Monday, July 1, 2013

How do we honor children's hard work?

We might honor it in the moment by observing it, commenting on it, and supporting it. When I see a child has spent time with an idea or a creation - thought about it, struggled with it, maybe had to make changes -  rethink some of its aspects - I want them to know that I was a witness to the process.

We might honor it later by taking time to reflect on what we observed. In reflecting, I feel I am peeling away the layers of the moment, seeking out the glimmer of insight that first drew my attention. I take a second look again at what I sa, turning it over in my minds, like a puzzle box. I search for its intricacies, for its angles, for its potential. I try to use it as a window into children's minds - their understanding of the world's mysteries. More importantly, perhaps, I try to draw back the curtain to look beyond what they know and seek out what it is they want to know.

We might honor it through documentation. I find it liberating to set my thoughts down on paper, sharing all of my musings with children, teachers, and families. It allows me a sense of pride in my work, on the one hand. On the other, it opens up possibilities for further reflection and a sharing of knowledge. Displaying my interpretation of an encounter, I am inviting the community to share in a conversation.

We might honor it by offering further provocation. Mother, art educator, and blogger, Rachelle Doorley writes, "Children who set up their own problems are invested in the process of learning and are motivated to see a project through completion." I constantly strive to offer children provocations that will present them with potentially interesting problems - problems that they will want to work hard and long to solve. I want to follow along with them as they question and probe and discover, and I continue to ask my own questions as we take the journey together. My provocations are one way of saying, "I have been trying to listen to what you are telling me. I'm not sure I am understanding it completely, but here is one idea I had. What do you think?" 

We might honor it with celebration. Right now, our center is preparing for a grand celebration of the past year - our third annual Showcase - and teachers and children alike are so excited for the chance to share  our work with families and friends. Of course, celebrations do not always have to be on such a large scale. Just a few weeks earlier, a group of toddlers held their very own special exhibit during their Studio time, to celebrate all of the hard, focused work they have done together this year. Maddy, Max, and Jordan have been coming to the Studio together, along with their classroom teacher Cathy, since September, and they have continued to use clay as their primary medium, even when nearly all of the other Studio groups branched off into new directions. With each visit to the Studio, this group of children has continued to build on what they had worked on previously, developing a unique, complex, shared vocabulary. Together, these children moved from flattening clay by pressing and peeling if off their boards, to tossing it in the air over and over to shape it into a "baby head," to building up castles from a shared block of clay, to adding glass pebbles (which they named "peekies"), wires, and water to make their creations "more stable." The Studio now houses an entire shelf of their clay sculptures, which were part of the inspiration for our exhibit. 

While parents hear about these bi-weekly Studio sessions through Cathy's documentation, they have not had many opportunities to visit the Studio to see the work first-hand. We decided to create just such an opportunity, setting aside a Studio time for a private exhibition of the children's work, words, and process for the parents to visit. We also decided to offer the adults a chance to learn from their children, working alongside them with the clay, peekies, and wire that they know so much about. 
 The exhibit, which was attended by the mothers of all three children, proved a wonderful celebration of the trio's hard work. Maddy, Max, and Jordan were extremely excited to show their moms their creations, and even more excited to show them how to work with the clay. As conversations developed around the clay and its uses, the children were always ready to answer any questions the adults posed.

Scarlet (Max's mom): How do I take clay off, Max?
Max: You just grab it.
Maddy: I need more water. Here's a brush.
Shawna (Maddy's mom): How should I use it?
Maddy: You have to wipe it on the clay like this, then poke like this. Bump bump bump.
Leigh (Jordan's mom): Why are we adding water?
Jordan: To make it sticky. 
This special celebration gave these children a unique opportunity to share an important piece of their year at our center with some of the people who matter most to them. Watching their interactions with their moms and the clay through the lens of my camera, I was struck by how self-sufficient they were, and how easily they were able to solve any problem they ran into with minimal prompting. One moment, in particular, stood out to me, making me realize how much these children had taken on the role of the teacher in this situation. As Maddy began to rub the surface of her wet clay castle with her hand, she turned to Shawna, asking her questions that we often will ask children: "How does it feel on your hand? Do you like how it feels?" 

This process of exhibiting the long-term work of these three children is what prompted me to think about all of the different ways we can honor children's work through our practice. I felt as though this particular even allowed for a very special form of honoring that I was able to share with the children and their parents on a more personal level. The fact that the children later suggested having a "dad's day" at the Studio too makes me think that this must have been a powerful experience for Maddy, Max, and Jordan, as well.

How do you see yourself honoring children's work?
What great feats have you celebrated with your loved ones or with the people you work with? 
What do these celebrations mean to you?


  1. Love this article, about a little discussed subject in blogs. Thanks.

  2. lovely article and it looks like you have a beautiful school!

  3. Thank you! Do either of you work at schools with a similar culture? Or are there other ways you find yourself honoring a child's work - at school or at home?

    1. Hi Katie,
      I'm really excited to explore your blog a little more when I have some time off next month! I'm a teacher at a preschool in Cincinnati where I split my time between being the studio teacher and a classroom teacher. I've been very interested in finding other studio teachers/atelieristas to share ideas and conversations with. Are there any other blogs you'd recommend? Or other discussion platforms? Thanks! Rachel

    2. Rachel - I, too, am always looking for fellow atelieristas to talk to! Sometimes it can be isolating to be the only one - and I imagine that working as a classroom teacher as well throws a whole lot more into the mix. You are always welcome to communicate with me via the blog. In addition, you can get in touch with me via our school's website (email our director and she will send it along to me) if you want to email directly. Under our Beautiful Blogs list, the "atelierista" blog and "new city arts" might be good to check out.