The children in Early Years 1 have a strong relationship with the nearby forest as we spend weekly time exploring there. This natural ever changing setting provides countless opportunities to develop and explore theories connected to our unit of inquiry’s central idea that The Earth’s natural cycles influence the activity of living things.
The Language of Photography
With the intention of inquiring into natural cycles and patterns of behaviour in living things, we took some time to observe the children’s self-initiated interests during forest explorations. One morning, it was proposed that the children use cameras to take photographs of whatever they found compelling. In this way, the language of photography became a tool for the children to demonstrate their interests by sharing what they were drawn to through the literal lens of the camera. It quickly became clear that trees were a strong source of fascination and possible entry point for this exploration.
(Photo by Felipe Early Years 1)
Back at the classroom, we met, shared the images the children had captured as well as the children’s ideas about the trees. One child remarked that, “It looks like the branches are talking to each other.” The children were engaged with this idea and we wondered together what the trees might say if they could indeed talk. As a team of educators, we found this a powerful and significant approach to making sense of their images of winter trees. In their poetic way, the children seemed to be giving a “voice” to the trees.
Emma: “He’s saying Daddy or Mommy or baby.”
Felipe: “Maybe it’s a storm.”
Neela: “Like he says his clothes are falling down like he’s so skinny and spiky because there’s no leaves and maybe he wants to take a bath.”
(Sharing ideas about the children’s tree photographs)
Through their words, the children expressed some discoveries about ways trees are affected by winter in our local context including leafless branches and windy storms. The children were given opportunities to explore their initial ideas with diverse materials and through multiple symbolic languages. We wanted to support the children with their exploration of the concept of causation and their wonderings around “Why is it like it is”?
The Language of Clay, Sculpture and Design
Typically, journeys to the forest include bringing back some natural treasures like branches, greenery, pinecones and acorns. Back in the classroom, we proposed these materials to the children together with clay. Some children chose to recreate the forest as they experienced it. Others represented the stream with clay and yarn. The nature of the work was highly collaborative with rich discussion and interaction. Amelie shared, “It’s the water when it’s moving.” We noticed that several children incorporated sound into their narrations. The children expressed their impressions of the tree sounds with the words “swish,” “bwaaaa,” “shhhhhhh” and others. Many used shivering body language indicating they had made a connection about the cold, windy weather and how it impacts them, supporting a developmentally appropriate understanding that we live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.
“These are the tallest trees talking and they’re connected.” Jackson
(Observing, thinking, drawing and narrating about “the talking trees.”)
The children’s initial theory about talking trees was both beautiful and significant. The reproposal of this idea through graphic representation provided a way for the children to build the understanding that in art people make choices to construct meaning about the world around them. As the children drew they narrated:
Emma: “This is a storm and the tree is falling down in the storm.”
Neela: “Like a little girl was walking down the street and she heard the crunchy things and then saw the tree and the bird and she loved it.”
Felipe: “It’s falling down like that one.”
Billy: “These are all the leaves. They’re twirling only at the bottom.”
Throughout all of the proposals, the children’s narrations, work (photographs, videos, sculpture) and previous ideas were presented back to them. During meeting times and before experiences with new materials, the children were given an opportunity to remember and reflect as teachers shared the work that had happened previously. In this way, the adults supported a deepening of thinking by acting as keepers of the children’s ideas and theories always supporting with extending connections and making learning more meaningful and relevant.
The Language of Sound
The children had already identified sound as an important component of the winter forest. It was proposed that we record some sounds together that might be significant for the children. We shared the recordings back at the classroom and the children shared their reactions:
Jackson: “It’s a crunch, crunch, crunch” (walking in snow).
Felipe: “I hear the river song.”
Leila: “You can hear the snow.”
The idea that the forest has sounds particular to a season represented another way of knowing and making sense for the children.
(Exploring the sounds of the stream in winter)
Consolidating Ideas through the Language of Dance and Movement
Throughout these experiences there seemed to be several threads that emerged for the children. The ideas of storms and wind were strongly represented in the children’s drawings, narrations and sculptures which may reflect the children’s own experiences with winter in Switzerland. Sounds of the winter forest, particularly the sound of snow, as well as the “voice” of the trees were other points of interest and exploration. It was proposed that the children might explore these ideas with dance and movement. With a particular focus on the children’s observations about sound as well as the “voice” they had given to the trees, we wondered together how the winter forest might move or dance.
Amelie: “We would have to be really high” (demonstrating with her arms and tippy toes).
Leila: “We would go fast.”
Ridley: “The snow might be quiet.”
The children joyfully used their bodies to dance and move as they perceived the trees might with many stretching high, creating a storm by gracefully shaking the dancing ribbons and making blowing movements. Their discoveries about sound and movement to express creative ideas were pathways for the children to make sense and communicate understandings in a kinesthetic way. The children gave each other feedback when we viewed video footage of these experiences. One child commented that her friend “was storming very fast”.
The Arts as Symbolic Languages to Build Understandings
Throughout this inquiry the children used the arts as symbolic languages to build understandings about the natural cycle of the winter forest. The children’s strong relationship with the forest was key to supporting their theories about natural phenomena in a relevant way. As they were given opportunities to express ideas with clay, drawing, sound and dance, they were inquirers and their ideas evolved in a transdisciplinary manner.
Through listening, speaking and sharing their thoughts, observational skills developed. The children had a sense of agency as they were empowered to make choices about their work and interactions supporting the understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas. The arts became a powerful vehicle to explore scientific concepts. The understanding that art has meaning as well as potential to support with making sense of ideas was very present in this exploration of natural phenomena. The theories, ideas and discoveries that came from the children will be explored further as we transition into spring supporting the children with developing an understanding that the earth’s natural cycles influence living things.
“We are – and we must be convinced of this – inside an ecosystem: our earthly journey is a journey we make along with the environment, nature, the universe. Our organism, our morality, our culture, our knowledge, our feelings are connected with the environment, with the universe, with the world. And here we can find the spider web of our life.”
– Loris Malaguzzi
This project was collaboratively supported by Andrea Mills, Early Years Atelierista, Aisling Broderick, EY1 Teacher, and Lisa Rosado Darham, EY1 Teaching Assistant