“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” -Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
Transformation is a big idea which the children at Elm house have been exploring for the past few months, and it’s something I’ve been reflecting on often while designing curriculum.
Most of you probably heard about the caterpillars we had in the Elm room, and the weeks we watched them build chrysalis around themselves, and then how one day we saw them transform into butterflies. A few of you participated the day that we released them into the backyard, but for those who haven’t, here are a couple photos from that event.
Megan and I sometimes talk about the transformation of the caterpillars, and wonder what the children understood about that process. It’s difficult to know for sure what they learned from those creatures specifically, but we do know that the children are actively thinking about transformation is many other areas of the school.
For example, there is a puddle that sometimes forms in the driveway of our school. Every time we go outside, if the puddle is there, the children jump in it. If it’s not there, they remark on that, too. “Where did the puddle go?!” They ask each other and us. I have recently been reflecting the question back at them, and here are some responses I’ve gotten:
Hannah: “It went away.”
Sam: “It went to the sky.”
Luca: “It went to sleep.”
Shelan: “A dinosaur ate it!”
The mystery of the puddle seems to suggest that the children might think the puddle exists somewhere else, in the same form. Which is understandable, since they obviously haven’t learned about evaporation.
It does make me wonder what other transformative learning experiences I could share with the children, to approach the idea in ways they might connect with.
Right now, the most direct way I can think of is with art. Over the past few weeks, the children have been painting big white rocks. They’ve transformed the white surface to a colorful surface. And this week we put some of the rocks in the front yard, under the Elm tree. So the children transformed the yard with their art, though I never told them that I thought they were transforming the yard.
It occurs to me now that I’ve never used the word “transform” with the children, and I wonder how their perception and understanding of the world would change if they simply learned the word “transform.” Would they begin to see how art is transformation? Or the puddle drying up? Or the caterpillars becoming butterflies? Or a friend moving? Or a pet dying? I wonder if giving the children the tool of a new word would open their minds to new concepts of change.