It is easy to see how Taoism might fit in with the mission of a nature center. Naturalists and teachers here at Dodge spend a lot of time pointing out how inextricable life and death are, how one gives rise to the other in an endless cycle, or circle (there's that Taijitu symbol in actual form). But what do yin and yang have to do with preschoolers here in the classroom? Well, I'm extending a metaphor to illuminate curriculum that has recently emerged in the Spruce Room: shadows.
We've been "romancing shadows" and "playing in the dark" here in the classroom (my apologies to Toni Morrison). While our shadow inquiry hasn't been overtly philosophical, the fact that we are learning that shadows are wonderfully complex things begins to allude to the deeper mysteries of life. Philosophies seem to emerge when humans mull over the more complicated physical mysteries of existence. Despite Taoism's neutral stance on lightness and darkness, historically, shadows are often scary or mysterious things. The dark can be inscrutable or unpredictable, especially for young children. In our American culture (if such a thing can be generalized), shadows also seem to have a bit of tantalizing, nearly delicious danger, like Halloween. On yet another hand, sometimes, in stories, shadows personify playfulness or trickery (remember Peter Pan?). Physically, shadows are darkness, the absence of light, and yet they exist because of light. You can make some shadows, and control some shadows. Shadows move with objects, or around them. Some shadows contain light, or color.
|overhead projector in the loft|
|dancing in the projected light down below|
|Luzia tells a Brazilian folk tale with shadow puppets|
Hair seemed to light on fire! Sometimes you can almost actually see a catalyst ignite children. We had a frenzy of puppet making. When children discovered they could make puppets for anything they could imagine, any story inside their heads, they set to work as if possessed. We ran out of materials. And then children began to write stories for the puppet theater in their journals...
As you may know, here at Dodge, children keep story acting journals in our classrooms. These journals already function as places to write screenplays, as we act out the stories at Group Time, but now a child writing in her journal can choose to write specifically for the puppet theater. With a little nudging, we followed the kids' lead and instructed everyone to "write a shadow story." And they did. And then they did it in reverse, staging shows that they then dictated into words and pictures in their journals. Now the animals we are studying show up in journal stories, and puppet shows too. As they imagine, dictate, write, read, draw, trace, cut, tape and staple, the kids are experimenting with the nature of things, with the physics of light and dark. At Group, we discuss transparency and what "opaque," means. We talk about light travelling and bouncing. And all of these terrific discoveries are being made because the kids just want to play.
|behind the scenes in the puppet theater|
Play, as Joey, points out, is driving this inquiry. It is the love of entertaining one another, of delighting in thrilling or funny stories. It is the competition to direct a show, the control of running the projector or designing the lighting, the excitement of standing up high in the loft and looking down at your creation on the wall, the pride of being in the spotlight on your own, the fun of being in the audience together and the power of seeing your ideas become "real," that drives these kids. The kids learn through play, as they always do, responding to the presence of new, or familiar, things and people in their environment. Children are shaped by their entire experience; they have a relationship with the world. These experiences inform their play and the play itself generates new experiences. Play and learning are as inextricable as light and shadow.
|projecting art and words|
The Spruce Room had a request to perform a shadow play for the Willow Room. So we wrote a story for them. It is a squirrel story, because we are studying squirrels. The story features a "dust puddle," because some of us are very fond of vacuum cleaners, and it has a spaceship in it, because, well, space is always cool. Each child dictated several lines to build the story at Group Time, just as you might have done around the campfire as a kid. The resulting story is of course hilarious, but we have shaped it into three acts and Joey ran us through our first rehearsal this morning. There was a bit of a tussle back stage. One puppet got broken. There was some arguing. Some children cannot remember to keep their heads out of the frame, others insist on chatting through the performance, veering from the written plot or abandoning their puppets in the middle of the action. The staging is rough, to say the least, but when asked, "What did you like about the show?" They said, "Everything." And when asked, "Which parts do you think are working?" They said, "All of them." We will practice more for our show, and perhaps this will develop some more critical thinking skills, but at the moment, we are enjoying the moment-- the entire moment.