The logo for the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota is the work of a young child ”Vang”. Vang came to a classroom in a metropolitan district as a four year old, a new American who had never been in a school setting. His teachers learned that he had severe hearing impairment, and as a result had little facility with Hmong, his home language. His interactions with other children reflected his difficulty with communication: he would grab, hit, bite and scratch in order to obtain a toy or material. He required a great deal of support from the teachers to manage his behavior.
A study of Monarch caterpillars captured Vang’s attention and imagination. Vang spent extended periods of time examining the creatures, paying attention to the minute changes in their appearance. While he was not able to describe what he noticed with language, he began to use a variety of materials: paper, paint, pen and construction materials to form likenesses of the caterpillars in their changing phases. His teachers could see what he noticed and understood through his work.
As Vang studied the Monarchs, his teachers saw changes in his behavior. He slowed down. He began to look at the adults in his world more carefully. He also began to observe the social behavior and communication going on in the classroom.
While the classroom study of the butterflies ended after their release, 6 weeks later, Vang’s study continued far longer. He drew butterflies for months, as though seeking to perfect this topic, which revealed him as a competent member of the classroom.
In December, the teacher organized a family “Monarch Celebration.” Families came and viewed a slide show describing the work of the children and their relationships with the Monarchs. Vang’s mother, who is also deaf, attended. When she saw the images and work of her son on the screen, she cried. Later, she explained through sign language that she worried that because Vang is deaf, that he might never be able to learn.
Now she knows differently. She could see how much he was learning because of his paintings, drawings and constructions. She assured the teacher she was weeping with joy.
That spring, Vang received his first hearing aides. His face lit up as he listened to every voice and sound in the classroom. He began learning Hmong and English simultaneously. Soon he attempted to communicate verbally with his teachers. As might be expected, his first spoken words related to his great passion, the butterflies, even though they had not been present in the classroom for the last three months.
Then again, through Vang’s continued drawings, they had been part of the classroom all along.