The Sunflower

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The story of the sunflower is a learning story. I was visiting another program and observed an educator as they shared a provocation with the children. The work that follows offers insights into our practice.

The setting for this work was a classroom of four-year-old children. In the classroom, children were playing in many different spaces. They were enjoying blocks, the play kitchen, a loft, and books. Two provocations were set up at separate tables with an educator sitting near each table to guide the children, observe, and document.

Three children were sitting next to one of the provocations. A sunflower was lying on the table. The children were listening as the educator shared about the many parts of a sunflower. The children shared thoughts and questions back and forth with the educator about different aspects of the sunflower. 

It was interesting to watch as the children started to work. The educator was very involved verbally introducing the provocation. The children were engaged and asked many questions as they explored the parts of the flower together. The technique employed by the educator was different than I have observed in the states, but looked similar to work I have observed in Reggio Emilia.

Next, the teacher invited the children to express their thoughts, feelings, and new questions about the sunflower with clay. As the children started creating representations of the sunflower the discussion continued. The serve and return between the children and the educator continued for the entire work session.

Observing, I kept wondering if the educator was going to step away from the workspace to watch from afar and document. The educator stayed at the table the entire work period and interacted with the children while taking notes and photos of their creative process.

After the work period was over, all of the children listened to the educators read some books and then it was time for outside play before lunch.

What did I learn as the observer?

This was an important lesson because the approach to working with children was more hands-on and verbal than other practices I have observed. The educator was an active co-learner by starting the conversation and continuing to be part of the conversation while documenting. The social relationship between the educator and the children was valued as much as the process of investigation.

The approach looked similar to the work I observed during a study tour in Reggio Emilia. In person, the educators in Reggio Emilia were more verbal and hands on than I imagined from reading and seeing pictures in books. 

The ongoing conversation and questioning by the educator, as the children worked, created an interesting learning journey. As they sculpted, the children seemed to enjoy talking with the educator. This practice appeared to create deeper connections in the children’s thinking and creative actions.

What is the insight for us as educators?

Observing other programs and moving away from our comfort zone is beneficial to evolving our work with children. No matter what type of program we work in, and how wonderful it is, outside of our classroom other educators are evolving their work by trying new ideas, and employing practices that look very different from ours. This does not mean we have to adopt their methods, because they are executed in the context of their learning community, but observing other approaches of working with children, and experimenting once in a while with our practice, will help our learning community evolve, expand, and thrive. Our professional development is connected to our willingness to embrace new practices and see them as an opportunity for growth. 

What practices have you observed that changed your thinking about your work with children?