Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Folding, cutting, sticking, drawing

I want to write a little about one of the hubs of the classroom.

It's what we call the writing table or drawing table. Which is maybe not the right name for it. A lot more happens than writing and drawing. It could perhaps be called the paper table. It's got a lot of stationery on it. Bits of paper of various sizes, glues, scissors. A lot of cutting, gluing, sticking, folding, stamping and printing happens. A lot of colouring in too. But, these names and simple descriptions aren't really adequate.

It’s 'continuous provision', as we call it: it’s always there, and used every day. I imagine that it extends beyond school too: children often have stationery at home.

Most early years classes have got something like this table. Certainly all four of our pre-K and Kindergarten classes have. This is what continuous provision is all about: a place where children can return again and again and make something, trying out new ideas, combining things they’ve done before, learning from each other.

Since they came to the school when they were three, R and K have been doing this. They're not the only ones, but let's focus on them for now. They're four years old; they've been in Moon class for 15 months. R at first stood out as leader of the duo, always inventive, always relishing what she does. But K seems to be inspired by her to be similarly creative, making things that are distinctive to her, having her own strengths and emphases.

An example, back in September: R's envelope-picture:

What kind of mathematics are present in creating this? An awareness of bringing the corners into the middle of the paper to reorient the square and create triangular flaps. A lot of spatial thinking. An example might be the awareness that when you fold the paper over once, the back of the folded paper faces the same way as the front.  She is probably aware that the orientation of the square changes too: first it was in a 'diamond' orientation, now it's in the conventional orientation. She'll be aware that the small square is made up of four triangles. And that there are diagonal lines across the square that meet in the centre. She's aware that some things can be undone, or almost undone. Pencil can be rubbed out. Cuts can be taped together again. And some things can't be undone. The felt pen drawing can't be rubbed out very easily.

At the same time, K was doing some folding too:

These paper explorations contrast with art activities that use specifically 'art' materials, painting in particular. There seems to be more of a tinkering feel, more mixing. Take R here, where she’s decided to draw round the scissors, drawn and colored in a pill shape, written a little, filled a rectangle…

There's a really strong social element in this. There was a group of girls in Star Class two years ago who all tuned into each other with their drawing and colouring, got more and more confident in that, and continued it into Kindergarten.

There’s also the sense of self-efficacy, of choosing a project, seeing it through to completion, working alongside others and learning from each other. There’s a kind of joy in the workshop ambience, in having control and making together and separately.

Here's some more, this time involving cut-outs:
With this must come some sense of how when you fold and cut, the hole you achieve is not like the cut you made. And a developing understanding of the relationship between the two.

There can be folded-and-cut shapes inside other folded-and-cut shapes:
The smaller shape suggested a watermelon to the girls. It's rare for these creations to be completely abstract; they usually represent something. This is a general feature of a lot of play - mathematics is mixed with creation is mixed with representation is mixed with narrative is mixed is mixed with language is mixed with sociability...

Another day, a butterfly:
Another day, a bird:
Another day, flowers composed of four punched hearts rotated:
What is the role of the adult here? Obviously, we keep the table stocked, and help the students to keep it tidy and organised. In the moment, we chat if it doesn't interrupt the flow of the play and conversation. We appreciate what the students are doing, how they're thinking and experimenting, again in a way that doesn't distract from the flow. We document and share with parents on Seesaw, and often with the class in our meeting times. Sometimes we play alongside too; this usually doesn't lead to much in itself, but allows us to be in the workshop too.

This time I started playing with R's leftovers (I'd asked if that was OK). I started making little 'windows' with the heart holes. R quite liked what I was doing this time, and together we made a picture, incorporating a bear on a trampoline, and also some of the folded and cut squares  that were being made at the table at the same time.
But, it's really not necessary for me to be adding anything in to this process: there's so much happening already: theories being refined, interests pursued, skills honed, and much more. 

We leave approximately the same materials on the table most of the time, and that's its power really. The little squares, the A4 sheets, the scissors, glue, tape and pens are enough for an endless range of operations, and combinations of operations that, the way children use them playfully, become more and more sophisticated.

Other things we provide in the class are more one-off. Putting some flowers in a vase to be sketched, along with the sketching materials. This is valid too, but is not a familiar arena that encourages the independence and agency of the students to develop.

In November, R gave a folded-and cut-out character to P, a boy she hasn't had much direct play or conversation with. One of them stuck the character to a sheet of paper, and P added lots of line drawing background. He carried it around with him for half the day.
I was surprised and delighted that this paper play had become a way of reaching out in friendship.

But maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. These spaces that the students own, which become for them both a laboratory and a language are the natural places for the real events of the class to happen in.