The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
a hundred worlds
a hundred worlds
to dream. *
These are the first two stanzas of a poem, The Hundred Languages of Children, by the founder of the Reggio-Emilia approach, Loris Malaguzzi. It conveys the importance of imagination and discovery in early childhood learning. “Much of the Reggio-Emilia philosophy is based on protecting children from becoming subjected too early to institutionalized doctrines which often make learning a chore rather than an extension of natural curiosity.” * Many of our American preschools are becoming Reggio-inspired. I’m flattered when my Executive Director describes my program to parents as being “Reggio before Reggio.”
Across the ocean from Italy’s Reggio Emilia, Bev Bos** was also advocating for children’s imagination and innate joy of discovery. It is hard to imagine this dynamic leader of the early childhood field doing anything quietly, no less as she did recently, passing quietly in her sleep.
Our Executive Director, Belann Giarretto, recently told the staff some innovative stories of her personal hero.
This expert of preschool learning had a truckload of sand dumped inside her school in Roseville, CA** I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall observing the children’s response to that! There’s another story of the children painting with their hair! It brought back memories of my own child, as a preschooler, using her nose to work with clay. There are links below including one interview on a child’s sense of wonder. We will miss you Bev Bos. Your spirit lives on in the inspiring work you modeled in the field of early childhood.
As teachers, we, too, can assist in engaging and scaffolding on our children’s sense of wonder. As we marvel at their imaginations and reflect on their art and play, there is so much we can learn about children and their interests. By observing and reflecting, we can learn what we need to do next to best serve them. What would they love to further explore and discover?
For this blog, I have some simple suggestions for teachers on one of the hundred languages of children: drawing. In future blogs, I will focus on puppets, dramatic play, art-making and others
While I do have a certificate in art therapy, most of my understanding of children’s drawings comes from intuition and open ended questions that I offer the children as ‘wondering.’
“I’m wondering about these purple lines. I noticed you put them next to the wide strokes of orange color.” This often elicits a response as to what the line represents to the child or opens up a dialogue previously unimagined.
We cannot assume that we know what the child has drawn even if it appears highly representational.
Asking or wondering about how the figure is feeling is preferred to a statement such as “He looks sad.”
An incorrect spoken guess may shut down the child or intrude on the process. Wondering offers an opportunity for the child to go into detail about the feeling.
We may miss entry into their world by asking a yes- or-no question. Recently I remember biting my lip so as not to guess about a 3 year old’s accurate drawing. Inviting her to tell me about this orange part, respected the child’s art while opening up a dialogue.
“That’s a lizard I saw on my trip,” she told me. While my guess had been correct, waiting to be invited into her world allowed for greater entry. The child began sharing in detail what might have ended with a simple “yes,” were it not for asking an open-ended question.
I once had a 5 year old whose representational drawing was very detailed. When I asked about what seemed a random line connected to the witch’s hat, he had this to say,” Oh that’s not part of her hat. That’s where the sky of the night meets the sky of the day.”
Had I not followed my own curiosity, I’d have never received that sliver of pure poetry that I still remember 40 years later.
CHECKLIST FOR TEACHERS REGARDING CHILDREN’S ART:
· Tread gently and with respect. We are entering the inner world of the child.
· Don’t assume we know what the child has drawn
· Follow through on our natural curiosity or intuition
· Ask open ended questions such as “Can you tell me about it?”
· Observe how the child is responding to your questions as to whether to continue or let them know that their art is enough
Some children do not like to share in words. If they meet our questions, or even observations, with silence or body defensiveness, I might respond to their non-verbal message with “Your art speaks for itself.” When I see a quick nod, I sense that I’ve affirmed that the drawing itself is enough. It’s up to me, to all of us, to learn the hundred languages of children.