As we start our school year together in a classroom of very young children that we don’t know well yet, we are looking for interests everyone shares that can give shape to our developing curriculum and can help children make connections across many experiences. We want to encourage children to engage with materials and learn more about how to use classroom tools and media and we hope that children will begin to connect socially at the same time – talking together, helping each other find what’s needed, sharing ideas and experiences, and beginning to notice the things children have in common as well as the differences in approach or experience that we can all learn from and appreciate.
Teachers often think about very open-ended themes or projects to get his process started – looking at the environment, thinking about color, making a mark, telling stories all offer beginnings that can unfold in multiple ways over time.
An example this year has been color as an organizing idea around the classroom. We began by encouraging children to use primary colors at the easel and at collage as we introduced these classroom spaces to the children. When we used glue at collage with a variety of colorful circles, would children notice colors? Sort colors? When children created their first paintings, would they keep primary colors “clean” or would they begin mixing experiments right away? Would line or filling a whole page be the primary interest or would color be an organizer? When we introduced children to classroom puzzles or color cubes what could we observe about the children’s understanding of and thinking about color as they constructed? Our observations inform decisions about experiences to offer next, and help us understand how children are thinking about the experiences we share, even when they might not be ready to tell us much about their ideas yet.
Right from the beginning of our year, we’ve had children very interested in using color as an organizer as they sort, create patterns and construct. We’ve had children interested in naming (labeling) colors And we’ve had many children mixing, experimenting, and investigating the multiple shades that can be created when colors are combined. With these approaches and interests in mind, we could offer a wider variety of classroom experiences that we knew would be engaging and offer rich opportunities for the children to connect.
At the easels, we’ve encouraged children to focus their interest in shades of color by changing the color combinations offered. One week might focus on yellows and blues so that a variety of greens could be easily created. Another week might focus on yellows and reds, or reds and blues. When the primary colors returned, we observed a more purposeful investigation of color mixing, and the conversations about shades of color have engaged more and more children. At our weekly paper day, when children share work with classmates before it travels home, many children describe the ways they thought about color to create as they painted.
We offered a variety of books that feature color, so that conversations could continue in a new way. Books featuring fall leaves, and books like Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh or Mix It Up by Herve Tullet have been read and re-read often. Mouse Paint became so important to the children that we decided to extend its themes into our first fingertip and hand painting experiences and for collaborative retelling and drama experiences.
When we were ready to cook our first recipe using tomatoes, we made sure that we investigated many kinds of tomatoes – with different colors as well as sizes. We used these investigations to introduce documentation to the children, encouraging them to talk about, observe carefully, and then draw the varieties they were interested in.
At the science table, we’ve been mixing colors in muffin tins filled with water. Primary watercolors are in 3 of the tins, and children used a pipette to move colors in and out of the water, so that they can create a variety of shades and colors. Including transparent color viewers, mixing tools, and seasonal vegetables at the table enriches the conversation about shades of color, mixing color, and seasonal changes. A favorite activity is to take a viewer and look at the classroom and classmates through yellow, or blue, or red.
And now that the leaves are changing, we are well prepared to look for color in nature. We’ve offered a bed of leaves for pretend woodland animals to shelter in on one of our side tables, encourage children to look up and out of our classroom window often to notice the changes outdoors, and are beginning to investigate changes outdoors as well.
This is one example of how in a busy classroom informed by child interest one thing leads naturally to another. The same process is unfolding in storytelling, making a mark, looking at the environment, thinking about letters and words, and in many other rich investigations that are on-going every day.