Very large things contrast with the things around them and grab your attention. My mentor, Jearnine Wagner, was a genius in applying this knowledge to create unforgettable lessons. She was my teacher and the director of the Ideas In Motion Program at the Baylor Theatre where I attended afterschool classes from age 9 to 17.
To help us understand ancient Greek drama, she would take us to the (huge for a child) Baylor football stadium. Half of us went to the top of the stadium and half stayed on the field. Those on the field were to convey an emotion to those at the top. We soon realized that we must use very loud voices and our entire bodies—small sounds and gestures would be lost. To show anger, for example, one might stand with legs apart, lift fists and shoot them up and down as if fighting with the clouds while growling and yelling. Later when we studied how the Greeks used giant masks with megaphones inside, huge platform shoes and long draping material, it all made sense! They needed to make themselves as large as possible to clearly communicate to an amphitheater audience.
Size is important not just to drive home a lesson, but also to empower even young students to see their ideas amplified. As a teenager, I was Ms Wagner’s assistant in the afterschool classes, “Ideas in Motion.” Some of my duties included helping younger children in this regard. Once I was given a 6” paper doll created by a kindergartener and asked to reproduce it by scaling it up to 6’ and cutting it from plywood with a jigsaw. Another student had written a play called “Zing!” and wanted giant-sized spirals hanging from the ceiling as her set. I covered and hung them for her. And so on. Although we did not realize it at the time we were actually creating what Vygotsky called a “Zone of Proximal Development,” wherein a child can operate at a higher level than his development level dictates with a little adult assistance.
In our New World Kids (NWK) Program for young children, we continue this tradition of empowerment, using both digital tools and traditional materials. Young children are asked to find light, spaces, lines and other elements in the world around them. They are too young to draw or articulate well what they see. We help them take pictures that represent their point of view and then we project them up giant-sized on a wall to further inspire their investigations and creative thinking. Below are two other size examples from related afterschool classes created by Kelly Jarrell with elementary students. In one the children created “Me Papers” by decorating a life-sized outline of themselves. In the other, they studied ecosystems by creating their own room-sized environments—like this one that recreates the world in the tall grass from an insect’s viewpoint.