Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Wheke Project-Lyall Bay kindergarten

Throughout 2006 teachers and children at Lyall Bay Kindergarten – a very multicultural kindergarten in Wellington – undertook a professional development contract with Victoria University of Wellington College of Education. The goals for this work were to develop and enrich Lyall Bay Kindergarten’s visual arts programme so that teachers and children developed new knowledge and skills in visual arts. However, there was also a strong emphasis on exploring the visual art of the diverse cultures within the kindergarten community by drawing on the expertise and knowledge of the children’s families and communities and using this in the programme.

Many of the children who attend the kindergarten are Māori, and the kindergarten has a strong commitment to biculturalism and the principles of partnership embedded in the Treaty of Waitangi so that all children learn about their cultural heritage as New Zealanders, and affirm the position of Māori as tangata whenua. The teachers decided that an excursion to Ako Pai marae at Victoria University of Wellington College of Education could provide an important opportunity for children, families and themselves to learn about tikanga Māori and explore aspects of Māori art. During the course of the excursion the teachers, children and parents were able to experience the kawa of the marae visit and engage in drama and art activities that related to the visual art in the wharenui.

In the development of specific goals relating to the visual arts work, the kindergarten starting to make connections to the kindergartens ‘place’ in the community, and the teachers decided that exploring the Māori legend Te Whekenui a Muturangi (Kupe and the Octopus) would be an effective way to begin this process. Kathy Sule comments, “As we journeyed along in our explorations we looked at Māori art and we looked at some Māori legends. Te Whekenui a Muturangi was an obvious choice as our kindergarten is near the sea and according to the legend, this is where Kupe, chasing an octopus, discovered New Zealand/Aotearoa.”

Ako Pai Marae, the marae at Victoria University of Wellington College of Education, has a large painting of the legend in the meeting house and the teachers decided that an excursion to the marae to explore this painting could provide some exciting learning for children, families, and the teachers themselves. The marae experience to look at the painting in this context would support the Belonging goal in Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) which encourages early childhood programmes to provide experiences for children in which “connecting links with the family and the wider world are affirmed and extended ... Most importantly for all the children, their families and the teachers the experience would provide “knowledge about the features of an area of physical and/or spiritual significance to the local community, such as the local river or mountain” (p.56).

As a direct result of the trip to the marae a large three dimensional wheke (octopus) was created by the children with help from one of the staff and one of the fathers. This was created out of pinex and plaster of Paris, and then painted by the children. It became another focal point of the programme and symbolic of the art and story telling experienced at the marae, as well as symbolising the cultural diversity of the kindergarten.

In 2007 the teachers continued with the theme of Te Whekenui a Muturangi and budget approval was given by the committee to complete a sculpture of the wheke for the outside area. The teachers and children began work with a local artist at the end of the year to create the concrete foundation for the work and this will continue with collaborative mosaic work to embellish the sculpture.

In July 2008 Te Whekenui a Muturangi was completed and the kindergarten had an end of term party to celebrate the hard work that had gone into its creation. The sculpture will continue to inspire on-going creative activity at the kindergarten.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

100 Languages of Children

One of the most important poems ever written about young children's creativity, Malaguzzi's ideas (1993) have significance when teachers are thinking about visual art education for young children in ECE settings.

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has

a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling of loving

a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Malaguzzi, L. (1993). No way. The hundred is there. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education (p. vi). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Artists in Residence TRCC conference April 2008

The coordination of a small visual arts conference for early childhood and junior primary school teachers was one of the ideas discussed at the the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators first ECE visual art network meeting in 2007. Consequently, the network approached the Teachers Refresher Course Committee (TRCC) who indicated they were keen for the suggested conference to take place. A planning committee from the network - Lisa Terreni (VUWCOE), Jannie Visser(MIT) and Kathy Sule (Lyall Bay kindergarten) - developed an exciting 3-day programme for a visual arts conference to be held in Wellington in April 2008, catering for 40 teachers from both early childhood settings and junior primary schools.

The marae-based conference, entitled Artists in Residence, provided participants with the opportunity to:

· Hear the latest research and ideas relating to visual art education in the form of key note addresses from artists, museum educators, and academics

· Listen to artists discuss their work and then participate in artist-run workshops

· Have guided, hands-on experiences with a range of different art media

· Examine issues of biculturalism and multiculturalism in the visual arts context

Local Wellington artists who provided conference workshops included: Debra Bustin, Kohai Grace, Margaret Tolland, and Deb Donolly. Three early childhood teachers from Auckland – Michelle Johnston, Lorraine Andrewes, and Carolyn Dugal also ran a workshop for participants. The workshops included: explorations with natural materials, weaving, felting, jewellery-making, and painting.

Many of the workshops, whilst employing different media, had a strong focus on sustainable art practice with an emphasis on recycling, use of natural materials and consideration of the environment. The extraordinarily beautiful setting of Hongoeka marae where participants were based for the three day conference also emphasised the need for teaching children to respect the environment when using the environment for artistic exploration.

Encouraging early childhood and junior primary school teachers to use museums and art galleries to extend the visual arts curriculum was the topic of a key note address by Lisa Terreni and Margaret Tolland. With the assistance of Pataka Museum’s gallery educators, participants were able to explore the galleries current Samoa Contemporary exhibition and consider how gallery collections can be used with young children.

Dr Jill Smith wowed participants with a presentation about her recent exhibition Talking my way through culture. Using the metaphor of the talking-stick to capture key themes from her PhD research, her exciting and sometimes challenging pieces emphasised the need for educators to consider issues of diversity and inclusion in visual art education.

Jannie Visser and Rebecca Brown concluded the three day conference with a powerful presentation examining aspects of both the early childhood curriculum and the new school curriculum. Both presenters emphasized the need to place the child and his/her world firmly at the centre of the curriculum by providing visual arts opportunities within the wider community.

Debra Bustin commented in her résumé for the conference programme “I believe that when people work together, engaging with the natural world around them to create something wonderful, the value of each person is nurtured, confirmed and validated as an integral part of the whole that is life. Such experience creates awareness of the creative matrix that weaves all aspects of life together.” Through the hands-on workshops and the key-note presentations participants at Artists in Residence were able to experience the extraordinary power of working collectively to engage in visual arts experiences. These experiences will undoubtedly have nurtured the teachers’ creative spirits. The challenge for participants is to take back into the class room and early childhood centre this special experience and use it to provide quality visual art education for young children.