The other day, I noticed a group of children gathered on the stage in our classroom space. Let me explain. The program where I practice is located in a public school. We work inside the cafeteria that also houses the school performance space. Therefore, we have a stage that the children use as a quiet space and the stage walls are covered with large chalkboards where the children often draw with colorful chalk.
Most school-age programs are in shared multi-purpose spaces. The large space creates an interesting opportunity for the children and educators to engage in work that may not be possible in a traditional program space. Multi-purpose spaces can also be a challenge when trying to create an inviting and engaging environment because all materials have to be portable and hidden from view at the end of our workday.
I observed two children creating large drawings that looked like people. I walked up the steps to the stage and over to the children and asked what they were investigating. One child said, “I decided to draw instead of talking.” Not knowing the meaning of that statement I moved away and observed the creative process from a distance.
Often the children are processing aspects of their daily school experience and utilize some time for free expression as an outlet. The children often do not want to talk about what they are doing or why. As an educator, I am trying to make a social connection with the children and gain a sense of their current work, but I do not want to interfere with the children’s creative process.
From my perspective, the drawings looked like two princesses or queens. The colorful creations had round faces with eyes that were surrounded by long eyelashes. The characters had long shoulder length hair, stick arms, and no feet or legs. The characters were wearing floor length dresses that were stripped in purple, white, and yellow. Near the neckline, the characters had pink tops and colorful scarves.
As the children work, I do not share what a joy it is to watch them create. As I am observing I usually recall the history of their work in the program and how his or her skill and creativity has grown with each passing provocation and exploration. The children may not recognize their growth in the moment but I see the wonderful progress they have made in the depth and breadth of their investigations.
Taking notice of the original chalk drawings, another group of children begins using an adjoining chalkboard to create giant swirls of color over the surface. Employing large arm motions, the children fill the entire field with color and then use their fingers to draw designs inside the colorful swirls. The designs were not recognizable to me, and I did not ask the children what they were creating because I felt it would interfere with the flow of their work.
Often the children inspire other children to create. The children observe a technique or material they find interesting and are motivated to experience and explore the material as well. Occasionally the children will mimic the same work as the children who inspired them or they will go on their own journey and make new discoveries about the possibilities of a material of interest.
I thought I would wait awhile and inquire again about the original chalk work. I was called away from my observation to help other children and when I returned to inquire about the chalk drawings they were gone. The children had erased them and moved on to other investigations.
My sense of this work is that the children were exploring chalk in a big space and using the opportunity to enjoy the moment and the experience. The educator in me wanted to hear a story about the deep thinking that was involved in the work but the intention of the children was never aligned with my desire to be involved. The work turned out as it should be, in the space of the children, a moment in time to create with a friend to have a private conversation and it does not really matter what the drawings mean. They mean the children experienced joy creating with a friend and this will last longer than the story they could have told me about the work. This is the important work of the learning community.