One of the hallmarks of my program is its child-centered-ness. I am a firm believer in the importance of play-based, organic experiences that are rooted solidly in the children’s interests. My role is to scaffold and extend their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development by wading with them in the metaphorical pools in which they are already swimming. Too much metaphor for a Monday?
I recently finished the book, Theories of Childhood by Carol Garhart Mooney. What a good reminder of my college classes on the theories of child growth and development! In reading about Montessori, I was reminded of how important it is that children can access the materials they need when they want them. “Montessori stressed the need for children to be able to reach materials when they needed them, in order to help children become responsible for their own learning.” (Mooney, 26) Yes! I agree! Yet, while I read, I thought of the art materials I keep out of reach of the kids and take down only when I think its time to paint or glue or cut. Of course, if anyone asks to paint or glue or cut (and it’s not five minutes before lunch time!) I am happy to set up the materials to support their play. And still – out of sight is out of mind, and the rich links between dramatic play and art, block play and art, reading and art, large motor play and art were left gathering dust on the shelf.
I did a little reflecting, and decided to try opening the gates. Everything accessible, all the time. Sounds a little scary, huh? Yeah…for me too! I had some reservations. But they won’t clean it up, and I’ll be left scrambling at lunch time to clean paint off the floor! But they’ll draw on the cabinets! But they’ll…umm…support their endeavors to become lifelong learners? They’ll deepen their visual literacy skills in relationship to other developmental domains? The artistic and sensory among us will have a permanent outlet for their emotions and possibly learn to self-regulate in the face of mounting stressors? The downsides of mess and inconvenience were clearly outweighed by the enormous learning possibilities afforded with access. Things like small choke-ables and scissors are stored in containers with lids that allow for access by the older ones among us but prevent unsupervised use by the younger ones.
So we had a group discussion. As with everything in our days, we negotiate about the way things happen. Just because I am the biggest and have the loudest voice does not mean that my ways are the most important or only ways. As I model listening and an attitude of “working-with”, the children learn to listen and work with each other. And as I am flexible, they learn flexibility with the goal of supporting everyone’s mutual needs.
“Everyone, I have realized something. I keep most of the art materials in areas that you can’t get to when you want to. I want to change that. I would like to have paper, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paint, and play dough stored where you can get to them whenever you need them. I think this will really help our learning.” Roaring acceptance followed, as you can imagine. “I have one concern. Our art space is shared with our meal space. If we have materials out at mealtimes, that will make eating difficult. Let’s think about what we will need to do with the materials when we are done to make sure our meal space is ready when we need it.”
With that, we had a lengthy discussion of how we might care for our space with different materials. The responsibility of caring for one’s space is a skill I am charged with growing, and children are fully capable of growing into the responsibilities they are given. They are capable of keeping paint cleaned up, and markers off the walls if they are given the chance to try!
I fully support the notion that children need to pursue their own ends throughout the day, which means that with six kids here everyday, there may be as many as six different explorations taking place at one time. I am happy to report that since I have committed to making everything accessible, all the time, I have not had any “Emily-meltdowns-with-a-table-full-of-paint-at-lunchtime,” but simply deeply engaged children making connections and supporting their play in ever rich and meaningful ways.
The following pictures highlight some of the ways our space gets used simultaneously throughout the day. Enjoy!