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!
Twenty one days and eleven hours, give or take the amount of time it takes to capture this post - and children will once again fill the hallways of Evergreen Elementary School. I can't wait. There are a million things to do to get ready for students, and many are in progress.
A partial "to do" list:
- Set up drawing and collage centers (I'll use those two as demos for reinforcement on classroom standards and cleanup routines.)
- Put together sketchbooks for each child (I ordered plastic binder spines and card stock and have a couple of volunteers chomping at the bit to help.)
- Create this year's revision of my classroom brochure.
- Review and revise my renderings of WA art standards
- Complete the idea binders for each studio. The photos I've selected are tucked away on my desktop in folders labeled for each media, but they need to be collected in printable sheets with appropriate text and assembled in plastic sheet protectors.
- Put together the schedule for the first month of school - it's traditional for our team leader to do this task and it's my turn to lead this year.
- Rescue all the clay creations that were fired at the end of last year and re-label them for this year's class assignments. It's time to glaze and admire!
- Cut out new kid aprons from the heavy-duty plastic I picked up at JoAnn's - maybe I can reinforce the necks with book tape? Bias tape stitched on? Hmmmm...
- Create new class lists for my studio choice charts.
- Stash and organize all the odds and ends collected over the summer from the thrift stores - wooden beads from ancient holiday garlands, two new warming trays for melted crayons, fabric remnants, wooden spools, toys and oddities for the realia collection - how deep are the layers in the trunk of my car?
- Finish cutting out and sewing the tops to match the new teacher skirts.
- Of utmost importance: Sit in the middle of the room and allow for some unencumbered thinking time. In order for the muses to visit, one must clear a space.
What Joyce is *actually* doing:
Making spiffy new aprons! Woo hoo! (OK - you and I both know that there's a lot of planning and prep that happens in the background during sewing and other artistic endeavors, but I really need to get into my classroom and get some of these things done. I can't wait!!!
The aprons I wear serve several purposes. The first set I did a couple of years ago were sewn from a design borrowed from my favorite Cost Plus apron. It's held up for 15 years of "regular" classroom use and is a simple, drop over the head, tie behind the waist model. I found medium weight canvas and decorated one with six or seven dragonflies rendered with fabric markers. The other was a little sillier and featured primary colored acrylic, "splatted" over the entire front of the apron. They have big pockets (of course!) that hold my box cutter, the remote for the classroom stereo, a small bell, and a small handful of "caught you being good" coins and some stickers. Kids love the aprons. We talk about what their favorite insects are, how I chose the colors for the designs, where to find pictures to work from, and how to make colors permanent. I didn't heat set them well enough so it's been a good chance to talk about how teachers learn things, too. With the paint splat apron we talk about humor, pop art, and the times and places where splatting is appropriate (I NEVER share my biggest childhood mess story with them.) We also talk about how my apron is an example of an art teacher's uniform when we talk about the world of work.
The two most recent creations are a different design that I crafted from memories of my daughters' sun dresses. During those years, the "cross over the back and snap below the shoulder" pattern was easy and fun to whip up with denim and bright, kid-friendly prints. The advantage of the design is that the weight of the essential tools I carry in my pockets don't result in RedNeckedArtTeacherSkinBurn like the other model does. Reversible aprons are a smart choice, as messy as our studios get, and reduce the laundry time by half.
By the way - I stopped using sponges with kids two years ago, in favor of a tall stack of cheap (*much* easier to sanitize)washcloths. We use six or eight during a day, I dry them overnight over the dish and paint drainers, and then pop them into a hanging hamper on the front of the stove. (Did I mention I'm spoiled by a cool kitchenette in the corner of the room?) I toss the accumulation into the washer in the custodial room once or twice a week with the other cotton rags that are used for general cleaning. The sweet elves who nest there help by moving the load across into the dryer. Sometimes I beat them to folding the dry rags and sometimes they beat me - it's a good partnership and when I fall behind, there's always chocolate.
Onward and upward!