The One Hundred Languages of Children

The One Hundred Languages of Children

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

“The One Hundred Languages is a metaphor for the extraordinary potentials of children, their knowledge-building and creative processes, the myriad forms with which life is manifested and knowledge is constructed. The hundred languages are understood as having the potential to be transformed and multiplied in the cooperation and interaction between the languages, among the children, and between children and adults.”  

Carlina Rinaldi (2013) Re-Imagining Childhood

I have been thinking about and re-visiting my thoughts about The One Hundred Languages poem and what Loris Malaguzzi meant by it, and how it is interpreted in both the Reggio context and in contexts outside of Reggio Emilia.  For Carlina Rinaldi (2013) in Re-Imagining Childhood she says the one hundred languages are transformable and that they are multiplied in the interaction between the languages, children, and between children and adults.

I am interested in what is meant by the interaction between the languages, and between the protagonists of adults and children and what it produces.   So often this metaphor is only used as the individual ways, or preferences in which children express and construct knowledge as a dancer, or through clay, or by writing, or as a scientist.  I think it is one of many interpretations, on a continuum of meaning-making.  This interpretation supposes that children have access to one hundred, but that they choose only one of the hundred as a way of communicating and learning about the world. The poem suggests that it is school who steals the ninety-nine.

I am wondering about the spaces that exist in-between the languages, as children go from one language to another to another – transforming the thinking.  A group of children from Madeley Nursery School in the UK have this year been wondering about the sounds of things that grow.  The idea was born as they listened to seeds jiggling about in a packet and comparing those to other seed sounds.  The work itself transformed for one group, to become about the relationship between two trees and of their relationship to the children.  They listened closely with intent to the seeds and the trees themselves, as the educators listened too with intent to the ideas and theories of the children.  What may have at first appeared as a whimsical and playful idea about trees in communication linked closely to ideas of fungi and tree roots collaborating as they pass nutrients and more to each other, under the floor of the forest.  This represents one language moving to another, from one of listening physically to the tree, with pipes and tubes, to expressing with voice and gesture.  It is the space in-between that transforms the learning into expression.

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

Later in the year, as ideas evolved the small group of children came together to gift the tree with a song.  The song was collaborative, negotiated and composed interweaving many cultural and symbolic meanings together with known nursery rhymes.   The song existed as a song to be sung and as a written document, it was transformed into a set of symbolic drawings representing the many elements of the song and was transformed again from 2D to 3D clay compositional signs that were transformed again with colour.  The clay signs were then given to the tree, together with parents as part of a celebratory coming together.

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

I wonder how these transformations from one language to another helped in the transformation of thinking.  Applying the metaphor of a rhizome Deleuze and Guattari (1987) in A thousand plateaus suggest that thinking is multidirectional, holds no beginning or end, and has many possibilities of pathways (tubers).  Olsson (2009) in Movement and experimentation in young children’s learning suggests that thought is provoked when encountered by something unfamiliar.  In moving between languages we can create contexts of the unexpected, so that thought is in a state of continual movement and evolvement.  The song that was sung became an unexpected set of signs in which new stories emerged about its constituent parts.  The transformation from written sign into clay brought another unexpected encounter as 2D signs were made 3D with new possibilities for change and evolvement into more complex signs and symbols that were gifted and left to remain on the tree itself.  Now, the tree was gifted, it formed a new meaning that contained ideas about reciprocity and symbolism for both children, educators and parents.  Its meaning was neither closed or complete as ideas about its existence and transformation continued to provoke new thoughts in the audience it ‘spoke’ to.

According to Deleuze and Guttari (1987) assemblages are structures, metaphoric in content and form that are created through connections and relationships between interactions, materials and artefacts including the cultural and community context, time and place.  We could call the gifted tree an assemblage of an encounter between tree, children, place, and materials capable of expression and meaning-making (languages).

Finally, Rinalidi (2013) reminds us that, “It is the responsibility of the infant-toddler centre and the preschool to give value and equal dignity to all the verbal and non-verbal languages.”  In this way we must create multiple opportunities for all languages capable of both meaning-making and expression in our work with children.  It leaves us  the challenge not just to recognise the One Hundred Languages but to provoke them too, and thus enable the unexpected encounter that gives rise to the birth of new thinking in the continuum and evolvement of learning.

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Technology in Early Childhood Education: Tools and Languages

digital-map-fullIf we are to develop new pedagogical approaches that value digital and technological ‘tools’ as capable of expressive and creative potential then we must look to the digital landscape as a range of possible languages rather than ‘tools’.  In this, I mean, how can we view digital languages as poetic and aesthetic, as a means of narrating stories of life and the world and constructing new ways of knowing and knowledge. 

If we consider clay, we can view this substance as both a material/tool and language.  It can be used as a material/tool in which to develop fine motor skills through exploration of its properties, or it can be used in a context of ideas and thinking, where it is used to narrate and communicate meaning.  It is the latter context in which myself and a group of UK and Swedish early childhood centres (see below) are currently researching.

Certainly, when I began working in ECE 20 years ago, where computers were present they were often used to develop skills in mouse control and page navigation.   I remember then testing the boundaries of possibility by taking in my then huge laptop and being surprised at how 3 year olds were capable of exploring image manipulation in early versions of Adobe Photoshop.  I could see the shift happening from the “What if” exploration of the material (in this instance, laptop and Photoshop) to the emergence of ideas of expression that communicated a thought about something within a realm of what Anna Craft would call  “Possibility Thinking”.

As a network of researchers we are particularly interested in those types of apps, their usage and modalities that Howard Gardener discusses that can promote a strong sense of identity, allow deep relationships, and stimulate creativity. Our challenge is to go beyond the ways that apps are designed to be used so they can make visible the diversity of children’s experiences and thinking, and become capable of narrating and expressing new ideas.  This is not easy as many children’s app developers create apps, for example animation apps, but with pre-loaded characters and backgrounds that children can use.  These apps, although intuitive for children to use are creatively constrained already in the use of templates and pre-loaded material. They are easy to make a simple animation with but often without the depth of thinking that children are capable of.

Other digital modalities such as digital projection and green screen can be as playful in nature as role play and open ended materials and these form a great potential for multi-modal expression with children.   Also, the ways in which digital endoscopes and microscopes can enable the re-proposal of the familiar world of nature in unexpected and complex ways that offer curious new worlds and environments to explore to generate new, imaginative ideas and questions.

As a research group we are interested in Gregory Bateson’s ideas of cybernetics, of systems, patterns and relationships, and will look for those connective patterns generated in the in-between spaces between children, digital languages and the natural world.  Children already have a wealth of knowledge and an openness to ideas, we are interested in these new patterns of thinking that digital languages propose to children as we suspect that these will transform our pedagogy and approaches to learning.

In a weeks time, 10 educators and myself travel to Stockholm, Sweden for our first exchange in this research project.  It is a blended approach that uses social media networks as well as offline, realtime exchanges together with digital and non digital materials.   We are exchanging learning stories and reflecting on each others work in a process of active professional learning about children’s relationship to the digital and natural world.  We are seeking and exploring ways for young children to connect across classrooms and across verbal and non-verbal languages.  We aim to create a body of research in the form of case studies, publications, a conference and a range of online resources.  It’s a very exciting time!

A possibility of a beginning…

“It’s starting to grow…slowly…it’s not growing yet, no not yet because the leaves haven’t come out.” 
“It growed by itself because it’s invisible.”
 Dancing with beans that grow. Ashmore Park Nursery, Wolverhampton

Dancing with beans that grow. Ashmore Park Nursery, Wolverhampton

Two children are interacting with a  full screen moving time-lapse projection of a growing bean.  Their own projected shadows become as one with the projected image, both projections combining as a single image.  As children discuss their movements and the beans moments they consider what growing is, both in language and through movement.  It is this coming together, this blending of modalities that we are most interested in.

 

“You pull this lever and this lever and this lever and then it will be grown… and then it lifts up.” 
DSCN2940
Experimenting with wire levers to make the plant grow. Ashmore Park Nursery School, Wolverhampton

Alongside of these children, and interweaving amongst all the languages available for the children to express their ideas were others generating ideas of germination through drawing and clay.  The clay offered opportunity for mechanical and physical expression of showing how the bean might grow.  The drawing offered opportunity for visualising the ideas through imagery and ‘talk and draw’.  All of these interweaving languages lend themselves to future ideas of stop motion animation (amongst others). Therefore we can begin to see where a traditional material such as clay may begin a dialogue with a digital language rather than concentrate solely on the app, the pre-loaded story characters and pre-generated backgrounds.  In this way, children’s own creative and critical thinking creates both the context and the content.

 

 

The Schools involved in this research are:

Ashmore Park Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Hillfields Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Coventry, UK

Madeley Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Phoenix Nursery School, Wolverhampton, UK

Woodlands Primary and Nursery School, Telford & Wrekin, UK

Lange Erik Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Barnasinnet Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Vintergatan Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

Sma Vänner Pre-School, Stockholm, Sweden

With thanks to Ashmore Park Nursery School for enabling me to share this material.

 

 

EU flag-Erasmus+_vect_POSWe are very happy to be funded by Erasmus Plus in our shared research into new digital pedagogies with young children.