A study of identity, relationships and belonging emerged after we noticed children in our Toddler 1 classroom at Compass ELC Victoria Graduate recognizing and identifying facial features. As this study evolved over 16 months we introduced various materials, including mirrors and different formats of pictures of the children into the classroom. Interestingly, what really intrigued and engaged the children were photo blocks (full body photos of the children and staff attached to a set of wooden unit blocks).
We set them out to see what the children would do with them and quickly noticed a shift in play.
The children were now utilizing the blocks for other purposes than stacking and building, which had been the previously observed intention. The blocks transformed into representations of the images attached to them as they were transported and used in play.
They were taken along for rides in cars and trucks as passengers, they climbed mountains and slid down ramps, and were placed in strollers and tucked into beds. As staff, we are aware of the relationships and friendships in the classroom. The children were seeking out and intentionally placing specific children’s blocks in these situations. The children were expressing their connections with others through their play.
The children have used the blocks as inspiration in many areas of the classroom and beyond. They enjoy using them to draw portraits of themselves or others. The blocks are often brought to play all around the classroom and even outdoors. They came on walks, played in the sandbox and went for rides on bikes alongside the children.
The children continue to use the photo blocks as a communication tool to invite interactions, dialogue and make connections. The blocks are used to greet each other in the morning. Children will often present an arriving child their specific block. The blocks continue to inspire new vocabulary as the children identify and call out the names of their teachers and peers while reaching for or engaging with the photo blocks.
When we see children using the photo blocks to save places for their peers or interacting with a photo block of a classmate who is absent we often wonder: Are the children saving a place in their play for their friend? Are they missing them? Or do they value playing with a classmate’s photo block the same as a substitute while their friend is away?
We always look forward to creating each new block and each new child joining our classroom gives us all a chance to see another unique perspective as to how they will engage with them. As new children move into our classroom we continue to notice that the blocks are manipulated to foster new relationships and they have become an important part of the classroom culture. A new photo block helps welcome and introduce new children and helps all the children learn who belongs in this space.
The blocks have helped with other transitions as well. As Ashley took on the supervisor role and began to transfer into the office, her daughter Josie began to struggle with the subsequent changes in the classroom they shared. Josie loved having her mom in the same classroom; she was always there for comfort when needed. As a team we began to come up with strategies and skills that might help Josie during the transition. Quickly our attention was drawn to Josie and the strategy she had come up with all on her own. Josie began to seek comfort in the block with Ashley’s picture on it. It started as a comfort item when she slept and then progressed into an aid that she used throughout the day. Josie would carry her block as she investigated new environments and encountered new relationships. As children became curious about the block that Josie often carried with her, she would explain that it was her mommy and they all began to identify that block as “Josie’s mommy” instead of “educator Ashley”. Josie continues to use this block for comfort.
We continue to watch, reflect and gain new insight into what and how these materials support the children’s learning. These photo blocks are very much “alive” in the classroom and are a focus for ongoing research. We continue to be surprised at the significance of these photo blocks and their many uses as a tool to communicate a sense of belonging for all.
The photo blocks continue to support our classroom culture. We strive to build an environment where strong relationships are nurtured, where all children feel valued, and each child is honoured and feels they are a special part of our classroom family. We believe that knowing ourselves contributes to a strong sense of self. The blocks have enhanced the children’s natural desire to learn about themselves and others in our classroom.
Submitted by Compass ELC Victoria Graduate Educators: Sam Deyell RECE, Darlene Begley–James RECE, Ashley Higgins RECE, and Pedagogical Team Leader Angela Hoar RECE
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