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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Collaboration between adults and children

So how comfortable are you adding to the work of others...? here is what some teachers wrote down at one of the workshops at Boulder Journey School in the summer of 2013...

  • I appreciated having a blueprint or framework to build from/on

  • the work inspired me

  • it was an interesting concept to add to someone elses work/art - feeling like you were misrepresenting their idea

  • it makes me feel uncomfortable adding to or modifying someone elses work. Collaborating makes me feel more comfortable as the other individuals would be there.

  • I felt slightly uncomfortable to add to someone elses work. My addition was adding texture and ground covering below the tree house...

  • there was a lot of concern that we had copies of the children's originals - out of respect for their work, as a tool for reflection, will we show them these additions to them

The following questions were also posed... and answered Do you prefer drawing or collage? I preferred using collage materials that suggest movement I wanted to use wire and string for the hanging vines and climbing roots Can you represent your ideas and suggestions? I enjoyed being included into someone else's idea and that they kept their original so they could see the "conversation" opening and changing while their idea remaining

from the workshop at Boulder Journey School Summer Conference 2013 -

a participant was able to draw or add collage materials to enhance the

tree-house design by one of the children.

There is a blogpost by Busy Mockingbird about a mother's artistic collaboration with her then 4 year old daughter, see the image below.

Firstly, I think the images are absolutely beautiful, but I am also reminded that not all adult/child collaborations are going to look like this as not all adults can draw like that (or have been given the time and encouragement to be able to draw like that)... I found it interesting how it seemed much harder for the adult to share the process... even though the child did question some of the choices the mother made to "finish off" the picture... I feel it would have been nice to have seen some of the images finished by the four year old and not give such a polished look (no matter how MUCH I love the aesthetics of the finished product, it does end up feeling very "polished" in the sense that the adult has again taken control) BUT I very much like collaborations between adults and children... and the fact that the mother was so enthralled with the sense of equality that both child and mother experienced in the process. She also gives tips to let go of your agenda and be open to the possibilities. Pretty much the same as I write about when it comes to dialogue and philosophy with children.

Many times I have been a part of, or observed/listened to, discussions about adult involvement in the art process. Many times I have heard how the adult prevents the child from being creative themselves, of preventing children discovering their own solutions, or how if teachers/adults draw or make art with the children that the children will give up feeling disheartened that they can not do as well... I understand why some teachers can think like this, but I have not seen it... if the teacher is collaborating. There is a huge difference between collaborating and controlling. I have often made art with children around me... MY messing around... many times I have no idea how something works and I want to test an idea - sometimes I do this on my own time and sometimes I have done this with children around me and have seen how they come to look and see me experiment, see me get frustrated, or satisfied as I experiment with a variety of materials... and how they have become inspired to then start experimenting alongside me - working together and we discuss together as we go along our processes... I have been told off for doing this in the past... been told that I am destroying their self esteem - because my artwork might be more "realistic" or whatever - even when I have been playing with playdough and clay etc. Yet I have never seen a child get upset because of what I have been up to... I have seen children get frustrated because their artwork has not been "as good" as their friends artwork in their own eyes, and this we have been able to talk about and support. I never do things FOR children, but I will help them in their process... I have also met children with a perfectionist attitude to art, that has not been a result of adults or other being better, but simply that they have been frustrated with their own process of not being able to recreate what they observe or imagine. My collaborations with these children in art have been a huge part of the process for them to get over this hurdle of perfectionism. It has given them a chance to feel supported, and also to see that regardless of age things seldom work out the way you want or intend them.

...For instance years back the group of children I was working with were creating pieces inspired by Miro... I helped them paint a few of their details as my fine motor skills allowed me to use the paint brush to bring back to life the sketch underneath the watercolours... I did not create, I simply had the motor skills to stay on the children's lines... and I only did this for the very fiddly bits, the rest they did themselves, and it was always a choice to have support in this way - just about all of them asked for this help - and it would have meant about 3-4% of the whole process was done by my hand. The children gave me consent to use my experience to enable their artwork to be visible again.

Another example is when we were doing huge self portraits, I had one child where the pressure of getting it right was just too overwhelming and the child refused to draw. This was a project that would take us several weeks, and I knew that he would be able to do all the other stages. So I made the decision to draw round his photograph on the plastic sheet, so that he and his peers could continue as a group together. This is exactly what happened, all the other stages could be completed by him with joy, he was included in the process, I simply helped out with the part that was overwhelming at that time for him. I have worked in places where this very action would have been a huge taboo... I look back on my actions and I still feel it was the right thing to do. Yes, I did something for the child, but it was 10 minutes of my actions that then allowed him several hours of exploration and expression - art, maths, science, technology, social interactions, literacy etc would have all been missed if I had not made that decision to relieve him of his stress and offer to to the tracing for him.

When I draw with the children it is sometimes to encourage the children to test out something new, to support them to focus on creating something rather than just experiencing the pencil on the paper (which has its value too, but not ALL the time). When I am creating with play-dough I find myself adapting according to what age I am with... the younger the child the more play-dough balls I make for them to squish and the more play-dough figures that illustrate a song so that we are all sitting round the table singing with the play-dough... ...the older the child, the more challenge/provocation needed then the more advanced the play-dough playing will become... but again, my play-dough playing is often just THAT - playing... in the spirit of David Hawkins' "messing about" - if I am not playing and experimenting with the properties of play-dough to find its possibilities and limitations then how can I expect the children to do the same? I do not view the children as lesser, as beings I need to fill with knowledge and skills, but simply as human beings like myself. We sit at the table as equals with different experiences. If we are afraid that our messing about, our play, as teachers, is going to have a negative impact on the children's learning, then how are we viewing ourselves as role-models? How are we viewing play - as only for children? Several years ago my group of children created a magic forest for the fairies. It involved six square pieces of cardboard that the children

worked on, layer upon layer, to create a magical forest feel. When I brought out the magic forest squares for the children to continue on, the children were quick to point out - "but that is not mine" and I explained how we were going to work on each other's so that the forest could belong to all of us, that our ideas and our creativity could be mixed together... the children listened, smiled and just got on with it... they accepted this as a reasonable answer (and believe me, these were children that would protest loudly if they did not want to). On the back of each forest part I am writing the process story of who and how. Several months later the children pointed out that the forest was too green, as it was now winter, and it needed to be adjusted to the season. So we took the forest down from the wall and the children worked together on those six pieces - at one end of the room paper and things they would need for the transformation... at the other side of the room the forest and adhesives. The movement between the two areas meant that the children needed to collaborate with each other. As an educator, I joined in, testing out different techniques, that another child observed and tried themselves, which inspired another child, which inspired...

I like the idea of photocopying the children's work to enable others to continue on the copy - which in turn allows the children to see the process... to see the journey of the representation of ideas... to compare and to enable the children to enter a dialogue about the first child's intentions and the second child's interpretation... and how the children then feel about the process once the have learned more about the intention and the interpretation... I remember doing poetry back in school (many, many moons ago) and that moment when the rest of the class interpreted the poems that you had written yourself... I remember thinking "wow, they see THAT in my words?" and I found myself nodding and enjoying the process of discoverying more about my creation... I often felt that they made it sound so much better than what it was... but I also remember that everyone else's poems sounded so great too - so maybe the same things were whizzing round their heads as mine - "why didn't I see that?" - but that is why I love art, literature and history so much because it is open to interpretation. After all, I do have a BA in History and Ancient History (joint honours) - and I preferred the really old history, the type that required you to puzzle the pieces together, where there were lots of blanks and plenty of room for creative thinking within the frame of the evidence... and I can use those skills, as a historian, in my work as a preschool teacher. I take my observations of the children... and the blanks of not knowing where projects will go and add creativity to enable the transportation in our journey together... the children and me together. I could not imagine a job without a huge portion of creativity. Its why I always had a hard time with science in school, because I felt there was not enough freedom - despite my teachers pushing me to do math and science (at the age of fifteen I was, apparently, in the top 10% of UK in math, but it bored me to death, I could do it, but I had no motivation, and despite doing exams early and doing advanced math at 16 and teachers pushing me to work with math, I dropped it as soon as I could). It is now, as an adult, that I see the creativity in math and science and wish that I had been given the chance to play with ideas, to mess about and experiment rather than just follow set formulas - that rarely seemed to work and yet proved a point that we were supposed to learn. (I mean why on earth do practicals once like that when they fail and do not give the result that the teacher is trying to teach?? It never made sense to me).

My relationship with maths also reminds me of how important it is to do something you enjoy, something that you are passionate about, because if it is not it becomes a chore. I love to find out more about ECE ... I LOVED doing my masters in ECE - even though it was hard work to be a mother to three young children and be responsible for opening a preschool - which required at least 50-60 hours of work each week. I look back and wonder how I EVER managed to do that... and realise I had that passion burning inside. As a teacher of early years children it's about enabling the children to explore many avenues. To allow them to communicate in all their languages... to test them out, to find the ones that fuel them and not just the ones that they are already good at. The role of the teacher in philosophical dialogues is that we should not be afraid to provoke the imaginations and thoughts of the children... regardless of the age of the children. As humans we thrive best when we are free to be creative and show/share competence. The role of an educator as a facilitator, provocateur and referee can be tricky... how much guiding before it is must-do-instructions? How much provocation before we have belittled the children? How much refereeing before it turns into control?

The problem is that it cannot be measured, how many steps we need to take back and allow the children to be free to solve their own problems and be creative in their own processes depends on the children and their needs. Each group, each class, each individual is so unique - and requires their own recipe for development and growth. As educators we collaborate with the children to find the right recipe.

So how does this all fit into the idea of Original Learning? Children learn through play, if we, as educators are always dividing play and learning into separate compartments where our role changes then we are not going to be accessing a child's full learning potential. I believe that learning is not just transdisciplinary from a subject point of view, but also from the point of view of play and learning. Children learn from each other in play. As teachers we can role-model within play and within lessons, giving the children space to observe new ideas, and then test them out and inspire others too, which is very much in line with Vygotsky's idea of ZPD. As educators we are a part of the play and learning ecosytem. We should not stand apart from it and merely observe. Collaboration should be respectful, it gives value to others, it is an action that requires consent and participation on all sides.

So how comfortable are you collaborating with children? Where is your limit? Is this a limit you would like to challenge?

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