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!
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.