Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Do Trees Have Feelings?

Expressing Empathy

Our feelings made visible through loose parts

Our Forest Friday sessions often bring new discoveries by the children as they investigate the outdoor classroom. I feel privileged to be able to share my love of nature within such a wonderful outdoor space with the children in our class. Each week is a new adventure and you never know where the learning might lead. This particular Forest Friday visit will forever be etched in my mind. The children began by exploring the tree trunks. They moved from tree to tree looking closely and talking about their findings. Most of the leaves that they were previously interested in had blown away in the Autumn wind. So their attention turned to the structure of the trees now that they could see all the branches. The children were very curious and surprised to see little things on the branches. I did not tell them what they were but rather I will let them discover this for themselves later on as their interest increases in the spring when the trees begin their growth cycle again.

Then the children made an interesting discovery. Cassidy noticed it first and she pointed it out to her peers. While looking closely at the bark she saw scratches in the bark. At first we thought it might be animals who made the scratches. Then as the children gathered around and we discussed their theories about how the scratches were made in the bark. The children noticed that some of the scratches resembled alphabet letters and even a face. The children wondered if people had scratched the trees. As we were leaving the outdoor classroom to return back to school. Cassidy paused and asked, "Do trees have feelings?" She spoke with empathy in her voice and sadness in her heart. I asked her what she thought might be the answer to her question and she shrugged her shoulders. I could see that she was very concerned and the other children joined her in worry for the trees. 

In response to the discovery of the scratches in the tree bark the children were offered an invitation to explore their thinking and feelings using loose parts the following week. 

The children were also beginning to bring in evergreen sprigs to share with the class and so they were also included in the invitation as the children brought them to the table to explore. I asked Cassidy to share her thinking with her peers in response to our guiding question: "Do trees have feelings?" She replied, "I think yes." She then suggested we say sorry to the trees. As a class we apologized to the trees and hoped that no one would scratch their bark again. Mrs. DiPasquale came into the classroom and we shared our question with her. She engaged the children in a discussion about their question. Mrs. DiPasquale asked Cassidy, "How do you know how someone's feeling?" Cassidy replied, "You look at their faces. But trees do not have faces." Then Cassidy paused and we could see that she was thinking. After awhile she said, "Every animal has a feeling too." This was such an interesting discussion in how emotions are expressed and determined. Then the children showed their thinking and experience in the outdoor classroom through their visual designs using the loose parts. They were also offered Q cards to record their ideas on as part of this invitation. 

Alexander shared, "This is an acorn tree. There are marks on the tree."

The loose parts became another material for Eden to show her thinking. She documented her roses that she brought to school using the loose parts and by drawing her observations on the Q card. How lovely that she choose to use the red stones to represent the roses. She even counted to make sure she included each rose in her design. 

 The children were beginning to look closely at their evergreen sprigs as well. They used observational drawings to record their initial thinking. 

Emma wrote, "I think trees have feelings 
cause God has made them."

Marc shared,"I made a tree." Then 
I asked if he thought trees had feelings. 
He said, "Yes cause I just know."

Mark was also exploring the natural items presented. He looked carefully at the thistle top using the magnifying lens. Mark exclaimed, "Miss it looks even bigger." He looked at some of the other natural items and then he created with the loose parts. Mark shared his thinking about his design. He said, "It's me holding an acorn." I asked Mark about our guiding question. I was curious as to his thoughts as to whether trees had feelings. His response was, "Yes cause when people scratch them they are sad." 

After creating with the loose parts on the black flannel Cassidy shared, "Jesus is holding a rock and a sea shell." I asked why she chose to represent Jesus in her loose parts design. Cassidy said, "Because I love Jesus." I asked her how he made her feel. She replied, "Happy."

We continued to offer the loose parts invitation to the children for the following few weeks and the children would visit here often to create transient art representing their thinking. I would like to share with you a few more of their meaningful designs that I documented. Reflecting on their artistic efforts with the loose parts along with their descriptions gave us insight into their thinking and helped us as educators to making meaning about their learning. This is one of the reasons that I blog to share not only their efforts but also to give the children's ideas a space to inform others as we reflect together on their journey as a community of learners. 

Kate shared, "I made a circle with snow coming down. That is the log blocking the snow coming down. This is the thing that's blocking it back and forth. It's safe to block something. If it comes around you just block it here. If you don't it will fall on you." 

Joshua shared his thoughts about trees and feelings. He said, "Yes" when asked if trees had feelings. Then he described his design, "A mountain. I've been using all the pieces for this. I put the trees on because I thought it would be nice. God is all around it because I see him." 

Emma shared,"I made a path in the forest. The leaves are falling down and landing all over the path." I asked her if she had ever been to the forest. She then shared her experience at the forest, "It was beautiful. There were leaves and rocks sparkling in the sun. The sun was reflecting off of them." 

Lucy's design focused on highlighting her leaf that she brought to school. She shared, "I got it on a walk with Vito. I brought it because it has a long stem. I put rocks here for the beach. It's a big tower of wood. I just like what it was looking like. I like the brown parts." Lucy was referring to the bark on the outside of the wood circles. 

The children's empathy towards the trees and nature was quite evident to us through our discussions. Their work with the loose parts also showed us some new thinking and experiences from their time with their families outside of school. This is one of the beautiful aspects of open ended materials such as loose parts. It allows for self expression and gives the children another way of sharing their thinking. 

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes! I hope it inspires you to include open ended materials in the choices you offer children to explore.

"The wider the range of 
possibilities we offer children,
the more intense will be their motivations
and the richer their experiences."

- Loris Malaguzzi -