April 9, 2010
World travel, landscape design, and architecture are just a few of the topics that have entered the social studies program for our pre-kindergartners in the past few weeks. One of the first indicators of these investigations is a large bulletin board in the classroom that has been covered in blue paper, with extra layers added to show the boundary between the sky above and the waves of the ocean below. Bursting off this background are elaborate paper sculptures of airplanes, boats, and spacecraft. The result of a spontaneous burst of creativity at the writing and drawing table, these constructions are exuberant illustrations of the way children’s ideas about locations and spatial relationships are translated into narrative and physical depictions.
“There’s the Titanic,” a student says, looking up from her colorful painting of flowers. “Do you see the tugboat pulling it?” Sure enough, the four distinctive smokestacks of the great ship are immediately apparent, as is the smaller boat pulling it along. A closer examination of the scene reveals a biplane, a sailboat, a submarine, and a spaceship, all traveling in the same direction. After calling attention to her classmates’ work, the artist happily describes the garden in her picture, explaining how her own backyard contains flowers like these.
Around the corner at the light table, a pair of students invite a visitor to see what they’ve built using translucent bricks. ‘It’s a library! Look, here are two places to check out books, and here’s the downstairs, and here’s where people can read stories,” one boy says, naming each feature of the structure. His partner nods proudly, then suggests that they add a roof to the building. The two boys discuss this possibility, ultimately deciding to leave the roof off, “because then nobody could see what’s inside.”
All of these visual displays are connected to real or imagined places or events, and they are enriched by the stories the children tell to establish context for their work. The variety of materials used, the attention and embellishments of classmates, the questions of adults, and the sense of celebration and empowerment that surround these children in their explorations are all factors that contribute to building knowledge about the world around them. The ability to transform ideas about locations into words, drawings, and models is a critical aspect in young children’s increasing ability to engage in symbolic representation and to expand their abstract thinking skills. The bulletin board, the garden painting, and the library design are all demonstrations of these emergent skills.