Investigating nature with 100 languages

As every human being, you already own the “hundred languages” Malaguzzi was talking about. This does not mean you need hundred materials or tools, but that you have hundred possibilities to enter in a relation with the world, starting from your wonder and using what you already have. Don’t think of a final product, as a realistic drawing of a flower or a leaf: just try to be in a relation with that flower or that leaf.

For example, have you ever really observed the colors of a flower you like? Are you able to count and name all of them? It is not as easy as it sounds. The “green” (as every other color’s name) includes such a large number of different hues that there are not enough words to identify and name them. Moreover, outside the color changes over time: through the seasons, during the day, and looking more closely, even at the same moment: just changing point of view, or because a cloud suddenly moves in front of the sun.

So what is the “true” color of the flower I am looking at?

And what if a child noticed the shaded colors of a petal, how – as educators – can we support this interest and make it develop? Of course, giving value to his observation, eventually making some questions. Adults and children are dialoguing and wondering together, it’s not an interview with the teacher writing the child’s answers for the documentation. This also means that they can just silently observe. Infact, making questions to children is not a good thing itself. A question could be asked too early or effects too much the answer. For example, what if a teacher asks the reason why colors change along with light before the child has noticed it?

Then, which materials could we offer to children and how, in order to deeper the investigation of chromatic shades? There isn’t only one right way – it depends on the context, the school organization, the age and the number of children, and so on. Anyhow, if we just invite children to choose some markers, it will be a very poor answer compared to the endless possibilities of overlapping and mixing colors (“of the hundred they steal ninety-nine”…).

Why don’t ask children what materials they think would be better in order to explore shades? Then, try to follow and support the process. Maybe children will choose markers but soon realize there are not enough chromatic tones… so their research will probably lead to water colors or gouche, as water is a crucial element for mixing colors (somehow closed to the nature of the shade’s phenomenon). I think it would be very different if the teacher offered water colors since the beginning.
What is the exact spot where a color ends and another begins? If we cannot clearly define the boundaries between different colors, we say there is a “shade”. So, what exactly is a shade?

According to the artist Paul Klee, a shade is a type of “order” typical of the natural world, that develops through a continuous process of “growing” and “decreasing” (crescendo and diminuendo), where the opposites flow into one another. On the other hand, the artificial order is poorer but perceptible through a kind of organization divided into measurable steps.

Klee made a deep research about plant forms and about how natural shapes develop. He was used to write his thoughts in a notebook, that later he used for teaching to his students at the Bauhaus school (all these notebooks have been printed in Italian in two beautiful books, I hope theys exist in English too).

For example, how does the leaf-shape form? According to Klee, the ribs are lines of constructive energy and the final shape depends on these forces: the outline is formed where the linear irradiation stops. From this perspective, the outside shape results as an effect of a inner, primary force (or cause). But many other answers and theories are possible from different perspectives.

The biologist and mathematician D’Arcy W. Thompson, in his book “On Growth and Form”, ventures into a search for algebraic formulas that regulate the growth of natural forms. From another point of view, the Italian designer Bruno Munari approaches every natural thing as a perfect example of good design and every natural shape as built according to laws of constructive economy. In his tiny book, “Good design”, he describes in technical details an orange, a pea pod and a rose, as perfect objects in which the absolute coherence of form, color, use, consumption is found.

What is the right explanation? There is not only one, nor even a unique way to look for it. As well as there are many languages ​​to look for an answer, many answers are needed to get closer to the truth. Moreover, an holistic approach – that holds together many dimensions – characterizes the spontaneous playing of children and their learning processes. Of course, I do not cites these theories for encouraging to agree with them or use them with children, but as examples of what rich and various processes can develop from every personal research. Have you ever tried your own one?

In light of this, why do exist some recurring proposals that are usually associated to the Reggio approach and the Hundred languages, like drawing the shadow of an object or a flower placed at the center of a table? Maybe, do we need ready-made answers because we do not trust “enough” that an interesting process will flourish from children?

Why drawing the shadow – among the hundred and hundred possibilities of exploring it? During my walks and researches into nature, the encounter with shadows had nothing to do with drawing. Once, it seemed to me that the leaves shadows of some branches were writing a code, an alphabet of different balances of full and empy spaces within the same shape. I was mainly interested in the visual rhythm created by the continuously changing interaction between leaves, light, air and my point of view. The process was leading me to play with some leaves-pentagrams…

What about the child originally interested in the petal’s shades? Maybe, he would continue to wonder about colors even through shadows: where does the color go when a shadow covers it? And what color is the shadow?

I think that the first-hand experience of a creative process is strictly connected with the capacity to trust others’ processes and let them flourish. What is your personal experience with the “hundred languages”? What are your favourite ones?

That shadow or that flower is unique, however many dimensions are there – scientific, aesthetic, philosophical, emotional, narrative – and they are all connected. The atelier is a place where these exploration paths can be developed thanks to materials and tools it offers.

That flower is one, the reality is one, but in the meantime it is reflected in hundred mirrors, one for each expressive languages and also one for each person. Isn’t it amazing?

Enjoy your nature exploration!