{December 5, 2011}   Savour the Moment

A friend shared on facebook a link for an art project where children’s drawings had been given to an established artist to turn into proper pieces of artwork.

Now your personal first response to my initial sentence probably offers you a good indication as to how you may feel about the rest of my blog.  If you think “wow, what a cool idea!” you may not entirely love the blog, while on-the-other-hand if you thought “what do you mean to say children’s art isn’t proper art” then your sentiments may be more closely aligned with my own.

The Monster Engine

I commented that while on the surface this sounded like an interesting project – and do please go have a look and make up your own mind – I’m concerned about what this sort of thing tacitly says to children, essentially “your pictures do not come up to my standards”.  Now please do not mistake my intention – I don’t wish to detract from this project or the incredible artwork (of all levels) contained within it – but more I want to highlight the possible ramifications and the ‘unsaid things’ of projects such as these which essentially seem to highjack things created by children.

In early years pedagogy there is a high level of importance placed on sustained shared thinking – a key outcome from a 2002 report (REPEY Report; Sirag-Blatchford et al., 2002).  This encourages practitioners to engage in high-level verbal interactions with children in order to support their on-going development.  Children’s art, or ‘mark making’ is viewed as a valuable tool at their disposal for communication…

Drawing is one of Reggio Emilia’s many languages (Malaguzzi, cited in Fillipini and Vecchi, 1997), used by children to talk about their worlds, both to themselves and to others.  Part fine motor skill development – with hand-eye coordination a key component – and part play, Athey (2007) sees drawing as a reflection of young children’s inner schematic representations.  Matthews (1999) concurs that, for younger children, mark making provides opportunity to explore the lines and curves of trajectory and enclosure schemas, for instance.  However, for older children between the ages of three and four, he views the drawing as located within a family of expressing and symbolic actions [which they] use fluently.  He goes on to describe the interpersonal arena between caregiver and infant that is core to young children’s drawings.  Early years practitioners, thus, should take children’s mark making seriously and look for opportunities to interact with children about their drawings.  However, caution is urged in over-analysing children’s without any reference to the child’s own narrative, and Ring’s research (2001) shows how, all too frequently, the role of drawing in children’s learning is misunderstood.  Emphasizing the interrelational aspect of drawing, Ring (2001) urges practitioners to explore the relationship between drawing as communication and drawing as art. [Supporting Pedagogy and Practice in Early Years Settings; Allen and Whalley; 2010:107]

When you explore child development, and see the stages – particularly with reference to fine motor skills which are required for drawing – you start to admire these drawings as ends in themselves.  Failing to appreciate each moment risks viewing human development (I extend it here as I feel that we all change and develop throughout our lives) as a conveyor belt towards death.

“Rising Five”

Norman Nicholson explores this very idea (I studied the poem at GCSE I think, and was reminded of it through thinking on this topic)

I want to celebrate each achievement in a life, not see it as a step towards the grave.  It is exciting when my daughter draws a picture; she’s recently started to include finer details such as arms and legs to pictures of those she knows and that’s really cool.  I don’t look at a drawing she hands me, and tells me about the bits she has included then turn to her and say “oh darling maybe next time include fingers!”  No I say, “wow, your Uncle will be so touched you drew a picture of him, what a kind idea, I love the different colours you’ve used.”

There’s a lot of issues today which seem to centre around worth, value and self-esteem; eating disorders; depression; anxiety; stress; addictions; abuse… I could (sadly) list far more.  We have to show people they are valued.  We need to encourage and challenge one another to treat people according to the value that God places on each and every one of us.

I’ve been away recently, meeting with those who try to live by Jesus principles, I was challenged and humbled by much of what I heard.  I also feel really uplifted by hearing peoples stories, being blessed by others sharing some of their daily lives and talking about what people of faith, followers of Christ, are doing in various countries across Europe and further afield in Africa and the USA.

One exciting thing for me personally to have come out of this weekend was a renewed sense that I’m in the right place.  I feel I’ve been encouraged in my work with young children and I’m excited how things may progress over the next few years.  I’m inspired by something I heard, and didn’t really fully comprehend at the time, during my teacher training that I should look to become an ambassador for children and young people… and that’s what I’m going to put my heart into.


{October 30, 2011}   Moving on (1st look at apologies)

The beautifully illustrated and written book “Zen Shorts” by Jon J Muth features a story about carrying a burden…

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

Although zen readings are (I believe) linked to Buddhist beliefs, nevertheless I feel that other spiritual writing can be of interest in any spiritually aware life – irregardless of the personal beliefs you hold.

I think we can find biblical parallels with this story of setting down a load permanently; first I think of the story of the adulterous woman (John 8v1-11).  Things I notice about this bit

  • Lots of people were ready to accuse & condemn this woman

Jesus had been at the Mount of Olives but he returned to teach in the Temple and “Swarms of people came to him”.  Can you imagine this bustling busy 1st century temple, how busy it would have been?  Jewish law maintained that regular sacrifices had to be made in the temple, sometimes on a daily basis so there was no way this would have been a quite contemplative place.  So, in full view of everyone the religious leaders pull in this accused woman, announcing her misdeeds.

  • Jesus was wholly righteous, he could have condemned this woman…

…but he didn’t!  He asked if someone, anyone, could come forward and say “I’ve not messed up at all”, he invited the person who could say that to condemn this woman.  The only one who could, in good faith, accuse and condemned the adulterous woman (whom the religious leaders claim was caught red-handed) was Jesus.

  • The only one who can accuse and condemn us is Jesus…

…but he doesn’t!  Now I’ve spent a decent percentage of my young adult life effectively feeling fairly guilty for some of the poor choices I’ve made, and the paths I’ve walked down so this one is a bitter pill for me to swallow.  I want to argue back at it, ‘but Lord, Father, you can’t mean me!  But what about…’  I can see him saying ‘yeah, I know about that… and that…but it is finished’  There’s something me that sometimes still wants to argue … but as I try to get deeper wrestling with God’s word I’m trying to more and more let the truth of tetelestai sink in.

  • We are forgiven, but we need to stop doing what we did before.

It’s been said before, but repentance, saying sorry to God means a complete turning around.  Now, moment of personal honesty here, I’m an ex-smoker… ex for just under a month and I’ve tried quitting before so I’m not hanging up any banners about it just yet.  But, it was as if smoking was the thing from my ‘old life’ I was keeping back for me.  As if I was saying ‘okay God, I’ll go more regularly to Church because I like the worship and it’s good for my daughter, I’ll stop the children in my class saying omg [this is still a work in progress] and I’ll live my life for you… but I’ll do it with a cigarette in my hand.’

That’s not really how repentance, and being a ‘prodigal’ works now is it?

Saying sorry means the actions as well as the words; I try to impress this on children whom I teach.  Saying sorry for talking over the teacher means very little if they continue to do so.  Likewise, apologising to another child for not letting them join in the game whilst continuing to ignore them in the playground does not work.  I try to do this with my own daughter, who knows the word ‘sorry’ and usually knows when it’s appropriate to say it (and can be quicker to apologise than her own mummy!) but this doesn’t always mean the behaviour she apologises for stops (she’s only 4 so she’s learning all this).

As I try to educate children, my own and those I am responsible for I need to remember in my own life that apology without actions is just paying lip service to social conventions… and that’s the kind of ‘ritual’ I think really sticks in the divine throat… he looks at the heart and wants meaning.

1 Samuel 16:7
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

{October 27, 2011}   Creative prejudice

I was made aware of this article by my good friends at the Heritage Arts Company, they posted this article regarding Vimeo’s latest ruling on computer gaming.  I thought it was quite an interesting read, and the argument put forward in an eloquent and articulate manner.  But do have a read and see what you think.

My discussionHere’s my brief discussion/rant on the issue – admittedly I know little about the video gaming world, you will see that I describe myself as a ‘lay person’ in this arena.  But what I’ve noticed in young children is no joke.  When asking children to describe events over the summer holidays many seemed incapable of moving beyond the essential and basic facts.

I’m not alone in commenting on this colleagues working in early years have noted that the children struggle to devise games and activities of their own volition.  They appear at times to be unable to use their initiative.

If video killed the radio star… does the computer game kill imagination?

Surely this is a scary prospect when we live in a rapidly changing world.  As a teacher I know that I am effectively preparing the children whom I teach for jobs, careers and professions which simply do not currently exist.  If we flick through job adverts and descriptions employers rarely seek (or claim to seek) employees who might work as automotons (no, robots have already claimed those variety of jobs) but people capable of using their initiative, meet needs before they are recognised and to work without direct supervision.

So how are computer games, DS’s, brain training software equipping our children and ourselves for the future?  Are they an addition or a detraction?  Do we return to the dilemma of “because something is then we may argue that it should be“.

And one of the thought-provoking conversations I had with a child regarding a long car drive over the holday…

Me:       Ooh, that’s a long way in the car… did you see lots of interesting things on the way?

Child:   I don’t know… I was watching a dvd.

Sci-fi tells of a fantasy world where machines have the upper hand, it never mentions how we turn our own children into them…

et cetera