Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Clay? Why Together?


This year, Peabody Terrace Children's Center is undertaking to explore a shared material - clay - across all of the classrooms. Children's interactions with this medium will primarily take place in the Studio with me, although teachers will also be encouraged to make space for this work to extend to their classrooms. As we begin this exploration together, I hoped to take a moment to elaborate a bit about the "whys and wherefores" behind this shared investigation and why it has the potential to be really powerful. 

I am so excited for us to all explore the same medium together for several reasons. First of all, I love the idea that this may create a shared language across the center – that it will give both children and teachers in the different classrooms something in common. The possibility for growth, for shared experience, and for teaching that this offers seems very rich to me.

Secondly, I believe that this commitment to a single medium will help us, as teachers and observers, to focus in on what the children are doing with the clay presented to them. Sometimes there are so many different directions to go in the Studio, it can feel overwhelming as to which to choose. And sometimes this plethora can be as distracting for teachers as it is for children. Using clay as a centering point will, I hope, offer us a chance to deepen our use of the cycle of inquiry in relation to the Studio, and help us to build a practice that will outlast the three months we explore clay.

Now, you may be wondering how this “enforced” medium could possibly align with our practice as a Reggio-inspired center. How can this work still be student-led? In answer, I would say a few different things. I would say that our initial choice of a material does not preclude the idea of our engagement in the Studio being led by the children. In fact, by sticking with this material for three months, I believe we are giving ourselves an opportunity to really dig in and allow the children to “lead” us through their interactions and interests around this material. It is our job to look closely at how they are interested in using it and to think about how we can best support this interest. 

I would also say that, to me, one of the many roles of the Studio is to introduce children to new media – to new ways of seeing, interacting with, and representing the world – and to offer up these media as parts of the world we live in. In this light, our clay investigation is an opportunity to introduce our children to clay and to allow them to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with it. Through clay, they are getting to know the world, and they are developing a new language through which they can interpret it. This, to me, is very much in tune with the idea of the hundred languages of children, which are so central to our work here. 

In addition, I would say that clay is not a regimented material. It offers up so many different possibilities. I do not feel we are limiting either the children or their Studio experiences by choosing to work with it for three months. Finally, by creating alternate “Open Times,” the schedule this year will allow for other explorations in the studio in addition to clay. In other words, the experiences of children in the Studio need not be “limited” to clay at all. There are still other opportunities to be seized! 

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