to mould and shape it. It is them that is in charge and they soon realise they can command the clay’s movements through their own self-expression and imagination. The other benefit, is that it allows children to try out a theory, make a mistake, and then alter it if this wasn’t quite right or what they had in mind.
Making mistakes is essential for self-improvement but can be difficult and even an obstacle for some children. The forgiving quality of clay, and therefore the ability to readily fix mistakes, gives the child a sense of control over their projects success which improves self-esteem and self-expression as they realise that mistakes aren’t going to stop their progress. (P. Storms)
As we sat down to begin creating our sunflowers, it became clear how engaging in clay work (like drawing) is also a language for children to explore and communicate all their ideas. The clay allowed the children to revisit their past drawings, or for some that hadn’t engaged in drawing, their past conversations and observations. With the clay the children looked at the outline of the sunflower, the way it stands up, the thickness and length of the petals, incorporating this thinking into each sculpture.
Like drawing, clay work enables children to make their ideas visible – but in three dimensions. It can be an exciting experience for children to discover that they have made something with a ‘back’ and ‘sides’ as well as a ‘front’, and even an ‘inside’ and an ‘underneath’ (Kolbe, 2009).
Seeing how eager and involved the children were in this work, I opened up the idea that they could also choose to add any other resources to their work in order to create their final sculpture. Some of the resources the children choose to draw upon were beads, feathers, wire and paint, whilst a selection of tools the children used in order to assist them in their work were bowls, sticks, fabric, wire cutters, pliers and hot glue guns.
A few children seeing the wire choose to create their whole pieces with this resource, interestingly a resource that is still fairly new to them, so therefore this took great practice and learning, in order to gain control over. Wire is much trickier to control than you initially think. For example, Max noticed when he worked on his wire petals, ‘Just as I get it right, it moves again into something else!’
Enabling children to revisit and therefore revise their ideas about sunflowers is an essential aspect of learning. Each new resource offered to the children drew attention to a different aspect of the flower. By using a range of different tools, techniques and materials they were truly able to explore an idea in much greater depth and from multiple perspectives. For instance, many children were able to use their original drawings to guide their sculptural work, and I am wondering if some may take the opportunity to now use their sculpture to refine their drawings, based on their new discoveries?
Sculptural work, is fascinating and takes over the whole body, indeed often quite literally requiring the strength of the child’s whole body to manipulate the desired material into position. Watching the children at their work, I was mindful not to question as I had in our earlier work with drawings. I let the children talk to me and of course responded, but I felt my questions would have distracted them from their deep and meaningful exploration. I didn’t need the children to verbalise their thinking, knowledge or learning. Quite simply by watching them at their work, as they created these beautiful pieces, I could see the knowledge, the thinking and the learning each individual child had discovered about the sunflowers. The perspective of each child is quite clear when you look at the finished sculptures.
Each time children re-visit their work, their thinking deepens: they recognise inconsistencies, notice new details highlighted by a particular medium, and see things from a new perspective, or discover connections among them (Pelo, 2007).
The variety of work has been amazing, and each sculpture is so different. Even though I kept my own dialogue to a minimum during the children’s work, most children did choose to revisit the questions we have pondered on earlier at some point, What do we know about sunflowers, What have we observed about sunflowers, and What we wondered about with sunflowers? Most of this sharing occurred at the end of their work. Perhaps this was when their minds were free to discover what they had sculpturally created and to then use this as a visual cue to explore their thinking at an even deeper level.
Georgia: Some petals are not fat, and some are fat…I need to leave space here for the stalk…all sunflowers have petals and they have stripes on the petals and on the stalks. If they didn’t have stalks they would fall to the ground. Sunflowers are so soft, and they need lots of sun.
Max: I made it all metal, it’s a sunflower made from beads, orange and yellow. So, you see, sunflowers have petals, seeds a stalk and leaves. They need lots of water and sun too. I really like this (looking at his sculpture) it’s cool, It looks like a real sunflower but it has a stick instead of a stalk.
Amelia: The petals are yellow and see, they have lines. I’ll do lines too after I painted them yellow. They have lots of seeds, brown and black and brown and black. The stalk is taller (than I have made), but I can’t do mine taller, it too falley over if I do that.
Painting is so poetic, while sculpture is more logical and scientific and makes you worry about gravity. Damien Hirst
Ngā mihi nui,