Yes, there is an Advent wreath hidden somewhere in this picture. (I also just noticed: Pip's cardboard castle is positioned just right to make it seem like something is nesting in an open woodstove. I feel like I'm posting a version of hidden pictures!) But, obviously, Advent and Christmas are not all we are about this December. Farmerboy built this cardboard castle a couple of weeks ago after being inspired by Superboy's Colossal Castle. He built the cardboard form all by himself, with the help of copious amounts of masking tape. The blue cardboard you see taped beneath the staircase (which I think was originally supposed to be a drawbridge) stands for the moat. He constructed a tower out of a toilet paper tube and made a top for it by cutting up a cardboard carton of some kind, then anchored it using masking tape (of course). Before he added on, the castle also sported swinging doors: little pieces of cardboard connected to the walls with scotch tape that functioned as a hinge.
He spent about an hour on it one cold afternoon. I was pretty impressed -- with the level of concentration, perseverence, problem-solving, and independence he exhibited, as well as the creativity involved. Lately I have been practicing a difficult parenting skill. I have been practicing the art of saying yes. Yes to big, messy projects. Yes, to the use of large amounts of masking tape. Yes, you can... do it yourself. Without me. Without my ideas about how you should do things. You will have to get everything out yourself. You will have to put it all away. I can't help you now, but yes, you can do it.
This is tough. I have had to shift gears. In my head, I still think they need me, see, for lots of things. They do still need me... but not for everything. I am not required for every project anymore. My role is often simply to supply space, materials, permission, and encouragement.
After doing some research into Reggio Emilia, I have also been enouraged myself. I've been encouraged to take some of what I thought were minuses -- our inability to follow anyone's predetermined plans, for instance, or our collectively disorganized creative right-brainedness -- and consider them instead as pluses. I've been encouraged to hone and build on what for me is my natural homeschooling style: listening and observing my kids, scaffolding and encouraging their interests, documenting what happens, and using that documentation to make further plans.
So. I had been hearing about "cities" since this summer. Gareth, Katydid, and Farmerboy had all built (and argued over) their own "cities" in one of our flower beds, as an on-going, kid-initiated, adults-have-nothing-to-do-with-this project. They built these cities out of excavated dirt, rocks, bricks, sticks, and anything they found while digging in the flower bed (plastic potsherds, for example), and used them as the stage for Playmobil wars, archaeology digs, and construction sites. I took some pictures this fall:
(The feather sticking up behind the wall marks the site of an ancient tomb, according to Gareth.)
(A cave, excavated and reinforced by Farmerboy.)
Farmerboy gave me the tour of the cities, punctuating his descriptions with statements such as: "Gareth's city is rich in bricks. My city is rich in rocks." The city building echoed another game they played this summer called "Civilizations", in which they all pretended to live in three different civilizations and trade with each other. I'm pretty sure this play was encouraged by our reading about Mesopotamia and Greece, but the cities in the flower bed have been around for a while.
The cities outside can't really be played in during the winter because the ground is frozen and/or covered with snow. After reading about the Reggio Emilia way of encouraging learning with preschoolers by picking up on themes from their play, I wrote a few notes in a journal about possibly doing a city project with the kids. Another key element of the Reggio approach is collaboration, and since working together is a skill I would like my kids to develop (if only to cut down on the bickering), I thought that "cities" might provide a point of common interest for all of them -- including the twins, who also like to excavate in the flower bed. I brainstormed a list of topics I thought could develop from a focus on cities -- cities in the ancient world, how cities developed, city planning... well, actually it wasn't a list so much as it was a map of topics and their connections. (I didn't scan or photograph it, but I can if you'd like.)
Anyway, after I made the list, we got interested in painting for a while, and then there was Halloween and Thanksgiving, and I wondered if maybe I should just sit on the idea of a city project until January. But as Farmerboy was covering his cardboard castle with "Fast-mache" (not very fast, by the way, and we had to scrape it all off yesterday -- the subject of another post), he was talking to Pip and Pop (who also wanted to make castles) about how they were building a village with a castle at one end. So I decided to go ahead and ask the kids whether they were interested in building a city inside.
"How can we build one inside?" they asked.
"We'll need somewhere to put it," Gareth said.
"We'll get a board or a piece of plexiglass or a large section of cardboard to use as a base. Then I thought that we could just move the whole thing out of the way when we needed to use the table, " I told him.
The response at that point was more positive than I could have hoped. The kids had a lot of ideas, each building on the others. They decided how to divide the city up so that each of them would be responsible for a piece. They made a list of the materials they thought they might need. They got out some books to use as a reference. They wanted a a big piece of paper so they could draw plans.
So it looks as if, along with baking Christmas cookies and reading Christmas books, we are going to be investigating cities. I'm waiting on a box from Dick Blick to really get started, and it looks as if it might have just been delivered to our front porch...