Upon returning to school after winter vacation, many children brought with them high energy and some regression regarding managing their emotions. As the essence of my peace education program is developing emotional and social intelligence, I rolled up my sleeves.
I had just finished when I noticed children engaged in some rolling of their own. Rolling gleefully on the round rug seemed to be the activity of choice for two energetic three-year-olds, I kept my ears open for what else they might find engaging.
I heard a snippet of conversation about an airplane and found the longest box I could in our recycling center. "Would you like to make a plane from this box?" I asked. Hearty, energetic yeses echoed through the room as they began to decorate the box. Simultaneously, they quickly stopped drawing with their oil pastels, seemingly uncertain of how to proceed.
"Could it become the wings?" I wondered aloud about the box. It was my best guess as to what might be stopping them. They liked that idea. We’d just received some wonderful wide paper from a parent. I asked if I could slip the thick paper under their box. Aside from using it to protect the table, they could also use it to draw other parts of the plane.
Without my having to mention that possibility, one child immediately began to draw circles, saying they were seats.
A discussion began between the two boys about how to make your ears pop when flying. From there they organically moved themselves to a nearby black bench where they transformed from being passengers to becoming pilots. I was keeping a more careful eye than usual on their progress, as, in moments, a school tour by prospective parents was about to occur. While my program has no set agenda and emerges from the needs of the children, today I did have a need of my own. I wanted to have the children engaged in their work so that I’d be able to speak to the parents about the program.
"Do you need a steering wheel?" I asked the pilots.
"Pilots don’t need steering wheels, Elyse. They have buttons." Not all scaffolding, even when closely connected to the children’s own ideas, is accepted by the children.
"I’ll go look for buttons," the other child said, going back to our recycling center of loose parts.
He returned with a handful of circular cardboard. The other pilot nodded his head, accepting the choice of materials. The two boys went about taping the cardboard to the top of the wooden box beside the bench. While children can play inside the box, the top often served as a table for their art-making.
The children continued taping as the group of parents entered the room. They pushed their buttons as I talked to the parents about the difference between a teacher-directed activity and one that emerges from the play of the children. Both are vital. One needs the teacher’s expertise in observation, research and preparation. The other involves the art of listening and scaffolding spontaneously from observing the children’s play and ideas.
As the parents left the Expressive Arts room to continue with their tour of our schools, I smiled broadly, having once again witnessed the power of art in the art of managing emotions.
Small groups of children are easier to observe in order to channel their energy into something focused and creative. In larger classrooms, one teacher might work with a small group while the remaining children are engaged in outdoor play with other teachers.
Having a variety of materials available for their selection and yo
ur scaffolding on their ideas adds to the success of this activity.