teacher's blog

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Once Upon a Puppet

Puppet dudePuppet dudeIt's an amazing thing. The art teacher goes to the restaurant supply store, comes away with a thousand white paper bags (two sizes - one about kid lunch size and one a little smaller - just because) and whips one out in front of a group of short artists. I cheat a little, inserting my hand in such a way as to make a mouth of the folds with my fingers and ask in a theatrical, stage-whispery voice, "Whisper what you think of when you see a bag like this." Nearly every voice responds, "Puppets!" One literal child whispered, "Lunch" and another added, "Halloween candy!" but we have room for diverse opinions. There follows a brisk discussion about what kinds of figures make good puppets. Godzilla, my sister, dogs, cats, alligators, frogs, monsters are immediately offered up.

A perfect elephant - of the orange varietyA perfect elephant - of the orange varietyWe stop for the obligatory "Remember - you have lots of choices to make and we don't want to make anything that will frighten a small child, make your grandmother break out in hives, or get the art teacher fired." and go on.

Nearly everyone dives in. As soon as we talk about how many different tools are available to make puppets with, kids split off into drawing, painting, collage, and 3D construction and go to it. I realize that my gentle admonition to choose scrap paper (we have a small mountain of it - ANYthing is possible with this many choices...) is being ignored. Nothing brings out the environmentalist in me more than a giant (all things are relative) green sheet of construction paper with two tiny eyeballs cut out of the center.

Meow!Meow!I growl softly, quietly put the whole sheets somewhere safe from hungry scissors, and watch as the kids start to use their imaginations AND the scraps. Yea!

What puppets are born? I'm astounded at the diversity that comes from these imaginations. We have alligators, kittens, little sisters, grandmothers, pigs, cows, horses, frogs, dragons, giant insects with movable mouth parts, robots, butterflies, video game characters (sigh), devils, angels, snakes, birds, and several critters that simply defy description.

It's been a great week. and the best part? Several of my third graders have returned to ask for additional bags - they're putting together puppet shows to perform for each other in their regular classes. They're excited and having a great time and their teachers just smile. Busy, engaged kids make for a great last week of school.The best kind of pet rat - no kibble requiredThe best kind of pet rat - no kibble required

Mob sceneMob scene


Clay rocks!Clay rocks!It was time. Past time, actually. We've been busily arting in the centers that reflect the teacher's comfort level (you're surprised?) but something was whispering "clay, clay, clay, clay..." OK. It wasn't a whisper, it was Ricky. "When are we gonna do clay, Mz. J? Is this the week? Why can't we do clay? Did you know I'm good at clay? Is the kiln even still IN there, huh, huh?" The smile on his face when he came up early enough in the rotation to get first crack at the new center was a little smug. True to form, he dug right in.

It's a minimalist center, with a tub for "new" (nice, damp, fist-sized balls of clay,) a tub for used clay, twelve inch square boards of heavy-weight Masonite, foil pie tins that hold soggy paper towels for too-dry fingertips, and a recycled noodle cup with an assortment of tools. The rectangular table is a little low, and was pulled out from its storage hidey hole beneath the printing center. The height is perfect for K, 1st, and 2nd to stand, and the tall people (read: 4th and 5th) can sit to play with clay.Self portrait?Self portrait?

Why the simplicity? There are a couple of great reasons - one, the "work in progress" boxes line up on the back counter for current classes (our specialists do a two day in a row set, then switch, doing the first set of students again after eight days) but the shelves in my kiln room are full of similar boxes for the rest of our students. I'll find a solution for all the wonderful whozits and whatzits that are under construction, but for now, simple works. I also still have so much activity and so many centers that I wasn't really sure I needed to add another. Hmmmmm - a bit of consolidation? It's a thought.
World's widest smileWorld's widest smile

The trade-off for the kids is this: if you create something you really love, just let me know, I'll pull my camera out of my apron pocket, and we'll have a picture for posterity! Nobody has asked me yet what posterity is yet, but I'm hopeful.

The play has been glorious. We've had tanks, pizzas, nests with eggs and without, whole families, dinosaurs, birthday cakes, dice, Cyclops (then triclops, just because it got interesting), cookies, and chunks. Chunks are what happen when you take a putty knife and chop fresh clay into a bagillion (his term) perfect pieces. I've heard lots of rich language - in both Spanish and English, and had all but one group work together beautifully. The one exception was a group of fifth graders playing "Can you top this?" but I suspect Spring as much as anything. Who knew that clay play could get soooo loud?Full contact clayFull contact clay

As usual, my learning curve is steep, messy, and joyful. Things I've learned: Clay centers are never really clean. Zombie hands (one child plus a session with clay equals gray, cracked perfection) are double cool. Nicaraguan visitors are just like the rest of us - instantly eight years old again when they get to play with wet clay. And the best nugget? It's a familiar one that I love returning to: Kids learn best by messing with stuff, trying new ways of messing with stuff, and hanging out in a studio with their friends messing with stuff. Come on by - we'll share a lump or two!I made it!I made it!No, I *don't* know how I got clay in my hair, Mom!No, I *don't* know how I got clay in my hair, Mom!Horse loverHorse loverSerious concentrationSerious concentrationWant some pizza?Want some pizza?Es un monstruo, maestra.Es un monstruo, maestra.SatisfactionSatisfaction

A Drive-by Daffodilling

So many colors - so little time...So many colors - so little time...Take one moist (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all) spring, add fragile spring bulbs, a generous friend or two, and you have a drive by daffodilling. How does that work, you ask? Simply place a vase with bright flowers in the center of the painting center and turn the kids loose. Sometimes I like to sit with them, scribbling my own ideas onto rough paper and playing with endlessly fascinating layers of transparent color. Sometimes not. If kids are allowed to explore their own ideas of how to bring flowers to life, it's a cleaner, purer process.

This group was fairly quiet during their daffodil encounter. I heard soft voices as they discussed a bit of color and a bit of technique, but voices never rose above comfortable friendship. The different results were interesting. Two artists chose the splashy heaviness of undiluted tempera for their flowers and, as friends often do, shared more than a few strokes in common. The third chose quieter Watercolorist at workWatercolorist at workwatercolor from the Crayola pans/Prang refilles trays that are available in the center. I heard her thinking aloud about the differences between her painting and those of her friends and she was a little unsure whether she liked the result. My students are wise to my, "Tell me what you think about your piece." kinds of noises, and I sensed a desire from all three for a little more recognition of what they were doing. I'm a stubborn teacherperson, though, and I stuck to my guns (paint pots?) pointing out the specifics I saw: "You chose bright colors and wiggling lines here; I see the curve of the stem of the flower here; You decided to stress the outline with ink; You enlarged the flowers to give your picture strength." In that way I show that what they're doing impacts me but don't lay my values on top of their work before its finished. I also model the way we talk our way through the creative process sometimes.A flower capture in progressA flower capture in progress

The period is always too short. Without exception, there are howls of protest when I ring the cleanup bell, but their artwork is just like a snapshot of time. When these kiddos look at their pictures in coming years they'll remember this day, the friends who sat and painted beside them, and a little about the flowers that inspired them.

I'm certain the daffodils approve.

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