Leanne Paulin, art guide, tutor, teacher with AAH Math Team, homeschool parent of four, and math and art teacher at Sankalpa Academy
Mirroring means many things. Making origami stars with translucent paper to catch the sun, mirroring is apparent in the reflectional and rotational symmetry of the stars. Mirroring happens in the children’s use of verbal and visual cues from the printed folding instructions and the teacher’s guidance. Joy, surprise, and pride in a child’s achievements as a suncatcher grows piece by piece is reflected by the child, teacher, and parents. And, when the activity is done and the child returns home, hopefully there is reflection as the piece is placed upon the window or in a special place to witness in its full glory.
Reflection is equally important for the teacher. Was the lesson a success? What did I learn from it and did it bring me joy? What, if anything, could I improve? At the end of this lesson, several points came to mind. First of all, three year olds really, really love to use glue and scissors! It almost doesn’t matter what the activity is as long as they can use these tools and exercise these burgeoning skills. And that’s completely okay!
Second, though origami is an activity that improves visually with precision, perfection is not necessarily the goal. Mistakes, though messy and bothersome to us adults, are important for growth. It’s tempting to fix every imperfect fold and crease those folds neatly but it’s essential to let children make mistakes in a hands-off way and to guide them toward their own discoveries with questions like, “what’s different and the same between the two pieces you’ve just made?” Or, “how can you complete your symmetry when you attach that final piece or do you even want to achieve symmetry?” Maybe the tidy origami star has evolved into a crown or a dragon’s scales.
Which brings me to my third point, we can’t assume where a child’s creativity takes him or her. In one girl’s mind, her star became a beautiful Christmas flower that she would attach a leaf and stem to at home. Christmas in July. :) The colours of the Texas flag inspired a boy who planned to build a base upon which his flag star would wave proudly. Adamantly, he declared no-one would be allowed to touch it! His work clearly had immediate value to him. And yet another flew her kite on a string around and around, joy upon her little face.
Fourth, like most learning activities, art also crosses borders into other disciplines. A discussion of shape, pattern, relative size, multiples, fractions, and gauging difficulty all contributed to furthering math fluency and problem solving. At home, with extra time for exploration and air conditioning, my daughter designed new models with visual instructions to mirror the originals. She included each and every step along the way. Creativity, design, problem solving, sequential thinking, and the desire to share and teach were in full force.
Fifth, building multiple pieces and assembling them took time, a lot of time for little hands, but most of the kids were up for the challenge, despite working outdoors in the Texas heat in the middle of a busy farmer’s market. They showed perseverance and determination. I witnessed lots of focus! At home my five-year-old student worked non-stop for an entire hour with unwavering focus and intent. She made two models and held them up, proudly noting how much of the work she had completed herself.
Overall this lesson was a huge success. It encompassed so much of what children need to feel empowered, successful, and independent and had many areas of learning and growth. As with most lessons, I learned something as well… My last reflection comes from a parent. He spoke of his 3 year old’s love of using glue, which he repeatedly referred to as “painting”. That was a beautiful metaphor and possibly exactly what the child felt as the glue stick painted purple streaks back and forth across her paper canvas.