Lately I've been observing how the abundance of available art materials has affected the children’s behavior. How they use the materials has expanded, particularly in the area of dramatic play. However, clean-up time has become quite a challenge.
Last week I said to the children, “I’ve noticed that everyone has a great time and lots of energy for making art and playing with the materials but when it’s time to clean up, many of you say that you are very tired, even too tired to clean up. Some of you even tell me you feel sick. What do you think this is about?”
Some children giggled, some confessed that they don’t like cleaning up and others stared at me blankly. It’s often the reason we aren’t willing to allow children to take their creativity to the border of chaos due to concerns about their resistance when it’s time to transition to another activity.
My reminders and their good intentions to take out only what they were willing to put back later brought forth varied laments. ”I’m sooooo tired.” “My stomach hurts.” “I didn’t sleep last night.” All the comments were intended to excuse them from cleaning up.
We have many songs and games to engage the children and make cleanup more fun. I’ll hide my eyes and set a timer, watching to see if they can beat the clock. We have a special giraffe that the children can sign up for to go around the room, whispering to each child, “clean-up time.”
Because its mouth can be manipulated, the giraffe will often model the picking up of small materials and returning them to their place. All the clean-up tools work at times but I am always looking for new ideas, particularly those coming from the children themselves.
Just before a tour of our school by potential parents, I decided to go with the flow and stretch my own comfort level, viewing the puppets as ‘open ended’ materials with many ways of being used. Little did I know that I would soon be tested on my good intentions. While I’d been helping to work out a conflict on one side of the room, several other children had been very creative with their use of many, many, many puppets in the dramatic play area.
Rather than stressing or beginning an immediate cleanup, I paused before reacting. I wanted to discover the motivation of the children. I admit this was no easy task as the children had taken out over 20 puppets which were now lying on the red rug. To top that, one boy was actually laying spread out on top of the puppets. The others sat inside a large cardboard box, also placed over the puppets.
I could again feel myself wanting to quickly restore order and my own comfort level but, due to successfully stretching myself at the Quaker mule poster (see last blog), I sat down beside them and observed.
“The puppets are the water, I’m swimming,” volunteered one boy.
“And I’m in a boat,” said the boy in the box. As they were having so much fun, I loosened my preconceived thoughts on how puppets should be used or whether the children would willingly return the puppets to their ‘home’ and allowed their innate creativity to continue. With my front row seat to the action on the red rug, I noticed that they stayed within the parameters of their imagined theme. What at first had looked chaotic to me was not random, it was well thought out.
Suddenly, just as I was growing comfortable, their ideas expanded. They began to utilize the preschool concept of transporting, an important developmental task.
The puppets were placed in boxes as the children became community helpers, collecting garbage. The boxes became trucks and trains and barges into which the children dumped the puppets.
As they played out the roles of important community helpers that they’d studied, I breathed into and released my initial distaste of the puppets transforming into garbage. The children did not make similar judgments. An old hand at managing emotions, I soon relaxed and enjoyed observing their play.
When they were finished, the puppets were readily returned using the puppet toss game previously discovered with other children. One child at a time would sit in the rocking chair and toss the puppets into a large woven basket, their ‘home.’
“The garbage is turning back into puppets,” I said with delight just as potential parents knocked on our door.
As a veteran teacher in year 30 of developing my expressive arts program, I have to continually challenge myself to stretch my own comfort zone and grow. Encouraged by our Executive Director, Belann Giarretto, I often reflect on what I need to do or think about in order to become as creative in my teaching as the children are in their play.
I am finding that I do not need to make huge leaps in order to feel enlivened. For today, I only had to explore what they were doing and scaffold with them from what appeared to be chaos back to the edge of order before the next group arrived at expressive arts. (And the touring parents!)
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
· What is your comfort level? (during cleanup, use of materials, physical boundaries, etc.)
· Can you trust yourself to stretch yet stay within the limitations of your schedule or individual/group safety?
· Can anything be eliminated in your current schedule in order to create fewer transitions and more time for the children's creativity to unfold?
Knowing yourself and asking yourself the right questions to reflect on can soften the edges of using what’s worked in the past and promote new growth. Expanding our own curiosity also enhances our creativity as teachers.
As we move into March 2016, are you feeling inspired or in need of some change? Having one new thought may be all you need. What can you think about differently?
In being willing to stay with the children’s theme of collecting and moving garbage, I was able to scaffold when it came time to sort the puppets before putting them away.
I offered a small paper shopping bag, saying, “The finger puppets can be recycled rather than go into landfill. Let’s find them and put them in this paper bag.” One child readily volunteered for the job. Another came forward to help her.
What have you discovered? I’d love to begin a conversation on this vital subject that brings a breath of fresh air to our teaching.