Inside the Atelier – Learning About: Me

Beginning School Investigates Their Curiosity About Self

By Rixa Evershed, Beginning School Director and Avery Wittstruck, Atelierista

Every child has an individual story. Our job is to help them write their story, facilitating learning to fill in the detail, color and texture of their story. These details of each child’s story are rooted in their identity. Answering the question, “Who am I?”, is a lifelong pursuit. Seeking those answers often starts with looking in the mirror and discovering that person who is looking back. Why are my eyes blue? My hair is curly but theirs is straight. I am taller than you are, why? You like oranges, but they taste strange to me. In my home we celebrate the Solstices, you celebrate Hanukkah. I have a dog, you have horses and goats, and so on.

Any of these statements may be true for an individual child. From a broader sense, family contributes heavily to a child’s individual story. Each child’s detail, color and texture is given context through their learning about what their family finds important, chooses to celebrate, and simply the ways in which they choose to live every day. Children are full of questions about the world around them. They notice nuanced differences between each other. Family pictures in the classroom open a window to other cultures, family structures, traditions, and identity. When children notice these differences, we share in their wonder, validate their curiosity, and answer based on what we notice as well.

The CWA Inclusion Statement is a foundational document to our classroom and atelier pedagogy. Everyone is welcome here. One of the first observations we often witness is different skin tones. Our physical appearance is deeply tied to our identity and something everyone notices. Children are deeply curious about the nuances of skin tone and color, often very aware of both subtle and bigger differences. We sit with children and support their noticing. We may look deeper at our individual characteristics while we do self-portrait work. This week in the atelier begins the next iteration. Our own skin tone paint.

In the atelier this week, the Red Cedar and Maple classrooms investigated a part of their identity by representing their individual skin color in a paint mixture. The children all began with the same paint in their jar: brown. The brown paint represents melanin, the pigment we all have in our skin. The table contained the jars with brown paint, white and brown paint in large squeeze bottles, and red and yellow paint in smaller squeeze bottles to represent the undertones of our unique skin. By carefully selecting tones and undertones, thoughtfully squeezing paint into their jar, and checking against their skin, the children ended our session with a jar full of paint that felt like them.

Most interesting, though, was the conversation that floated up from this identity work: who am I? Who are you? Who are we in relation to one another? Our similarities shone as we all used the same four ingredients, and our individuality was demonstrated in each of our very unique end products. The most powerful moment was toward the end of our session, when the children brought their jar up to be capped, each child confidently stating “this color feels like me,” and reverently praising their classmates’ work. The foundations for classroom community and identity have begun.


“It is beautiful to see children observing themselves using mirrors and photographs, followed by creating a self-portrait. Throughout the process children can explore facial expressions and artistically depict concepts such as ‘a brain that is happy’, ‘sad hands that are closed’, and ‘eyes are shaped like a puddle'”. -Malaguzzi and Musatti