Encounters with Space
At a centre in North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Early Years Program, educators and I attend to children’s ideas and curiosities by using a collective journal where we write down significant moments, conversations, and our wonderings. Revisiting the journal, we noticed children’s curiosities around space and spaceships, and so we created “Space Room” where we can slow down, work through ideas together, and make our thinking visible through drawing with children. With children, the educators and I will engage in dialogue by offering various materials to complexify the children’s ideas and theories. Our pedagogical aims are to invite children to speculate and imagine beyond their own worlds and to disrupt consumerism that shows up in the classroom when children shift quickly from one activity to another.
On Tuesday afternoons, the blinds come all the way down and the lights are turned off in the nap room. It is dark, but the room is filled with stars and planets with the help of the projector. The room transforms to embody what space might look like and this invites children to notice how their bodies might move differently in space.
Lily says, “Watch me, I’m walking in space” as she lifts her legs very slowly one at a time and carefully places them back down.
Troy: “You have to take your shoes off. There are no shoes in space.”
The desire to dwell in space grows as we ask questions and wonder together about how a person moves in space. As we watch videos, look at pictures, and dialogue about space and spaceships, we become more fascinated and curious about them.
Matt: “How does the door work? How do they (astronauts) get in and out?”
Skylar: “What if you get hungry on the moon? What do they eat?”
Cody: “How do they take a shower? Do they take a shower?”
Matt: “Why is there so many wires?”
We continue asking questions:
What does a spaceship look like? What’s inside? What does it need?
We invite the children to draw through the questions, and by drawing together, children collaboratively create ideas about space.
Charlie: “It’s a man looking out this window and blasting off.”
Charlie: “He’s going down to the earth.”
Pamela (educator): “What is on his back?”
Charlie: “A backpack for falling down. So it keeps him up so he can work.”
Skylar: “It’s me inside the rocket ship.”
Maria: “And where are you going on your rocket ship?”
Skylar: “To Jupiter!”
Addison: “I made tanks, and these are the things to make it not fall apart. This is my rocket ship. I’m going to the moon!”
Matt: “Kyle is making a hot planet.”
Maria: “Why is it a hot planet?”
Kyle: “It’s a planet that is with a lot of volcanoes erupting.”
Tyler: “Oh, a lot of volcanoes erupting. I’m going to do it the same as Kyle.”
Matt: “That’s not how he did it.”
Maria: “How did he do it?”
Matt: “Well, you need red. Lots of red.”
Hunter: “This is the window and I’m looking out.”
Tyler: “I’m inside the spaceship, looking out the window.”
Maria: “What are you looking at?”
Hunter: “The stars!”
Matt: “The shooting star!”
Tyler: “The planet!”
Skylar: “It has a toy house and Christmas lights. It has a bench and a table.”
Sarah (educator): “And what is this one up here?”
Skylar: “That is my daddy driving and those are the buttons and that’s the steering wheel.”
Addison: “Buttons to control the spaceship.”
Lily: “It also needs a toilet! People have to pee in space too.”
Skylar: “It needs a hospital kit, beds, and some food.”
Skylar: “I’m going to the moon.”
Addison: “So, that’s a big tank so you can go all the way. Which then the tanks get off and then...” She puts her hands together and releases them when she gets to the top.
“What happened to Pluto?”
We read The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and children propose creating planet booklets. With paper and markers, children gather around a table and carefully draw the planets in conversation with the book, creating their own booklets.
A problem emerges: “What happened to Pluto?”
Charlie notices that The Darkest Dark doesn’t mention Pluto while other books do.
Maria: “Charlie, I see you drew Pluto.”
Charlie: “Want to know what happened? Planets move this way (clockwise). Do you remember they move this way? And then this one hit this one. Because this one is Pluto. It (another planet) turned around and it hit it.”
Addison: “It’s not a planet anymore. Because it is too tiny to be a planet.”
Natalie (educator): “So it has to be a certain size to be a planet?”
Skylar: “Maybe it was a meteor!”
In the outdoor space, Skylar draws two suns and tapes her drawing on a wooden log.
Skylar: "The sun is big, so there’s two."
Children continue to create planets using paper and markers. Skylar and Charlie add Earth and Saturn to the solar system and Ben adds Jupiter.
Skylar jumps from one planet to another orbiting around the solar system. She becomes the protagonist of her performance. During Skylar’s performance, we hear Charlie zooming around the solar system.
Charlie: “A meteor!”
Cody: “METEOR!! Meteor is here! I’m going to block any planets from getting hit by the meteor.”
Skylar: “Meteor! Coming through!”
Charlie: “Two meteors!!”
Children perform how a meteor moves in space, using a GoPro camera. The camera allows them to develop a script about how a meteor moves in space and what it does to the planets. The performance shifts as two meteors, as protagonists, zoom around the solar system. We anxiously wait to watch what the meteors will do.
Conversations around meteors continue for days after the outdoor performance. The relationship between meteors and shooting stars fills the classroom. We watch videos, look at pictures, and dialogue.
Charlie: “Did you know that shooting stars are meteors?”
Addison: “But meteor showers are bad and shooting stars are good. Shooting stars that we make wishes on are not meteors.”
Charlie: “Meteors are burning rocks.”
Ben: “They are like thunder.”
Addison: “We can't look into them because it's too bright.”
Hunter: “I'm going to cover the whole paper red because it's on fire (from the meteor).”
The Milky Way
We propose to the children to that they draw the Milky Way. On a large sheet of white paper with oil pastels, children carefully consider the different sizes, shapes, and colours of the planets in the Milky Way.
Kyle: “Dot dot dot dot. Look at my stars.”
Mandy (educator): “Those are many stars. Maybe I can see the shooting star.”
Lily: “I can make a shooting star.”
Cody: “These are all the colours I see in the Milky Way.”
Kyle: “If you step in it, you get melted, but if you step on that pink, you get more energy. If you walk on that brown, it means that space is going to have a meteor and it’s going to crash you. But the green means all the grass and plants are growing.”
We add watercolour paint to the Milky Way and hang it on the bulletin board. The Milky Way transforms alongside our conversations and creations. At times, spaceships float around the Milky Way, and at other times, the solar system orbits on the Milky Way, or meteors or shooting stars zoom across.
Charlie: “I’m in the rocket ship. The rocket ship will hit the landing pad and hit the water.”
Ben: “You need a space jacket on.”
Matt: “I can see a medium-size moon from here because it’s so far away."
By bringing back drawings and conversations to children and educators, we open other possibilities to disrupt the quick consumerism of neoliberalism and how it relates to individualism in early childhood education. We often notice how children’s drawings become representations of an individual child’s ideas. To disrupt this practice, we shift our questions from “What did you draw?” to “Can you tell me about what you drew?” with an invitation to post their drawings on the bulletin board. Children begin to share what is happening in their drawings and invite educators to retell their stories with the drawings on the bulletin board.
These field notes emerged from my work with a group of 3- to 5-year-old children in an early childhood centre in North Vancouver. The centre is located on the North Shore, in the unceded traditional and ancestral territory of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
*pseudonyms have been used in place of children's and educators’ names