One Sunflower

what would Picasso do?

on April 10, 2012

Maureen’s thinking about her students who play with race cars every day got me thinking about “periods” in our lives.  Periods when it might seem we are getting a little stuck but perhaps there is more going on.

Picasso’s painting between 1901 and 1904 came to be known as his “Blue Period.”  In fact he went on to have a “Rose Period,” “African Period,” and “Cubist Period.”  He often painted the same people throughout these periods.

When my daughter was five, the animated Disney movie of The Little Mermaid was her favorite. Over the course of her entire year of kindergarten, the only thing she painted was Ariel on a rock in the water.   My husband and I came to call this her “Little Mermaid Period.”

Maybe her efforts to become proficient at portraying her favorite story character provided a touchstone in this busy first year of school.

I don’t rotate the toys in my classroom as often as I used to because I’ve found that when my students have more time to play and explore what they find fascinating, their vocabulary, understanding and ability to explain their thinking is strengthened.  This isn’t to say I don’t work to stimulate their exploration of other areas and new mediums but I’ve developed some perspective about what sometimes seems like repetitive play scenarios.

I have some students who want to play with dolls and dress-up all year long.  These students can create and tell me detailed stories about the lives they imagine for themselves and their loved ones.


I have a few students who play with blocks every day.  They have  developed a keen understanding of how to choose blocks to support their architectural plans and they are able to explain their ideas to their peers.

This climbing box used to become a conundrum for me over time because it seemed to be a haven for the same students day after day after day.  But now, I “embrace the box!”  I’ve realized that my students who beg to build a dark fort in the box every day are often children without much privacy and independence in their own homes.

Like Maureen, I try to be right in the middle of my student’s play.  At first glance, their actions may seem repetitive to me, but as I watch and listen, I find this immersion to be a process of refinement. The continuous interaction and conversation distill the play to its most essential elements, and then daily engagement works over time to weave and layer in new learning and thinking.


11 responses to “what would Picasso do?

  1. Linda Baie says:

    It’s so interesting to hear you write about these young students yet as I ponder the middle schoolers I have taught, there are some parallels. Some cling to the same genre, even the same author or books. I often wondered if it just felt safe to them in their ever changing world, especially some who were moving on to high school and maybe weren’t so ready for that big step. I will show this to my colleague who teaches the fives, to see if she sees similar behaviors. Also, I read the post before. Is there a chance the funding will be cut? I’m sorry if it’s an anxious time for you.

  2. I also thought about older students as I read your post. We spend so much of our time “delivering the curriculum” (I do NOT like that phrase!) that our students don’t have time to pursue an interest or develop a talent that might be sparked or uncovered along the way. Your young students who spend time with the blocks or the climbing box have developed a level of expertise in those areas because you have wisely allowed them the time to do so. I wonder what we can do in the upper grades? Thank you for your thoughtful post (including the pictures) and for showing me how to think about the “process of refinement” and the way “daily engagement works over time to weave and layer in new learning and thinking.”

  3. Your insights are simply amazing.
    Seems retirement has brought on what I would call my “putzing period.”

  4. I’m glad that my post last Thursday triggered this thought-provoking blogpost! Thank you for this. I believe this is one of the essential questions we early childhood educators need to consider – and remind others about. It is so important that our classrooms allow for this repetition, this practice. You are so right to connect it to Picasso! When we adults want to do something well, we do it over and over (think of all of us “Two Writing Teachers slicers” last month); are we providing school environments that respect this same discipline in children? I have no doubt that you are!! Again, thank you! This is lovely. Your classroom sounds delightful.

  5. gigi2pnw says:

    This is fascinating insight.

  6. Tara says:

    I read your insightful post, and then connected to my middle schoolers – I do see similarities…but just as I was about to write about my thinking, I read Linda’s post…and that was pretty much what I thought as well!! Many parallels indeed!

  7. djts says:

    So true. How can they ever get to be an expert at anything if they keep being pushed to be a beginner in everything. Some one else had posted on being a beginner, intermediate or expert in things they did, and being content to be an intermediate at most endeavors. Have you ever noticed that children that move often don’t make the deeper friendships and sometimes don’t know how to make friends at all? They don’t get the opportunity to become a friend, and don’t even have the desire after a while…they are just going to move again. I think it is the same with those centers. Let’s let them get to be experts, refining their skills at something before we move them off to the new. It encourages persistence and drive, too…and now I’d best stop! This is a post not a comment! Yipes!

  8. blkdrama says:

    So wonderful to hear about your observations about play. So good that you have time for play. I am so afraid that High Stakes Tests will soon force play to disappear. NO NO NO!!!!!!!!

  9. Betsy says:

    You are onto so many good things here. Great insight on the idea of “refining.” This is so true, we each need time, repetition and TIME! Loved all your thoughts.

  10. aruddteacher100 says:

    Ok, so I am thinking about mt son here! He is in his “sonic” period…it seems like that is about the only thing he likes to draw right now! Also, when he was in preschool, he couldn’t get enough of the wooden block center! I think it ‘s good to keep some things a constant for our students at times!

  11. girlgriot says:

    I love this post, love how you’ve come to a different understanding of your students’ repetitive play. This made me think of so many things in my work and in my writing life. It also made me think of ways I could have changed some of my teaching choices when I was in the classroom. Great observations that will stay with me. Thanks!

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