© 2010 Marla McLean

An awakening of sorts

What is a plan?

“It’s when you decide whether to go to the park or do something else.” Josie

“It’s something you think of and draw, and then make later.” Maya F.

I initiated the Fairy House plans.

drawing plans

It was after collecting and sorting natural materials,


reading the book Fairy Houses,

having lots of practice using the sketch books in different ways (in museums to make memories, outdoor observational sketching, indoor self portraits),


and after discussing the qualities of artificial, living, and found natural objects.


I am mentioning this, because this process of modeling and working with children is based on the idea of learning called ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development developed by Vygotsky.


To cite directly from Vygotsky, this most widely known concept of his theory represented “the distance between the actual level of development as determined by independent problem solving [without guided instruction] and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

“This is confusing.” Ava

I was able to show Ava some work from her peers’ sketchbooks. I also was able to scaffold, or ask questions to give her support. Here’s some diverse examples of the plans:

Using the sketchbooks and mark making to create symbolic representations, for a blueprint, for a fairy house.

Bridgets plan

Wills plan


The following week, children worked in groups of 2-3, combining their ideas to create one Fairy House.




In these small groups, children challenged each other to develop and build in a more complex manner. Ideas bounced off one another. More experimentation was observed, due to collaboration. Groups working next to other groups shared ideas.




“Theirs is more beautiful than ours!” Maximillian

A magnanimous attitude towards others developed.



The thesis behind this “zone” is that at a certain stage in development, children can solve a certain range of problems only when they are interacting with people and in cooperation with peers.


The Kindergarten children spent a few weeks with me, developing the thinking and skills to make a 3 dimensional clay sculpture of a Fairy.

The collaborative time spent figuring out how to do this was essential to internalizing how to do this.

When I decided they were ready to create and keep a sculpture to be fired, I witnessed children commenting, questioning and supporting peers who were struggling.

maddie clay

“You forgot the neck, that’s why the head is coming off.”

“Make a slab, like this to make a body.”

“How did you do the hair again?”

Laura clay

Lauraclay scup

“Attach the hands to the body, or it will fall off.”

Ben clay

This theory of teaching and learning (ZPD) differs from children performing tasks in isolation. In isolation, a child’s success depends upon another child’s failure.

Environments such as SWS that focus on Mastery as opposed to Performance create a paradigm switch amongst children from “self” to “other.”



Peers are seen as assets as opposed to competition. Each child’s individual success is celebrated within the context of a group.


Claire, Emma Clare, and Ava’s Fairy House has the following text. They created the narrative together, with passion and excitement:

There’s a water fountain you can drink out of on the outside of the house. Inside the shell, there is fur. You open it up, and then there is water to drink. The little tree is for the fairies to lay on. The seed pod is a big slide. The fairies have  blueberry and cherry blossoms in a bowl. We have water and cherries for each fairy kid in the home to have dinner. The shiny shell is the entrance. I love it!

Once the problem solving activities have been internalized, the problems initially solved under guidance and in cooperation with others will be tackled independently.
This teaching/learning approach takes thought, intention  and preparation. It is most powerful when deconstructed  & shared with the community. Much time must be alloted.
Despite all the work and time involved, a funny thing happens. An awakening of sorts. What emerges from the children is often as magical and illuminating as a fairy.
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  1. Posted November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm | #

    Oh gosh Marla, everything about this is inspiring. The work done by the kids! The process! The learning!

  2. Posted November 23, 2010 at 9:45 pm | #

    I love the fairies and the looks on the kids’ faces as they are working.

  3. Posted November 27, 2010 at 9:44 am | #

    Thanks for this…I did my Master’s thesis on a group project in clay and Vygotsky’s theories, and as always, I feel a kindred spirit in you, Marla. If I was 4, I would definitely invite you to my birthday! (-:

  4. Posted November 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm | #

    Back at you Anna. Wish we lived closer.

  5. Andy
    Posted December 6, 2010 at 10:01 pm | #

    Besides the community-building aspect of working together to bring out each other’s art, I’m really enjoying seeing how you introduce the children to the psychology of learing. I look forward to later years when our children will bring up Vygotzky. Times like these always bring a smile to my face.

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:53 pm | #

    These are beautiful! My daughter goes to a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool. Her class is working on the same theme of Fairies right now. The pictures looks like the same as her classroom.


  7. Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm | #

    You are so interesting! I do not think I have read through something like this before. So nice to find another person with some original thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is required on the internet, someone with some originality!

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