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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Art of Learning (part 1)

During a visit to London I spent a morning in the Natural History Museum, and it has inspired this post...

I read the following...

Which made me think of the Reggio Emilia Approach and the focus of the art studio/atelier as a language of learning. Using drawing and art as a method to look closer and to explore. This is something I have done over the years - myself as a child, and also as an educator. Art and creative expression has always been a strong path of exploration. There is research published in August 2018 about the impact of drawing on the memory (link here, sadly on the the abstract can be read for free) - the research reveals that the process of drawing activates the brain in different ways than just memorising with other techniques, which enables a better learning retention... by being able to remember learning it makes it easier to apply that learning to other experiences that come later - this is a part of Original Learning that I have been describing, the ability to transfer knowledge from one area to another for deeper understanding and further learning. Below are some photos with comments about this art of learning...

In this session we explored the buildings of Stockholm... first, the children explored google images to find a building that caught their attention and wanted to draw (as part of a background for a film we were making). The image was then printed out and the children drew and coloured them. It gave the children an opportunity to explore architecture and how it has changed styles over history - as some chose building several centuries old, while some chose building that were decades or even a few years old. We saw the different shapes, and different purposes... gone were the basic square house with triangle roof. We also took trips out to "find" their building in real life. To understand the size. The children developed an attachment not only to their own building choice but to all of them drawn by the group... and the parents all gave feedback on this that the children had become more interested in buildings, showed pride and knowledge about their buildings and the group's buildings and also had a greater understanding of the layout of the city that they lived in. So much learning triggered by drawing buildings... so much interest and curiosity sparked into wanting to know more

Drawing maps was a great way to develop a greater understanding of their local area... each child, together with their parents, drew a map of their route to preschool. We then created 3D maps with loose parts, and then also followed the map to each child's doorstep by following the drawn map. The children learned so much about representation... about how they could draw a route, how buildings could be represented as squares etc. This encouraged the children to draw more maps, and also ultimately to start making their own designs/plans.

using a photo as a background enabled a child to better sort design ideas. To think about perspective, even if not fully able to use it yet. To think about the idea that people need to get from one side to another. This was the first of many designs that became more and more refined. Drawing became a way of learning how to incorporate all ideas, or if all ideas were worth incorporating or even feasible. By asking questions as the child drew, and then also reflected about the drawing later... enabled the child to consider potential problems of accessibility and to return to drawing with fresh ideas and a more clear focus of what they want to share in their design.

taking plans outside and drawing in a new way... plans on paper can help children learn to an extent... but using new methods the children are able to deepen their own learning... is there space for everything, do some things get in the way, why are they in the way. Then this knowledge can be applied to their paper version of the design (and also the photo design we did together)

a vase of flowers in front... to learn that flowers are not always a circle with five petals around it... that there are many ways to draw flowers... as there are many different kinds of flowers... this is image one, where the child discovered that the first big flower made it hard to draw the whole bouquet... the solution was to draw extra flowers in the centre of the first large one... but this made it tricky to add paint. So the child took another paper to start again, adjusting the size to allow the flowers have the space they needed. In other words the child took the time to plan and not just jump in eagerly (even though I love this representation of a bouquet, the child felt the frustration of not being able to colour in as desired).

This art session was also a way of introducing to the children the idea that we can all look at the same thing (the vase of flowers) and see it differently... the bouquet was arranged so that each side had a different kind of flower at the front which was not visible from the other side... so this was not just about learning about flowers but also theory of mind.

learning to observe... not to just draw a horse with four legs because you know that horses have four legs... but to take the time to draw what you see... not all children could see all four legs depending on where they were sitting. This was a way to learn about perspectives... that we can all look at the same thing but see it in a different way. In this way we can offer the children different opportunities to explore this idea of theory of mind... a fruit bowl is another great way.

drawings can be a way to document a day, this is the drawing of my daughter aged 3.5years - remembering the playground where she had been playing. I simply wrote down the words she instructed me to write. This is not just about being good at drawing... the process helps the memory process.

learning to draw... both images above are drawn by the same child - with a HUGE amount of frustration in between. The child was not happy with the fact that the drawing did not look like a cat, but a sun instead. So we took some deep breaths and I guided the child through the process... slowing things down (as the child tended to be in a hurry much of the time) and helping to sort out what could be seen. What shape is the head, how many eyes, and where are they, where do you find the nose, what shape is it, where is the mouth, is it happy or sad, what about ears... are they in the same place as your ears... can you see anything else that you want to put on your drawing (whiskers). Afterwards the child was extremely pleased. This child needed support to take the time to observe and break down the observations into manageable pieces of information to draw. Interestingly 6 months later this child met with a speech therapist (as we suspected a language delay) and the therapist told us that this child needed help with the exact same with language.. to slow down and break it into manageable parts...

the primary learning might not always be about the object or subject... it can be the social interactions... what happens when several children draw together... which side of the paper is up? How do the children collaborate so all ideas are represented... how do the children negotiate the space so all can reach... inspiration images were given (you can see a little of one to the left) but it was up to the children to work together how to be inspired and what to include... using previous knowledge of maps and buildings.

using drawing to explore ideas... this was drawing to respond to the question "how we listen?". Instead of just talking about listening the children explored their ideas themselves through art and then explained their art to each other. This enabled the children to sort their thoughts - a bit like taking notes to a meeting, except this was with pre-writers. (3-4 year olds)

drawing BIG outside - this is a drawing of me... the children drew round me in the gravel... they have then added wings as a way of transforming me into a fairy. By drawing big like this more of the body is engaged, which stimulates even more of the brain. The fact that the children are dragging sticks through gravel is a sensory process too.

This is the first of two posts that I wrote in 2018, later this week I will transfer part two to this website.

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