A Day With David Macaulay
By Beth Wise, Music Specialist and Head Teacher
Last October, Helen Bing hosted award-winning author and illustrator David Macaulay to spend a day at Bing Nursery School. His well-known and well-loved books have garnered many awards including the prized Caldecott Medal. Macaulay’s Angelo provided inspiration for the Italian theme of our well-attended and successful Harvest Moon Auction held in November 2003.
During his daylong visit at Bing, Macaulay met with staff, visited the classrooms and in the evening gave a presentation to families. He spent time in each classroom; he worked at the writing tables using the same basic materials available to the children. Interested children gathered around him, fascinated, as he casually talked about his books while he drew, cut and assembled small shapes along with the children. Thomas, a child in West room, worked side-by-side with artist Macaulay as together they drew a door to a castle. The experience stayed with the child: He recalled months later, “I remember when David Macaulay came. We made a castle picture. It had those doors that open and close. I like drawing things, too,” said Thomas.
In Macaulay’s meetings with the teaching staff, he described his early childhood in England and how his family’s daily life provided the creativity, hard work and self-direction, which are so evidenced in Macaulay’s detailed and intriguing books.
“We lived in a small house with no TV and I grew up surrounded by things being made, often, and out of necessity,” Macaulay remembered. “There was a process and creation that I observed whether my dad was making something out of wood or my mother was making clothes. I understood that things were made in a particular way out of common materials and if you’re going to make it, make it right! I was either lost in my own imagination or outside making things.”
Macaulay shared observations about the Bing environment with the staff. “When I came here,” he said, “I saw that the ceilings are 20-feet high … and when you go outside, there is an irrelevant distinction between inside space and outside space and that is amazing. The transitions are so soft and there is a wonderful fluidity that is magnificent. It must make these children extremely comfortable because they do seem very comfortable.”
Macaulay was delighted to see the use of basic materials that both stimulate children’s creativity and provide an open-ended medium for self-expression. The chance to work with simple materials like pencils, manila paper, scissors, tape and glue inspires children to invent, express ideas, and also revisit their work to improve and modify it.
Macaulay agreed with the Bing approach and said that it is truly a gift for children to have time and basic materials available for creativity, discovery and invention. His own creative process was influenced by repetition and the desire to understand internally, for himself. He said, “I write for myself. I write because I get interested in an idea, interested in a concept. I get really curious and want to learn as much as possible. Part of the way I learn is by drawing. I draw until I understand it. If I can’t draw it, it means that I can’t understand it yet, so I do it again.” The staff acknowledged that same principle applies as our children practice basic skills at the writing table and do this repeatedly over time gaining mastery and understanding.
Macaulay admits he doesn’t write specifically for children, yet they are drawn to his books. “What includes children is the strong visual component of my drawings. Since I learn through drawing, I also teach through drawing. Although there is an educational reason for each of those images, there’s often a playful perspective or point of view … which makes the teaching more likely to get through.”
The day’s visit ended with a slide presentation for Bing children and their families. Macaulay shared many of his extraordinary illustrations as well as some drafts. The audience also got a sneak preview of his newest book Mosque. Many families stayed after the event to talk with Macaulay, informally sharing their appreciation for his work.