If you're one of the lucky souls who can't tell the difference between playing and working, you'll know exactly what this post is talking about. If you're not, stop by for a visit. I'll share some of the short people that make this place such a hoot.
1) Kinderpeople have the coolest hats.It's not just that they're cute and five (or six) and wearing something endearingly kid-like. It's that they are still brave enough to know that a silly hat is a GOOD thing and, if they've made it themselves, a badge of doublecoolness that simply doesn't require any explanation. (Note: if written in "kid" doublecoolness would be replaced by "awesome!!!" Yes. Three exclamation marks ARE required and yes - it's an all- purpose term in serious vogue right now and is to be used for general cool stuff, store-bought school lunches, Spiderman logo anythings, and reviews of any current kid movies.)
2) People notice when you're gone.I am rarely sick, due to the cumulative accumulation of antibodies that living in close proximity to 500 of one's closest friends affords me. This week was a (thankfully) rare exception as I spent last weekend and most of the week home being a poor patient. When I came back, little people and big ones alike made me feel really welcome.
3) My kids know the difference!I had the world's best sub this week - one of those saints of our profession who, by her very presence creates little ripples of beautifully behaved children in her wake. Kids stand a little taller for her, form into gently polite lines, and simply beam in the glow of her steady love. She retired last year and subs for us "just to keep busy." This sweet tornado swept into my room, looked at my plans and chose "Plan B. - in lieu of the nutty intensity of TAB Central, you're welcome to let the students draw a topic of their choice or to use your favorite art lesson." When I heaped praise on their heads (because of the flood of post-it notes she left insisting I do so) they smiled and said, "Yes, we were good, but we're glad you're back. We did coloring sheets yesterday and marched and sang cool songs but today we want to do ART!"
4) If there's anything sillier than fifth graders early in the morning, I'd like to know about it.We meet for art club on Thursday mornings at 0'dark-thirty. The number of kids varies between just a few to a table full and they're responsible for getting themselves there on their own. A few have a sweet parent who drops them off on their way to work but several of them walk. They come for the long span of unfettered art time, for the conversation with kids from other classes, and for the giggles. Appropriate giggle topics are legion: silly parent tricks, video games I'm good at, alien clay trophies (think mighty hunter den,) Hannah Montana (soooo last year,) NFL teams that want me, my new fashion statement (catch the tie outside the t-shirt outside the white dress shirt) do you like my (insert description of artwork here)?, NBA teams that want me, my new fashion statement (neat color statement, huh?) head banging puppets (this one bears a classmate's name) my gigglegiggle clay gigglegiggle!
5) The wisdom of the artists in this studio humbles me.Today's best example came in response to my explanation to a first grade class about why subs do other things when the art teacher is absent. I'd just finished the part about the noble art teacher coming in early to get things ready for class every day when a fully indignant (see his arms folded defiantly across his chest?) first grader pipes up, "But Ms. J. We do our OWN set up and clean up. Didn't you tell her?" I love it. He owns the independent artist thing! (And I won't bother him with any drudgy old details about what art teachers do to set the stage for that independence. Shhhhh.)
6) Visitors.We have a university student who's absorbing the art of teaching from the fifth grade team. Eva is energetic, curious, and loves playing with art and kids. She comes by to talk teaching, lichens, nudibranchs (google them - you'll love the images) and school. It's refreshing to see my profession through her eyes and I love the way she interacts with the kids.
To be continued...
Among 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?
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. 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.
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.
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 favorite 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!
When my kinderfriends first began playing at my clay dough center (home-made, of course!) I included some generic cookie cutters. Being the clever scrounger I was, I foraged used cutters and other tools in lots of places - thrift shops, hardware stores, and my "junk" boxes in the barn. At first, kids were thrilled with the huge selection of tools they could use to manipulate the dough. I kept things in a long, skinny basket on the center of the table and encouraged kids to use as many as they could during their art time. I was happy. Kids were happy. Play dough was sliced, chopped, pummelled, and tasted (I know, I know - we covered that in the safety stuff at the beginning of class, but five year olds HAVE to taste everything. Once.)
After a couple of weeks, though, I noticed that the "giggle with joy" levels had dropped substantially. I kept observing and found identical "cookies" stacked on identical, tidy piles. Careful was winning over creative and kids were demanding bigger rollers to make the dough "perfect." A sweet grandma who volunteers on occasion noticed me watching intently and quietly noted, "Maybe they'd do better with fewer things in the basket." Yep. We were both thinking the same thing.
The next time kinderfolk came in, they were met with a fresh batch of dough, complete with a color change and zippy fragrance. (I love Kool-aid colors and smells - and admit it freely.) When the kids said, "Where's the stuff?" we responded with, "Today we're using our fingers as tools and our imaginations when we make things here." Sure enough, the giggle ratio soared and the kinds of things that choice classrooms are famous for - kids using their own ideas, sharing and building upon what other kids do, and putting things together to work together were in evidence. Yes - the noise level is a little higher, but that's a healthy thing. We're having more fun now and the dough is doing a great job of keeping up with multiple squeezing and pounding that only gifted kinderbuilders can offer.