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!
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...