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Beady-Eyed Wonders

The beading queen!The beading queen!You’d think we’d never had beads, buttons or pipe cleaners in the Evergreen studios before. They’ve been there all along, but the silly art teacher had been rationing them so tight that they positively squeaked. What self respecting artist can craft anything out of three beads, I ask you? So – after gathering some courage from one of the clever TAB list members (thanks, Diane!) I decided to reorganize the beads and buttons mess and create (drum roll, please…) Sparkly Things! The phrase is reminiscent of both a crow in an animated film during my daughters’ childhoods and the habit of the youngest one who, when presented with a smorgasbord of offerings at the big Albuquerque flea market, went straight to the shiniest plastic silliness she could find.

Only part of the message for the artists this week was about where the Sparkly Things could be found. We also talked about measuring a scoop of beads or buttons for each project and why that kind of conservation is even necessary. The technical term for this is "holding my mouth right."The technical term for this is "holding my mouth right."I remind them gently that nearly 500 artists use these studios and most “get” the concept of sharing. A physical demonstration of how much “stuff” tablespoon scoop holds is a good math reinforcement, and the practice in sorting and categorizing is valuable, too. (“These beads are too small for my yarn, Ms. J. Would you buy some skinnier stuff, please?”)

There’s an amazing variety of approaches to using Sparkly Things. We have traditional necklaces and bracelets, of course, strung on plastic lanyard-type of stuff or stretchy strung, but we also have twisty pipe cleaners (“Why is it called that? “ comes from children who are at least two generations from their great grandpas’ pipes) and a whole host of collage applications. Big grandma jacket buttons make marvelous steering wheels in the 3D Construction center and a few embryonic stuffed animals have actual button eyes. (“Are you SURE this is the way buttons are sewn on, Ms. J.? This is hard!”) I’m hoping that some of the Native American children try some of the beautifulI took a serious picture of this crew but liked this one better.I took a serious picture of this crew but liked this one better. panel/blanket work that is part of the Skokomish or Squaxin traditions but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ll get in contact with my colleague who works in Indian Education and see if she’ll do a fly by to jiggle loose some of those ideas.

In the meantime, bead on!These artists are so intent they've forgotten they have chairs!These artists are so intent they've forgotten they have chairs!I know exactly where to put these beads.I know exactly where to put these beads.
Creative friendsCreative friends

Kindergarten Artists

Satisfied artistSatisfied artistAmong my colleagues at Evergreen are several masters of the "laying down good habits early in the year results in increased success in everything later" mode of teaching. I have watched the magic these folks create for years in many settings. Their classroom footprint and choice of grade level vary widely but they share a few traits that I love to implement. I hear softened voices - deliberately lower so that high, pipey voices have to get quieter to hear. I see patient smiles and hear gentle requests, always followed by specific praise given to children who are sitting and listening, sharing their space gently, or simply doing what the teacher needs to see. Many of my she/heroes use music to impart instructions, too. Who can miss a direction when it arrives in the form of Old MacDonald sung softly?Woo hoo - it's my tiny, tiny snake!Woo hoo - it's my tiny, tiny snake!

My challenge: Design ways for up to 25 five year old artists to explore media (translation: splash paint, pummel clay, print on everything that moves, and collage with the enthusiasm only a short person can muster) simultaneously. Added difficulty - sometimes there will be a talented volunteer but most classes will just be kinderpeople and me. Additional challenge - add all the Spanish language art and behavior vocabulary so lessons can be understood by 50% of the children who are still monolingual in that tongue. Little ones are happy to help me when I find holes in my fluency, so that's another joy.

Late October found us beginning to look like "big kids" as we could listen a little, get our materials (mostly) gathered together at cleanup time ("Listen to my marker click, Art Teacher!") and, sometimes, even stop "arting" when it was time to go back to our classrooms. It was time. We'd been talking about almost being ready for big kid centers for quite a while and it was time to split into groups and get to it! First we practiced standing around the mini-studios with ears wide open, eyes on the teacher person, and hands in pockets. I demonstrated how "big kids" write their names on both sides of their papers. Sometimes we not only "paint softly like butterfly wings," but create the real thing.Sometimes we not only "paint softly like butterfly wings," but create the real thing.Then we see how to use watercolor brushes (a wise TAB colleague suggested telling children to paint as gently as one would stroke a butterfly wing) to hydrate the paint and lay it gently on paper. We all watched (voice still low with lots of drama - reality TV has nothing on me!) as I carefully rinsed my brush and changed colors. We seriously re-placed our hands in pockets (odd, how they escape) and moved to the drawing center for more big kid information.

We're serious crayon melters.We're serious crayon melters.The drawing center is full of all sorts of wonderfullness. THIS is where you find the markers, crayon pastels, a zillion pencils, and everyone's favorite - the melted crayon trays. Safety is crucial around the trays. Children watch as I show them the hard plastic sides of the trays (old warming trays from the thrift stores) that are safe to touch. We practice licking fingers that are too hot and blowing on them to cool them off. The extra safety precautions are well worth the intensity of bright, melted wax in the children's pictures. They all love the feel of the heated colors as they flow onto the heavy construction paper.If a little strength is good in the print center, more is even better!If a little strength is good in the print center, more is even better!

Hands firmly replaced in pockets, we move to the print center. Bright, curious eyes take in every detail and dart to take in the all important tools: paper, stamps, sponges, paint-covered sheets of acrylic, and brayers to spread our ink (thinned tempera... shhhhh.) Independence is important to all artists, and these are no exception. They watched as I squeezed open a large clip and showed them how to hang their prints to dry.

The teacher noise at the small clay center is blissfully minimal. Children are intuitive sculptors and the moist balls of gray clay call to them. They need nothing more than time, a table, and lots of clay with which to explore. There will be time later in the year to talk about joining, planning for thickness, and how to create things that will survive firing. For today, though, we'll just share the fun of clay with our friends.

Collage needs little explanation. We've practiced lots of the techniques we'll use as we've practiced following directions and gotten lots of practice with cutting and gluing. I showed them where their favoriteDeep in thought, collage artists cut and paste.Deep in thought, collage artists cut and paste. colored paper scraps are and we reminded ourselves where we can find scissors, glue sticks, markers and colors, and fancy papers. Let the flurry of cutting begin!

Back on the rug, sitting "criss-cross," we gleefully receive our studio assignments for the day and literally fly to get to work. Kinderart - the most powerful force on the planet!

This stuff is cold and gooshy, Ms. J.This stuff is cold and gooshy, Ms. J.


Whose Studio is This, Anyway?

Proud homeownerProud homeownerOne of the most interesting facets of TAB Teaching For Artistic Behavior is the flexibility of materials. Rather than whole-class lessons that guide children through steps that result in a similar product, the studios in a TAB room are designed to meet the needs of a wide range of age and ability. Given the resources in our 3-D Construction center, a seven year old makes decisions about his creation that make sense for his age and experience. If he's had access to lots of toys that encourage building and using his imagination, his approach to today's artwork will reflect that. Factor in attitudes he's seen modeled by family and friends, and he's likely to mimic creativity and will put together complex designs that suit his seven year old artist ego. Developmentally, he is exploring his world and using skills like gluing, taping, and balancing his design in a perfectly seven year old way. Builders in the block center we added this week do the same thing. I'm one with my structure.I'm one with my structure.Working alone or with a friend, children learn to manipulate blocks in ways that become increasingly complex.
With each design refinement, something is learned, tucked away for next time, and artistic growth is layered on top of previous learning.
Weavers and friendsWeavers and friends

What is different in the problem solving approach of a fifth grade student? Four years makes quite a bit of difference in complexity. Because ten year olds have encountered more long-term projects, they're generally more patient about the need to spend more than a single session (or more) working on a creation. Examples of specialization abound: miniature bedroom models with tiny, fringed rugs and details like notebooks and pencils on dresser tops (for elfin homework, perhaps?) A fifth grader is more likely to try to negotiate for materials that aren't yet displayed in the center ("Ms. J - is it OK if I go through the donation box?" or "Could you pull up a picture of ___ from Google images so I can add it to my plane?") or to request some hot glue to be applied to affix a tricky plastic. She's also more likely to use a variety of materials from other centers, like swatches of material from Fabric Arts for a bedspread, rice paper from Collage for a Trading Spaces-style wall covering, or aluminum foil from my corner kitchen for a solar roof.

I'm fascinated with the difference that developmental stages make of in children's artwork. Deep concentrationDeep concentration The wild freedom of broad, swinging strokes of kindergärtners gives way to the more thoughtful details of a nine year old's single-minded focus on Spider Man. The variety of work that pours forth from the centers is also enriched by the way our artists learn from each other. Since it's October, kids are trying out all sorts of schema related to Halloween, Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) and a few fall themes. Part of freedom in studio choice is the joy of growing into new project ideas. Discussions are rich as children compare techniques in drawing and enlarging figures, try to predict color mixing experiments, and share clever new approaches to texture and shape. The painting center went through an amazing amount of black during a third grade focus (obsession?) on skulls last week. My favorite quote: "I'm the expert on these skulls, Ms. J, in case you wonder why they all look so cool." I just smile and pour more black tempera into the tray. I love watching professionals at work.
Classic kinder grinClassic kinder grin

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