Whose Studio is This, Anyway?
One 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. 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.
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. 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.