Most of the artists in Evergreen's art studio walk (dance/march/pirouette/boogie) into art class with an idea in their heads. I can see it behind their eyes some days - a kind of quiet focus that bespeaks of the pictures and planning that is going on in their heads. Some children trumpet their intentions, "Hey, Ms. J.! I'm gonna make a rainbow rocket today!" Others are less certain, or, because they come later in the choosing rotation that day, prefer to decide when they see what materials are available in the studio where they find themselves.
Collage offers an interesting view of a child artist's planning. Children walk around the table, sampling papers from the bins that are available. At the moment we have tubs of varied size with tissue paper, "beautiful papers" (recycled from the paint or print centers, these are brightly colored - think Eric Carle) a stacked plastic chest of paper drawers, separated by color families, a selection of small paper bags, rolls of wall paper and brightly colored cellophane, some greeting cards (I have them up high because they seem to kill creativity rather than encouraging it...) and one box of special paper - mylar balloon scraps, sparkly paper, fancy greeting paper and paper doilies. There is a tall bin of odd-sized cast off mat scraps from a local art gallery's framing business. Sometimes I have magazines and sometimes they are intentionally scarce. I want my students to balance the tendency to do simple collections ("Look! 35 cars!) with other aspects of color, layout, and balance in collage work.
When magazines are placed in the studio I control fairly tightly - National Geographic, nature magazines, sailing, sports, cars, Smithsonian and always, always "looked" first to cull images that are overtly salacious or that show too honestly the reality of war. Scissors? Yep. Straight, fancy edges, "Mom scissors," (I keep large craft scissors sharpened to serious edges and do LOTS of prep in their safe use) and multiples of kid scissors. For second grade and up, we have a couple of crimpers, too. I've gone through lots of How To Manage Glue Without Going Insane periods, and have hit on an idea I gleaned from a helpful colleague on the TAB Yahoo list. Glue pots are nothing fancier than cheap sponges cut to fit inside plastic containers with lids. I thin white school glue just a little and turn the kids loose with them. We've loved the result - far less mess, glue pot lids are finding their way closed during clean up and they stack neatly.
Back to our wandering artists... Children usually only take one turn through the materials before selecting a project and getting to work. Collage, more than any other medium, lends itself to arranging and rearranging elements before gluing things together. I'm intrigued with the variety of expression and simply love the peculiar personalities of some of the puppets that are born in this studio.
I'm amazed at the variation that marches/creeps/dances/floats/twirls into my art program with the new kindergarten class each year. Some of our ducklings have attended progressive pre-schools and some have been spending their time with siblings at home. Some children travel to visit extended family across the country, learning how airplanes and trains and long car trips, motels, and amusement parks work. Others know the joy of having close relatives in the next room or next door, or just across town. Some of our children have songs and fairy tales read to them even before they're born and some of them grow up with less deliberate soundtracks, no less rich, but designed for the adults in their lives.
Even though there are at least three languages in the room, we all have a couple of things in common. We all know what large expanses of white paper are for and we all love brightly colored crayons. And we all love our friends. One recent afternoon we talked about friends, I hugged Miss Nancy, my most faithful volunteer, the two of us hugged our trusty para educator friend, and we talked about who our friends are. We decided that lots of our friends were right here in our classroom but thought about friends in other places, too. We even decided that some of our brothers and sisters were friends.
And we drew.
And what does an art teacher learn from the drawings of five year olds? All things. Within children's drawings are their perceptions of their places within their families, their favorite things, their loves and fears, and their very selves. The developmental stages of children's artwork are well documented but I never tire of getting to know each of my students.
Here's your challenge: Take a look at these clever students and make a list of what they're looking for.
Active learners need quality tools. Spend your money wisely, but find the highest quality artists' materials you can for your students. Crayons and markers need to be vibrant, true to color, and fresh. Eight colors are never enough. Order a complete spectrum. That doesn't mean you'll always put all the colors out because inventing your own colors is a cool part of being an artist, but make sure the possibilities are there. Take the time to teach how to use Mom Scissors (those lovely, honking, huge things that really cut) and make sure we use the correct names for the tools. Brayers, triangles, protractors, rotary cutters, and linoleum knives aren't mysteries if they're in common use by all the artists in the room.
Anticipate questions and make sure the answers are developmentally and second language learner appropriate. When I introduce the tools in the drawing center, I'll demo colored pencils, pass out hand sharpeners and have the kids compare the shavings with those of a graphite pencil. They'll be able to feel the waxy texture and understand why colored pencils kill off electric sharpeners. We'll practice borrowing and lending pencils in Spanish and English, setting the tone for a respectful classroom with please and thank you.
I LOVE thinking about the next project, planning for materials and thinking about how I'll put something together. So do my kids. Their job is to show up at art, alert and ready to work. My job is to assemble the materials they need, provide the lessons that their interests have shown me they need, and get out of the way. Artists need to be able to experiment, to try new ideas, and to fail. The coolest learning comes from rescuing a construction disaster, discovering a new texture in a puddle of wandering paint, or watching how a friend solves a similar problem.
Kids might argue with this one, because learning how to keep an art studio clean and making it ready for the next group of artists is a bit of a pain. It's complicated, because cleaning lessons are part controlling chaos, part doing one's share of work in the studio, part learning to be a part of a learning community, part using resources wisely, and part planning for the next session. Couple that complexity with the reality that some artists are tidy and some are pack rats, (this is *not* the place to make a comment about the teacher) some have families that teach responsibility to little ones and some don't, and there are varied systems in their regular classrooms. No matter the habits that artists bring to our shared studio - we all gain a sense of pride when we learn to work together.
All of us have snug areas of comfort with our art schema. Symbol drawings (hearts, rainbows, puffy flowers, and even symbols like Kilroy) have been shared and practiced whenever people gather since people started making marks on their world. We learn about symmetry, patterns, and replicating detail when we practice our favorite symbols. There's a real sense of community when children teach a special pattern to each other and a sense of accomplishment as its honed and practiced over and over. The tricky part is creating a safe place to try something other than those favorite patterns. That's one of the most important art teacher jobs - sharing a wide variety of materials and techniques designed to pique a child's interest. Yes, we have lots of choice in what to make in studio. No, it's not OK to make your fourteenth pair of binoculars with cardboard toilet paper rolls. You can trust me to nudge you into trying other things.
Learning about pattern, color, sequence, engineering, and properties of matter while playing with paint, clay, fiber, beads, and melted crayons - what could be better? Developing organizational skills, forming friendships and practicing a second (or third) language while stacking blocks, making books or researching animals for drawings is endlessly entertaining. Children are naturally curious and love acquiring new skills. An art studio is one of the best places on the planet to grow.
We'll be seeing you around!