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Literacy Library Bulletin


by Teresa Thayer Snyder

February 2023

There is wonderful children’s book by Peter Reynolds called ish that my just turned five-year-old grandson experienced in his outstanding daycare/preschool last spring.  The students were exposed to some of the great artists–Picasso, Mondrian, O’Keefe, Pollack, etc.  They loved looking at massive art books filled with colorful prints of the artists’ works.

Accompanying this introduction to fine art, the teacher read the Reynolds book.  Ish is the story of a boy who loves to draw but is never able to get it just right.  A wiser younger sibling tells him he may not draw something just right, but he draws ish and drawing ishly gave the boy a new reason to draw.  The little learners delighted in the story and devoted a good many hours to painting and drawing ish. 

The teacher reported how they would bring up the heavy art books and talk with her and among themselves about which were their favorites.  Families were treated to the most extraordinary art show, stunned as little preschoolers talked about their work with as much attention and joy as any craftsperson.  This picture was done by my James in the style of Georgia O’Keefe (ish).  He calls it his “X painting” and if you were to see it up close you would note the broad brushstrokes forming big X’s and the tiny details formed by little x’s.

Little children have big ideas. If we provide them with the tools, and with the background, and the stories, they will amaze us with their capacity to understand so much more than we realize.  The world is inherently interesting to small children–obvious to anyone who has observed a toddler crouched down watching an ant hill or a child making a wish upon a dandelion gone to seed.  I am reminded of a paraphrase of Picasso stating that he spent his childhood learning to draw like an adult and his adulthood trying to remember how to draw like a child.

I hate to admit it, after a career in the schoolhouse, but frankly, sometimes we get in the way with our measurements and our drilling for skills development.  We are so wedded to measurement and getting things just right that we miss the expansiveness of thought and the possibility of invention.  We certainly put obstacles in the way of creativity as we manage the tick tock of the classroom agenda–the systemized movement towards those darned assessments.

What children need more than any other thing in school is time and space.  Their growth is as unique as their thumbprints.  Their views of the world are broadened by adults who hear their need to know about the big ideas.  My little grandson wants to talk about Neptune being a windy planet and elephant seals that molt their entire skin once a year.  He is no more curious than any other five-year-old or fifteen-year-old or fifty-year-old–he is all of us before we are weighted down by artificially constructed data points.  We are born to learn. However, we are not born to be programmed like bots.  Blessings on the children and those who work with them–and thanks to ish and Peter Reynolds.

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