Monday, October 15, 2012

Building Relationships in the Studio

Jordan, Max, and Maddy enter the Studio to discover three big lumps of clay set out on the floor. Before long, the three toddlers each have a big block of clay that they identify as their own. Maddy lifts her clay up, even though it is soooo heavy.

Maddy: Mine's the biggest. Look, I caught it.
Jordan: Can I try it?
Maddy: No this is my ones.

Jordan contents herself with scraping her fingers across her clay. Maddy jumps on her block, balances, and, a few minutes later, returns to the earlier conversation.

Maddy: Okay, now you can have mine.
Jordan: Okay, and you can have mine.
Max: Here's another trade comin.' You want to trade with me, Maddy?
Maddy: Okay you can have Jordan's.

Many similar conversations happen each week in the Studio as groups of children return to revisit clay together. The majority of these children come together consistently - the same children with the same teacher each time they see the clay.

This sometimes makes me wonder - what does this constancy mean? To me, sometimes it can mean feeling restricted or tied down. The practice of set groups makes it hard to reorganize groups based on specific interests of children as they emerge. I might see different children in different groups drawn to the same activity, but our group arrangements don't allow these three children to be reorganized into a new Studio group (unless it is arranged as an extra Open Time). These moments leave me feeling frustrated by this system, longing for more leniency, more give-and-take with how our Studio functions.

However, this constancy also has beautiful potential - the possibility to build relationships between children as well as between a child and a material. As groups of children continue to encounter the Studio and its gifts together, they also find themselves learning how to negotiate the sharing and use of this space with their peers. The clay they see before them is not merely a material to explore - it is an entity that they must either take possession of or relinquish sole possession over. It can be viewed as either a finite quantity to be treasured, saved, and used for one's own purpose, or as a bounty to be shared, combined, divided, and recombined as needed. In other words, the Studio becomes a microcosm of the social learning that is already so predominant in the minds and lives of young children.

Of course, this question of possession versus collaboration would exist for the children whether or not they came in the same groups each time. However, what would most likely not arise (or would at least take longer to arise) would be the building of a shared culture around this work for the children involved. By coming to the Studio with the same group each time, the children are able to build trust, to develop a language for tricky situations, to set precedents, and to recall those precedents later. In other words, Studio can become an ongoing conversation around children's relationships with each other and a material, rather than discreet, disconnected points that all involve clay.

I look at the small fragment of Jordan, Max, and Maddy's visit together, and I see an important foundation being built. What do you see happening for these children in this brief encounter with clay and with each other?

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