Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our City, Our Country

Jannah-Rae is learning about buildings in school this week. The unit covers things like what is a building used for, what color would you paint your house, and what is your favorite building. They are reading books about building a house and experimenting with constructing their personal building using a variety of art supplies. The segment is due to end with the children building gingerbread houses and decorating them with candies.

I had always wanted to build, with wood, plastic, or paper, but I was never good at it. I do not have a creative bone in my body and I never did well in art class. I can copy other people's work satisfactorily and color inside the lines, but I could not think something up or draw imaginatively. And while my dad was skilled at artisan woodwork and at one time made a living out of crafting the tiniest details onto pieces of solid wood, that talent did not transfer over to me. Instead, I grew fond of the kitchen and express my creativity there. But with two little ones who still think I know best, I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and put JR's lesson into practice:

"Get me the baskets of books, Jannah-Rae," I asked. "What for, Mama?" she replied. "We are going to build a city!" I beamed. And with that we set out to work.

First, we sorted out the books by height and width; we had to get them just the right size so they would line up. Then, we looked for those that could be part of the scenery: a book with the night sky filled with stars and a cat looking at them served as the sky, one with tiles on the cover was put down as the house's base, and another with green grass and a lamb sitting in the bushes served as the backyard. Soon, JR's imagination was running wild and Yousef's lining up skills were going with it. She put together a main house, a play house, and a dog house. She made a barn for Yousef's animals and put up roofs for his people. She constructed a garage that I thought was too big for the car, but she didn't: "over here you put the tools and here you drive in the car far enough so you do not get wet when it's raining!" And also had a train station. Suddenly, JR shouted "we are building a country!" (If only it were that simple!)

The country then shifted its composition. Soon, the train station was gone, replaced by a boat house. The people now owned a car for short drives and a boat for longer ones. They lived on a lake. The animals no longer needed a barn and instead just hung out in the backyard. There were ducks on the roof and people inside the house; the door was gone. JR introduced the castle and claimed it an extension to the house. The country was versatile and dynamic. Every time JR got a design idea she implemented it on the ground, building up and out, adding people and people and animals, landscape and embellishments, shifting structures and removing some altogether.

She built, Yousef populated and together they tipped over the fragile structure.
We put the walls up again, and again they fell down. We laughed and planned. We shifted our final plan for the country to match what we had on hand. For about an hour we played with our books and our folks until JR got frustrated with Yousef putting too many trains in the stations, too many animals in the barn, and too many people on the roof top. She kept directing him at where to put things, and he kept ignoring her. They were both relentless in expressing their wills, until she gave up on instructing him and moved on. It was time to stop rebuilding. With a thud the the house, the city, and the country came tumbling down; but the kids stood strong. They had just as much fun breaking down their construct as they did putting it up.
"Just use your imagination" has been the phrase in our house lately, and this activity has put that phrase into wonderful practice. Jannah-Rae had her fill of imaginative play, showed such curiosity and creativity wondering how the people were going to get in when the main house did not have a door, where they were all going to sleep when the tent was not big enough, and where will they go.

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