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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Outside In, Inside Out!

Once a month I have the opportunity to meet with a group of lovely local educators and at our last meeting one of these educators was sharing how she loves how Reggio Schools "Bring the outside environment in and the inside environment out."  It made me reflect on ways I can do that for the children at Art and Soul.  We love exploring nature, and are outside each day.  We also do a lot of projects relating to and using nature,  but I would like the children to have even more exposure to the outside environment. 

One of the ways I like to bring nature into the classroom is through the nature table.  It is in a prominent place in the classroom and I have been noticing more and more children making discoveries at it.  

Here is the table at the end of the summer and below is our autumn table.
I love it when children find little treasure they would like to add to the table.

I also have a lot of plants and natural items that can be explored and played with in the school, but I am still hoping to offer even more ways to bridge our outside and inside environments.  Again, I find myself turning to the children and observing what sparks their interest and then expanding on that exploration both inside and outside.

One Wednesday two weeks ago,  I asked the children during morning free play  if any of them would like to take a nature walk with me.  Six children eagerly ran to their cubbies and prepared for the walk. On their own, three of the children decided to take magnifying glasses from the nature table.  As soon as we stepped outside they began to explore and comment on how everything looked through the magnifying glass.  It was a treat for me because I took note of their eagerness to explore in nature, but also the love they had of seeing nature from different perspectives.   They brought something from the inside environment out, and a whole new dialogue took place.

We began to make a collection of items in a basket to bring the natural environment back inside with us.  Along the way the children took turns with the magnifying glasses, and were really taking in the flowers, leaves and trees,  and even a little ant climbing a pine tree.

At one point we got to a tree with a wonderful pile of leaves under it and of course we just had to play!

Once we got back inside, the children joined the rest of the class for the end of free play.
Later during art time, I kept the same group of children together that took the walk and was curious if they would display the same level of exploration now that the nature items were brought inside.  Taking note of their enthusiasm for looking at nature items from different perspectives, I set out the magnifying glasses and also the overhead projector to try and bring more of the nature elements into the art room.

A collection of leaves on the overhead projector.

The children continued to engage with the materials, I also found it interesting when they took the magnifying glasses and were looking at the enlarged shadows with the same curiosity.

As they explored we had a conversation about leaves that I recorded  and wrote out below:

Wednesday October 8th, 2014
(C.J., L.P., F.F., K.K., I.B., R.H.)

Danielle: Let’s talk about leaves for a minute.  When you look at your leaf, they are all different colors why do you think that is?
F.F:  Um, cause they come from different trees.
Danielle: Cause they come from different trees F.F., that is a wonderful answer, I.B, what do you think?
I.B:  Cause it’s Fall. 
Danielle: And what happens in the Fall?
I.B: The leaves change colors.
L.P: And they fall.
Danielle: Why do you think they change colors?
I.B: Because it’s Fall.
Danielle: Yes, it is Fall, but what do you think makes the leaves change colors?
L.P: Fall.
Danielle: True, in the season Fall the leaves change colors, but what do you think happens inside the leaf that makes it change colors.
L.P: The wrapper gets old and comes apart.
Danielle: The wrapper gets old and comes apart, that is a great description L.P.  I like how you thought of the wrapper of the leaf as the color of the leaf.
F.F: Or the stems get mixed up.
Danielle: Or the stems get mixed up? Hmm, that’s interesting
L.P: Leaves can break.
Danielle: Leaves can break, R.H. why do you think leaves change colors?
R.H: Because the power of the wood and height of how high the leaves are.  Yeah, cause how high the sky is, and the sunlight and all the water, and all the trees and all the buildings, and all the everything.
Danielle: And what happens with that?
R.H:  It makes the Fall.
Danielle: It makes the Fall
R.H: yeah and it changes colors.
Danielle: Wow R.H., that’s very descriptive, I like how your brain was thinking about that.  K.K. do you have any ideas?
K.K: um, leaves change colors.  They turn yellow, and red, and green.
C.J: And Pink?
Danielle:  Yes, some leaves are yellow, red, green and even pink, what’s another color they may turn?
L.P: Black
F.F: Green
C.J: and Brown.
Danielle: Does anyone want to share any others thoughts as to why leaves change colors.
F.F: I do.
Danielle: Go ahead F.F.
F.F: Um, because I think, because like there is a wrapper on it in every different color.
L.P: I want to trace this (pointing to the leaf).
Danielle: We can do that next.  I have one more question.  What is something you notice about the leaf you have.  C.J. what is something you notice?
C.J:  Um brown.
Danielle: Yes, it’s brown do you know what type a leaf it is?
C.J: An Oak leaf!
Danielle: Do you notice anything about your leaf F.F?
F.F: Um, it’s a…
C.J: (encouragingly talking to F.F) Five points…
F.F: A Maple.  It’s green.
Danielle:  Any other colors.
C.J: Yellow.
F.F: yeah, yellow, and a darker green.
C.J: yellow, bellow, wellow.
Danielle: I.B, what do you notice about you leaf.
I.B: It’s red and pink.
Danielle: and do you know what type a leaf it is?
I.B: No?
C.J: Five points…
F.F: A maple!
Danielle: K.K can you tell me something about you leaf?
K.K: It’s red.
Danielle: and why do you like that leaf?
K.K: Cause it is a Maple Leaf.
Danielle: And you are so right, it is a Red Maple Leaf.

-As per L.P’s request, at this point in time I hand out paper for the children to trace their leaves.-

Some of the children traced their leaves exactly while other turned their leaves into a drawing.

A couple children wanted to cut out their leaves as well.  It was neat watching them take the lead on how they wanted to explore their art making.

After a couple children finished with their leaves they played on the overhead projector and some wanted to trace the leaves on the large sheet of paper that was on the easel.

Over the next two weeks we continued to explore leaves and have conversations about leaves.
Each day I tried to add little elements of nature to the art room to encourage their exploration.

Some children would gravitate to taking a leaf to the table and tracing it.

They were also offered paint, and some chose to paint the leaves they had, and others went up to the easel to paint.

I love how the children are becoming more and more comfortable in the art room, moving around the space feeling in charge of how they would like to participate in their art making for the day.

Each conversation would lead to a new element that would be brought into the studio.  A local store, Mahalo, donated these branch pencils to the classroom, and the children started to talk about how leaves are on branches.

With the new element of branches, children began to draw trees as well as their leaves.

We also added branches to the overhead projector and our group painting began to have a new dimension.

The children also continued to explore painting leaves as well as pine cones, furthering our conversation about fall and how the trees not only lose leaves, but pine cones and acorns as well.

That day after the children painted for a while some of the children wanted to glue their leaves on the painting so we took it off the easel so they could try and glue on their leaves.

We did get some leaves to stick, but then they became more interested in the idea of doing hand prints.

The painting is actually evolving into an elaborate mixed media piece.

The next day since the painting was on a table, so we explored with our overhead projector on the wall instead of the easel.  Again, I loved seeing how they enjoyed playing with the objects on the overhead.

This crew had really enjoyed using the brayer and printmaking when we did apple prints, so I thought it could be fun for them to do leaf prints on the group painting.

Initially this whole project began when six children decided they wanted to go on a nature walk.  Taking their lead, as well as wanting more nature brought into the classroom, the curiosity and exploration of the children led to conversations and experiences with leaves, then branches, and then trees.  Throughout these two plus weeks, the product of their exploration was this group painting that all the children kept returning to in one way or another.  The painting is still up in the classroom and we will continue to expand on it and our conversations. 

From my perspective I love what is happening in the studio, the children are becoming more acquainted with the space and comfortable with materials as well as the freedom to explore with these materials.  They are participating in conversations that honor their ideas, they may not be the scientifically correct answers as to why leaves change colors and fall from the trees, but it is not the correct answer that I am looking for.   What I am really hoping for is that these little ones develop confidence in exploring their ideas on a subject and in sharing their thoughts.   If children feel their ideas matter, than they will continue to develop their creative thinking skill, which will later help them to look at their studies from different points of view, and better their chances of success in school.
 It is exciting to see what will come next.

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