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Insider: Self Portraits and Self Discovery in the Little School

Young Toddler teacher and Education Coordinator Stephanie Petronelli reflects on how our littlest learners discover themselves through the Little School curriculum in this guest blog post. 

At Little School, we are reflecting back on a fun-filled year and looking ahead to an exciting time to be a Little Schooler. Our youngest learners–ages six weeks through three years old–are learning about self-identity and their place in the world around them. This starts with an infant spotting their reflection in a nearby mirror and pointing to their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, and leads to a deeper discussion about self-love and what makes each one of us beautiful in our own way. 

A self-portrait is a bold, intimate declaration of identity. In a self-portrait, a child offers themselves as both artist and subject. When we look at a self-portrait, we see how the child views themselves at that point in–in lines, collages, paints, or words. The story of self-portrait work is an important one to tell. 

Infants are not yet capable of understanding that they are separate entities. We provide opportunities for babies to observe their own reflections in mirrors and interact with their peers. These simple activities promote the development of self-awareness in our littlest children as they scoot and crawl to get a closer look at, what they learn to be, their own reflection.

As the children grow into Yearlings, generally two things happen: they develop an awareness of themselves as individuals and experience an explosion of expressive language. A favorite activity in the Yearling Room is finding and naming body parts… over and over and over. 

Our Young Toddlers are invited to use a mirror to recreate their faces as their first self-portrait at the Little School. This scribble celebrates the child’s ability to create on their own canvas with pencil and paper. This unit continues with identifying and naming body parts and discovering the power of each of our senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch) as our toddlers explore the exciting world around them. 

The Older Toddlers work on self-identity throughout the year. Our toddlers are learning what makes them unique in many ways, from thinking about their roles in their community (i.e. child, sibling, classmate) to examining their favorite foods. A favorite project at this age is the life-size body tracing that the children each decorate as they choose. 

Finally, the Beech Tree class focuses on self-portrait work each year. Every month the children work on a new form of self-expression: ink drawings, collages from found objects, paintings, and interviews are some of the methods that have been explored. Throughout the year each child will find at least one approach that truly speaks to them. 

At Little School we celebrate each child and the joy they bring to our school.