As I come back to write and connect with you all after a hiatus, here in India we’re officially into the festive season – with the 9-day Navratri celebration having begun. Durga Puja is round the corner and then Dussehra. The count-down for Diwali (Nov 13) has begun too. Not to mention, the global festivals that we celebrate with as much zest and zeal – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
This festive spirit is all around us. And the media is buzzing the loudest – the TV ads, newspapers, magazines.
While I don’t have the time and patience to read the newspapers everyday (all that negative news is too much to handle), I do leaf through them to scour interesting images and text. This is a habit from childhood days when my brother and I would grab our newspaper pile and sit down on the floor to cut out anything that caught our eye. We might create a collage with those images. Make greeting cards. Or, just use them for the ‘identify this‘ round in some of the quizzes my brother hosted.
Now, two decades later, I’m finding myself doing similar stuff along-side Pari and learning, un-learning and re-learning all over again…
Some Durga Puja and Diwali collages we made recently nurtured tons of Learning Connections – much beyond the limited scope of ‘Subjects’ and Curriculum. Find out how…
Festival or no festival, we love making collages. We collect all the newspapers and magazines from the month; grab a seat at our art table with a snack or two; and with a pair of scissors to champion our cause, we while away the whole morning (and afternoon, too as we drag ourselves to lunch) cutting out images and text.
When we’re on a cutting spree, we don’t stop to start making a collage.
It’s just too addictive to stop.
For the past three days, we’ve mostly done this. And then, yesterday, we sat down to make collages. We both agreed upon a theme – Durga Puja, Diwali and the festival season in general.
How The Process of Collage Making is All About Making Learning Connections
In the process of sifting through newspapers and magazines, leafing through hundeds of pages, and cutting out images, before finally getting on to paste our vision onto the sheets, I realised that collaging is so much more than just cutting and pasting and honing fine motor skills.
From conversations to literacy; divergent thinking (exploring many solutions for a problem rather than ONE right answer) to understanding of design, colour harmony, layout; and from decision-making to bonding together, collage making deserves more kudos.
But more than anything else (even the ones I mentioned above) I was blown away to see how the seemingly simple and quiet act of making collages helped us form dozens of learning connections.
You might ask what I mean by “Learning Connections”
Making learning connections means that you associate a new topic with something you already knew. It means, when you see/read/discuss/smell/touch a certain topic or a thing, your brain is reminded of something else that connects and then you find out about that new connection, which may lead to another new topic and so on. When I came across this term, an year or so back, on Sandra Dodd’s site, I was amused and happy to know that we’d been learning exactly this way in our homeschooling, and before that too.
Plus, I figured this is how I’ve always learned as an adult – by connecting one thing to another in my mind and then going about exploring those connections and making cross connections in the bargain.
And, I believe that this is how kids learn, too – so long as we support them in pursuing more and more connections.
But, if the environment around them is not conducive to connecting one dot with another and pursuing cross connections, their natural curiosity to learn is stifled. And, the instinctive flow of their brain – to meander and imagine – is blocked.
[Sadly, in schools, learning is confined to subjects - literature, geography, math, art, science - and those subjects are regimented. No bringing up geography in a math class or, you're going off on a tangent and wasting the class's collective time. How will those young brains make connections?]
The more connections you make, the more you learn.
Connections our brain make, are never just linear. Actually, they are rarely linear. Which explains, why learning is never a compartmentalized activity (as it happens in school).
Learning happens in many layers and planes. Our brain is so dynamic that it can connect seemingly tangential things. Our brain connects sounds, sights, smells, memories, textures, feelings, emotions, expressions….You name it!
How a perfume might remind you of a loved one; how a song might trigger a bitter-sweet memory; how you may have felt that sense of deja vou with someone or some place.
I like to think of it as a tag-game that our brain plays.
So, how did we make those learning connections when cutting and pasting for a collage?
To take you through the examples, let me share this first collage that Pari made. I was sitting next to her making my own.
While a lot of work we did happened in silence, we also got into interesting conversations when an image or text evoked our memories or senses.
- The Koala that you see in this picture, reminded her of Panda, which in turn brought up China. China reminded Pari of the trans-Siberian railway that we had talked about when looking at Russia in the huge world map that hangs behind the dinner table. We’d discussed the other day that the Trans-Siberian express is the longest train journey spanning Russia and branching off in China.
- The Elephant’s image led to an inquiry: how the Asian elephant is different from the African elephant, which reminded of the movie Madagaskar and the pre-historic Mammoth. That evoked sad feelings in Pari as she remembered how the Mammoth’s child got killed in the movie by a cave-man.
When I was making the collage above, we formed many more sets of learning connections.
Since the theme was Durga Puja/Diwali, we were looking at images and wondering if one or the other will support the theme. If some will not support directly, may be we can weave it into the theme by making up a visual story…
So, I find this image of the book - Nine Lives (seeking the sacred in modern India). I kept the image aside to use it for the collage. Pari wanted to know how this might suit the theme. I tried to articulate my thoughts and said that I’ll try to weave a story around the similarities and connections between old and modern India and highlight the common aspects of festive spirit.
From here, we got talking about the image of lavendar oil and aroma therapy. I’d cut an image of a diamond ring. Pari asked, “how does this ring fit into the Diwali theme?” I told her that the day before Diwali is called ‘Dhan Tehras’ (day to attract wealth) and people buy gold, silver or other precious things for their homes to welcome the Goddess of wealth – Laxmi.
The image of Dandiya dance in Pari’s collage above led us to Gujarat where this folk dance originated.
And that green doorway reminded of our recent trip to Nawalgarh in Rajasthan where we visited some ‘havelis‘ that had walls painted in such greens and had folk art all over.
We formed many more connections as we moved on: jaggery laddu (dessert) – winter food – flowers – rose petals – rangoli – home decor – paisley – purple – colour balance – my days of studying advertising and visual arts – ad making process….
Phew! This list is long.
We weren’t remotely thinking about the ‘subjects’ we covered in those connections or the aspects of a school-curriculum we may have learned.
But, we did learn a lot – back and forth, left and right, top and bottom, diagonal, tangential. The connections that our brains made, we couldn’t have found in any text book.
You see, one might wonder that we did nothing but cut and paste images for the past three days. But, if you would watch us like a fly on the wall, you’d see the learning connections we formed all along. It isn’t as if we were noisy and talkative most of the time. A lot of that art and collaging took place in silence and in being engrossed – in the art. But, the connections still happened, for the inquiring mind never ceased to be reminded of something – every now and then.
When we’re reminded of something, we make a connection. We learn about it and then it reminds of something else. We learn about that too. And we go on and on. Learning goes on, too.
Now, would you say making collage is a simple, linear act of art (just art)? Or, is it really a fun game of ‘tag’ that our brain plays and goes about making connections?
And, as you read this blog post, I’m sure you’d be making many ‘connections’ too!