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Things have felt, well perhaps a little scattered this month, with some children moving on to kindergarten and several others going on extended summer holidays. With the small group of children remaining there has been the lovely gift of space and time to go a little deeper, but also a sense of reorienting in response to all of the recent changes.

Over the past couple of months there have been two strands of focus for the children that up until recently seemed rather distinct but now, interestingly, have become entwined.

The first area of interest for the children has been around ‘designing pictures’. I call it this because they sometimes talk about making pictures and other times refer to it as making designs.

The whole idea may have started with sculpting. About 2 months ago there was a perceptible shift in the way that the children were working with clay, from squishing, smooshing, pulling, pinching and rolling to sculpting with a clear idea and end result in mind… most often an animal or food (birthday cakes in particular have been popular).

It may also have had roots in the water play that developed this spring into ‘water art’. The children worked with great vigor, pouring, throwing, and squirting water to make pictures and designs, proclaiming themselves water artists. Then with the introduction of some new loose parts inside, fabric scraps, jewels and small stones, the children began designing intricate and beautiful pictures on the floor, the light table and even on the steps of the loft. We had worked for a long time with these loose parts when the children began to gather materials on our walks (shells, rocks and beach glass) and to ask for ways to make art with their collected treasures. Eventually we began learning about collage and mosaic.

At the same time, simultaneously and yet distinctly, there was a dramatic increase in interest in story, read alouds, puppet shows and oral storytelling. The children were asking for more stories, more stories. In addition to the regular storytelling and puppet shows, I began reading a new book each day, as well as revisiting previous favorites. After a while it began to remind me a bit of the way I see some children with television, constantly eager or even hungry for more, but barely connecting with what they are seeing. And so I decided to slow it all right down.

I now introduce one new book each week and we reread it each day (often, at their request, several times throughout the day). Not only are the children ok with this but they actually seem to prefer it. They seem quite content, are no longer rushing to get ahold of the next new book, and not surprisingly, are connecting with the stories in a much deeper and more meaningful way. I seem to need to relearn this lesson more than once… less really is more!

Now the children are developing an entirely different relationship with the stories and are revisiting them not just as they look through the pages of the book but also as they work with materials, sometimes as small world play and other times acted out as a puppet show. They know these stories. They know the characters. They seem to have become more real and the language is all there and accessible to them.

Yesterday they worked together to retell an entire story using materials. We have been reading the book ‘The Tomtes of Hilltop Stream’ by Brenda Tyler and the children are fascinated with it. A blue play silk became the stream, wool felted puppets became the Tomtes, rocks and glass jewels became the pollution in the stream and small wooden animals became the animals from the story. This small group of 2 and 3 year olds retold, quite seriously and dramatically, the entire story on their own (where was my camera!). They even lay a brown play silk over top of the blue stream when it became polluted and removed it as the Tomtes worked to clean up the stream so that the animals could return.

Today as I watched this small sun kissed group of children at play it occurred to me that they have now settled after all the changes that have swept through in the last month or so. I watched as they decorated the loft with play silks and listened as they told me how they were designing it. Then they wrapped the silks around their bodies and over their heads and appointed themselves princes and princesses. The loft transformed and became their castle. When they finished, they retreated beneath the loft (to them a quieter, cozier space) and took turns telling each other stories, sometimes orally and sometimes with little animals and puppets.

I watched this week as the two emerging interests in designing and storytelling seemed to meld together into one. What started as first explorational and then became representational, evolved further still and slowly came to life, incorporating design with story. It is fascinating and quite beautiful to watch them, the language they command, the familiarity they have with the materials, the developing creativity and imagination and how it all begins to come together.