About a year and a half ago I stood before a group of 20 fourth graders, tasked with teaching the day’s art lesson. I had prepared ten paint tins and brushes spread evenly on the long white sheet of paper taped to the floor. The art project of the day was to replicate a work by one of my favorite artists, Wassilly Kandinsky. I had spent some time earlier in the day showing the class pictures of Wasilly Kandinsky and his color squares so they would have an idea of what the project would be.
As the children filed into the classroom from their post lunch recess I instructed them to gather around the paper on the floor. The head teacher of the class had told me he would be taking an extended coffee break while I taught the lesson. As the last of the 20 children straggled in, the door shut and I was alone with the class for the first time. There was nothing extraordinarily different about this group of children. To be honest the most different thing in the room was me. I was from 5,500 miles away and did not speak their language. These children attended elementary school in Växjo, Sweden.
So began about an hour and a half of mixed Swedish and English, lots of arm waving, and dramatic gestures. There were plenty of confused faces and exclamations of “Vad?!” which translates to “What?!” There were also plenty of “Oh!” moments as well. Once the students understood what they were supposed to do, they took off. I was able to, somehow, communicate the difference between warm and cold colors, as well as fast and slow movements with the brushes.
Working with the students in Sweden afforded me the opportunity to explore the barriers that separate students and teachers. At the forefront was the language barrier. I only spoke a little Swedish, and most of the children could not speak English.
What I discovered is that children are surprisingly adept at overcoming barriers, much more than adults are. Children have the ability to see past the differences that do not matter or affect their ability to work together. The children’s flexibility with language and understanding blew me away.
We see flexibility in communication all the time at Sunflower Creative Arts. As the young ones in our community continue to grow and learn, I feel it is important to recognize and celebrate the remarkable abilities they exhibit as young children. The vast levels of communication between the children can be breathtaking. There is talking, gesturing, silliness, hugging, leading, following, mimicking, sharing, reading, and expressions of feelings happening every moment between the children.
The next time you spend time with children, explore how much they are communicating both verbally and non-verbally. What barriers get in their way and what barriers do they routinely break through? What barriers get in your way when communicating with young ones?
Communication at Sunflower Creative Arts:
© Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Additional photos © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011