Red Hot Discoveries: Encouraging Children’s English Conversation
Interconnectedness and the environment
I will start this conversation from where I left off (in the "Fashion project") by further helping you to understand the idea of the school environment playing the part of “another teacher.” In Reggio we call the environment the “Third teacher” and as such our teachers need to be constantly asking themselves the question, “how is the environment best serving the children?” As with almost all Reggio projects, in this project the children are fully engaging with the third teacher (the environment) as they look about to discover the many different kinds of patterns that they can find in the world around them.
Importantly, they are perfectly able to do this alone, without the help of the actual teacher, and this in turn helps them to further cement their relationship with the environment, not as a hostile place, but as something that is here to fully support them.
How the “Pattern City Project” started;
This project started because the kids were interested in the patterns that they had discovered from our weaving project (they had discovered different patterns in the fabric that we used). During free play we then decided to actively look for other patterns in different areas.
At the same time some of the other children started making block towers out of our big block set. They did this by building up the blocks around themselves as they went, so that they were actually inside the tower they had built. Soon after this occurred some other children got the idea to do a similar thing with our big bag of chopsticks. They constructed several towers and when asked what kind of tower they were making, the children replied that they were “Hotels and buildings.” The two groups then got together, and it was from this point that the concept of making a “pattern city” came about.
Planning and Logistics
In order to make the pattern city the children and teacher first did some research on the internet. They looked at different views of other cities around the world and then printed out some simple city map designs to further support their understanding of a cities layout. Many of the kids were fascinated to discover that cities followed the flow of rivers and mountains and this helped them to extend their maps outwards by drawing more rivers, roads, trees, traffic lights and buildings using their own observations and understanding.
One of the directors then cut wooden blocks on the band saw and they were randomly put on a wooden display board so as to frame the basic idea.
The kids then went out, exploring our local area, and took rubbings of various patterns from gates, fences, steps, utility covers, among other things. They then went back to school and used double sided tape to attach the rubbed patterns onto the wood blocks.
The children then rearranged the blocks on the display board to make their own city version. There was a big water tower, a school, a shirt and shoe factory and a large apartment building. There was also building far away at the South pole! The kids then painted their larger buildings made out of chopsticks (using cotton sticks) before adding them to their city design.
We then decided to expand the size of the display board to make our city bigger. (The board we now used was about the size of an adult bed). The children covered the bigger display board in paper, using materials on hand. The display board was now covered in a brown checkered layout. Once this was done they started making roads (out of paper), traffic lights (using painted wood and stickers) and more buildings with patterns on them. Everyone got excited as they started negotiating with each other in order to add things throughout the day.
Up until now the project had largely been a matter of logistics, but it was at this point, after a conversation about jobs and money, that the children took over and their fascination became apparent.
They began to assign roles for themselves, and as they did this they then began acting out these roles as real life scenarios. One boy for example “got sick” and had to rely on another child who was the “city doctor.” He took money to the doctor but at the hospital the lights went out and so the doctor had to give that money to the electrician (another child). After fixing the lights the electrician was hungry so he went to the baker and bought some food. The baker however soon ran out of flour and had to spend the money with the farmer. The farmer’s tractor then broke down and he had to spend his money with the mechanic. Soon after this the mechanics pet cat got sick so it had to go to the vet etc, etc. The children created these stories repeatedly until the money came full circle and eventually ended up back in the hands of the “sick” boy again!
While it is not my intention to verify learning after the fact, this is a perfect working example of how money realistically flows, and the children had just seemingly demonstrated their understanding of this through simple play. As teachers we instinctively know that play is a powerful form of effortless learning that should never be taken for granted.
Further, it may be seen that the children’s group understanding on how money interconnects human relationships in a city, was also apparent.
Not only were the children discovering patterns in their environment that they could see with their eyes, they were also discovering important patterns within their environment that they could now see with their mind. Perhaps these are rationalizations, but the point I want to make here is that the children showed that they were quite capable of discovering higher levels of group understanding when appropriate conditions were present. Group projects, have this power, the power to uncover what can not be seen or understood by the individual alone.
I believe that it can also be said that the very nature of constructing meaning is done through the minds ability to see and visualize connections that could not be seen before. This perspective of interconnectedness is very important in Reggio. Indeed, this is the proper view of any Reggio teacher.
Growing up in the West many people, mostly tend to look at objects or situations as being separate form everything else, but in our school we like to point out the importance of finding as many connections as possible. Using project work such as this as a scaffolding, our efforts with the children then tends to become more meaningful to us as teachers as we watch the children build these connections to construct their own layers of meaning.
To reinforce this understanding about interconnectedness, we then repeatedly knocked down the city and rebuilt it under different scenarios. (This also had the added benefit in letting everyone have a say in how each city should be built and in what way) In one version we added a beach, which prompted the kids to build more roads there so people could catch fish and take them to all the restaurants, in another we looked at the many different activities that can be experienced in a city and how transportation of various kinds connects in ways that allow us to experience these activities. We also made up our own adventure stories as a group, using the city landmarks to develop our story as we created it. We still have a lot more to add, but our city set up is really proving itself as a means to get the kids creatively focused in all sorts of different ways.
Now lets look at this from a higher perpective. The constant Reggio projects that the children do are really just another way of simulating real life. Through the course of our lives us adults are always doing projects of some kind on a regular basis. We organize a night out with friends, plan our child’s birthday party, or organize an overseas holiday for our family. These are all real life projects, the execution of which all follow a similar repeatable, pattern of thinking. We research, organize, plan then take action on our ideas. This is the regular life of any adult. So what we want to do is to give young children a firm grasp of these concepts from a very early age. At preschool, through projects such as this, we practice these real life lessons day in and day out until the children develop strong, highly supportive, habits.
At the very youngest age this develops the habitual thinking needed for tenacity, determination, purpose, and organization. This is what our kids need to learn every day as they grow and these thinking skills prepare them extremely well for high school and further on into adult life. When the environment itself becomes your constant friend and teacher then, as you grow, you always have a teacher/friend or resource by your side. In this way you always feel supported.
The end result of this is the development of adult thinkers who then know how, by default, to make the best use of what they have available to them at any given time. This results in people who become self supporting, resourceful and prosperous.
What you can do at home:
Start collecting milk cartons, match boxes, and all the different sorts of packaging that seems to mysteriously enter your house. Collect them together in one spot for this special project. Other items like bottle caps, pop sticks, chopsticks will also come in handy.
The next time you get a big ticket item delivered from the store keep that big box! Open it up flat and trim the edges with a knife, (or even leave it to see how your child utilizes the odd shape).
Get your children to plan a birds eye view of their city on paper, or get them to draw it directly onto your flat box. In the process show them how cities are often built around beneficial natural landscapes like rivers and mountains. Help them make that connection by asking open ended questions about basic living needs. “What important things do people need to live here?”
Set the flat box up on a table, ideally where your kids can come back repeatedly to work on it at any time. Your kids can create any designs they want on their buildings. (The easiest way is to cover the milk/juice cartons with paper first) Encourage them to use different mediums, like paint, pen, crayon, craft paper cut to different shapes, etc. Stand pop sticks in paper clay for traffic lights. Cut paper roads to scale for dinky cars etc. Get creative with your kids, it's a great way to get them off the Ipad and into some very meaningful play!