the mermaid, the girl and the book

My five-year-old friend Mimi loved to draw. That's all she really loved to do.
Hmmm, let me be more clear: Mimi really really loved drawing mermaids.

Mermaid, by Mimi.
Really loved drawing mermaids.

Mimi would draw mermaids on everything. Sometimes, it would be one rather large mermaid that would fit on one whole paper. Sometimes a whole school of mermaids, looking quite similar yet with just a slight swish of tail difference in each one, would be across many many papers.

Mimi's challenge in class, however, was that she really couldn't be bothered with making friends. She would prefer to be alone, drawing mermaids, even if other children would ask her to join in their play. After a while, the children stopped asking, and Mimi kept on drawing mermaids.

The challenge as a teacher is to uplift the gift of drawing to which Mimi was already devoted and also to 'draw' Mimi into the class social culture.

At the time in our 4s/5s classroom, each of the children had their own blank spiral notebook call a Morning Book. They would use these as their own drawing book, using any page, upside down or backwards, crayons, pens, any images, crazy doodle, whatever they wanted. We used our Morning Books during arrival time - children could choose their Book to draw, or build in the block area, or read a book until parents departed. Mimi would usually choose her book to draw more mermaids, yet she would often sit at an empty table to be alone.

I decided to start using our Morning Books during other times in class, creating some small group experiences based around drawing and using descriptor language. Twice a week for about a month, we had Free Drawing time where groups of four to six children could lay on the floor in a circle with their own Morning Book and drawing tools to share.

As the groups began, I would slowly start making observations about how children used color, or how their line swooped this way, or how some images were small or tall. I would start asking open ended questions "wondering about this area" on someone's paper, or "curious about those lines near the top" of someone's page, or "seems like some of those letters are part of your name?" to someone else.

This Free Draw time was a no-assignment, no-direction, open time for children to use their Books, feel cozy laying on the floor, and to offer comments or remarks about what they might be exploring in their own books. 
"I am making a storm with all the colors."
"Here is a rainbow with a butterfly and two flowers under it."
"This castle has a knight guarding it."

Over the weeks, Mimi - surprisingly - became very comfortable with her peer group. She easily and quickly became the expert mermaid drawer and friends wanted ideas as to how to try to make a mermaid just like Mimi. She would tell children about the colors she liked for mermaids, how the head was looking straight, how the tail was tricky because it was sideways but "just do it like this..."- and Mimi would swoosh out a tail on her own paper to demonstrate.

Mimi gave gifts of mermaid art to all her friends, including me.
There is a deep felt joy when you see - SEE  - a child become a friend. It is powerful and almost unexplainable.

In early childhood, when you make a friend it is solid and true and dependable. It was as though in one flash Mimi had friends, was a friend and was eager to be part of a bigger world to share her love of mermaids.


  1. This story made me cry - Mimi reminds a little bit like my own lovely girl who often finds it easier to be busy in her own imaginative world than negotiating her way through social interaction. What a wonderful, observant teacher you must be. (just popped over from Childhood 101)

  2. @Sarah - Thank you for sharing your connection with Mimi :) Isn't it wonderful to see children BE who they are and love what they are doing? To be happy to work independently is a gift to one's self - your daughter and Mimi are both lucky!


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