My teaching partner, Paula, and I have been spending a lot of time in the past few weeks observing how our students use the classroom. Sometimes we just stand back and observe the room, and other times, we record a quick tour of the classroom to capture a moment in time and reflect back on it later. It was actually a reflection on a video recording, some documentation, and our observations that led to one of our recent conclusions.
Paula and I noticed that one area of our classroom is very underutilized: our creative table. Even though we know that almost all of our SK students love to paint, cut, and create, they almost never sit down at this table. A few JK children do, but they quickly move onto something else. Even more interesting, our writing and drawing table has been used almost exclusively by SK students, and they often do similar things there that we would have expected them to do at the creative table. Why?
This is when we began to think more about the differences between our JK and SK children. We have many young JK students, who are just leaving their parents for the first time. Their needs are different. When they come to the creative table, it’s to:
- make lines and circles.
- engage in a sensory experience (especially anything to do with colour mixing).
- partake in the process of art, and then move quickly onto something else.
I still remember about a week ago, when we showed our class some of Kandinsky’s work. We noticed a few of our SK students making and discussing concentric shapes around the writing table. We thought that this might draw more of them over to the creative table, and entice our JKs, who also like to make circles. One of our JK students painted this incredible concentric circle. She mixed all of the paint colours, and included a different colour for each part of the circle. I was charging my iPad, so I turned around to grab it so that I could take a photograph. It took me less than a minute. In that time, she had grabbed her paintbrush and blended all of the colours together. Now she had a big dot of brown. Why? A few other JK children saw paintings left on the table, and they also combined the colours together, creating many pages of brown paint. On first glance, it looked as though all of these beautiful JK paintings were ruined! And once again, many of our SK children were creating their own Kandinsky-inspired masterpieces over at the writing table.
This experience got Paula and I looking even more closely around the other areas of the room. While many of our JK and SK students like to build, more and more, the big block carpet is used primarily by our JK students. Our SK builders have created a small area between the block carpet and dramatic play for their buildings. Sometimes they even find a space in dramatic play to build.
Then there was the case of the plasticine. Both our JK and SK students loved the use of this new material, and many of our SK children, started to make people and places for their own storytelling artwork. This wasn’t how most of the JKs were using the plasticine though. For them, it was about the sensory experience: pulling, pushing, and rolling it into a ball. It was when a few children wrecked all of the SK artwork that Paula and I had a long talk…with each other.
Maybe there’s more to the story about why our SKs are not using the sensory table and creating a new block space: Could this be an attempt at empathy? I think that they even realized something before we did, even if they didn’t necessarily articulate it. They knew that most of our JKs are at a different learning stage.
- For them, art is about a sensory experience more than a product. A page of brown is just as beautiful as the separation of colours. The ball that won’t bounce is just as intriguing as the beautiful mermaid.
- Block play is about cause and effect and not creations and stability.
None of these JKs are destroying work maliciously. They would never want to upset their new friends. They’re just doing what’s right for them and what they need. And our young SK children are not getting angry or sad, but instead are finding their own spaces in our small room to create the work that they might want to save or expand on.
And so, we will continue working with our SK children on small solutions, such as a tray for saving plasticine creations (shown below), but we will also support their creative options, even if classroom spaces end up being used in different ways than we intended.
For we can’t help but think of this forest experience from earlier this week, and realize just how lucky we are to have such kind, compassionate, caring kids. I think they help me understand the prosocial domain even more!
Our 29 students may all be under the age of six, but I think they’ve helped remind us just what children are capable of, and that we can all show a little extra love, understanding, and ingenuity when it comes to challenging experiences … even if that experience is a big, brown blob on a piece of paper. At the end of a busy day, I look at a post such as the one below, and I think, I’m one lucky teacher to have such a caring community of learners.
I think our kids know this too, and maybe it helps them breathe through the few destroyed pieces of artwork or tumbling towers. For we’re our own little school family, and families support each other, even through the more challenging times. How do you support your students in creating this classroom community? What might be the possible long-term impact of doing so? Relationships are truly at the heart of Self-Reg, and it’s great to see our young learners cultivating these relationships with new and old peers.