It is a tradition at St. John's, and in the schools of Reggio Emilia, that each child chooses a symbol that will represent them during their three years here. We know that this is a meaningful choice for for the child and their families/(alumni) siblings, as the symbols, and the children's association with them, usually lasts well beyond their time at St. John's.
Why do we use symbols?
Symbols are a form of communication -- communication through imagery and the written word. Emergent literacy encompasses children's ability to read images (illustrations, photographs, collaged imagery, etc.) and symbols (abstract, geometric design, or representational), and these often precede reading words. "The symbols children choose become one of many symbol systems they will use over the course of three years as they learn letters, numbers, colors, and explore 'the hundred languages'. The symbols are found throughout the school and they become part of the child's context, a familiar reference that makes the environment reflect the choice of each child" (Ann Lewin-Benham, Author). The children come to value, and even love, their symbols.
We introduced the symbol drawer, and Elyse shared her symbol with the group. They were enthusiastic to use it and stamped it all over their papers. Then, we found a piece of paper that had Adaline's brother's symbol on it (Wilder from Tucker Room).
Do you all have a symbol? - Elyse
"Noooooo...I need a symbols." - Eliza, 2.10 years
"I need a symbol too." - Adaline, 2.11 years
Where and when do we use symbols at school?
We started by touring the school to look for symbols -- where can we find them around school?
In each small group, the children took some time to look at all of the available symbols and then began experimenting with them by stamping them on paper. Some children chose quickly, while others took more time to test out a few of the symbols. Most of the children were very definitive in their choices:
"I think that's my heart symbol." - Eliza, 2.10 years
"I want the ball." - Win, 3.2 years
Using our symbols
Once the children had chosen their symbols, we brought the symbol box to morning meeting. They were very excited to see their symbols, and everyone quickly found their own.
We put the symbols in several places throughout the school: Cubbies, cubby bag tags, portfolio drawers, mailboxes, documentation, and the children begin to use it for their work. The symbols will be used in many ways and in many places throughout their three years at St. John's.
The children have been talking about their symbols, and even identifying other children's symbols. The message center is always a wonderful place to use the symbols, and it's where we keep the symbol drawer. In this area, "the symbols take on an active life that propels them into a more complex form of representation [...and] socially, they are the means for connections with one's friends [and family]" (Ann Lewin-Benham, Author).
We still have two more children who will choose their symbols soon. We'll update you all when the entire class has chosen!
We'd love to hear what your children are sharing at home about their symbol. Are they talking about them? Describing them? Asking to use them? If they have an alum sibling, have you overheard any conversations about the symbols? It's always wonderful to hear the children's thoughts from their conversations at home. Please feel free to share them at drop-off or via an email!