Our art studio at Mairtown is always a hive of activity. Although it is not an Atelier as such, we have certainly borrowed the space (set to one side and tranquil) from the preschools of Reggio Emilia in Italy. Although the spaces and classrooms from Reggio Emilia in Italy may look very different to our space at Mairtown, there are some similarities. Our art studio is a space with ‘many lives’. It is a studio for creating, a place for research, for dialogue, for challenging ideas and for discovering new learning.
By doing art, students can create and communicate new ideas (Haydock)
In this documentation I have put on offer a small collection of work from a group of enquirers at Mairtown, spanning a period of 6 months. I hope as you read this it opens a window for you into the creative world of 3, 4 and 5-year olds. As you read you will no doubt notice how the children’s ideas and wonderings changed over time, and as their teacher I had to make decisions about the resources I offered, the provocations on display and how best I could support the children so that their interests continued to grow and expand.
The story begins…
At the beginning of term 2 2018, in July I began to explore the idea of endangered animals with a group of children. This idea stemmed from an interest in animals I had been noticing for a while in the children’s play. They acted out being animals, played with animal figurines and often referred to animals such as the kiwi (endangered), dinosaurs (extinct) along with magical creatures created from their growing imaginations.
Setting up a provocation of figurines, photographs and books of endangered animals I waited to see where the children would take their thinking. The initial interest was to simply study the book.
What animals did they recognise?
What animals did they want to share their knowledge on?
What were the animals doing as they were captured in their natural environments?
That’s a rhinoceros; they can’t breathe under water. (Ezra)
See, a panda, it likes eating bamboo. (Jesse)
Polar bears live on ice, they must cause that ones on ice. (Riley)
Jaguars have dots on them. Do they all? (Mana)
Asian elephants have little ears. I know that. And elephant tusks are different sizes as ones a mummy and ones a daddy. (Ezra)
Inquiry-based learning is a dynamic and emergent process that builds on students’ natural curiosity about the world in which they live (OISE, 2011)
After several days of this exploration, of sharing facts, ideas and knowledge with their friends I began to suggest the children may like to draw one of these animals. Using the books and photographs as our guide, weeks and weeks of observational drawing began. The drawings were large and time consuming. The children archived their work and were free to revisit it whenever they felt the need, discussing their chosen endangered animal, describing what they saw, sharing what they knew and developing stories. We were witnessing experts in action! It is only through examining something carefully, by observing it and noticing it, that we can truly get to know it and to feel at one with it.
Ethiopian wolf: They have spots for its nose holes and whiskers. The neck is white. The tip of the tail is black and black fur and white teeth. The tongue is red and there is black, grey and white. The fur is fluffy. The teeth are so sharp; perhaps they are made of bone. (Ezra)
One of the reasons I invited the children to engage in large drawings was the factor of time. I didn’t want the children to rush their drawings as this in turn may rush their observations and their thinking. This work was about slowing down, taking time, of learning to really see and noticing details.
As the children worked I acted as their scribe, recording their words which enabled me to offer back to the children their own thinking and ideas on another day, encouraging them to revisit their thinking, and to share their creative ideas with their friends.
Amur Leopard: They are yellowy orange (Matthew). It has short legs. (Riley).
There are no spots on his nose. And the ears doesn’t have spots. (Freya)
Aye ayes have nails, I see fingers. There’s pink on its nose. The middle of the eye are black. A tail like a wolf (Ezra). They look a bit like a possum. (Maxwell).
What does it mean to be endangered?
In the early days of the children’s work we explored the word ‘endangered’ and also ‘extinct’. What does it mean to be endangered or extinct? The children worked together over days, their conversations growing and growing as they assisted one another in this new learning. The children experimented with their thinking, they drew on the knowledge they already had, they explored one another’s ideas and between them came to an understanding. As I witnessed this deep level thinking I saw how the children were willing and prepared to make mistakes with their thinking and also grow their confidence in engaging in a new topic, and in new words.
Animals die when they are very old. If people died, like soldiers, we don’t see them again. That’s extinct, I think! What’s endangered? (Ezra)
Endangered means they are in danger. When they are in danger people kill them and no one gets to see them anymore. (Teddie)
Endangered means starting to die. (Maxwell)
Inquiry learning is not a rigid set of procedures, rather it is a mindset, one that pervades school and classroom life to foster a culture of collaborative learning and idea improvement (OISE, 2011).
All the children naturally had different interests, were captivated by different animals, and so drew different animals. As they worked on these observational drawings I began to see the beginnings of more ‘wonderings’ from the children. Juno had drawn a turtle and through a book from home was eager to share and explain to her friends what she knew about turtles and why they are endangered, opening up this lovely dialogue from a group of children working nearby.
Turtles lay eggs, but it’s good to lay eggs, but not really good cause the birds eat the babies. (Juno)
Little baby turtles come out the eggs. (Teddie)
What? Turtles lay eggs? I didn’t know that I’m going to tell my mum. (Senushi)
Also the animals eat the bags – any animal – and then they die. Maybe they think it’s food and the turtle thinks it’s a jelly fish. In my turtle book the turtle eats the plastic and it chokes on it. (Juno)
They are so amazing. (Olivia)
I thought paper bags killed fish. (Wai Manu)
Yes they might might choke or die on paper and become extinct. (Imogen)
No, no, plastic bags. Also the other animals eat the bags – any animal and then they die. The plastics are making the trees die, because the trees eat them and then the animals eat the plastics. (Juno)
Plastic might get eaten, but paper in the sea, they wouldn’t die as worms can eat paper. (Ezra)
So, if you put plastic underwater and then it gets into its throat, and then it dies? (Wai Manu)
The turtles will die! They will die if they eat the plastic and then they’ll never be able to eat again. (Senushi)
I know. Its because we put everything down the drains and it goes to the sea. The turtles see through it and think it’s fish and they eat it and die. Are whales dying? (Maxwell)
We should kill the people that put stuff down the drain. Kill the plastic and the wood and the metal, kill it by putting them in the rubbish bin and the rubbish truck will take it to the dump, then we bury it in the ground, then they can’t come out. (Matthew)
Before it starts getting windy we could pick it up and put it in a pile and take it to the rubbish dump in the car then all the animals can breathe. (Freya)
These people are naughty, they leave it on concrete and it blows into the water. (Juno)
Naturally as the weeks went by and the children became more familiar with their own animals and those of their friends, as well as the term ‘endangered’, conversation turned to why the animals are becoming endangered and what we should do.
Why are animals becoming endangered, is there anything we could do?
Animals don't die if they have food and water to drink. We could feed them. (Grace)
People trap them with big nets like they trap Kea’s with. They hunt animals; they are naughty. (Matthew)
I think maybe aye-ayes are endangered because they climb up trees and fall down. They climb super high then they fall and die. (Ezra)
Great white shark
People are swimming and shooting them, that’s why they die. People can be baddies! (Liam)
Do they eat the sharks? (Grace)
Over time as our work together continued, we moved to clay. It is important to note at this stage that because the children were very much in charge of their own learning, they were all at different stages of their work. Some had completed several drawings and were moving onto sculptures in order to deepen and enrich their thinking, whilst others were still on their first drawing and considering the concept of what it means to be endangered.
For those that had begun to work with the clay, more wonderings were starting to emerge and we began to consider the question, ‘If I could do anything to help my endangered animal, I would…?
Snow leopard:Endangered means they get killed. I would protect the snow leopards with a shield. We put the shield in front, so people can’t hurt the leopards. (Teddie)
Turtles: They are endangered cause they are eating plastic. Tāwhirimātea blows the rubbish in the water. I could stop them, people putting rubbish in the water. (Juno)
And we could pick up the rubbish. (Bella)
That’s naughty too, as there’s a cone in my river. So, I would stop people throwing rubbish on the ground, I would say ‘Stop throwing rubbish everywhere’. (Juno)
Clay is a familiar material for our children, one they have had plenty of experience and familiarity with. One of the reasons I chose to move onto using clay, a 3-dimensional material, was to challenge and support the children to make the connection between their thinking and their actions – more specifically; ‘Thinking using our hands.’
Snow leopard:We can stop them getting endangered by telling people to ‘stop’. If they don’t, we can keep the tigers and leopards away from them by keeping the tigers and leopards in another place, a different jungle. Or perhaps I could take them to the zoo and it could be saved by getting food and water there. (Freya)
Siberian Tiger: Everyone is taking all their places. I would say ‘Stop the tigers don’t like it’. And if the people say no, I would tell them they could build in Auckland. (Senushi)
And if they don’t stop, instead of taking land off the animals, they could build a tall tall tall tower. (Georgia)
I hope as you read this you can see how the arts are an important aspect of our inquiry work with children. It is through different art mediums, drawings and discussions, that children show us the complex ways in which they consider, think and place their ideas about the world. When children draw or sculpt, they can add a whole new realm of meaning and stories to their work. They think through questions on their mind as they create, and they construct a context in which they can build and obtain knowledge.
Art is an Interpretation of experience…Art can help us look at how we look at life…Art becomes a tool for thinking (George Forman)
You may also notice that although the children have come up, through their collaboration together, with the correct definition of ‘endangered’, and also become experts in the animal of their choice. The answers for the questions ‘Why are animals becoming endangered, is there anything we could do?’ And ‘If I could do anything to help my endangered animal, I would…?’ are purely the children’s words and thinking. As their teacher, I have supported their inquiries, but I am very mindful not to push the ‘correct’ answer onto them. The reason being that when I teach inquiry with children, the main emphasis is always on encouraging and fostering deep thinking. I see my role as a facilitator in supporting children in ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’. In the words of Ann Pelo ‘In growing a culture of inquiry, our focus is not on teaching children information and facts, or to get them at some eventual ‘right answer’…we stay present to what’s unfolding, not trying to see into the future or make plans far in advance. Curriculum anchored in inquiry grows moment by moment, one step at a time.’
In addition to this, it is through fostering thinking skills in children that we can open the world for them. Children who can think creatively and divergently will be our worlds future problem solvers; as rather than being told the answers, they have been encouraged to think about the answers for themselves. Children who are thinkers will continue to grow into adults who are thinkers, gaining the skills through their thinking to be able to see lots of possible answers and many different solutions to a single problem or question.
The development of intelligence is a matter of having wonderful ideas. In other words, it is a creative affair (Eleanor Duckworth)