As I learn about and think about emergent curriculum and the project approach, I wonder about that boundary.
You know the one? The dividing line between how much to direct an activity, and how much to stay quiet and see what develops. When to step in and when to step back. What to limit, and what to purposefully free from limitations.
I'm reminded of the swallows that used to annually built their nest just outside my parents' bedroom window. My parents would lay on their bed and watch the swallows busily craft their new home. Every year they followed a certain pattern somehow passed down to them in bird lore. But the new nest was also a distinct creation, suited to the materials they had at hand, and possibly (may I anthropomorphize?) suited to their own sense of beauty.
Except one year, the swallows got disorganized. They didn't seem to know what to do, my parents reported, and while they worked and worked, they never did come up with a nest that hung together.
I think about balancing this dual need for pattern and no pattern constantly during our Odyssey of the Mind meetings, and it's in the back of my mind as I study early childhood education.
Children need something to start with. A framework. A template. A paradigm. But it must be structured just enough to stimulate creativity without clipping it.
I've recently found Marla McLean's teaching blog, and her long-term dream house project helped me a great deal in thinking about this boundary. She gave very specific rules to follow at some steps along the journey, and then some steps were as wide open as the ocean. She also started with a story, so that the children were all working from a shared frame of reference.
The results are breathtaking, but it's really the process that is so beautiful. Have a look here, here, here, and here to follow the evolution of their dream houses. Oh, heck, just read the whole blog. And if it's taking a moment longer than usual to load, it's because of the gorgeous photos she posts, and they are worth waiting for.
AND, they are not done yet. Now they are writing about their dream houses.