paint brush to easel, pencil to paper, hands to clay, glue to collage. Each of these -and more representational opportunities- are important ways of supporting children’s self-identification as thinkers, inventors, mathematicians, readers, writers, and learners. Loris Malaguzzi (founder of the Reggio Emilia approach) writes about children having 100 languages or ways of representing their thinking. So, isn’t it important that we provide different ways for children to show us what they understand. For instance, if a class focus is on towers, then children should be building towers out of different materials, drawing towers in different mediums, taking photographs of towers, measuring towers, writing about towers, etc….
Opportunities to represent ideas help children process what they already know and move into new understandings. Ursula Kolbe (2009) writes that while young children’s drawings may not resemble what we know as adults, “They are at the threshold of learning to make images, letters, and numbers” (p. 43). Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover (2008) remind us to recognize that children’s decision-making while creating representations of their thinking is similar to thought processes of adults. So, if a child’s writing does not include correctly printed letters or their clay animal does not have enough legs, recognize what the child understands and continue to provide opportunities for them to keep making representations. The thinking process they encounter with each representation will naturally bring about new understandings.
To embrace children’s representational work we need to always value children’s processes, rather than end products. This is easier said than done. Wanting to fix a child’s block tower that continues to fall because they put too much weight at the top can be tempting. Just this morning, I was with a 4 year old who asked me to build him a Lego house. I responded, “You show me how you want to start it.” He then proceeded to build the entire tower by himself, but became frustrated when it fell over due to a tiny base. I simply said, “That’s okay, we need to fix it.” He built it straight up on an unstable base, again, and the tower fell a second time. I suggested he put larger Legos at the bottom of his house. Not wanting to do the building for him, I watched him become frustrated when it fell a third time. At this point, I showed him what I meant about putting larger Lego’s at the base. He continued successfully and his tower became a wonderful school for all the Lego people. Had I built him a building when he first asked, he would have missed the opportunity to represent his thinking. He showed me that he knows how to build, and with my facilitating the building his thought was stretched to consider the physics of weight, height, and stability. If I were to provide even more representational opportunities for this child, I might show him photographs of tall towers, provide paper and pencil to sketch building ideas, or bring measuring tools into the building area.
As Malaguzzi writes, “the child has one hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking…” (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2012, p. 3). We as teachers need to provide the space, materials, and experiences for children to represent all their individual ways of being! Oh, and patiently await their discoveries.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (2013). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Kolbe, U. (2009). Rapunzel’s supermarket: All about young children and their art. Byron Bay, Australia: Peppinot Press.
Ray, Katie Wood, and Matt Glover. (2008). Already ready: Nurturing writers in preschool and kindergarten. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
*see links to some of these references in my Inspiration: Literature & Film page