Cultivating Conversation Across Classrooms

For the past two years in the atelier, we have experimented with the model of a “Choice Based Studio.” While there are many things I love about this approach (see previous blog post about why we do choice at SWS), one of its greatest downsides is that when children are all individually working on their own pieces, we lose the ability to have a conversation as a whole. Children within a studio group might influence one another, but they don’t have the opportunity to influence and be inspired by children of other groups and of other ages. As a result, a Reggio research question guiding my work with the children this year is:

Guiding Question

Throughout the month of October, across first through fifth grade, we thought a lot about the things that scare us. Not the tangible things that scare us like mice or spiders, but rather, the fears that we carry with us all the time. The ones we can’t see. We named these our “intangible fears.”

First, we brainstormed some of these fears, adding each new fear to a Post-It on a shared wall. It seemed to be cathartic for many of the children to have their fears up on the wall, spoken aloud, in a way that was visible to others.

Post It Collage

Each group added to the list over a couple weeks.  We revisited the list after it grew, and I invited children to make a signal if they shared a fear as I read them aloud. No matter how scary the fear, they knew they weren’t alone in feeling that way when they looked around the room and saw that several of their peers shared the same fear they carried.  Some who originally hadn’t shared, wanted to add a fear after hearing the fears of their classmates.


Of course, discussing fears isn’t easy or cathartic for everyone. It is worth noting that participation in the discussion and subsequent art making was all completely optional.

From here, the children were invited to turn these intangible fears into visible monsters that could be seen. What defined a “monster” was left completely open; what mattered most was that the invisible was made visible. Some children chose a fear that they, personally had, and others chose one from the wall that spoke to them. As monsters were created, some were posted inside and outside the studio, giving inspiration to kids who hadn’t originally thought of creating one.

Making Monsters Collage

Soon their work will be posted on the walls of the school. I’ve been fascinated with the development of children’s thinking and expression across first through fifth grades. The plan is to exhibit their work (alongside artist statements they wrote) grade by grade. I am curious to see what patterns will emerge, looking at their work organized in this way, coming back to the question, of how framing children around a theme might have cultivated independence, ownership, and purpose.



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