In the hot sunshine the girls don’t really need a lot of encouragement to play with water. When I suggested we set up their pirate ship in the garden and make a plank that they could jump from into the paddling pool, they thought it was a great idea.
We emptied the paddling pool to clean it, leaving water on the lawn. The girls decided that this should be a swamp where crocodiles lived. They collected branches to lay across it so that they could cross the swamp.
They then went on the lookout for something to use as a plank and decided on a large branch that had been pruned from our maple.
I had been changing the words to songs to fit a pirate themed music class. ‘If you’re a pirate and you know it say aaarh’, ‘1 little, 2 little, 3 little pirates’ and , ‘there were 10 in the ship and the pirate said walk the plank’. The girls made up songs of their own, counting down as the pirates walked the plank one-by-one.
Next they set out on a pirate treasure hunt. One of the girls hid the treasure and made an X from sticks to mark where it was. My eldest made a map and clues for the girls to follow.
Years ago, when my eldest was small, there was a tree stump at the bottom of our garden. I thought it would be magical to put a fairy door on it and pretend that fairies lived there. My daughter left notes for the fairies (some suitably spoiled by the great British weather) and they replied in tiny writing. The stump was soon forgotten as the winter set in and the bottom of the garden seemed such a long way to travel.
When we moved here we made a rudimentary attempt at creating a fairy garden in a planter. The little ones saw this as a perfect opportunity to smother it in glitter leaving my eldest a little disappointed with the messy results.
The moment I saw the garden in our new house, I knew that the cluster of trees would make the perfect fairy garden. When I suggested it to the girls they were very excited and we collected ideas, requested materials and made plans.
The fairy door was made from those mysterious small pieces of wood that come attached to a painting canvas. A lentil was chosen for the door knob.
Next we collected small stones to make a pathway to the door.
We made gates from the same pieces of wood as the door and placed small sticks around the edge of the path to create a barrier.
Many of the materials were gifted by the Buy Nothing Group including the little bells we hung across the entrance, glass beads to make the stream, jam jar lids for table tops and our very own fairy.
At a garage sale we found packs of miniature accessories for teddy bear collectors. We decided to use them to make a tea room for the fairies.
The tables were made from jam jar lids and cardboard cylinders.
Corks were painted with nail varnish to make toadstool seats.
The embellishments were added to make a perfect fairy tea room.
One of the girls wanted to make a pool for the fairies, we found a pot, dug it into the ground and she added glitter and sequins.
The girls decided to use a wicker ring as a fire pit and arranged twigs inside for the bonfire.
Next we added a stream made of glass beads and outlined the edges with pebbles.
Small flower pots created a boundary between the stream and the tea room and we sprinkled a few seeds on top.
During the winter we found a log in the firewood with a knot that looked like a door. My eldest saved it to make a fairy house. She carved windows with a pocket knife and stuck twigs along the edges with wood glue. The roof was made from moss.
As a finishing touch we added steps leading up to the house.
The fairies and elves seem very happy with their new habitat.
We have recently joined a wonderful group called Buy Nothing. The idea is that people in the local community share, via a Facebook group, the things they no longer need and offer them to others for free. It is a great way for an outsider like me to feel part of the community. Our group also has a central meeting point, where you can drop off and collect reserved items or look through the other items, to find little gems. Browsing the things people have offered has inspired lots of new play opportunities. Here are a few to share. You may be inspired to use some of the things you have stashed away or maybe even set up a Buy Nothing group of your own.
The Flower Shop
We were given a huge amount of fabric flowers from a member. I had often considered setting up a play flower shop at nursery but the flowers were so expensive and we needed a large quantity. I was very excited to finally have the chance to try it out. The girls have been making flower arrangements, taking telephone and internet orders and delivering the flowers in a little car. After posting photographs of the shop on the group page, we have been gifted even more flowers; such is the beauty of a community like this.
Special delivery for you
Trying out flower arrangements.
The girls have loved this so much and it looks really beautiful in the garden. They asked if there was such a thing as a real flower shop; so that’s next on the agenda.
Baby Bath – Water Beads and a Nail Salon
There was a poor, lonely baby bath, crying out for attention on one of our recent visits. A few water beads and hollow eggs later and we had an activity for my toddler class.
The girls had more great ideas when I brought it home. The water beads in the bath made a perfect foot spa for a nail salon.
Squeezy Bottles for Puffy Paint
Someone was giving away squeezy bottles, they were perfect for puffy paint.
My eldest was very impressed
Wow! What is this?
she remarked, when she spotted the dry pictures.
I saw an image of a beautiful mirrored table recently, so when someone offered mirrors, I thought we could recreate something similar.
Wow! it’s so cool there are 2 of me.
And I see two
it could be a tall tower
It’s a party tent
the sequins stick
It looks like lots of oreos with a piece bitten off.
It looks like cogs
I am so lucky to be able to provide my children with these opportunities due to the generosity of others. Inspired? Why not create a Buy Nothing group in your locality?
I don’t make assumptions about what my children will learn from an activity. I don’t presume that they will learn anything, I’m happy if they are absorbed and having fun.
Sometimes a simple activity can unexpectedly become a rich learning experience full of questions and discoveries. These for me are precious moments. I have recently become aware that the simplest craft activities lead us unexpectedly into an exploration of scientific concepts. For example,we recently acquired a movie reel canister, perfect for paint rolling . I gave the girls a small box of marbles and small balls (a ping-pong eyeball and a golf ball) and a few pots of paint. The discussion that ensued was interesting.
Child 1 : 5-years-old Child 2 : 3-years-old.
Child 1: The eyeballs go much slower. I think because the eyeball is bigger it goes much slower but the marble is smaller so it goes faster.
Child 2: It’s too sticky
Why do you think it is sticky?
Child 2: Maybe there’s too much paint.
Child 1: This one is not as sticky as the other one but it is much bigger. Maybe it’s because I didn’t put as much paint on.
What makes the 2 balls different?
Child 1: One is bumpy and one is smooth…………..but that would make it slower.
It gets stuck and the other one goes really fast. Maybe the material it is made from is sticky but now that we don’t have as much paint on, it goes fast. Perhaps the paint sticks to the material and stops it slipping and sliding.
Maybe because the golf ball is hard it doesn’t stick to the paper, maybe the paint doesn’t like it and slips off.
When we went to wash the balls we checked to see which would float.
Child 1: The golf ball and the marble sink and the eyeball floats. This one floats because it is all filled up with air.
Child 2: This one sinks because it is bigger…………………….. but what about the marble, that sinks?
Child 1: It is because it is heavier.
The connection between the mass of the ball and how fast it travelled did not register but there are many other projects we can explore to help them work it out.
These incidental science experiments happen a lot. There was the time I left an empty milk carton outside and they turned it into a tap by inserting a straw. The girls decided they needed to find a way to turn it on and off. Further experimentation helped them work out how to get the tap to drain all of the water. My role as teacher was not to give them the answers but to ask questions like ‘How could you make it better?’ What could you use to…? or what would happen if…?
Having open-ended materials readily available makes it easy for them to instigate projects . This week, I put pieces of foam in the water table soaked in bubble mixture and showed them how to squeeze the foam to make bubbles. I knew my eldest would love this. She had another idea, taking a piece of plastic tubing she blew into it creating lots of foam. The children’s ideas are always the best! She asked me for test tubes and filled them with bubble mixture and opened her own beauty parlour with potions that made your hair soft or skin younger.
In the TED talk, Science is Play , Beau Lotto views Science as a way of being. He explains,
“We normally walk through life responding. If we ever want to do something different, we have to step into uncertainty…. Science lets us step into uncertainty through the process of play.”
Our youngest children are full of uncertainty so they are naturally questioning things all of the time. Isn’t that the foundation of science? Our skill as teachers is not to feed them the answers but to give them the tools to make their own discoveries. Do we need to plan specific science lessons? Isn’t science and discovery the very essence of childhood?Children don’t call it science, they call it play and in play they work things out for themselves.
‘When I grew up, every kid put in some serious sandbox time, and it often involved building (what seemed like) complex sand structures around which fantasies were composed and competitions took place with neighborhood kids. The organic chemistry labs (at Yale during the junior year) were fun in the same way. We constructed molecules and competed with each other in the class on speed and yield. We mixed things up, and chemical transformations took place. We separated, we isolated, we analyzed. The odors were pleasant, and the physical process of working with our hands, as with sand, was satisfying. The biweekly organic labs became the high points of my week. By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted to be an organic chemist, as I realized one could play in the sandbox for a living. (Joseph B Lambert)
Playing in the sandbox for a living? ‘Isn’t that what I do?
I’d never heard of a Children’s Museum before I moved here but as I entered the door I was greeted by a little bit of play heaven. I think I was more excited than the girls. My 9 -year-old remarked
It’s not really a museum is it?
True not in the traditional sense.
According to Wikipedia, Children’s museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programs to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. In contrast with traditional museums that typically have a hands-off policy regarding exhibits, children’s museums feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children. The theory behind such exhibits is that activity can be as educational as instruction, especially in early childhood.
In essence it’s like walking into a really well- resourced nursery or pre-school. I loved that many of the exhibits used simple, cheap materials that could be replicated at home, like a blackboard with a pot of water and brushes. I particularly like these; they would be a great addition to a child’s bedroom wall, garden fence or in a toddler room at nursery.
The girls loved this one and played with it for ages – even my 9-yr-old was fascinated.
The water area was a huge hit with my youngest. My favourite was a water bath with a transparent window so that you could see what was happening under water.
Behind the glass is an area for art based activities – musical instruments, painting, movement with ribbon sticks and scarves and drawing. The metallic walls made it so easy to dry and display pictures. What a great idea for a messy play room.
There were 2 light tables in the space with very different activities, the girls chose to trace and draw.
My eldest loved den building best of all. The smaller structures were not very stable so she negotiated with the other children in the space to create a big den together.
It isn’t very good – it keeps falling down
We built one together
More building – drainpipes and gutters
I’m so glad we discovered Children’s Museums and I’m looking forward to visiting the others in the area and sharing more ideas.
When considering the question of how to teach preschool art it is helpful to first consider the meaning of ‘art’ for our youngest children.
What is Children’s Art?
As adults, artists are generally referred to in terms of the product they create – painters, sculptors, musicians or dancers. When we create ‘art’ we might think about what we are going draw or make before we begin.
When children explore art there is much less emphasis on the finished product – they might say they are going to draw or make something specific but often this evolves into something else during the process.
As I watch my children involved in what we may traditionally term ‘art’, I find that creative expression isn’t their only interest and there is certainly very little focus on the finished product. Sometimes they are practising skills. My youngest for example likes to snip paper into tiny pieces but if I suggest she might like to make a picture with the pieces, she isn’t interested. As children get older the finished product becomes more important. My pre-schoolers will often remark that they don’t know what it is going to be yet, whereas my 9-year-old often has an idea before she starts. Does this change occur naturally or do adults teach them that this is what ‘art’ is?
My younger girls’ ‘art’ is about exploration. They ask questions like ‘what happens if?’ Through this exploration they see themselves as competent in the knowledge that there is no right or wrong way to do things. This give them the confidence to explore further.
The Salad Spinner Project
An example of a process oriented art project was inspired by a visit to the Children’s Museum where the children made pictures using a salad spinner. The directions were simple:
1. Put paint onto a paper plate
2 .Place the plate inside the spinner and put on the lid. Place the spinner onto a cloth or newspaper, the holes in the bottom of the spinner allow the paint to come through.
4. Check results
They watched as the pictures took shape changing according to the colours chosen and how much paint they put on.
There is potential for this activity to become a product oriented if the adult takes over. The key to making it process oriented is to offer choice and allow the children to freely explore the materials.
How the Project Evolved
The pictures the girls had made at the museum had colours that ran into one another producing a marbled effect but the paints we used at home were thicker so produced very clear lines with little mixing.
They explored all the possibilities:
I’m choosing two colours.
What if I just put a bit of paint on?
I’ve put lots of paint on this one.
Which one is your favourite?
The next time we got the salad spinner out I suggested they might like to add things to the spinner to see what happened.
I know lets put balls in.
First they tried a golf ball
They put it back in a number of times spinning the spinner at different speeds to see how the pattern evolved.
Next they tried marbles. The marble made tracks across the plate
The next attempt came out differently
Hmm, Maybe if I spin it faster
Still no change.
I could try more marbles
Still no change.
Suddenly my 5-year-old had an idea
I know; it’s because I used too much paint. The one with tracks on didn’t have so much paint on so I need to use less paint.
The learning and creative thinking in this project is clearly evident so why would we plan art with a finished product as our starting point?
Process v Product
Sometimes as early educators and parents it is difficult not to plan art projects in terms of the finished product. Certainly years ago when I worked with older children we would often plan workshops and sessions in terms of what we would make. We all like our children to come home from preschool with something they have made. Teachers sometimes argue that parents expect their children to come home with something at the end of the day. It is difficult to be enthusiastic about yet another drippy painting or cardboard box construction.
This is often given as a justification for producing heavily adult directed arts and crafts. Starting from an adult viewpoint in this way often means that the children don’t do very much themselves. I have observed teachers presenting children with pre-drawn templates, ready cut outlines and telling them what they need to stick where – sometimes the child isn’t even allowed to do the sticking themselves. The children may come home with something pretty to put on the wall but what have the children learned, how much enjoyment have they had and have they actually made it themselves? Furthermore, if we show children at a young age that there is only one way to do things we destroy their enthusiasm to do things for themselves. Is this why we often hear older children say ‘I can’t draw’, ‘ I don’t know what to make’ or ‘It doesn’t look right’.
When you allow children to freely explore materials they begin to understand the properties of media, they learn that art can be a series of explorations and they are allowed to become absorbed in the joy and relaxation of the artistic process. Sometimes they will want to make something specific but allow them choice in the materials and tools they use and encourage them to try out things for themselves.
Creative thinking isn’t neat and tidy. An artist will paint many sections of a painting exploring colour texture and shape before finally coming up with a finished product. Think about the work of an author who writes and rewrites many times with crossings out, arrows and notes all over the paper. A finished product will come eventually but it is a long way off. Allow children to explore in this way, let them make a mess and do things their own way.
As Peter Dixon puts it
Your children are at a stage where the process of doing things
LOOKING, SEEING, FINDING, FEELING, INVESTIGATING etc.
is far more important than the end product sought by some parents. …The process of their work – might look messy, scribbly or completely unrecognisable to us but to your children it is utterly meaningful and an essential part of their mental and physical growth and development. Please honour – please respect your child’s own way of thinking. It might seem unusual but it is their birthright. It is the foundation upon which they will build all future understanding.
The Adults Role
Process oriented art doesn’t mean that you leave children alone with a huge amount of materials. The adults role is to organise the materials so that the children can find what they need easily. Sometimes this means setting out particular materials for example you may want them to explore with charcoal and erasers. It can also mean setting up an organised art station with neatly labelled pots and drawers that the children can choose materials from.
If the adult works alongside the child creating their own projects then they can inspire children and demonstrate techniques. They will be able to encourage children to develop their projects by asking questions
What happens if…..?
Have you tried this……?
What else could you add?
persuading them to try different materials and techniques.
If you log children’s comments and questions, displaying them alongside finished pictures and photographs of the process, it will help to show the value of process oriented art.
Looking across the street at our neighbours wonderful light displays makes our house look a little inferior. I really don’t mind because our decorations are a labour of love. Almost everything is homemade and those that are not have been bought very cheaply from charity shops or dollar stores. We may not set the street alight but the decorations are for the children and have had the children’s full involvement.
We have a cherry tree outside our front door and have been gradually adding decorations to it. They are not as beautiful as many of those you may see on Pinterest but they are all the children’s own work.
Here are some of the things we have been doing over the past month.
1.Lolly/Popsicle Stick Snowflakes.
Joining the pieces
colouring the nose in orange
Fixing on the nose
Look they are holding hands
Join polysterene balls together with cocktail sticks and decorate with push pins or sticky tape. This activity took on a life of its own as my daughter’s let their imaginations run wild.
3. Decorate old Cd’s
4. Ice ornaments
5. Pine cone reindeer
6. Gingerbread Cookies
We bought a cheap tinsel wreath in dollar store and re-threaded it with items we had collected from the garden.
8. Hula hoop weaving
Using old Christmas decorations and our spiderweb we had made for Hallowe’en.
I’d recommend using thin paper with young children as they found them hard to cut. In nursery we used to use kitchen paper, thin packing paper works well too.
10. Salt dough decorations
11. Recycling Christmas Cards
My favourite. I left out a basket of old Christmas cards, scissors, tape and glue sticks and this is what the girls came up with. We also used them to make gift tags for family presents.
12. Table Centre
Using items we collected in the autumn, scented with oil, dusted with fake snow and adding a few finishing touches.