Art is not part of the curriculum in our school district, instead all elementary art lessons are taught by parent volunteers. Once a month I volunteer to teach in my daughter’s class. A monthly art lesson seems a little piecemeal and I often wish that there was time to delve deeper into projects. With this in mind, I often teach lessons that inspire children to discover a new medium or learn about an unfamiliar type of art. Picture books can be a good starting point. Below are some of my favourites .
The Noisy Paint Box
My children are fascinated by abstract art. I recently introduced them to the works of Kandinsky after they created abstract art on our mirror table. This book tells the story of Kandinsky’s life as an artist and explains how he expressed his feelings and senses through painting. As a boy he felt he could hear the paint box hissing and at a classical music concert saw colours and shapes before his eyes, that expressed the music.
My 3 year olds latest canvas
After reading the book,encourage children to paint what they feel as they listen to a piece of classical music. Discuss their feelings and document some of their comments with the painting. Try playing different genres of music to see how their reactions change and explore together how this was reflected in their painting. A large scale collaborative painting to music could develop this theme further. Explore the differences in expression and how they all fit together to make a complete painting.
The captivating black and white illustrations in this textless graphic novel inspired this project about monsters. The drawings here were in charcoal but pencil drawing or pen and ink would work equally well.
3. The Mr Men
Strangely, the Mr Men have been one of the girls favourite things to draw and model for some time. The book’s back cover displaying all the Mr Men make it easy for them to choose a Mr Man to copy.
They used polymer clay to make 3D representations. Their simple forms make them perfect for introducing young children to polymer clay or modelling smaller characters. It also helps them to see how their drawings can be translated into a 3 dimensional model.
They even created their own Mr Man – Mr Tae Kwondo.
4. How are you Peeling?
We loaned this book from the library and it was a firm favourite. On each page fruit and vegetables are photographed to represent an expression or emotion. It has inspired us to search the supermarket for interesting vegetables and would be even more fun if you grow your own. It would make a wonderful photography project.
5. Leaf Man
Leaf Man is a good introduction to collage and art using natural materials. The story of leaf man is illustrated using photocopies of leaves on a colourful torn paper background. We used this for an art lesson in my daughter’s Kindergarten class and here are some of the finished projects.
The Tiny Seed – paint flicking
The Hungry Caterpillar – collage (Eric Carle describes how he creates his pictures in this slideshow.)
Camille and the Sunflowers – a story about Van Goch
All 3 of my girls had the same favourite book at the age of 2. I didn’t encourage it, but somehow ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’ by Elfrida Vipoint hit the spot for all of them.
The story is highly repetitive, so much so that it drove my husband insane every time he read it. It is also quite long.
So why would it be so popular?
The repetitive text is most likely what they love the most.
Repetition is important for young children as it helps them to remember and learn. Knowing what comes next is comforting in a generally unpredictable world. Small children love repetition, it means that they can join in and demonstrate how much they know. As they hear the story language time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points, as seen in the video clip. They will even correct you if you get it wrong (as I did). Children, as they become older, memorise repetitive books and can be seen to be ‘reading’ them to themselves, before they can actually read the text. This is a very important starting point for learning to read.
I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar. There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.
A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,
“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”
“Really! Can you show me”
It is a bit like an x, like this……
My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.
I asked my kindergartener
” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”
“No we do it like a cross”
I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.
I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses. We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both. As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.
Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience. When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions. My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart. Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).
“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)
” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)
My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls. Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).
I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:
1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).
2. What sound does a short ‘o’ make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.
3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :
Let’s go find Leo.
The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different. When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.
4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.
On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word. It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.
Great Pretenders recently asked if I could write a guest post for their blog. I hadn’t come across them before but I was blown away by the wonderful play costumes that they create. So of course I said yes . Why Schools Need to Embrace Pretend Play? talks about my experience about a lack of pretend play in schools and why I think it is important that schools embrace it.
My youngest daughter (age 4) has recently started to draw detailed pictures. Mostly they are people. She always starts with the eyes, adds a nose and mouth and then draws the circle for a head. After adding hair, she draws a torso, arms, legs, hands and feet. The finishing touch is always a belly button. I found this fascinating. I don’t remember my younger children doing this for any sustained period of time, if at all.
In the earliest stages of children’s drawings of people, there is no torso. At this stage they often draw a navel (or circle) between the legs to depict that there is a torso there. I’m not so familiar with children drawing belly buttons onto a torso however.
Clearly, children under the age of 5 do not generally draw clothes on their people. Seeing a navel on her sister’s drawing, immediately led my 6-year old to the assumption that it was naked. As they talked through the drawing together, the picture became one of a daddy and his little girl in the shower and anatomically correct details were added. These didn’t survive into later drawings when her sister was not present but the placement of the belly button continued.
My intrigue grew, when a friend with a child of a similar age shared her daughter’s drawing of the family. There was the belly button again.
I decided to ask an expert and consulted Ursula Kolbe author of Rapunzel’s Supermarket:All about Young Children and Their Art for help. She suggested that children are fascinated by belly buttons and the drawing of a simple round shape is often intensely satisfying. Perhaps then, it is the circles that she finds fascinating. The drawing sequence always begins with eyes made up of a circle within a circle. Kolbe also suggested that children often copy the ideas of other children but since my little one is yet to attend preschool and only has her sisters to influence her this is unlikely in her case.
Often what children include or don’t include in their drawings is determined by the sequence in which they draw. “If a child draws a torso and then legs they sometimes won’t go back up to include a navel even if they intended to do so” says Kolbe. I watched my daughter’s sequence with interest; she always drew the whole person and then went back to draw the navel as a finishing touch.
Sorting through boxes, I came across some old photographs of me as a child. In amongst them was this.
I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I drew this man, complete with belly button. What a magnificent and timely discovery to help solve my conundrum.
‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’
Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth? Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home. After a few great camping trips as an adult, my views changed but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.
A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea. An 8- hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, 3 young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?
Amazingly, the car journey was fine. The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen. The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.
Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for it’s beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing. “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?” Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.
Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.
They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach. The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae. It didn’t put them off. They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.
I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me too. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience. I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.
There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
They found magic in the simple things.
Look I think Eeyore has been here
Maybe it’s his barbecue?
Really! Do you think so?
My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.
It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit, geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.
Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise. One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere, the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of ‘My Favourite Things’ from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing. Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.
One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish. The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note. However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout. The fish came one after the other.
Then the fish got bigger
They were so proud of their catch.
After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing. On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing . Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them. Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.
As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook. I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all. I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.