Kindergarteners Explore Identity Through Body Maps

Over the past few months, Kindergarteners at New Canaan Country School have been immersed in an interdisciplinary study of identity culminating with a Body Map Exhibit last week. Through read alouds, discussions, scientific experiments, art, music, movement, theater and play, students built a vocabulary with which to discuss themselves and others.
Throughout the course of the project, students created “body maps,” which are essentially self portraits of both the outside as well as the inside of each student. As they learned about various parts of their physical bodies, they would add another piece to their maps: first skin, then hair, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and finally, clothing. Later in the unit, they studied about their interior selves: thoughts, feelings, preferences and personal characteristics. To begin, each student painted a full sheet of paper with a shade of brown to match his or her skin tone.

Expert visitors from the parent and faculty community enriched the project by adding their expertise. Physical Education teachers taught the Kindergarteners about their skeletal structures. Middle School Administrative Assistant Brenda Friedman taught the students about American Sign Language. Assistant Director of Admission Kathy Steinman shared about her cochlear implants and the difference between being deaf versus hard of hearing. Lindsay Frey, Middle School science teacher and her students talked to the children about the muscles in the hand and how the muscles work together to move each finger. Other “experts’ included a clothing designer, yoga teacher, veterinarian and lawyer.

By the end of this portion of the project, the students had a rich scientific vocabulary that included words like melanin, elastin, pupil, sclera, cornea, iris, pigmentation and epidermis.

After completing an exterior “map,” or self portrait, the teachers asked the students: How much can you tell about a person by looking at them?

“They come up with a good list, but it’s never more than 10 things,” explained Kindergarten teacher Jess McKinney, who brought the Body Maps project to Country School three years ago when she joined the faculty. “So I ask them, ‘How can you get to know someone more?’ And we talk about feelings, family, favorites, ability and all of the things we can’t see. Then we brainstorm ways that we might get to know someone better.”

Over the course of the study, teachers ask students first to connect — by finding similarities among their peers or the characters in the stories they read together — and then to celebrate that which makes us each unique. Each class reads aloud the book We Are All Alike, We Are All Different, which was written by a Kindergarten class in the early ’90s. The students then create Venn diagrams showing the overlap of their own connections, whether through their physical appearances or personalities. For example, a similarity may be that they are all Kindergarteners, and a difference could be that one student is particularly good at telling jokes.

As the work unfolded, each week two children shared something about themselves with the class. They completed a packet at home with their families that posed questions such as: What is the origin of my name? Where is my birthplace? What are my favorites? What do I want to be when I grow up?

After each child shared their Who Am I? packet with their classmates, the children turned their attention to their feelings in order to create an interior map that explored their emotions and senses more deeply. Students drew upon lessons by School Psychologist Rebecca Comizio and their understanding of the “mood meter,” a tool from the RULER curriculum developed at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, in which each quadrant (red, yellow, green and blue) helps students to visualize and label their feelings and understand the connection between energy and pleasantness. The students either wrote or shared aloud about their own feelings and then painted them. For example, one student wrote: “When I feel angry I feel it in my eyes and my fists.”  Another painted yellow on the face of his interior portrait and wrote: “I feel excited to go to school and I smile.”

When the students finally unveiled their Body Maps to their parents and others in the community, they served as docents skillfully fielding questions about the science of their bodies, as well as artfully explaining the four quadrants of the mood meter and the many ways to get to know the inside of a person.

“Through this year long study, our Kindergarten teachers are able to introduce important facts and skills which help the children to expand their understanding of self and other,” shared Beth O’Brien, Head of Early Childhood. “This expanded knowledge in turn creates deep connections which strengthens our community.”

Recommended Reading List
We Are Together – Britta Teckentrup
We Are All Alike… We Are All Different – Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergarteners
Same, Same but Different – Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Be Who You Are – Todd Parr
I’m Like You, You’re Like Me – Cindy Gainer
All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold
Remarkably YOU – Pat Zietlow Miller
The Little Red Stroller – Joshua Furst
A Rainbow of Friends – P.K. Hallinan
Whoever You Are – Mem Fox
Because  - Mo Willems
It’s Okay to Be Different – Todd Parr
Last Stop on Market Street – Matt de la Peña
Lovely – Jess Hong
Most People – Michael Leannah
We’ve Got the Whole World In Our Hands – Rafael López
One Day So Many Ways – Laura Hall
Why Am I Me? – Paige Britt
This Is How We Do It – Matt Lamothe
The Way We Work – David Macaulay
The Sense of Sight – Blastoff Reader
Eye How It Works – David Macaulay
Where did you get the color of your eyes? – Baby Professor
Eyes and Ears – Seymour Simon
Black, White, Just Right! – Marguerite W. Davol
The Skin You Live In – Michael Tyler
Shades of People – Shelley Rotner
Skin Again – bell hooks
Happy In Our Skin – Fran Manushkin
All The Colors We Are – Katie Kissinger
Straight Hair, Curly Hair – Augusta Goldin
Eyes and Ears – Seymour Simon
The Sense of Hearing – Blastoff Reader