by Petra Cohnen
My ‘observational child’ Ergün is now 5;4 years old. I am presently planning a project for a small group which will address Ergün’s interests as well as his playing and learning needs and which will present a challenge to him: exploring the symphonic fairy-tale “Peter and the Wolf” (by S. Prokofjev). I would also like to animate the children to draw pictures along with the story.
More about Ergün you can see here:
This is how I see Ergün these days:
Ergün is quite aware of his role as a pre-school child, his registration at school was a positive experience for him, he is looking forward to school.
… in a nutshell …
As part of a challenging and tailored measure of advancement for
5 years old Ergün the author initiates a small-group project where music meets the art of painting.
It turns out that all six children, primarily Ergün though, participate with enthusiasm, carrying the project further, being responsive to each other and learning a lot.
The author provides impulses which are advancement in the best sense of the word and Ergün – as well the other children, though at a lower rate – provide their own impulses in response.
He is experiencing an important stage in his social development. There are a lot of quarrels between him and other boys from the pre-school group, confrontations which he provokes and which have a tendency to turn physical.
His mother is rather unhappy with this; Ergün tells about these disputes at home. His mother’s intent is to put an end to the conflicts and advises him to turn to other children to play with.
But Ergün will not do so. He has chosen to pursue his self-imposed learning project: arguments with other children. He seems to be of the opinion that is has not been completed yet and that there is more to learn.
We support Ergün’s mother in seeing the positive side of these arguments and to accompany him in his effort to deal with the situation. We constantly communicate recent “incidences” among each other always keeping up an on-going exchange about current issues.
His little brother means a lot to him, by the same token it is very important to him that he gets to spend time alone with his mother.
In the course of the Adventure Days we are working on a theatre play. Ergün takes on a role with great enthusiasm, he produces many ideas regarding the right approach to his “part” as well as the right design of stage and costumes. Here, too, Ergün is “way ahead” of the other pre-school children. His creative output and his endurance are remarkable.
This is just the more pleasing as when performing standard routines he tends to be unfocused and even scatterbrained. For his parents and for us it is comforting to know that all it takes is an adequate challenge and a reasonably free assignment for him to be enthused.
Since my last documentation in writing (for the Certificate Course) three months ago Ergün has kept up a steady interest in music. An account of our music project can be found in: Ergün and Music.
Upon the completion of our music project Ergün’s parents had him enrolled at the local music school.
He regularly tells us about the music school and the progress he is making. He even does his practising assignments with great verve and diligence, as we are told by his mother.
Comment by the course instructor:
You have thus discovered his musical talent at an early stage (by way of an evocative observation – the music project) and initiated something good.
You can find more about Ergün here:
Ergün, 3;10 Years (to be translated)
Experiments with a Candle Flame (to be translated)
Ergün and Music
Preliminary Considerations and Objectives
The “Music Group” from my last documentation still meets regularly and has the exact same members.
Experimenting with instruments and building instruments of their own design have remained in the focus of the activities. This is how, among other things, they spent several days building a paper-funnel microphone and experimenting what shape the funnel needs to best transport sound. Making up musical stories is also still a great thrill.
A never ceasing enthusiasm has been and still is apparent during all this time, which reminds me of Kilpatricks definition of successful project work:
“a heartfelt pursuit with a purpose.”
I am going to explore and deal with the symphonic fairy-tale “Peter and the Wolf” together with this group, and I am going to offer paints, brushes, pens and paper to the children so that they can process their impressions creatively.
It has been for several reasons that I have chosen “Peter and the Wolf”:
- In continuation of our own “experiences as an orchestra” the basics of an orchestra’s work are being exemplified in the first part of the CD. Thus the children get a chance to compare their own efforts to those of a professional orchestra.
- The characters in the fairy-tale are matched clearly and distinctly with specific instruments, thus giving the children an opportunity to recognise correlations and evaluate them – which is also good practise for their hearing.
- Furthermore it is a story of Peter’s courage and cleverness as he manages to outsmart the wolf with the help of the bird. This is another aspect which Ergün can relate to, since he is the one who oftentimes comes up with good ideas and gets others involved in them in order to realise them.
I have chosen painting as a new aspect because the children all like to draw and paint pictures and because Ergün and I were looking at the book “Die Königin der Farben” („The Queen of Colours“ – available at Amazon in both, German and English) the other day and he was quite thrilled by it. He very much liked the idea of likening feelings to colours. He compared these relationships with his piano playing where he discovered a melodic motif which he felt sounded “like love”. I think transcribing music into colours and shape will be one more way for Ergün to express his inner experience. In addition he can explore new techniques of representing things.
It will be essential here, that he has experiences, draws conclusions from these and does so in the context of a mutual effort in the group. This way a social learning process is (hopefully) brought about.
Should the children not embrace the drawing and painting idea, the following spin-offs of the topic would be conceivable, and I would pick up on them:
– developing a para-composition (same music, different instruments)
– dramaturgical representation of the music
– examination of the instruments
– listening to further musical works.
- The children get to experience orchestral music in its full range and richness. Thus they expand their expertise; at the same time their emotional ability to perceive moods, tempos and forms of expression are being enriched.
- They understand that the over-all sound is composed of single instruments and that each of them has its specific part and meaning.
- The children come to an understanding that in their own orchestral play as well as in the musical piece “Peter and the Wolf” ‘harmony’ will only come about through the collaboration of the orchestra with the conductor.
- They experience how important it is to make clear statements and abide by previously made agreements.
- The children experience the different instruments with their specific sounds as representations of the respective characters and are welcome to evaluate these relationships. This is how they develop their ability to perceive feelings and impressions, and they come to see that different evaluations are possible, and that they can coexist.
- Communicating one’s own feelings about the music to others and following their descriptions requires precise language and attentive listening.
The children practise all these skills and will be provided with examples and inspiration by Ergün, who is quite eloquent. Ergün knows how to look at a topic from different vantage points and how to come up with his own ideas, as was shown by the way he proceeded in the above mentioned theatre play. I assume that he will catch on to the sophistication of classical music and that he will find and try out an abundance of expressive means in painting and drawing.
Ergün’s curiosity and joy in discovering will lead him to explore multiple drawing techniques. He can expand his knowledge of drawing techniques, mixing colours etc., just as much as he can school his fine motor skills when working with brushes and paints.
I suppose that Ergün will discover challenges, he will want to master, just from being exposed to impulses and meeting them with his ambitions. Here he can learn to discuss a problem with others and explore differing approaches to possible solutions.
Each of the participating children can find their forms of expression and turn them into pictures. Mutual exchange about their works enables them to appreciate their own pictures along with those of the others. In the course of these exchanges they can get inspired and further develop their ideas.
The children can expand the knowledge they already have about colours, and about mixing them by trying new things, through my suggestions and by exchanging ideas with the other children.
The CD-player with the right CD in it and the characters of the fairy-tale represented by plush toys have been set up. As always, Ergün has brought the children to the gym. We talk about our meetings where we made up musical stories ourselves and I tell them that today I have brought a musical story on CD.
Ergün wants to know who the children were who had made up this story and how the children managed to get it recorded on CD. He correctly concludes that somebody with a microphone must have come to that kindergarten.
I clarify that this musical story was not written by children in a kindergarten but by a man. This seems to be the adequate moment to tell them about Sergej Prokofjev. I add that Prokofjev had lived more than a hundred years ago and that he had lived in Russia. He had started playing the piano as a young child and wrote his first composition at the age five. “Peter and the Wolf” he did not write before he had children himself.
There are many different instruments in this piece, each instrument represents an animal or a person. Kevin asks what “composing” means and Ergün explains: “That is music that’s inside of you, like in your stomach and in your mind. And then you write it down with notes. You remember, we played a game with notes.”
Kevin is content with this information, but Ergün asks me: “But how did the music get on the CD? A hundred years is much older than my grandma, and she told me, when she was a kid there were no CDs.”
Comment by the course instructor:
This is quite a remarkable question for a 5-year-old: He easily draws a connection between several new and old pieces of information in a truly incredible way!
I explain to him that this piece of music is still being performed by many orchestras to this very day and that the recording was made two years ago. For a while we keep talking about recording studios and how sound is recorded.
Yves and Tobias know, that voices and music can also be recorded with a cassette recorder.
Ergün says: “Two years ago …, I was three then.” Slowly Ergün begins to ponder the topic of time a little more, which I am very happy about, because until recently he did not seem ready for such abstract matters.
When Lisa asks what the plush toys are doing there, I tell them the story “Peter and the Wolf” illustrating it with the plush toys. That is how we can tell the story dividing the parts among us: Myra and Lisa already know the story. Myra takes the role of the bird and Lisa that of the duck.
A lively exchange about the story follows: Tobias explains – somewhat laboriously – that Peter helped the bird and the bird helped him in return at the end of the story, when the wolf is being caught. “Yes, they both helped each other”, says Ergün, “is that what you mean?” I am delighted by Ergün’s conduct and tell him so. He offers Tobias an explanation and even checks whether it is what Tobias had meant.
Comment by the course instructor:
This shows positive social conduct – and at the same time it demonstrates the strong optimizing program at work in gifted children at all times, leading them to less laborious, even elegant solutions.
Tobias is rather satisfied and the conversation goes on for a while.
The children speculate about what instruments Prokofjev might have used. Yves says: “Probably a quiet instrument with high notes for the bird, like a harmonica.” We then listen to the first part of the CD and look at pictures of the different instruments Prokofjev has assigned to the characters.
Ergün comments: “The string instruments divide the melody for Peter, each one plays only one part, and then, when they all play together it’s the whole melody.”
The other pairs of instruments and characters are being discussed and all children participate in this. Lisa: “Low notes for the grandfather because he is old.” Tobias notices that the gunshots have their own instrument, even though they are neither animal nor person. He begins classifying things, an ability from the mathematical domain, which I had not taken into consideration at all. I am very happy about his remark and I tell him so.
Now everybody is anxious to hear the music and we listen to the second part of the CD. At first all children sit and listen to the music and the narration. When the wolf appears on the scene Yves and Ergün take seats on the bench, Lisa runs around the bench. I quickly understand that the children want to act out the scene. They do so and simultaneously they are listening carefully.
Kevin, Myra and Tobias are not taking part in that activity, yet, since they do not seem to be bothered by it, I do not intervene. It seems to me that their acting out is the adequate approach for the three of them.
With great enthusiasm the children confer about their impressions of the symphonic fairy-tale.
We discuss questions like:
- Do I think that it is the right instrument for the animal/person?
- What was especially exciting?
- When was the music fast or slow, loud or quiet?
The children were specifically fond of Peter and the bird. “Peter had a great idea and the bird had the courage to help him”, says Ergün. It is of course also a matter of discussion what else Peter could have done to catch the wolf. Everybody agrees that it is good the wolf is still alive, because the duck is still inside of him.
Tobias, who had only recently been to the hospital for having his tonsils removed, says: “I know how an operation goes: first you get a shot and then you don’t feel anything any more, it’s almost like you’re sleeping.”
If the discussion had not been so involved, I would have provided the following impulses:
– Retelling the story from the perspective of one of the characters and giving an account of its feelings.
– Asking: “What do you think about the bird, when he is annoying the wolf?”
Since the children are engaged in a lively exchange about the piece expressing their feelings about it, there is no necessity to do so. In a closing round I tell them that I am going to bring paper and paints to our next meeting so that they can make pictures along with the music. Yves: “Yes, I paint the wolf”, upon which Ergün replies: “And I make a picture of the wolf when he is mad, because he couldn’t catch the bird. I’ll need a lot of red paint for that!”
For our next meeting I prepare watercolours, bristle and hair brushes, paper and paper plates for mixing the paints. Yves is missing today, everybody else is attending. They want to listen to the music and make pictures along with it.
Quite intentionally I do not tell anybody what to draw, they are to use their own imagination freely. The children work with great concentration for more than an hour. Their pictures are entirely composed of coloured plots, some in very rich colours, some in subdued tones.
There are representational pictures too. Myra paints several pictures of the duck. Each time the duck is in a different position, the last one showing the duck in the middle of a large grey oval shape.
While painting hardly anybody talks. All children are experienced with watercolours and with mixing them so that there is little need for explanations before we begin.
During the closing round I ask Myra where the duck is in her picture with the grey oval shape. “It is in the wolf’s stomach, and he is grey inside and outside!” Myra had to create the grey colour by mixing, there was no grey watercolour.
Kevin paints four pictures, all having foot tracks of the wolf in them: “The wolf had such a long way, that’s why I had to paint so many pictures.” These statements by the children show me that they have been dealing with the symphonic fairy-tale in depth and that they have processed their impressions very well.
Ergün spends the entire hour painting only one single picture. He paints – as he had announced – a picture of the mad wolf. He mixes different red tones spending a good deal of time doing this. His picture looks very lively and shows plots of differing overlapping red tones. The red in the middle is very rich, in it there are two black dots. Ergün explains: “Here in the middle is the worst anger and also the wolf’s eyes.”
Tobias uses bristle and hair brushes alternately, which makes for different kinds of lines on the paper. This fascinates him so much that he paints several pictures of that kind.
Upon my question what we should do at the next meeting the children reply that they still have so many ideas and they want to do more painting.
In the following weeks we have regular sessions once or twice a week.
Ergün always wants to be involved in the preparations. Paints and paper have to be gathered, tables and chairs have to be set up so that everybody can do his painting. The time spent with me during preparations is very important to him and he keeps asking many questions about the musical piece and talks about his ideas for his next paintings.
He says to me: “Ms Cohnen, if Mr Prokofjev (he actually remembered that name!) was able to write such great music, he must have had many colours inside of him.” When I ask him what makes him think so, he replies: “You know, the music goes into my ears and my mind turns it into colours, maybe it’s the same with Mr Prokofjev!” I am thrilled by his explanation and it makes me happy for him that he feels that way. And I am just as happy about him relating these thoughts to me. I tell him that I am glad and that the music has a similar effect on me. We talk some more about this and I tell him that the painter Kandinsky was also able to translate sounds into colours. Ergün: “That makes three of us people who can feel this.” He seems very content and applies himself to his task of getting the children together.
This little talk once more strikingly proved to me how different gifted children’s thinking is, how their thinking goes deeper and their perceptions are different.
During another session the children are painting on thick cardboard using oil paint. After having done some serious colour mixing the last time, they are now quite good at getting the intended colour tones by mixing primary colours and they really get their kicks out of this.
Ergün and Lisa, not satisfied yet, take it to the next step and they start designing a colour scale similar to the Colour Wheel by Itten.
I pick up on their idea praising it, and the other children examine their work with interest. Now everybody likes using the colour scale the two have come up with if they want to create complicated mixed tones like purple-blue from primary colours. This again shows how Ergün and Lisa do not only complete a given task, but even carry it further in an intrinsically motivated effort to create a whole new system of their own.
Lisa has applied a thick layer of paint to her mixed pallet and now keeps running her bristle brush through it. “Look here, Ergün”, she says, “the brush makes super fine lines!” Ergün watches her, notices a pencil, picks it up and uses the upper end of it to draw lines through the thick layer of paint. “Look at this, Lisa, I can draw white lines in the brown paint with my pencil.” The two of them are thrilled by this discovery and soon Yves, Ergün, Lisa and Tobias start making scratched pictures.
Ergün: “But actually this is not painting, because I’m really taking the paint away again. They’re coloured pictures but it still looks like foggy on the picture.”
I ask him, if he could explain that a little further and he says: “Yes, look, I draw a house, but the house has no colour, that’s just like when it’s foggy and everything looks like there is no colour.” I am (once more) thrilled by his precise observation, his power of deduction and his language skills.
Other pictures by Ergün show a sky, the colour tone for which he spent a long time mixing, because he tried to hit the exact colour tone the sky had that day. He does not quite seem to get it right and that makes him impatient. He consults with Lisa and Tobias about how to proceed. After some time he concludes that it does not really have to be the exact tone of colour since this is a picture not a photograph! Now that he is relieved and allows himself to not be perfect I tell him that many adults who have a lot of experience with painting pictures still struggle with the problem.
Our meetings regularly close with a round of reports, and for quite some time now these have been accompanied by hot chocolate and cookies. This was Tobias’ idea who, as he said, was always very hungry after the painting sessions. Thus he accepted the responsibility of going and getting the goodies towards the end of our meetings. To me this is a sign of the strong bond characterizing this group.
I myself do not have to provide many impulses, the children all pay attention to and watch out for each other. Kevin is going to leave us at the end of the year because he is moving. With regret he has already made the remark that then he won’t be able to join the painting and music sessions any more.
During these closing rounds the children willingly explain their pictures. Most of the time the other children find words of appreciation and praise for each other’s pictures: “You mixed the colours really nice”, says Yves, or Myra: “The way you painted the cat one can really see that it is slinking.”
Shortly before one of our meetings Ergün discovers a new picture on the wall of my office. It is made in the form of a triptych and Ergün looks at it contemplatively but does not say anything. Then during the session he says that today he needs more space than usual and three sheets. I think I know what he is up to.
He puts in an intensive hour of work for the picture, which shows the cat sitting high up on the branch of a tree. He places the sun so that it is exactly on the border of two sheets. The trunk of the tree is in the middle sheet and the branches reach across all three pages.
Ergün works almost silently and looks very content. The children ask him about it and he replies that he wants to finish before explaining it, which is what he does, and the children share his joy about his great picture. Yves, Tobias and Lisa also want to try one like it the next time and they ask Ergün to help them with it. He is quite willing to do so.
Since the children still have many ideas which they want to realise the project is not over yet. Thus the analysis as required as part of the assignment (for the Certificate Course) can only represent an intermediate state of the project.
I think these following questions would be relevant at this point:
1. How do you like our meetings so far?
2. Do you want to continue?
3. If yes, what else would you like to be doing?
4. If not, is there anything else you would need to continue or is it just simply
5. Have you been able to discover anything new?
6. What did you create?
7. What were you able to do on your own, what did you need help for?
8. When you needed help, who helped you?
9. Was the help of the kind that enabled you to carry on on your own?
10. How do you like the collaboration with the other children?
11. Who was really good at something, and what was that?
See also: Advancement through Projects.
In a fashion resembling our closing rounds we loosely talk about these questions. It turns out that all children want to continue. Since Kevin is leaving our kindergarten he won’t be able to. That is why he answers question #4 by asking us to notify him by phone when we have our meetings so he can come. Ergün explains to him that this won’t be possible since he cannot come over by himself and his parents cannot bring him because they are at work. Kevin is not happy with this, but it helps him accept the situation when I tell him that surely he will be able to listen to music and do painting at the new kindergarten too.
It is striking how most children name Ergün in response to question #8. I am happy about this as it shows how Ergün is being appreciated for his abilities by the other children. And what this also shows is that the children know to make use of each other’s talents for supporting each other and that they hardly needed to turn to me for assistance.
Different skills are mentioned with regard to question #11 too. Myra, for instance, says Lisa really knows how to tell a story, and Yves brings up Tobias’ choice of colours. Ergün is very involved in this conversation and says his new discovery was the many colours in his mind when he hears “such” music. One more thing he wants to try is to paint on stones and wood and to see what kind of colours can be used then.
Cave painting had been a topic some time ago too. He remembers that some of the paints in cave paintings had been made from plants, and that is something he wants to try out. But: together with the other children, because that is so “cosy”. Wow! The experience of being in a small group has really given him a new and positive feeling about working with other children.
I feel I have reached most of my goals. The children have enjoyed listening to the new piece of music, they have got to know new instruments and got engaged in an intense exchange about the assignment of characters and instruments. They have brought forward their arguments, exchanged ideas, listened to what the others had to say and made up their own minds about the points being discussed.
They enthusiastically absorbed the music, which was new to all of them, and converted their impressions into their own artistic work. Ergün himself has tried out a whole lot of new painting techniques and clearly showed a most intense occupation with the whole topic. As I had assumed he would, he sought for a challenge and found it in painting a triptych.
It gives me great joy that he has had these experiences in the framework of a constant exchange with the other children and that he considers this to be important in the future too. As far as I am concerned this shows that a social learning process has taken place. Ergün was addressed as an expert within the group and by the same token he was able to accept everybody else’s assistance when he was dissatisfied with his attempts to mix the right colour for the sky. A true give-and-take scenario.
I think the children’s reactions show that the activity I organized and the impulses I provided were adequate and sufficient for Ergün and for the other children as well. Since my inputs were mere suggestions by nature every child was able to go about the activities as according to its own inclinations and stage of development. I did have problems subduing myself in order not to overwhelm the children with stimuli, but: I am a learner too.
Thus this project provided an opportunity to learn for all of us, which even had its positive effect on the other children at our kindergarten. The participants of the project kept telling everybody else about their activities with great enthusiasm. Their works were examined together with the other children and found their places in the group rooms.
As our kindergarten is in the process of changing to an operational mode where the division into groups is partially lifted the installation of an artist’s workshop will surely be an integral part of that transition and these children will be certainly be involved in that endeavour as experts.
Date of publication in German: 2014, January
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Petra Cohnen, see Imprint.