Two Materials and a Mirror

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Today, I tried an experiment. The children I am working with this year are comfortable with a traditional afterschool format. In a traditional format, a curriculum is created for the educators, and we are invited to read about and choose activities from the curriculum and offer our choices to the children. The choices are crafty in nature, and usually related to a central theme or season. Within this framework, my mission is to work with the children differently, by presenting opportunities for the children to explore different artistic techniques, and express themselves with new and traditional materials.

The experiment entailed inviting the children to use specific building materials and create a structure or design. The children create daily with wood blocks, Magna -Tiles, and Lego. Today, I invited the children to explore building on a large mirror using only two materials, Unifix cubes and Popsicle sticks. The mirror gives a different perspective of the work, and I wanted to see how the children approached building on this surface. The children were hesitant at first, asking the question, “What are we doing?” I replied, “We are going to build on a mirror, do you want to try?”

Many of the children thought the idea of building on a mirror was “weird” and other children took one look at the mirror and walked away. Eventually, one child was interested by the materials and started experimenting with the cubes. The first steps of their creation, involved fastening a few cubes together, laying them on the mirror, and observing what it looked like. Another child joined in the exploration and the first two children shared expressions of “Wow!” and “It looks like the blocks are under the table.”

After a few more minutes, more children joined in the building work. Overall the group was hesitant to create on the mirror. I am not sure why except that it was different. To bridge the gap, I started creating small block and stick structures on the mirror. After I created a few structures, and placed sticks on the piles of blocks randomly, the children realized that this exploration did not have a right or wrong way of doing it. The children then started exploring the invitation more freely and creatively.

The exploration then shifted, to an active collaborative activity, as the group grew in size. More children found a space near the mirror and started creating new block and stick structures, and connected them to the original structure in the middle of the mirror.

Becoming more comfortable with the process, the children realized they could take their exploration further, walked over to the building area and collected tubs of new materials to add to their work. An invitation that started with two materials became a collection of seven materials that were now being incorporated into the beginning creation.

Next, the children started exploring the limitations of the glass size. The children began building structures on the table around the mirror and then connected them to the structures on the mirror with large sticks. One child decided that the limitations of the table could be tested, and built a structure from the floor to the top of the table and then connected the floor structure to the main structure on the glass using painters stir sticks.

In addition, the children were trying to invent a way to bridge the original structure to a table that was three feet away. They tried several ideas to create the bridge across the tables, but were not able to create one that gravity did not send crashing to the floor.

The children, feeling the main structure build was complete, started adding small colorful blocks and toys to their creation in an effort to add more detail. At this point the children realized that the mirror was below a tower of cubes, sticks, and other toys, thought it looked interesting, and started asking other people to view the image in the mirror. Since the height of the structure had grown the depth of the image in the mirror had grown as well. The image in the mirror looked as one child told me, “Like it could touch the floor.”

The children continued to tinker with their creation, and found small cars and toy characters to play with around and inside the structure. As parents arrived for evening pick up, the children shared the structure and invited their family members specifically to look in the mirror and see the image the structure had created.

At the beginning of this provocation, I wondered how the children would approach the work. They started off slowly, but through experimentation and supporting each other, new discoveries were made about how materials can be used in ways different from what we think they are capable of. I am looking forward to bringing in new materials for the children to explore, as we grow together and expand our thinking of what is possible in the learning community.