On the first day of school, the children began a conversation about the sky. Two of the children were telling another child that there are seven skies. The teachers overheard this discussion and asked, “What are the 7 skies?”
The students lifted their hands as high as they could in order to show that this was the “highest level of sky.” Then, they began to list the order:
First is “heaven sky”
2) Space sky
3) Earth sky
4) Dirt sky
The teacher asked, “What is dirt sky?” They answered, “That is the sky that we are on, we are walking on it, it is right on top of the dirt.”
5) Cave sky
The teacher said, “Tell me about cave sky.”
“Cave sky is like down under the ground, and it is the sky in the caves.”
The next day we carried this discussion over into the classroom to see what the rest of the children would think of the seven skies. Some of the children responded that there is “only one huge sky that goes all the way up.” There was debate of the “rain sky” and “hail sky” in comparison to the “normal sky.” Another discussion led to the children trying to form an understanding of gravity and space. One child said, “The moon can fly, but we cannot fly.”
For journal writing the next morning, they were asked to write about how the night sky changes to day sky. The children were provided with silver materials like foil, silver paint, and silver markers. We purposely gave them these materials to pose a problem-solving situation on how to express their thoughts using one color. Many of the children chose to use other materials, but justified why they needed other materials. Their journal demonstrates how they think the Earth, sun, and moon move.
A few days later, the children came into the art room to revisit their conversation about the sky. At this point, the students were still trying to understand the sky and why it turns from dark to light every day.
“Does this mean that there are two skies? One dark and one light? Does one sky bring the stars and one sky bring the sun?”
This began sparked an investigation on the rotation of the earth, planets, moon, sun, and our atmosphere. We learned about the three basic layers of our atmosphere (inner, middle and outer) and discussed that when the sun rises from the Earth, you have warm colors, the middle of the atmosphere has cool blue colors, and the outer layer of the atmosphere is deep space and it’s very dark. (This conversation inspired an interest in planets later on.)
Based on this interest, we introduced the children to a landscape artist named Louise Mould. Instead of painting realistic landscapes, Mould renders abstract works to suggest the image. We showed the children how she uses strong graphic lines of various shades of one color to develop her piece. Since the paintings were abstract, the students had a hard time identifying exactly what the subject matter was. We encouraged them to take a step back from the piece. As soon as they moved farther away, they were excited to see “the earth!” and see the landscape that Mould intended to paint.
In an effort to express their knowledge in a different way, we gave the students tiles and they chose what area of the atmosphere they wanted to portray. The children mixed their own paints and explored tints and shades. (They were so excited to explore color, their pallets looked like a beautiful piece of art on it’s own!) The children drew various lines that were curved in order to represent the round shape of Earth. They painted each individual line with one of the colors they created and the final product was a beautiful vertical painting of the inner, middle, and outer areas of the atmosphere.
This activity shows how children naturally want to learn and it highlights benefits of child-led curriculum. Many adults think that children have to be taught in order to learn, but we believe that children naturally desire to learn and want to expand their knowledge of the world and the materials in it. The timeline of this project started at a simple conversation between two classmates, progressed into a journal entry, and continued to progress into a collaborative art piece. We don’t believe this investigation into the sky is over with either, based on their continued interest in planets and color. This activity is at the core of the Reggio Emilia approach because:
- The children had some control over the direction of their learning
- The children were able to learn through experiences of touching, listening, seeing, hearing, moving and creating
- The children had endless opportunities and ways to express themselves
- The children had a relationship with other children and with material items in the world
- The environment was the third teacher (The sky inspired this whole project!)
During this process, the children worked on various skills and abilities. We learned about science concepts like gravitational pull, space, density, and the atmosphere; the children worked on reading, writing, retelling, adjectives, and building a vocabulary; and lastly, the children explored color and developed their fine motor skills and social skills.
It’s incredibly moving to see children’s wonder and amazement about things adults take for granted. Their hypotheses and predictions about sky, space, and Earth are inspiring to say the least.