That’s a question that 22 Rhode Island preschool teachers and family childcare providers asked their 3- and 4-year-old children as part of “Making Learning Visible: Inspiration Takes Flight,” a five-month professional development seminar offered by Ready to Learn Providence and supported by Providence Children’s Museum.
It turns out that the children are experts at lots of things. Many of them know how to do crafts from creating a crown to drawing happy faces, dinosaurs, monsters and self-portraits to making a sugar flour cake. They are excellent movers; they know how to run, climb on bars, dance, and do flips and jumping jacks. They have mastered many of their important daily routines, such as being a big brother, tying shoes, cleaning up, and sleeping. And not surprisingly, they are fantastic players. They can tell you how to fly like Superman, play the card game Face-Off, put on a performance, and even how to pretend to be a dog.
The children, with the help of their teachers, shared their expertise by making how-to books about each of these activities, providing step-by-step instructions and illustrations. Angeliz explained “How to Make a Happy Face” in seven steps:
- Make a big circle.
- Make two small circles inside the big circle.
- Then make two dots inside the two little circles.
- Then you make a dot in the middle of the circle for the nose.
- Make a line going up that looks like a big U.
- Then you make ears – make a half a circle next to the big circle, make one on each side.
- You can make the hair with a straight line or a wiggle line.
She read the book to her classmates and then they successfully drew their own happy faces, following her instructions! It’s easy to overlook how much very young children know. These how-to books are excellent reminders that children are powerhouses of knowledge, that they are constantly acquiring and processing information and skills. Through this process, the teachers learned how to observe and document children’s learning, and we all discovered that how-to books take careful thought – you need to plan the order of the steps, make sure the words you choose can be understood, and decide what kind of illustrations (drawings or photos) are best.
Ready to Learn is asking the Mayor of Providence and other adult leaders to make how-to books as well. You and your family could make them for each other. What is each of you an expert at – making pancakes? Writing letters? Growing plants? Start a book and have your family members test your instructions. Get their feedback and make revisions. Make a bound copy with illustrations to use again and again.
All 106 of the preschoolers’ books will be on display at the Children’s Museum during MetLife Family Friday on January 20 from 5:00 - 8:00 PM. Between January 21 and February 17, you can also drop into Discovery Studio to see documentation of one child, Benedetta, making her book, “How to Make a Pattern Bracelet,” and a display of a few others. Who knows, you may learn something new!