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Trimming a Bush: a metaphor for teaching

“Look deep into nature,

and then you will understand everything better.”

Einstein


After a long winter, a dreary spring, and an exhausting school year, immersing myself in yard work feels like both a guilty pleasure and needed time for reflection.

Weeding, trimming, planting – these mundane tasks keep my hands busy while freeing my mind from the intense thinking that teaching requires.


As I began trimming the excess growth from an evergreen bush, I found that its lush exterior was an illusion. Underneath the top few inches of green, most branches were bare or dead. As I removed the clutter of dead wood, I discovered tiny new growth near the base of the bush – and my aggressive pruning had just provided the access to sunlight those sprouts needed to grow.


The idea of “pruning” our personal lives was a common theme during the pandemic. But, in that moment, I realized it is also essential for my professional life.

I am easily caught up in the “more” mindset – gathering more open-ended materials, offering more opportunities for inquiry, recording more observations, engaging in more reflection, analyzing more documentation - and create the illusion of a fulfilled and dedicated professional, while inside I can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and drained.


So, this summer, I am making a conscious effort to pause, release the superfluous or outdated, and give time and space for new ideas and possibilities.

Is it a coincidence that I was inspired to begin posting on Instagram after deleting 2,000 photos from my library? Perhaps… but I don’t think so.


Deciding what is professional “dead wood” and letting it go is a complex, personal process, so here I will focus on “new growth” I am nurturing.

 

New Zealand’s Playcentres and Te Whāriki


Playcentre is a New Zealand non-profit founded in 1941. They describe their 420 centres as “villages” where young children and their families can play and grow together.


Families become members of a centre and share the responsibility of its management, with the support of national, regional, and local early childhood facilitators. Playcenter sessions are designed to strengthen family relationships, embrace child-led free play, and nurture friendships among parents and caregivers.


Like all early childhood services in New Zealand, they follow Te Whāriki, the bicultural national early childhood curriculum framework that values the role of families and emphasizes well-being, belonging, contribution, communication, and exploration.



They also offer free, accredited adult education modules that, if fully completed, lead to a Certificate in Early Childhood Education and Care.


I think of the isolation many U.S. parents feel and the continued push toward early academics, and wonder what insights and possibilities Playcentres and Te Whāriki can offer us.


I experienced the benefits of an adult/child model when I taught Beginning Together, a Reggio-inspired class for 2-year-olds and parents / caregivers. Both adults and children developed supportive relationships, play became a natural way of being together, and adults had opportunities to learn about child development. through observation, conversation, and group discussion. As programs reopen their doors to family participation, it is a perfect time to think creatively about the forms that participation could take.


Questions I am pondering:

  • How might preschools, childcare centers, and other settings offer more opportunities for children and families to play and learn together?

  • What can Te Whāriki teach us about creating curricula that honors both play and children’s diverse identities, languages, and cultures?

  • How might we offer researched-based parenting and child development education to families in an organized, accessible, and affordable way?

 

Roberta Pucci Lab


Roberta Pucci, an atelierista, art therapist, and art educational consultant from Reggio Emilia, Italy, combines her remarkable creativity with insightful philosophical reflection.


She elevates simple materials into works of art, and connects her process to the work of Bruno Munari, Viktor E. Frankel, Howard Gardner, and Henri Poincaré. She demonstrates that the difference between art and craft projects is not the materials, but the way they are used and considered.


Her blog posts, organized into collections including The Grammar of Matter, The Grammar of Drawing, and Creative Walks, are as beautiful as they are thought provoking.


They inspire me to contemplate simple materials (paper rolls, plastic bottles, strips of paper) and complex ideas (the difference between seeing and perceiving, the limits and potentials of identity, investigating wonder) in new ways – and consider how I might utilize both in my work with children, teachers, and families.

(My paper tube sculptures, seen here, were inspired by one of her posts.)


Questions I am pondering:

  • How can teachers nurture each child's unique "hundred languages"?

  • What support would teachers need to be comfortable exploring materials from an artistic and philosophical perspective rather than focusing on their role in a craft project?

  • What changes in values and priorities would be required for this approach to become commonplace in the U.S.?

 

What new growth wants to flourish in you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.