Each time I do this project with 4 year olds I understand better how to approach it and how it is a valuable activity. The images that these children create are so gorgeous that it’s easy to feel they don’t need any justification. Beauty for beauty’s sake is great, but I’m happier if there is more going on.
Seems to me that this activity supports spatial reasoning skills, the value of which you can read about at https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/43090
These 4 year olds are practicing precise finger control, which is discussed in this long article https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320697211_You_Can_Count_on_Your_Fingers_The_Role_of_Fingers_in_Early_Mathematical_Development
Students sort items, which is discussed at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/matching_and_sorting_are_early_stages_of_math_development
Basically, what we do is use materials to fill in the letters of the alphabet, which this age group is still learning to identify. Although there are no hard and fast rules about what I use, basically the three categories of materials we used this year for the assemblages are:
- Fresh natural materials, such as flower petals (rose and others), carrots, fresh greenery, red potatoes, but also used pine cones, and small Indian corn (for letters A- H)
- Dried materials, such as dried yarrow, Japanese lanterns, artemisia, globe amaranth, nigella,and statice, along with some cedar ( letter I, J and S – X) and
- Items students picked out from the classroom, including lego pieces, rubber bands, jigsaw pieces, small building blocks, crayons and dominoes (the rest of the letters).
We absolutely spent time talking about the materials, naming them, smelling them, familiarizing the kids with their properties. Oh, and we avoided using white and black items, as both of these colors are problematic in photographs.
The letters are outlined on papers that I provide. After the children fill in the letters, I take a picture, then the students re-sort the items back into bins before startomg the next letter. Children worked in groups of two. We had some good chunks of time to work on these, so no one was rushed. We encouraged the students to take their time, work precisely, be inventive, and keep adding materials. Occasionally these kids would make a beautiful letter then immediately deconstruct it before it was photographed, so we had to be attentive!
I brought the digital versions of these letters home with me, put them into Photoshop, got rid of the background with cropping tools and color range selections, and tinkered with the highlights, saturation and shadow.
When all the letters were done I assembled the letters into a PDF that became little booklets, so each student has their own alphabet book to keep. Finally, on my last day with these kids, we were able to project the pages of the PDF on a large screen, and did the magnificent “Which One Doesn’t Belong” activity, aka #WODB which is discussed at http://wodb.ca/
There are no right or wrong answers in the Which One Doesn’t Belong activity. To get the kids started, we went through the letters one by one, stating reasons why is could be said that each letter might not belong in the grouping. Because there is such an emphasis at this school on inclusion, I think it made the kids a bit uncomfortable to think about exclusion. However, seeing that a case could be made to exclude every letter is, in fact, a lesson about inclusion.
So, that’s it, this year’s alphabet book.