This week I visited Sabot School at Stony Point in Richmond, Virginia. Sabot is a Pre-K through grade 8 independent school running a program that is Reggio Emilia inspired. I’ve been a practitioner and learner within the Reggio inspired world since 1996 and I continue to find ways to grow. This year Sabot’s school-wide Umbrella project is based on the book, Listen by Patty Wipfler. As I explored the corridors filled with beautiful, child-designed projects, I was reminded of the wonder within the child.
When observing children it can be easy to jump on the first sign of a shared interest. For instance, this year’s class has been strongly devoted to playing “family” since day one. In the beginning, I thought, “Oh! I see they are curious about families. We can dive right into this!” In past years, this meant quickly gathering supporting materials (books, real-world-objects) to support the development of questions and ideas. I was worried that if I waited, I would miss the opportunity to build on a shared idea. This week at Sabot I learned to change my lens a bit.
As teachers, we are encouraged to listen with our whole being to understand a child’s true intent. First observations regularly point out obvious, surface topics or trajectories. Upon further observation and questioning, we can draw forward the children’s thinking. We can help each child bring their theories to light and assist them as they test these ideas through investigation.
When reflecting on this family play, I am beginning to wonder if it is not so much the family unit that they are exploring, but the power of being in charge. In this game, there is often one member of the family that is “in charge” and directs the others’ actions. It is not always the same child. Sometimes “the boss” is more diplomatic, sometimes more autocratic. Whatever style the family leader tries on, the peers’ reactions to requests (or demands) begin to create an internal rule book for “how to be in charge and still get people to do things with you.” I’m looking forward to exploring this perspective on “family play” with them in the upcoming weeks.
Today, our students started a new morning job in our classroom called “Planning and Reflection” journals. After the students have finished the morning message, they are asked to think about what they might want to do/play while at school today. When they have an idea, they record their idea in their journal. Some students draw a picture, others use their kid-writing to get their ideas down on paper, and some do both. Not only does this activity provide the students with another opportunity to write, but it helps guide the children into meaningful play.
At the end of the day, the students will reflect on what actually happened today. Did they stick to their plan or did they decided to do something different? Perhaps a super exciting activity happened today that they would rather write about instead (i.e. soccer with Mr. Cooper or a haunted Art class with Mrs. Allan).
The journals help the students make conscious decisions about their daily activities and if those ideas are worth playing again. They also become a great example of how the students grow and mature throughout the year. The improvement of the students’ ideas, drawings, and writing become very obvious as the year progresses.
You might have noticed that I mentioned Planning and Reflection Journals last week. We introduced these slowly, beginning the 3rd week of January. In fact, my giant version was probably spotted hanging from the front door on the mornings of the first few days. For three days, I wrote my plans for the morning in my journal and shared it with the class. I wanted to make sure that the children were familiar with our expectations before they began their own process. I also shared my reflections at the end of each day during this “intro” period.
Last week, the children began being responsible for their own Planning and Reflection Journals. We have woven the activity into the regular routine of the day. After the children complete the Morning Message and choose a center to play in, they saunter over to the table to record their plans for the morning. Either Mrs. Pless or I are sitting with them to provide support as needed. We expect each child to take their time, draw a picture depicting their plans, and use kid-writing to explain their picture.
The first few entries were predictably lacking detail. For instance, many wanted to write, “play with blocks”. We encouraged each child to focus a bit more on the actual goal they hoped to achieve or story they envisioned telling with their play. With more experience, we are beginning to see much more thoughtful planning and play emerging.
We are also using the same journals to reflect on something that we accomplished today. In the past, this was an activity we did orally. You might have heard the chant, “What did you do today? What did you do in Pre-K?” Some of the children use this opportunity to expand on the same topic they wrote about in the morning. Other children write about unrelated activities. Either way, we are asking the children to focus on their memories of the day and present us with one coherent image. Although we sometimes hear fantastical stories (“Today, my dad was the Hulk and he beat up all of the bad guys.”), this is good practice for reflection. With practice, we hope to see more detailed, intricate plans and accurate memory recall.