I was privileged last week to be invited to run a workshop about drawing, teaching and young children. My work began by collecting many different types of drawing media (inks, watercolours, charcoal, soft pastels, oil pastel, pencil crayons of different varieties, aqua crayons, non permanent and permanent markers, graphite, charcoal pencils to name a few. I also collected together many different surfaces of ‘paper’ including brown paper, textured paper, acetate, corrugated card, cartridge paper of different weights and colours, paper napkins, bubble wrap, tissue and mulberry papers, transparent, opaque and paper of differing sizes. I aimed to create a palette of surfaces for where the marker would encounter its resting place.
In the book of the exhibition, Mosaic, Marks, Words, Material by Reggio Children (2016) they challenge the viewer to engage in their own poetic thinking in order to see and savour the exhibit. I took this challenge back to the educators with whom I was working with, to challenge our own thinking and to reconnect with our own creative and expressive languages.
In order to truly see and value children’s poetic expressions the book challenges us to engage wth our own sense of the poetic, the expressive, the imaginative, the metaphoric, so the day was taken up with two practical sessions.
Session Two involved the use the materials and the knowledge gained from the first session to express an idea, to offer a poetic representation in marks and materials. The idea was to represent a personal idea or something related to the ideas being constructed in the research within their own classrooms together with young children aged 3-4.
Many ideas were explored, ideas about houses that belonged in the sky, the difference between noise and music, the representation of a song, of a piece of embroidered fabric, an angry sky, a happy sky, the phases of the moon. In doing so, the educators became makers of marks that entwined with the surfaces and narrators of their own metaphors and poetry. At times, the talk was rich, at other times, we were silent in with our thoughts and making. We engaged in a kind of slow movement, giving time to the activity of drawing and the expression of thinking.
What became apparent was that it was the surface of the drawing (often created by ripping up and attaching pieces to another surface that drove and motivated us to make marks. A finding also of the educators in Reggio Emilia – it was if the surface ‘spoke’ to us of how it could be used and encountered. The materials therefore were not passive surfaces awaiting marks but surfaces that sought to be dressed with markers in empathetic and reciprocal ways, It made me think of how important it is to offer different types of surfaces of ‘paper’ to children, not just as a way of offering diversity but as offering different languages upon which to verbally speak upon.
The sessions enabled educators to become familiar with the materials and drawing instruments, understanding both their affordances and difficulties and thus be better prepared to understand from the child’s point of view how they might experiment and make-meaning with the characteristics and properties of the materials. It also enabled educators to ‘feel’ how it is to express an idea, how vulnerable it can be, and how we discover and experiment with different strategies (just like the children do) to offer our marks as communicative and expressive acts of a visual nature.
If you work with children, give time to you to draw for yourself, and in doing so, you will notice more of what children do and perhaps, as Malaguzzi famously said, perhaps your teaching will be different from before.