Parallel play teaching

I drew today… well, it was a collage really, (but it could have been drawing if that is what the children had been doing when I arrived at their table) and I wished afterwards that I could have  recorded it , because I think that the value of a teacher creating art alongside children is that one can scaffold their learning dispositions (rather than their learning content) by how one models and shares one’s thinking processes.

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I have watched teachers who can do a quick cartoon of a dog or some such, Disney style… and they are just doing a party trick which they have practised… they are not modelling creativity, playfulness, problem solving, or resourcefulness or self talk or any such stuff. They are just performing, entertaining. I don’t like this style of drawing in front of children. It definitely suggests there is a right way. And apparently this is supposed to be the biggest hazard  of drawing in front of children: should we therefore not sing, dance, garden, write, cook, sew, go on the trampolines, read, etc  in front of children? Should we not do any activity that requires a modicum of creativity and decision making? I don’t agree but I do believe that the WAY you do something in front of a child will powerfully influence the degree to which you empower or disempower children’s learning dispositions.

If you had been a fly on the wall that morning in this kindergarten, you might have heard any number of sentences from me like the following..it began as follows…and of course there were pauses and other conversations and other people’s voices, but hopefully you will get the idea!

“Oooh, I like what you have done with the little squares. I want to try that.. how did you make them curve? (tries it)Oh look, they are a different colour on the other side…I thought I had a pattern but I didn’t…

What could I use for eyes? Hmm, maybe not that..  that doesn’t do what I want, and it’s hard to cut…oh look,. I could cut circles out of this crepe paper.. where are the scissors? You are having trouble with those scissors? Try another pair ! sometimes it’s the scissors, not you , that are the problem…. some scissors are rubbish!

I need a mouth… what did you use? Oh look I can move it and here it looks like she is a bit crazy, and here it makes her look happy… or even upside down!! Now she looks pretty sad about something! I’ll put it so she is smiling! ”

Oh, her head is so big, there’ s not much room for her body. Rats. Maybe I could do a different mouth, higher up… ? or move her neck?

Now something thin for arms? Hmm,  sticks, straws? Maybe straws, maybe I should fix the other sellotape holder so we can both reach it… there we go…

Now fingers.. little bits of pink wool! oh but they don’t stay where I want them… wait! I could use a glue stick.. oh, you don’t have any? Do you know where I can find some? Right, I’m back.that’s better..now they stay in place and THEN I can stick them down properly with sellotape..

Oh lordy, she needs clothes.. what, you think she looks like a witch?  Oh because of her big round scary eyes? You’re going to make a scary witch? (children are coming and going) I’d like to see how you make your witch  look scary… they have warts on their noses? oh, yes, there’s the witch in “Room on the broom”, isn’t there? does she have a wart on her nose? Well, mine is a happy witch.. see, she has a feather in her hat… (sings yankee doodle) I wonder what colour I should  make her hair.. what colour do you call  your hair, Charlotte? Red…maybe this crayon? do you think this crayon looks close to your hair colour? Maybe I should add a little brown? I think I ‘ll make the ends a bit curly so it looks more like hair… yes, you do have curly hair, Martha… maybe I mean ‘wavy’?… yes, that sounds better/ more like what I mean ..wavy.. yes, that looks good… I like that!

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Back to the eyes… see how, if you look in my eyes, there is a big round part? And in the middle is a little black circle? I think my eyes look scary cos they don’t have the middle bit.. the pupil… (cuts two tiny paper pupils and tries them out in different positions.. surprised, eye rolling dismissal, looking left , looking right, looking catatonic.. looking angry) … I think this position makes her look friendly… there we go.. now  a dress.. oh, she could have an orange dress to match her fiery coloured hair.. I’ll scrumple it so that it looks more like cloth.. oh nice.. and I’ll scrumple the waist so it’s a skirt… oh now she needs boots! Dancing boots!! She is getting happier and happier.. how do you make boots… that looks weird… what do boots look like? Maybe I will draw it first and then cut it out… I’ll draw it on the back… oh, that’s better! Nice green dancing boots…

What! Your scary witch is threatening mine? Because I haven’t got a broom stick? You’ve got a red broomstick.. and what’s that yellow part on your picture?…. A wand!! Oh lordy.. a wand..I don’t have one!  What!? You’re turning me into a frog! No, I’m a happy go lucky witch… I don’t want to be a frog.. you’re going to change me back? What, now I’m a kangaroo? (Starts to sing, because the words  have a very bouncy rhythm)

 

I’m a  happy go lucky kangaroo                                                                                                                                             I eat frogs                                                                                                                                                                              Why don’t you?

I used to be a witch,                                                                                                                                                                  I’m not anymore                                                                                                                                                            Someone mean came to the door                                                                                                                                     She waved her wand   (what rhymes with wand? Pond! Oh thank you that’s good)                                                  And threw me in the pond                                                                                                                                                And I’m not a happy go lucky witch any more!

 

So what did I do in fact? I like to think that I succeeded in being non-didactic and that I modeled some of the vast potential of the various materials, that I modeled ways to talk to oneself while being creative, that I indicated that I thoroughly valued and respected their way of working because basically I was being rather child-like and playful and whimsical and sanguine myself. I hope I strongly modeled that there is no ‘right way’.

One of the books which they read to the children at this kindergarten also reinforces and affirms the concept of ‘no right way’ and that book is called ‘If Picasso painted a snowman”. Well worth a look.

This next post is about how children learn and it refers to two very different methods of research, both of which came up with the same answer, which is that “direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning”. Check it out. One of them is the work of Alison Gopnik, whose research is repeatedly stunning, It seems to affirm that what I was doing was probably pedagogically going along the right tracks. “Wow! look at this,  I wonder what this does?” When a teacher acts clueless, full of wonder and curiosity and a bit like a fellow child,  the children are much more likely to respond with intelligent, thoughtful, playful explorations of discovery on their own.

And here to the right, is that clueless playful adult, who had a really good time, and really likes her batty witch!