Angelina and I, and indeed Children's Garden, are allowing ourselves to be experimenters this year with the studio. We think there are many Montessori schools exploring the Reggio Emilia approach, but they are not nearby, and it's difficult to find them. So we explore, using our training as professional observers of children to guide our decisions within the studio. We hope this blog with help us find like-minded educators who might share their thoughts and experiences.
One of our questions for the last few years has been - what is appropriate for our youngest children in a Reggio-inspired atelier? Toddlers are incorrigible explorers who are in what my late husband described as the "conquer the world" stage of development. They're also interested in cause and effect, so we believe giving them experiences with art materials which they can use to make something happen, is developmentally appropriate. So our question must become - how can we give toddlers experiences with art materials which make marks on faces, arms and clothes, in fact, leave traces everywhere, in a responsible and appropriate manner?
These are the things we have noticed about toddlers:
- They don't talk too much, so a Reggio-like collaborative project based on sharing ideas orally doesn't seem developmentally appropriate to us. (Toddlers do, however, communicate using many languages of expression, so a careful observer notices their interests. Angelina noted on Friday that the toddlers love their fish, and they love water. Their minimal oral language does give us direction.)
- The Reggio Emilia educational approach is strongly socio-constructivist, and Montessori's approach is not. Reggio educators work with children in small groups, asking generative questions which help build a negotiated plan to follow within a project. Obviously, socio-constructivism implies working together, and toddlers are not skilled sharers of work, however, unlike the older children from the preschool classrooms, they seem to have no problem with sharing a large piece of canvas or paper which is being used for drawing. They seem to feel no ownership about their "marks" on the paper. My question - if we expose them regularly to a socio-constructivist experience in the studio, will they be comfortable with the process of collaborative work?
- Since coming to our school, at the toddler level, is often the first experience of school that a child has, is it best for the toddlers to come into the atelier, or is it more appropriate for Angelina and me, the studio educators, to come to them instead of them coming to us?
- What should we do about a child who is very oral, as many toddlers are, and ends up with paint, glue or markers in their mouths? Since all our products are non-toxic, is that OK? As a parent myself, I recall how it felt to pick my own children up from school covered with paint, or mud, or water, and know that there is always a moment of angst before even the most enlightened parent can reconcile the loss of a nice shirt or dress.
So, having wrestled with those questions, which will stay with us going forward, I spent Friday afternoon with our afternoon toddlers, aged 18 months to around 2 1/2 at this time of the school year. Our goal for the toddlers was two-fold - to introduce them to the studio itself, and to give them an experience of making lines with one tool, which on Friday was a black washable marker. We believe children learn from each other in a mix-age group, so within our toddler class, although the age span is small, there are older children who are returning each year. The returning toddlers were quite comfortable with the studio, but for some of the new toddlers, we felt the notion of leaving their room might not feel safe, so I placed a table right outside their classroom and invited children to join me there. In the morning Angelina sat at a table within their classroom itself. We were curious about which experience - us joining them, or them joining us - would be most successful for the toddlers, and perhaps at this point we have not reached any conclusions.
These were my observations of the toddlers using a marker to make lines. They are most interested in how the marker works - how to take off the lid, and how to put it back on. One little girl simply wanted to take all five markers, open them, and leave. It seemed to me that lines were of no interest to her. Staying with me for more than five minutes was rare, although several toddlers returned to try again, sometimes several times. Toddlers stare, looking intently at a face they don't see in their room each day, and watching my mouth as I talked. For toddlers, process is everything. They seemed to like the process of making lines, or marks. Simple is just fine if you are small, in fact, it is best!