mandag 27. oktober 2014

Look at me!

Few years ago I took part in a multidisciplinary, multicultural project in an early childhood and care institution (ECEC) close to a refugee centre. Half of the children group did not speak Norwegian. The project aimed to collaboration and integration of children and their parents in the new community. We wanted to do something that did not rely on verbal language, some kind of activities both children and their parents could participate in and exchange cultural knowledge and experiences. As teacher of visual arts I suggested that some kind of material, common in all parts of the world, could be good foundation to build content and curricula (since materials can structure curricula (Fredriksen 2010)). With some inspiration from the children and corn field landscapes in the ECEC’s surroundings, the choice fell on material: flour. This was no usual art material, but can you imagine how many different tasty things could be made of it? We invited parents to show their baking / cooking skills from different cultures ... but that's another story. The story to be told here is about little Adi, who turned three on the first project day. Wearing his special birthday suit, together with his mother he stood speechless in the doorway and watched the kids playing on the floor with toy tractors full of flour, and flour-dusty clothes.
Adi was a quiet boy, so quiet we thought he could not speak a word. He did not even make any sounds. Ones he hit his forehead on the edge of a table, he held his hand on the painful spot, but did not cry or make ​​any sound.

When we, a week later, visited a farm with old-fashioned mill and stone own, Adi made a loaf of bread and marked it with special sign. When the bread came out of the own, he recognized it and pointed with smile, but still no sound. On our way back home, he fell asleep sitting in the back seat in heart-warming embrace with his bread.

I will never forget what happened the morning after. When Adi arrived to the ECEC with his mother, she hugged and kissed everyone she came over. With joyful tears and broken English she managed to convey that Adi had told her everything! He explained the whole process that started with crushing of grains between the millstones and ended with golden bread on his chest. Her joy was overwhelming, but our surprize that Adi could speak was even larger! We realized that Adi understood so much more than we had imagined: He had even understood that there was no point in communicating in the only language he knew! He had to be creative in exploring other ways of communication. 

Images from the project were printed and exhibited on the ECEC wall. When Adi few days later saw a picture of himself with his bread, his alternately pointed on the image and on his chest. He was tapping on the picture and looking around to get attention. He hoped that everyone could hear his silent shouting: LOOK AT ME!

Children need to be seen, heard and acknowledged, however silent they are! This requires attentive and caring adults -  kind of adults that are so engaged that they can see the invisible and hear the soundless. 

Fredriksen, B. C. (2010). Meaning making, democratic participation and art in early childhood education: Can inspiring objects structure dynamic curricula? International Journal of Education through Art, 6(3), 383-397.

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