Celebrating The Process
Should we tell you we don’t care about the finished product?
We have a Monday afternoon enrichment option here in in our Nido called “Maker Monday.” PreK Students who choose to stay after lunch on Mondays can participate in making activities. As a new Maker educator with our lab space opening just a year ago, I was searching for all kinds of mini projects for students to complete every Monday afternoon. Maybe we would give them a bunch of pre-cut materials and then fashion into a little character, with examples on the table for them to emulate. Maybe we would have them draw something one week, then build the representation the following week, then paint it the week after, and send it home as a shiny piece of pride. Maybe we would use store bought masks and decorate them with glue and beads. As a former high- and middle-school science teacher, I really didn’t know what the students could create, what I should be asking them to complete, what meant the most for them to do with their little hands, where the best learning could really live.
Fortunately our PreK team circled back to me frequently and gives awesome feedback. They called for more open exploration of materials. At the time I couldn’t visualize what that would look like, except a bunch of pom poms getting strewn everywhere, but I thought I would try. Then they gently asked me to remove even more structure. “Let’s do the same thing you had set out next week- except without the tape or glue.” They were teaching me a valuable lesson in an essential component of our early childhood program – asking the students to interact with “loose parts” to build their own representations, create something, explore how things look and feel, then at the end of the work time, deconstruct their model and return the materials back home for reuse later. I’m no expert in loose parts now, but I love this type of lesson and have been inspired by its daily use in the Nido classrooms and in their early childhood art space, and the power it has to slow down and explore the craft of making, instead of fast forwarding to a shiny product.
So this year our approach has been refreshed. Erin Stavole is our teacher who leads Maker Monday, and I support whatever she wants to do and occasionally make a suggestion of an exploration-based activity we could introduce. Earlier this year she decided the week would be devoted to “exploring tape.” I hadn’t focused my pedagogy down to the level of considering, when do students learn the essential skill of holding, pulling, tearing, and attaching an adhesive? This is a key to unleashing creative construction and making, and at some point we want them to be able to tape away without a teacher prepping those pieces for them. So what better time than PreK to give it a targeted go? We spent our Maker Monday with a variety of loose part materials: cotton balls, pipe cleaners, beads, buttons, and shredded construction paper, and some inspiring brightly colored masking tape. The central constructed item tended to be a cotton ball stack wrapped or coopered by tape. To me, the product wasn’t anything to display, but the process it signaled was gigantic.
A few students wanted to take their creations home; most wanted to return the loose parts for interaction another day. I later learned a teacher overheard one of our parents as her PreK son got in the car that afternoon with his cotton ball tape cloud: “wow! look at what you made! that must have taken so much work.” Which was such beautiful reinforcement to hear. When asked to share a bit about his creation earlier that day, her son had said “it’s something you can hang on the wall.” I have a feeling that this item was given a place of pride at home, not because it had a particularly clear artistic meaning, but because of the deep process it indicated – on that day, and to inspire more processes and attempts and maker growth on the next day and the next.
Yesterday our Early Childhood Director Mary Beth Hilborn sent out this article about embracing the process in children’s artwork. It reminded me of the lesson with tape, the ownership the students show over our materials, the way they select and use and then put away the tools, the way their hands are so busy in the makerspace. Three months into the year, we don’t have that many items that have gone home with an embossed label “made in the Innovation Lab,” but we do have better creators, better makers, better owners of their own learning process.
What am I still working on? I realized in looking back for some media for this post that when I do take a moment to photograph what’s happening in our lab, I’m usually catching a student smiling holding their final product. I don’t even have that many photos documenting the process! This is something I’m working on this year- how we document the beginning to end of a project, and how we document the thinking and learning process. This is a good check in for myself to capture those process moments, instead of just what it looks like in the end.