Last term, many weeks ago now, we borrowed a book from our local library called 'Tell me a dragon', written by Jackie Morris. This book has inspired many stories over these weeks along with some rather magnificent works of art. It is always interesting, from a teachers perspective, to observe what piques a child’s interest (such as this book), and we are so fortunate as early childhood teachers to take this interest and passion, negotiate with our children what the next steps will be and then watch the learning unfold.
For those that don’t know this book, it is beautifully illustrated with dragons, everyone in the book has their own dragon! The book describes many different varieties of dragons and tells a story in words and beautiful pictures as to why they are so special and enchanting to their owners. The dragons in the book vary from one that is as big as a whole village to another that is so small it can fit behind its owner’s ear.
Something I have written before, but springs to mind again as I write this, is just how important it is as teachers to listen and observe the needs, wants, interests and passions of young children. Instead of us dictating to the children what their learning on dragons would look like, as teachers we were careful to plan for learning with these simple questions in mind - Who is this child right now in front of me, What are their interests and learning intentions and, How as a teacher can I support and facilitate this?
Before we knew it, Mairtown was awash with dragons, with dragon art, and dragon stories. This was deepened even further when one of our children, independently arrived at kindergarten one morning with a clear plan. She wanted to create some more dragon art work (she was now an expert on dragons!) but in a 3-dimensional manner. As teachers, we observed something new unfold at this time; new ideas for creativity, problem solving, role modelling and lots of peer tutoring. Something beautiful happened, the dragons being created started to come alive in the art, and as the children worked on their pieces, over many days, they shared stories about their dragons with one another and their imaginations blossomed.
Art can bring imagination to life and give life to imagination’
It appeared to me that when children went from drawing their dragons flat (in a 2-dimensional manner) to cutting them out, standing them up and placing them on a background they had also created – everything was different - yet special. By different I mean children saw new and exciting possibilities, possibilities they were not even aware of themselves when they began their work. A single tree turned into a forest, a flower into a colourful garden. This visual surprise spoke powerfully to their imagination (Kolbe, 2005).
The children spent days and days on their work, re-visiting and altering, adapting and tweaking their dragon habitats. From a purely cognitive learning approach this work was a challenge for many. It takes time to understand that when you enter the world of 3-dimensions you need an adequate base to make things stand up. Many children went even further utilising other resources available to them, creating dragons out of clay and re-found materials.
‘By exploring art, revisiting ideas and providing a range of media, a child’s skill in the arts increases, this in turn extends communication, vocabulary and critical thinking skills.’
(Ann Pelo, 2007)
Of course just like the original book ‘Tell me a dragon’ all the children’s dragons were enchanting and special to them, each with a unique story of their own. Here are just a few to share with you.
Capri ‘My dragon is a girl, her name is Lala. She lives in a house where she plays with cars. She breathes out bunnies. She’s a friendly dragon.’
Evan ‘My dragon is a big dragon; it flies in the sky to visit the zoo. It visits the zoo as it eats elephants and elephants live in the zoo. In fact, it eats lots of animals, lots that live in the zoo!’
Milla ‘This is a fire dragon. He breathes only flowers and lives in his castle. He does it when it’s nearly dinner time as he likes to practice breathing flowers. His name is rainbow.’
Wolfgang ‘He is a happy dragon. He lives in a spiky cave with claws. My dragon flies and jumps and chomps. It eats vegetables, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom. It’s called Kate.’
Now many weeks later, we reach the end of our dragon stories (perhaps just for now). Last week I took a small group of the children who had created their dragon stories to the Whangarei Central Library where they had been on display for a library open day. Any trip is exciting, but the underlying theme of this visit was the empowerment the children received as they saw their work on display, being admired and valued by members of our community. The feedback we have received from the public about their talents and skills is very special indeed. Making public the children’s work and processes behind their pieces also acts as a form of communication to our local community, opening up a public conversation about what we as teachers (and our children) value about children’s learning and of course the importance of creativity and imagination.
In Albert Einstein’s words, ‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imaginations encircles the world’
Ngā mihi nui,