An awakening of sorts

What is a plan?

“It’s when you decide whether to go to the park or do something else.” Josie

“It’s something you think of and draw, and then make later.” Maya F.

I initiated the Fairy House plans.

drawing plans

It was after collecting and sorting natural materials,


reading the book Fairy Houses,

having lots of practice using the sketch books in different ways (in museums to make memories, outdoor observational sketching, indoor self portraits),


and after discussing the qualities of artificial, living, and found natural objects.


I am mentioning this, because this process of modeling and working with children is based on the idea of learning called ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development developed by Vygotsky.


To cite directly from Vygotsky, this most widely known concept of his theory represented “the distance between the actual level of development as determined by independent problem solving [without guided instruction] and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

“This is confusing.” Ava

I was able to show Ava some work from her peers’ sketchbooks. I also was able to scaffold, or ask questions to give her support. Here’s some diverse examples of the plans:

Using the sketchbooks and mark making to create symbolic representations, for a blueprint, for a fairy house.

Bridgets plan

Wills plan


The following week, children worked in groups of 2-3, combining their ideas to create one Fairy House.




In these small groups, children challenged each other to develop and build in a more complex manner. Ideas bounced off one another. More experimentation was observed, due to collaboration. Groups working next to other groups shared ideas.




“Theirs is more beautiful than ours!” Maximillian

A magnanimous attitude towards others developed.



The thesis behind this “zone” is that at a certain stage in development, children can solve a certain range of problems only when they are interacting with people and in cooperation with peers.


The Kindergarten children spent a few weeks with me, developing the thinking and skills to make a 3 dimensional clay sculpture of a Fairy.

The collaborative time spent figuring out how to do this was essential to internalizing how to do this.

When I decided they were ready to create and keep a sculpture to be fired, I witnessed children commenting, questioning and supporting peers who were struggling.

maddie clay

“You forgot the neck, that’s why the head is coming off.”

“Make a slab, like this to make a body.”

“How did you do the hair again?”

Laura clay

Lauraclay scup

“Attach the hands to the body, or it will fall off.”

Ben clay

This theory of teaching and learning (ZPD) differs from children performing tasks in isolation. In isolation, a child’s success depends upon another child’s failure.

Environments such as SWS that focus on Mastery as opposed to Performance create a paradigm switch amongst children from “self” to “other.”



Peers are seen as assets as opposed to competition. Each child’s individual success is celebrated within the context of a group.


Claire, Emma Clare, and Ava’s Fairy House has the following text. They created the narrative together, with passion and excitement:

There’s a water fountain you can drink out of on the outside of the house. Inside the shell, there is fur. You open it up, and then there is water to drink. The little tree is for the fairies to lay on. The seed pod is a big slide. The fairies have  blueberry and cherry blossoms in a bowl. We have water and cherries for each fairy kid in the home to have dinner. The shiny shell is the entrance. I love it!

Once the problem solving activities have been internalized, the problems initially solved under guidance and in cooperation with others will be tackled independently.
This teaching/learning approach takes thought, intention  and preparation. It is most powerful when deconstructed  & shared with the community. Much time must be alloted.
Despite all the work and time involved, a funny thing happens. An awakening of sorts. What emerges from the children is often as magical and illuminating as a fairy.

Small World

(detail from Khalisa’s Dream House)

January began with two new spaces. The Winter Garden and the Hideaway Space.


The Winter Garden is a small square tactile table that is now filled with corse sand. Cat tails, shells, feathers, rocks, seed pods, small tree stumps and some plastic dinosaurs. My only rule was to “leave something interesting for the next group of children.”

boysOne group of children had a long narrative play. The land was Dino world, and there were bombs (chestnuts dropping) and a thunderstorm (sand dropping) that led to destruction and the creation of a song by Jonas, which Milo and John joined in singing “Dino world its a big big big big world. We’re cleaning up Dino world Dino World it’s a big big big big world. ” Shelters were made, dinosaurs were rescued, and even a dino toilet existed. There was disaster, clean up, peace, disaster clean up peace, and song and discussion.

When Renzo and Henry chose to play in the Winter Garden, Henry made a discovery. By hitting the cattails, white fluffy snow emerged. I struggled with the awe and visual beauty of this new natural material and at the same time, the material management challenges that came with this, the flyaway seeds were copious and covering everything!  I stayed with the awe, especially after teacher Margaret Ricks came to me and said, “Did you see that the winter garden really has turned into a winter garden?” winter

The winter garden idea emerged from conversations with teacher Sarah Burke, who was struck with the natural glass enclosed atriums that we saw in the Reggio schools where children created with natural materials. She was trying to find a way to adapt the quality of these beautiful spaces on our 3rd floor space. At the same time, I had just written a grant to create an outdoor creative nature play space in a corner of our public school playground. Currently the playground  offerings of a cluster of play equipment and asphalt and bikes.offers gross motor play, but not open ended possibilities for engaging in dramatic creative play in conjunction with natural elements. I did get the grant, (Thank You Capitol Hill Community Foundation!) however the space will start up in March/April, and I too was eager to offer the children something now. The new Winter Garden in the common area, and Sarah’s larger version for her class offer opportunities for adults as well. The narrative  stories of these small worlds change with each group of children. I am looking forward to learning more.

The other new space, the Hideaway Space leela lilahcame out of a conversation with lead teacher John Burst.  I was talking to him about spaces and my observations of how the children use the narrow space of the studio. I told him that I noticed that most of the children use the large square table or the floor, and rarely the counter space, which was becoming space for materials or childrens work. What about creating something under the counter? he asked. I was thrilled with this idea, and thanks to Fredric Robb’s mom and her amazing sewing and creativity, there is an evolving space under the counter. lailaI placed two clipboards and pens next to the new cushions. In this first week, it has been used non-stop.legs A side piece of fabric was added mid-week to make it even more fort-like, milesand we are experimenting with adding another piece of draped cloth that we’ll try next week. I am still reading the essays in the book Secret Spaces of Childhood. I am struck with the small worlds all around me. Even the dream houses, which are constructed small worlds, have even smaller worlds within them.carolineCaroline’s Dream House detail

graceGrace’s Dream House detail

ellaElla’s Dream House detail (Keep Out)

P1050260Jonas’s Dream House detail

Within the project of using natural material to make temporary art, like artist Andy Goldsworthy multiple hidden small worlds and stories exist.

art“It’s a house in the Garden” (collaboration by Forest, Malin and Elanor)


Childrens stories are both sacred and informative, and as teacher Alysia Scofield said in a conversation about these ideas, “It’s all about children and power. These stories are like the figures they made with you.” Amazing.casey

(Detail, below from Casey’s Dream House)

As I observe, document, gather and transcribe stories, I will share them on later posts.

I’ll end with a poem by Walt Whitman:

There was a child went forth everyday,And the first object he looked upon, that object he became…


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