My absence in blogging often happens when I am in “Seeker” mode. You know, looking and learning about a particular topic. Well I am in deep seeker mode… hence the hiatus. I feel as if I am in this deep learning curve of how to manage, how to grow as and EC educator, and what can I learn from those rich and intense topics such as war play, social dynamics, partnering with families, and studio work. Then it occurred to me “why am I not writing about this!”. After all it would help me learn and reflect. So here it is! My first series of “seeker” mode blogging. I don’t have the thumb on these topics. I might not have the answers. I am exploring! I am perfecting my practice and journey. I am sharing my highs and lows. This series of “studio” work was inspired by me looking for help with ideas for growing as a “studio” practitioner and realizing nobody has anything out there! In defense of that, much of the practice of studio comes from Reggio and Reggio honors that children’s work comes from the community of the children, school, environment, culture, and families. Rock on! I believe that too! So I have the same fear! What if I post a picture and someone says “I want to copy that!” even if it has no context in their environment? But, I am letting go of that fear. Copy away! But when your studio crashes and burns and the root source of why is because the children were not interested I do not want the blame to fall here – that is on you – do not copy the ideas that come from my community! – be inspired not blue printed by these posts! And finally ………………………….. We start:
Putting My Mind into Studio Work (Part I of studio study)
Selecting a topic and group:
I know that it is time for me to plan a studio with a specific group of children when I find myself wishing I could go deeper with a concept or stage a better provocation for the children when working with them in the classroom or play yard.
While playing with the children and the water sprayers by the river the concept of what “water pressure” is came up. This is a deep and complicated concept that they were very interested in. However, they were asking what was making the sprayers hard to pull for filling when it was not that hard to push and spray them. Some of the children understood that it was the water pulling up into the device that made this tricky. After gathering many language clips of what they thought it was and why they were curious about this (as well as the children asking what it is called when this happens) I shared that it was called water pressure. I also realized that this is a concept that needed more hands on exploration. This marks for me that a studio is needed.
Sometimes I may not find that the idea for a studio comes while working with the children but later when I am reflecting upon my notes from the day. If I find a reoccurring interest in my book from several children that could be expanded upon I know that it is time for a studio.
Example: While looking through my notes I discovered that many children were pretending to make soup in the play yard and at the play kitchen. They were discussing flavors, helping serve fellow playmates, and debating ingredients. This prompted me to stage a soup making “Language of Food” studio with these children.
When selecting my “Language of Food” children I also was attentive to who I was mixing into the group; I wanted to allow this to be a chance to build friendships and practice social skills. Sometimes this will be a secondary purpose to studio and other times this will be my primary reason for staging a studio.
When choosing children for studio I am aware of the balance of children. A studio must be intimate and staged for deep exploration. I will choose 4 to 6 depending on how many are interested and who is in the mix. The “who” is important – I need the balance to allow for social growth and problem solving so I may choose children that would benefit from working together more, even if they seem to have conflict in the play yard or classroom. However, if this is going to hinder studio from having any positive forward movement and my whole time will be spent in management mode then I know I need to choose a different mix. It is not to say that it is important to bring all children into studio – of course that is a must! But I can make sure that the opportunity for conflict in a studio will provide growth the children and not unrest.
Sometimes studio happens just to bring the children in and let them try out an area. If there are a group of children that have been asking to build then maybe they need some time in the construction area. Sometimes a child is running behind my group and wanting to come in and if I can allow for the set-up of materials to include them then I go for it! It makes me nervous because it was not in my plan but it leaves room to grow for me and the children – and often surprises me to see what happens.
When staging my studio I think of every aspect. Each choice I make is with intention. Things I consider when staging:
· What provocation will I use? (a story, a book, a picture, etc).
· Is the provocation meaningful or real enough?
· How many materials do I want out?
· What is the purpose of my studio and do my materials fit this purpose?
· Are there enough materials for everyone?
· Do I want my materials to inspire collaborative work or individual work?
· If my materials are for individual work what language and open ended prompts will I use to encourage social connections?
· How many of the materials are REAL objects (e.g. tools, natural, foods, etc.)?
· How many materials allow for independence and how many will need my assistance? (I want few to need me unless I am teaching them to use a new prop or tool. I want the ideas and work to be their own).
· Does my set up look organized, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing?
· Are there multiple purposes and open ended opportunities?
· Is the studio set up in a way that the children can lead the experience and not single purposed?
Before I bring the children over I look at my set up and try to play out the potential scenario in my head. I think about whether the set up will work for this potential and if there is everything needed in the area (this is when I might catch an oops! – I guess I need some water for soup making). This play through allows me to consider things that will trip me up when working with the children.
I take a deep breath before scooping the children up and realize that not every studio will be a success. The staging may not work for the children, the mix may not work like I thought, and the provocation may not fit the interest as I thought…
During studio I introduce the provocation and materials.
This is also when I set expectations for safety and what some choices might be.
Questions I may ask during studio:
· What is your idea?
· What is happening?
· How do you feel?
· Tell me more about…
· What do you notice about…
· What is your favorite… (and tell me why)
· What do you think about…
· I wonder…
· Sometimes I just play off of their wonderings by repeating what they asked or asking a follow up question about one of their observations (e.g. Wow! Johnny noticed that this tomato was orange, I thought we just said tomatoes were red?).
I try to keep the conversation open ended and continuous. I want the children to share as many ideas they have and go deeper with their seeking of answers.
I try not to give the answers to them but put questions back at them with another question:
– I don’t know. What do you think?
– Corey wants to know how the seeds got in the tomato. Does anyone have an idea?
When documenting a studio I remember that the experience is most important. I know it is more important how they come to know something than what they know. The information they can share is important but how did each child come to know something is true is more important. Process comes before product.
I find it best to keep my hands free (so that I can help and engage with the children) with a recorder or live-scribe pen for audio. I also have a notebook handy for quick notes and my camera. I know that I will need to revisit these documentations so that I can reflect upon what the children explored, discovered, and want to know next.
Studio is a process and I invite every educator to join the joyful journey of engaging children in the rich and intimate experience of studio work. Join me in my blog series of studying preschool studio work.