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Feel the Love

By: EVELYN EGAN RAINY

Tuesday 06 February 2018

Evelyn Egan Rainy is a lecturer in the Visuals Arts EYE BA programme at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) since 2006 . She previously worked at Scuola di Grafica Venice and later as Head of Art at the International School of Padua, Italy. She is currently studying for a PhD in Early Years Education, with a focus on Inquiry- Based Learning in the Visual Arts, using a Transdisciplinary approach. She has recently contributed to the Aistear Síolta Practice Guide and Better Start Resources for Practitioners which can be viewed on: https://vimeo.com/224208552

As we emerge from the dark dreary days of January, Valentine's Day heralds the coming of Spring and love is definitely in the air. No sooner did we ‘ring out the old, ring in the new’, than shop windows were adorned with red and pink love hearts, helium balloons, imitation roses, designer chocolates and Hallmark cards- all bearing sweet sentiments of love.

Valentine's Day is yet another calendar event to be celebrated in Early Childhood Centres and it’s so easy to be lured into the relative ease of getting children to make cards with assembly-line efficiency. We are all well acquainted with tiny handprints uniformly converted to ‘love bugs’ and with pre-prepared collages of evenly cut strips of paper, emblazoning precisely drawn hearts with catchy phrases (in adult hand-writing or printed). ‘Cute’ and ‘adorable’ as they may appear, these products of children’s endeavours are just masquerading as creative expression and beg the fundamental question; What meaning do they hold for the individual child? 

Homemade Valentine's Day card - Feel the Love Handmade Valentine's card - Feel the Love

Our ability to follow and build on children’s emerging interests should not be shelved, in the lead up to seasonal/calendar events such as Halloween or Christmas and now, Valentine’s Day. We can resist the pressures of getting children to ‘make something’ - something sweet, something cute, something to take home, something representative of the love fest. Rather, should we use the opportunity to move beyond the superficial, beyond Pinterest and Facebook. Instead, we can delve deeper and facilitate learning opportunities, all the while observing, examining and documenting connections made and relationships formed, in their individual understanding of seasonal celebrations.

We are often at a loss as to how to provide learning opportunities which encompass everything; ones which are hands-on, playful, relevant and meaningful and at the same time which foster children’s uniqueness and meet their developmental needs, all the while keeping Aistear’s Principles to the forefront of our minds. Love and Valentine’s Day are romantically entwined but the lead up to February 14th offers a wonderful opportunity for children to reflect on what ‘love’ means to them in their own little lives and contexts. We can pose open-ended questions which allow them to identify expressions of kindness, gratitude and appreciation and how these can be expressed to those around them, in their ever expanding understanding of the world.

We could introduce the concept of what 'love' feels like, a sensorial experience, through the use of fabric. Present children with a variety of textures, paying attention to the aesthetic qualities of colour, tone, and pattern. Provide provocations, a range of materials; silk scarfs, strips of chiffon, satin, ribbons, velvet, lace, cotton, fur and fleece. Engage them in a conversation of associations, where they experience the tactile nature of the materials and invite them to describe the feel of them against their skin. Take note of their interactions and use of descriptive language and facilitate vocabulary extension.

Incorporate ideas of imaginative and co-operative play, through social interaction, by encouraging them to use the materials individually and as a group and let the learning evolve. They may choose to wrap the cotton round themselves, or to drape a companion in chiffon or rub their bare feet against the fleece. The choice is theirs. Encourage them to finger the textures, to gently stroke the fur, to feel all sensations on their own soft skin. Invite them to caress their faces with silk or to entwine ribbons around their fingers, hands and toes, all the while facilitating linguistic expression of appreciation, kindness and care and the spontaneity of creative play. 

Child's hand holding ribbon - Feel the Love Boy surrounded by fabric - Feel the Love
Boy playing with ribbon - Feel the Love

Observe their reactions, listen to their observations. Build on these by posing questions about the different textures of the fabrics and how these qualities could be associated with feelings of love and care. The experience can then be extended, when they select samples of cut-off pieces, to place in their own little individual presentation boxes, as keepsakes. At close of day, If they want to put their unconventional Valentine gifts in their bags to take home- let them!
Parents may well be perplexed as to what these scraps of material mean but you will feel secure that they are representative of a sensorial experience and learning opportunity, far more meaningful than making handprints of love bugs or love hearts-no matter how cute or adorable.

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