The children had a gecko. They had caught it earlier in the week, and taken it inside to observe. But today the parent helper told them it was not good to keep it away from its own world, and they should let it go home.
I found a child sitting in among the bushes where it had been released. I asked her what she was doing, and she said she was making a house for the gecko. I asked a few questions about how she was going to make it, and encouraged her.
Later I found more children had joined this project. We try to discourage the kids from picking flowers from the garden – with so many children each week, the garden would soon be stripped, so we try to get them to enjoy the flowers on the plants. With limited success of course. But I asked the children to think of other things they could make the house from. One suggestion was shells, and I heard them instructing each other to go and look for another snail shell, but one without a snail in it.
Very satisfied with the direction of this play, I left them to it and made sure we got a photo later.
Later, as the children finished lunch and prepared for some indoor play, I asked them to talk about what learning they had done outside. I mentioned some things I had seen – including the gecko house. I asked them to consider doing a drawing about the learning they had done. A few children took up the offer, and presented me with drawings. With these, I made an extra effort to get the children to explain to me, and wrote their explanations on their works.
One drawing in particular caught my eye. The artist explained to me that he had included three of the learnings together in one drawing. There was a bee. A drawing of the elaborate ball run made of big outdoor blocks that a group had collaborated on over an hour or so. And the gecko house.
I was struck by the accurate detail in his drawing. The gecko house was shown on top of a curve, representing the hill. It showed the square piece of fake grass the children had used as a base. It showed the neat row of rocks they had placed around the outside edge, and a patch in the middle to represent the small pile of flowers that had been the centre piece.
If I had not been paying so much attention to the process of making the house, and asking for conceptual drawings, I am not sure I would have noticed so clearly what a remarkably accurate piece of communication Oscar had produced.
I realized that I often look at children’s artwork as art. I see the pleasing arrangement. Balance. Colour. Representational skill. None of these were particularly present in this drawing. The gecko house picture was a small part of the whole; a single colour line drawing without particular fluency. But as a communication of learning, it was magnificent.
Posing the task for the children in that way had helped me to see the work with different eyes. I hope I can learn to always see like this.