Children Interpreting a Painting by Dalí

by Klaudia Kruszynski


We had a long-lasting project on the topic of “Art” going on at our kindergarten. At the same time the children were still involved in the rather comprehensive Project: Time. In the following project these two fused naturally.

The gym had been transformed into a giant artist’s workshop for the art project; there the children were able to try out different creative techniques. One colleague oversaw the activities – she showed the children how to use paints, brushes, chalk and other materials. She also made sure there was a positive working atmosphere. The activity was open to all children of all groups: four children of each group were allowed to participate at a given time.
Simultaneously there were other projects going on in the separate groups.
In my group we started out dealing with the human body as a means of expressing emotions. The children would pantomime activities from everyday life.

When one of the children told us about a wax figure museum we decided to make sculptures. We used our own bodies, light and a camera. The sculptures so created were really the shadows of the children as they were posing.
In those days I kept trying to figure out how we might be able to bring in the topic of ‘time’. One night I was dreaming of a picture I had seen in a book when I was a child. There were clocks in it which were ‘hanging’.

I found out that it was a painting by Salvador Dalí. We found it on the internet and made a print out of it on a letter size sheet. The picture is titled “The Persistence of Memory”. It is also known by the titles “The Soft Clocks” or “The Melting Time”.
So I decided to take a philosophical approach to the nature of time with the children and simultaneously to create our own painting.


… in a nutshell …

The author is combining two already on-going projects: “Art” and “Time”. She and the children are working on their own version of a painting by Salvador Dalí leading them to a deeper understanding of the term “time”.

A sophisticated project which also provides sufficient challenges for gifted children.


One morning I spread a red blanket on the floor for our morning circle. The children were quiet and anxious to see what was about to happen. The CD player was playing the Pink Floyd song “Time” – at its beginning there are sounds produced by several different clocks: ticking, sounding and ringing. I produced several clocks from a silver box and put them on the blanket. There were wristwatches and alarm clocks, some running, some out of order.

The children examined the clocks, held them to their ears listening, tried to get the alarm clock to ring. They counted the clocks. They were aware that the clocks were instruments to measure time.

After a while I asked the children what the clocks felt like. “They’re hard.”
“Because they’re made of metal.”
Then I ventured the next question, a rather difficult one: “What does time feel like?”
The children couldn’t think of an answer. I repeated the question and waited. Eventually Jan said, time was soft.
“It moves.”
“Can you touch time like you can touch a clock?”
“No!”, said some of them.
“You can’t do it.”
“Time always goes like this:”, said Jan and made moves with his hand indicating circles.
Then I told the children about an artist who had also been pondering the nature of time. He had said the same thing as the children, that it was soft, and he had thought about how he might be able to make a painting of that. I showed them the picture and told them about its making.
Salvador Dalí was on holiday in a beautiful landscape together with some friends of his. One evening, when having dinner, melted camembert was served. After dinner was over the artist remained seated at the table having some thoughts about the passing of time, about its softness, then he went to his workshop, saw an unfinished painting of his with a landscape on it and he added soft clocks to it.
The children were listening to the story while beholding the painting.
“What’s soft in this picture?”
“The clocks.”
“What’s hard?”
“The mountains, the table.”
Then Jan discovered the tree and said that the tree was “dead” now, but when spring came, new leaves would grow and then the tree would not be “dead any more”.
That is how he recognized the difference between the lifeless, hard mountains and the seemingly dead tree: time would revive the tree (soft in time), yet the mountains would remain dead (hard in time).
“How did you figure that out?”, I wanted to know.
“Because on one of the branches the clock is hanging like a pancake, and when it ticks again, spring comes and new leaves are growing.”
“That’s interesting”, I said and inquired whether we should also make a picture like that.
All children liked the idea and I told them that we would go about it that same afternoon.

How should we go about it?

Now I started pondering how to go about the whole thing. I thought it important that the children make it a collaborative effort, so that they could contribute their individual interests and talents, and – needless to say – so that it would be a success and the painting would turn out nice. I tried a few painting techniques, among them “wet on wet” but the results were not satisfactory.

How could the softness of the clocks be depicted?

I did not intend for the children to simply copy the painting. Then I remembered the pancakes and considered making actual pancakes and placing them on the picture. The thought that they would get mouldy within a few days let me dismiss the idea, though.
Plasticine, however, does not get mouldy. I bought some Fimo-Plasticine in two colours – it is perfect for making good, durable, soft clocks.

This is how our painting became 3-dimensional. A large carton box was first lined with white paper, then the landscape was copied on the inside: the mountains, the sky and the darkish plain. A smaller shoe box was painted brown and fixed to the side of the picture. We stuck a branch into it. The indistinct object in the middle of the original painting we improvised with scrunched-up paper and also stuck it to the inside.

The next day the children made the clocks and hung them into the picture.

As I had planned, there were several children involved in the project.

Aaron, 4;5 years
He loves painting and shows great perseverance when doing so. His great joy shows clearly in his posture.

Leo, 5 years
Usually he keeps low profile, but when he saw that we were going to make clocks out of Plasticine he spoke up and insisted that he be allowed to participate. I was quite surprised by his strong motivation. He did make a clock and showed great dexterity and perseverance.

Linea, 5;6 years
She was beaming with enthusiasm for the creative process.

Sven, 4;4 years
He understood that this activity was something very important for him. He participated in all phases of this art project. He coloured the inside of the carton box and mixed colours, then he formed a clock out of Plasticine. He insisted that everything be done with great precision. So he took a clock with mobile hands and put the hand on it to the next hour, each time before laying down the hour marks on the face. He showed good dexterity and, of course, it was obvious that he knew all the numbers.

I cannot quite tell just how talented he is. What always strikes me about him, though, is the enthusiasm and joy he shows with regard to extraordinary activities. He gets involved with all his heart and he is able to concentrate for a long time. He has also gathered quite some knowledge about different things and he likes telling us about them.

Jan, 5;3 years
He is quite a brain. One can tell that he has thought about a good many things – and he tells us about his conclusions.

As opposed to most other children, who will answer questions by drawing from their acquired knowledge (either they have that piece of knowledge or they do not), he is capable of coming up with an answer by reasoning.

Facing new problems he applies analogy and comparison, or gives a random answer and verifies it. That is something he really enjoys. In a way he is even able to recognize what his counterpart is driving at and therefore often gives an adequate answer. He shows empathy for others, he can tell if he has hurt someone, and he does not need to be reminded to apologize.
The actual realisation of his ideas is not of great importance to him, oftentimes he will not even finish a task. He set no great store by his version of a clock – it was a circle with two hands.

Other children
Again and again other children took part in the activity. Once during the morning circle the whole group experienced a wonderful meditation while listening to the music of a rock band which I was quite excited about when I was young. This addressed several of their senses: hearing, eye-sight and feeling.

The children could see it for themselves: the clock on one hand and time itself on the other are two different things. The first being concrete and material, you could touch it, hold it in your hand, set it, hold it to your ear and listen; the latter, even though it is common knowledge that it does exist, cannot be held in your hand. It is perceived indirectly in that things change, grow, age, and through the ticking of a clock.

The clock is hard and solid, time is soft and it changes.

On a clock time can be observed in its passing – its hands move.

Also, some things change in time, for instance a lifeless branch is revitalizeded in spring, the rock always stays lifeless.

When you make a soft clock, you can depict time with it. The soft clock represents life.
This was how the other children were able to relate to the thoughts of the artist.

Most of the time the other children just stood by, watching closely what Sven, Aaron and Jan were doing.

Our piece of art was marvelled at by the parents for several days, the children always explaining how it was all about time.

The participating children experienced themselves as artists, they were proud of having created something beautiful.

This then had an effect on the attitude towards drawing/painting, as it was with Sven, who was rarely to be found at the drawing table, because he does not like his own drawing.

In those days he learned a lot of drawing techniques that do not require fully developed fine motor skills, techniques that have more to do with the joy of experimenting, imagination, courage and chance.
He has grown in confidence with regard to his creative powers. So have the other children.

Projects should be social and holistic affairs

Contributions of some turn into something that connects all and belongs to all. I always make sure that my projects are like that.

And yet, there is much more to it: several domains of the child’s development are being addressed, from the most elementary sensory experiences and the training of the perceptive faculties to philosophizing and creative thinking.

That is what I call holistic learning.
The domains addressed in this project were:

    • acoustic perception:
      sounds made by clocks; listening to music; the artistic interpretation of the noises the clock produces; recognizing the rhythm, producing rhythms oneself;
    • visual perception:
      the differing appearances of different clocks; examining a piece of art – identifying the parts, shapes and colours; sensing the nature of the moment and also long term observation of change (for example the moving of a hand on the clock); recognizing different speeds/rates;
    • tactile perception:
      touch-sensing the different materials the clocks were made of; touch-sensing and shaping of Plasticine; shaping the hands of the clock and the numbers with one’s fingers; distinguishing differences in consistence;
    • cognition:
      numbers and counting; acquiring knowledge about time, about clocks and about the artist; detecting problems and searching for solutions; philosophizing; understanding and making use of artistic forms of expression / metaphors.

In all these domains there is a good share of creativity:
creating something with one’s own hands and producing new thoughts and ideas.

What I have come to understand better now

    • Any topic provides a platform for an early recognition and advancement of the children’s talents.
    • From any topic derive several different activities, which address specific domains of the child’s development.
    • Addressing several of the senses strengthens attentiveness, sustains concentration and creates an atmosphere that is conducive to motivation.
    • The individual’s sense of affiliation with the group can be strengthened by embracing individual talents.
    • The group profits from the individual’s talents, it receives stimulation and its development is promoted.
    • Simple techniques in creative processes allow for success, especially with children whose fine motor skills are yet to be perfected.
    • My passion for this topic was shared by the children and sparked their enthusiasm.

In the article The Advancement of Mathematical Talent in Kindergarten I have taken a separate look at the exact mathematical contents of this project (with regard to gifted children as well as to children that are not gifted).

Published in German: June 2012
Copyright © Klaudi Kruszynski, see Imprint.


Peter and the Wolf and the Fine Arts

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:

Ergün, 3;10 Years
Experimenting with a Candle Flame
Ergün and Music

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

Preliminary Considerations

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.


1st Session

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!”


2nd Session


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.

Further Sessions

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.

Adventure Days

Adventure Days are a series of project days which are part of our pre-school education programme. They are based on ideas contributed by the children themselves which are then prepared by the kindergarten teachers so that the inherent demands correspond to the developmental stage of the children. Though primarily attended by our pre-school children, other children take part too.
Petra Cohnen

Ergün and Music

Music as a holistic form of expression of feelings – Music as a social experience.

By Petra Cohnen


My observation child Ergün is now 4;9 years old. He continues to have good contact to other children in the group. Since he has taken part in a number of ‘event days’ he has also made friends with several children from the pre-school group of our kindergarten.

More about Ergün can be found here:
Ergün, 3;10 Years
“Peter and the Wolf” and the Fine Arts
Experimenting with a Candle Flame

The ‘event days’, which are for children of all groups, are part of our pre-school programme and are attended primarily, but not exclusively, by our pre-school children. The topics are chosen by the children and then prepared by our staff in a way that meets the developmental stage of the children. This is always a good platform for Ergün to acquire new knowledge in cooperation with older children who are of his developmental stage and to make new acquaintances.


 … in a nutshell …

Ergün (4;9) wants to learn to play the piano. The author enables him to get to know the piano together with other children; at the same time the children explore the quiet and loud as well as the low and high sounds of other instruments. Above all, they have their first experiences with musical ensemble playing and the joy of “being an orchestra”.

And Ergün is getting one step closer to his wish …

Sometimes Ergün seems absent-minded, he reacts inadequately when addressed. In such situations he mostly does not register the utterances of his counterpart or his answers do not correspond to what has been said to him.
Ergün: “I would like to learn to play the guitar, the piano and the trumpet.” Upon the question what he would like to learn first he simply repeats his statement.

Comment by the course instructor:
Is it that he thinks he could learn several instruments at the same time – or is it that he thinks he would like to try every instrument before deciding which one to pick? If so, the simple repetition of his statement might indicate his insecurity as to what would be the next step in his pursuit. In that case the simple repetition of his statement could be taken as an appeal for help in the decision process of how to go about his project.

He speaks rapidly and he speaks a lot, changes topics and wants to do all kinds of things simultaneously. “We can throw dice now and play with the racing cars, then we can also look at my watch – I bought it in Turkey, my father bought it for me – and I have to show you my harmonica – I can already tell what time it shows.”

Ergün is very fond of the times he gets to spend with me. He speaks about how we can “discover new things again” and that he has many ideas.

Comment by the course instructor:
Maybe his erraticism as mentioned above is caused by his knowing that the ‘quality time‘ he gets to spend with you is always rather limited (with regard to the many ideas and wishes he has: “wants to do several things simultaneously”). He probably greatly values the exciting learning experiences he has had with your assistance. And he is now eager and a little anxious to get more.

He never ceases to enquire about the times we get to spend together, every time we run into each other. After having agreed on a next appointment, Ergün is content and counts the times he has to go to bed before our next session. I have noticed that, while he knows the days of the week quite well, the times on the clock still seem to confuse him. This is how he has, on several occasions, tried to make arrangements for meeting me at six o’clock in the morning.

Comment by the course instructor:
Maybe that is why he wants to show you his new watch hoping that you might help him make better sense of the times of the day.

Preliminary Considerations / Aims / Technical Analysis

Preliminary considerations

Since Ergün makes many proposals for our games I asked him to bring a selection of the things he is interested in the most to our next meeting. So he does.
He brings a little case with several games in it. Yves (5;2), who is also attending, takes them out together with Ergün. Ergün shows and explains racing cars, a dice cup, a whistle and his wristwatch. He appears erratic again and hardly sticks with anything he begins.
Yves discovers the harmonica and both children start a conversation about making music. Yves likes to play the drum, he attends music school and has some experience with “drumming”. Ergün plays a tune on the harmonica and Yves and I accompany him by drumming with our hands on our thighs. This turns into a rather intense playing activity. Ergün and Yves are very concentrated and are having a lot of fun.

Both children manage to coordinate their tempos and volumes rather well. As soon as I notice this I stop playing myself and start to observe the two in their obviously joyous play: Ergün’s cheeks are glowing and his eyes are beaming like they have not in a long time. This activity lasts for no less than 5 minutes.
This occasion prompts me to choose the topic ‘music’, since the children’s enthusiasm and stamina were so obvious.

Comment by the course instructor:
And both children realised how well they were playing together. That will certainly increase their intrinsic motivation to keep making music together.

Afterwards Ergün tells me that he would like to learn to play the piano. I seize the suggestion and offer to bring my portable piano to our kindergarten. I tell him that I may not be able to teach him, since my playing is not very good and that it takes a long time to learn to play the piano well. But he can try my piano and familiarise himself with it.

Ergün is thrilled by this prospect and suggests that he could make music together with Yves (5;2 years), Kevin (4;2 years), Lisa (5;3 years), Myra (4;3 years) and Tobias (4;1 years).

I ask him to check with the children he has named whether they want to join him and to do so before our next meeting. He accepts the task and I can be sure he is going to take care of it as he is very reliable when it comes to such matters.
I am going to conduct some musical activities with the children that aim at the children’s ensemble playing and their shared musical experience. I deliberately do not project a final performance so that the process can develop freely.

I plan to provide the following initial impulse:
Let the children try out freely some rhythm instruments (drums, tonewoods) and some melodic instruments (glockenspiel, xylophone, piano).
What develops out of this will be up to the children, conceivably:

    • experience their own bodies as musical instruments
    • making up musical stories and telling them
    • acting as an orchestra and conducting it
    • dealing with the question of building instruments
    • graphic notation of music, getting to know musical notes
    • getting to know further instruments
    • dealing with different musical styles
    • dance


Ergün has been wishing to learn how to play a musical instrument for quite a while. It was already last year when working on the Questionnaire on Children’s Interests that he talked about this. I want to support him in his persistent pursuit of this goal and give him an opportunity to get to know the piano.

I believe Ergün has quite a few things on his mind these days, one of which will certainly be the sibling to be born soon. By occupying himself with music he is able to express his emotions and feelings.

Ergün has a curious mind and wants to know a lot of things. I would expect, for instance, that he is going to inquire about musical notation. He will be able to expand his knowledge and utilise new information (writing down his own sounds in musical notation) for further activities.

The participating children are invited to do some differentiated listening. Different pitches, lengths of notes and volumes are to be distinguished. Communication about what they hear requires close listening and accurate descriptions of what has been heard.

The children learn to express themselves precisely. As soon as they start playing together they will have to come to a common understanding of what is to be played. Expressing ideas, listening to the other person, putting forward arguments and finding solutions together are the objectives of this process.
As an ‘orchestra’ the children can experience a mutual effort where everybody’s contribution is needed and which cannot be achieved by one person alone.

Technical Analysis

In this technical analysis I am referring to aspects of music with regard to developmental psychology, which lies at the heart of my work. If the children raise questions concerning specific areas of expertise in music (structure of an orchestra, building instruments etc.), I will answer them to the best of my knowledge or do the necessary research together with the children.
When children make music it is always a mixture of active experiencing and playful creation. It is all about the process as opposed to the result in the sense of a predefined goal/product or a performance which might even be marketed.
Learning with all their senses and living out their emotions defines the child-like approach to music. For the aspects of music that are conducive to the development of character and personality I consider the following areas to be of importance:

    • Wellbeing: Music prompts diverse feelings and may thereby contribute to inner balance.
    • Expression, imagination and creativity: Communicating ideas and expressing emotions is often easier done through music rather than through the spoken word.
    • Social skills: Making music together with others promotes the ability to listen to each other, to be regardful and to exchange ideas. It is also an exercise in taking the lead and then stepping back again to give room to somebody else.
    • Speech: Experiencing one’s own voice as a means of expression, every voice has a different sound, singing together requires accurate articulation.
    • Attentive listening: Development of speech, concentration, training the auditory memory.
    • Cognitive skills: Abstract thinking, information processing and experiencing feelings become one, which has positive effects on the cerebral development and the learning performance of children.
    • Body awareness and motor skills: Music prompts motion. It takes sophisticated motor skills to play an instrument.



       1st Session

The instruments are ready but still covered up.

As planned, Ergün has asked the children whether they want to participate. All six children have now gathered in the gym with great expectation.

Since I am aware that the participating children have already had experiences with music, we start off with a round of accounts of these experiences. The children tell each other what they know about singing and about instruments which they have heard or even played themselves. The children’s experiences range from the carnival trumpet (party popper) to choir music, as some of them are active in the local church choir.

I pick up on the topic of singing in choir and tell the children that today they can try different instruments and make music together.

Before we start I want the children to agree on a cue for the beginning and the end so that the following free jam session is at least somewhat structured.

So I ask the “choir children” about their experience and Lisa tells us that the choirmaster gives a cue by hand for the beginning and the end. We agree to adapt these cues and I am assigned the part of the conductor since all children want to be playing an instrument.

The term “conductor” is unknown to the children and this is where Ergün comes in with the explanation that a conductor is to an orchestra what a choirmaster is to a choir. “A choirmaster – but for people who play instruments, like an orchestra”, he elucidates.

Now every child chooses an instrument. We talk about each instrument only briefly as the children know the instruments already. The piano is very popular among them because it is not always at disposal. I explain to the children that everybody gets his go at it. Then I give the cue and everybody starts playing their instruments. At the beginning the instruments are played rather quietly, Ergün (piano) and Yves (drum) are loud. I intentionally let some time pass before I give the cue to stop, this way the children have some time to experience the atmosphere.

Then I want to know how the children have experienced their ensemble play. Yves: “Sometimes we were loud and sometimes quiet, that was good!” “Yes, but Kevin (xylophone) almost didn’t play at all, I hardly heard him”, says Lisa (glockenspiel). “Kevin’s instrument is out of wood, that’s much quieter than yours, that one is out of metal”, says Ergün. Myra (tonewoods) comments that Ergün “played the most notes of all.” “Yes, that’s because the piano has so many keys and every key is a note”, Ergün says.

Now the children are noticing the black and white keys on the piano and their repetitive pattern. Tobias asks about the different colours of the keys and I explain to them that there is only a half tone between the black an the white keys. They’re not asking any further and I don’t have to offer any further explanations. Other things are more interesting to them.

Yves wants to give the cue now. Ergün comes up with cues for playing “loud = arm up” and “quiet = arm down” and this is how the idea of playing “conductor and orchestra” is born. I observe the scene and notice that everybody is quite involved. The children organise the changing of instruments all by themselves. Lisa wants to play the piano now too, but Ergün does not want to give it up yet. He negotiates with Lisa and they agree to play the piano together.

Then the children play several rounds of “conductor and orchestra”. The children manage to follow the conductor’s cues better every time.

Ergün, usually rather dominant in such situations, does accept being conducted. As conductor he has the instruments play at different times. For this he invents a new cue (baton points at the child).

Comment by the course instructor:
He manages the structures creatively.
Kevin has a hard time taking his cue. Ergün is a patient conductor and gives him advice. “You have to keep an eye on me, then you see when I point at you.”

Ergün uses the full range of the instrument when playing. He plays with both hands, tries different combinations of notes and fingerings, hits several keys at the same time, runs his fingers across the entire manual, plays loudly, quietly, high and low notes and clusters.

He appears very concentrated, his eyes are beaming. After a while he says: “Listen to this, Ms Cohnen, this sounds like love!” I confirm his impression and Ergün looks for and finds sounds for anger, fear and boredom. “Boredom” surprises me and I ask him what that might sound like. “Well, like this”, he says and plays the same note over and over again.

The children keep playing for about an hour in changing formations, then everybody has been conductor and everybody has tried every instrument.

In a closing round we reflect upon our music. Everybody wants to join the group the next time again and make music.

“We played just like a real orchestra today”, says Ergün. “Yes, but they always have these things that tell them what to play – we don’t have that”, says Lisa. I agree and we close the session with the idea to look into Lisa’s idea the next time.

2nd Session

At the next session all children come together in the gym again. I have brought some sheet music and I lay it down in the middle of our circle. I find it important that the children get to know music in written notation so that Lisa’s suggestion from last time can be acted upon.

Another aim is to let them experience musical notation in a holistic way, by letting them hear and produce the different pitches themselves. I consider this a necessary prerequisite for them to later be able to produce musical notation that makes sense.

Lisa and Ergün immediately understand that musical notation is a way to lay music down in writing. “If the black dot is on top of a line, it’s a high note, if not it’s a low one”, says Lisa. “But not all dots are all black and some have a line”, Ergün adds.

In the following talk we clarify the look and the meaning of the whole: The half and the quarter note. I tell Lisa she has explained the function of the notes quite well and I propose a game to be played.

For this I stick two parallel lines of tape on the gym floor and I explain to the children that these are the top and the bottom line of the staves and they themselves are the notes. I remove all pieces except the highest and the lowest one from the glockenspiel. Now I ask the children what they think how the game might be played. They discuss this for a while and Ergün says: “I’ll play a note and you have to jump to the right line.”

They play this game for quite a while. At first Tobias, Kevin and Yves, too, have great problems matching the right line with the note. After some time they manage much better.

The children are having a lot of fun demonstrating the different pitches. Myra starts to duck on a low note and to stretch up high on the high note. I ask her what this is all about and she explains: “The low note is when I’m deep down like in a hole in the ground, and the high note is like way up on a ladder.”

After a while the children’s performance is quite steady and I decide to add another line in the middle along with another note on the glockenspiel.

Ergün comes up with a variation of the game: “You run all about the gym and I hit a note. Then you must come and stand on the right line.” I am sceptical at first, thinking this is rather complicated. Yet, the children seem to like the idea and we try it.

Tobias, Yves and Kevin do not get it right most of the time, Lisa and Myra do pretty well, though.
We end this meeting with a closing round reflecting on the music again, everybody relating his impressions during the session. “Today we were the notes ourselves, that was fun”, says Myra. “Yes, and notes can be seen and tones can be heard and every note has its place on the line. It’s just like using letters for writing”, says Ergün. I confirm his perceptions and I tell them that I was very happy about their wonderful playing ideas, and that I see how they do really well when listening closely and discussing what they hear and play.

3rd Session

In the following meeting we work out musical stories. As a starting point I tell them a story about a bear who meets an ant. I assign specific piano sounds to the different animals and events in the story. The children get quite involved and contribute all kinds of suggestions as to how the story might continue.

Among other things Ergün wants to tell a musical story himself. It is about a knight and a dragon and it is accompanied by a diversity of suitable sounds. In the story the child of a king is looking for his father whom he finally finds in the deep forest.

Ergün narrates: “The king’s child wants to go after the dragon together with his father, but they can’t because the king can’t leave the queen alone for so long because she is pregnant. So they go back to the castle.“
Ergün accompanies this passage by a long downwards run of notes on the piano ending in a loud sound of several low notes. It is the abrupt end to his story and he walks away from the piano.

He sits down where the other children are sitting and remains silent. He seems serious to me, but not angry. I ask him whether we may continue his story. He nods, so I ask the other children whether anybody has an idea how the story might go on.

Lisa picks it up: “The kingfather noticed that the kingchild is mad (shrill, loud sounds) and he said: once the baby is born, we’ll go on a dragon hunt, just you and me. The kingchild agreed and soon the kingchild got a little brother.”

Ergün is rather satisfied with the way the story went and asks Lisa: “Are you sure he is getting a brother? I want a brother too, not a sister!” The children talk about siblings some more before our meeting ends. Since Ergün seems at ease again, I do not bring his story up again. I suppose that Lisa’s end to the story helped him deal with his thoughts and emotions about his sibling to be.

In a number of sessions to follow, which I do not describe any further at this point, the children spend quite a lot time dealing with musical stories.

Characters for the different tempos and symbols for the different rhythm instruments are agreed on to be used for accompaniment of musical stories. That is how a “script” is produced and the children always go back to it and use it when retelling the stories.


I feel I have achieved my goals with regard to Ergün as well as to the whole group.

Ergün has been working intensely and joyfully on the new instrument, the piano. It had been a long held wish and it has – to some extent – been fulfilled.
Ergün’s mother told me that because of his enthusiastic reports of our sessions she now considers to let him take piano lessons.

Even though Ergün did not talk much about his feelings concerning the coming baby child, I imagine that his occupation with music deeply touched him on an emotional level and that thereby impressions have been processed on a subconscious level. This seems to manifest in his facial expression and his posture in many situations.

I was thrilled by the precision in which the children exchanged their auditory experiences. Comparisons were made, precise explanations offered in order to understand each other. Making music together, being an “orchestra”, has brought about a sense of joy and pride and the feeling of having created something new.

The group being quite diverse in age and developmental stages has established a common ground which will persist into the future. Most parents of the children in this group have expressed their appreciation towards me.
The children’s  joy of discovery has not been exhausted and I want to give many more impulses so that the group will continue to make music for a while.


During one of our talks Lisa mentioned the organ in our church. Everybody was quite interested and I think this is what we are going to deal with next. Many more ideas derive from the above described activities. Certainly we will demonstrate our musical activities to the other children and the staff.

Maybe our “orchestra” is even going on tour within our parish; I will leave that decision to the children, since – as has been pointed out – for the children making music is primarily an end in itself.

Source of the technical analysis:

Bayerischer Bildungs- und Erziehungsplan


Date of publication in German: 2013, December
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright ©  Petra Cohnen, see Imprint.