Category Archives: sensory play

Hallowe’en Activities: Spells and Witches Brew

spells and witches brew

One of my favourite Hallowe’en activities as a teacher was creating spells and dancing around the cauldron. The children were transfixed by the iron cauldron that emerged from the kitchen and wondered if it might belong to a real witch. Dressed in witches hats and cloaks, we would imagine fantastical ingredients and create spells that would transform us into dragons, frogs or birds, that would make us fly, shrink or become invisible. It was a fun way to explore rhyme, share ideas and use our imaginations. We left ‘spell books’ in the mark making area and the home corner became a witches cave complete with potion bottles, spell books and jars of bugs, bats and frogs.

My girls love to make potions, so when I told them about it, they loved the idea but wanted to make a real witches brew.

tin foil wand

 

To start, we made wands from tin foil and chose witches hats and capes. Tin foil wands are simple to make if you have limited time; wrap tin foil around a pencil or simply roll and scrunch the foil into your desired shape.   If you are more ambitious, make wands from sticks by stripping off the bark, adding ribbons or painting them in special colours. I also like these Harry Potter wands from Red Ted Art

With wands in hand, they chose ingredients to go into the brew.  They didn’t think witches and wizards used shaving foam or cornflour to make a spell, so they chose gruesome alternatives.  Flour became giant’s dandruff, hair gel was ogre snot and fuzzy balls became warts.

spell

The girls wrote down their ingredients so they could remember the order in which to add them .

quill writing

It didn’t matter that my youngest is only just beginning to write, she found her own way.

potion recipe

spell ingredients

Armed with spells, wands and witches hats, they made their way outside to the cauldron at our potion station. One by one, they tossed the ingredients into the cauldron, stirring it and modifying the quantities until they were satisfied. Then it was time for the spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wagon

Turn the frog into a dragon

We looked for the dragon but decided it was hiding amongst the clouds.

witches brew

The dance around the cauldron resumed with another spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wat

Turn my mum into a bat

 

Thanks girls, I’m not sure  I want to hang upside down from a tree.

 

witches brew
The potion remained in the cauldron for sometime and became the central point of their witch and wizarding school.

Suggested ingredients for a witches brew

  • Jello/jelly powder (makes it smell great)
  • mud
  • hair gel
  • shaving foam
  • flour
  • glitter
  • coffee grounds
  • leaves and petals
  • plastic bugs
  • coloured water
  • baking powder-

Further Ideas

  • Give the children collection bags and a card with ingredients for a spell, in picture and written format.  Ask the children to find the objects they need and place them in the bag.
  • Give the children a group of objects and ask them one at a time to add a specific number into the brew.
  • Chant around the caldron and make spells that require the children to make specific movements e.g make us slither like a snake, make us jump or stretch up tall.

 

What Can We Do with All These Leaves? Leaf and play activities for kids.

This time of the year my garden is covered in a blanket of leaves.  The girls enjoy helping to rake them up but it is a never-ending task. When leaves are plentiful there are many activities that you could take advantage of. Here are a few of our favourites.

Leaf Man

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is illustrated with photocopies of leaves that have been arranged to make pictures.  We studied the way Ehlert uses coloured paper to create a layered background and  leaves and natural materials for the main body of the picture.

leaf bird rowena

We created our own pictures, starting with the background and adding leaves.  The leaves work better if they are pressed beforehand using a flower press or a heavy book.  Preserve them by laminating before the leaves dry out.

leaf man

Painting

Young children enjoy printing with leaves or painting on larger leaves. You could also try  painting with different types of leaves or dipping the stalks into paint to make marks.  Dried leaves crumbled into paint could also make an interesting texture.

WP_20150924_006

Leaves are perfect for investigating colour mixing.  Give each child a leaf and ask them to try to mix the matching colour.  Younger children could paint the colour onto their leaf, print it on paper or paint around the outline, older children may like to try an observational painting of their leaf. Small square canvases or watercolour paper would make them extra special.

Leaf Rubbing

leaf rubbing

Sometimes young children  find this difficult so experiment with different colours and materials, like crayon, pencil, chalk, pastels or charcoal to decide which makes the most effective rubbing.

Leaf Mosaics, Patterns and Sculptures

Use leaves to create mosaic patterns and pictures. These could be individual or large group projects.

leaf face

The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.

stick men

Clay

clay and leaves

Leaves  make interesting imprints in clay or they can be used  as a template to cut around. Clay leaves make great bowls, tiles or mobiles.

 

Sensory Play and Loose Parts

Collect leaves and put them in a sensory bin – investigate what happens to them over time. Add interesting objects hidden amongst the leaves or toy woodland animals and bugs for small world play.

If you have leaves outside how do the children use them as loose parts?

My children built a bonfire……

 

building a bonfireBuried their feet….

Oct 07 045

and added them to a potion.

potion making

 

Use them as a Filler

Last Halloween we made spiders to hang on the bushes outside.  The bodies were made from black bags stuffed full with leaves.  You could also use leaves to stuff scarecrows or guys for bonfire night.

Laminate them

laminated leaves

Over a period of time we collected interesting leaves and laminated them.  They looked great on the window and I challenged the girls to find out which trees they belonged to. I think they would also make an eye-catching mobile.    This year we are using the laminated leaves to see if they can find matching leaves in the neighbourhood. Laminated leaves could be used for all kind of things. We have used them as gift tags, to play matching pairs and they look great on the light table.

Leaf Rainbows

If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.

leaf rainbow

Before you  decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
autumn leaves

A Natural Playground

Young children have an immense curiosity about the natural world – the challenge is to stop them from losing it! Nurture that precious sense of wonder …….. A little empathy and enthusiasm is all you need to encourage children to appreciate wild places.

( Nature’s Playground)

There is even frost on the leaf
There is even frost on the leaf

Natural environments offer opportunities for adventure, which build confidence and instill bravery.

clifton slide
Take time to stop and explore. Rushing children along to the next thing, denies children the opportunity to make their own discoveries.
blossom
Using natural materials creatively helps us to appreciate them in new ways.

sand man
Wild places provide opportunities for quiet reflection.

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass

Finding creatures in their natural environment encourages respect and reduces fear.

holding a frog Explore all types of weather. Rain, snow, wind and sunshine offer many different experiences.

rain

I just want to lie in it
I just want to lie in it

reading in the tree

 kite(1)

Allow children time to be immersed in their experiences and they will adapt natural materials, weaving them into their own imaginative worlds.

building a bonfire

Sometimes nature is cruel but when children come across these things in the wild, it promotes discussion and allows them to navigate difficult concepts in a meaningful way.

We found a dead birs in the garden. How did it get there? What shuld we do with it? We buried it under a tree.
We found a dead bird in the garden. How did it get there? What should we do with it? We buried it under a tree.

Being in a natural environment offers children opportunities to develop physical skills, through climbing , negotiating space, moving on different surfaces, reaching, touching and many more.

climbing tree
toddler on beach

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!

Explore with all of your senses.

I'm going to have a shower. I'm getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.
I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

picking huckleberrieshands on a tree.

blackberris

If I need a little encouragement to go outside I only need to look at the joy, concentration and contemplation on my children’s faces.

If you need further inspiration I recommend reading Nature’s Playground.

This is not a sponsored post the book mentioned is a personal recommendation only.

The Mirror Table

investigating natural materialsThe girls often enjoy mirror play, I’ve tried a number of different types. I love this big one but it is very fragile and difficult to store. For small projects, I have an oval mirror in a tray but it isn’t big enough for more than 2 children to play with.  Unframed circular mirrors work well, but I’m yet to find a suitable one. We also use Ikea mirror tiles, these are portable and I can change the arrangement to suit the project but the pointed edges bother me.

ice skating mirror

Suddenly it came to me – “why not stick the mirror tiles onto a table?” I sent out  a plea for a table to my Buy Nothing group. I didn’t expect to find one that was the perfect size but within 30 minutes I had been offered a table that would fit the tiles perfectly. The mirror tiles come with sticky pads for mounting to a wall. These were perfect for attaching the mirrors to the table.  I taped the sharp corners with duct tape and a vanity mirror was placed against the wall.  In a preschool setting I would mount more tiles to the wall and put the table in front to allow for seamless reflections. The border around our mirror makes it difficult for small items to be reflected in the upright mirror.

mirror table

A couple of small card mirrors and a few loose parts led to fun explorations.

mirror table loose parts

I cut the insides of a roll of tape in half and placed them on the table with a few wooden rings.

“It looks like wheels.  I’m going to make a car”mirror table car

To keep the interest going, I changed the materials regularly. The loose parts, building bricks and mirrors maintained interest for only a short time. Knowing that my children love to draw and write, I decided to leave white board markers and a rubber on the table to see if this would engage them.

using a mirror table for drawing.

This arrangement was perfect and by far the most popular so far.

abstract drawing

writing on a mirror table

collaborative drawing

To add variety, I purchased a pack of glass markers.  This was a very different experience.  The girls discovered that the pens were difficult to erase. They liked that they no longer needed to avoid erasing part of the picture with their sleeve. It took more effort to erase and the girls experimented with the best ways to do this. Since they love to use cleaning sprays, I showed them how to use a small amount of glass cleaner to remove the pens quickly.

I noticed that the style of drawing changed when I introduced these pens. The girls drew intricate patterns using the colours and adapting their movements to light touch of the pens.

pattern and colour on mirror table

This one reminded me of Kandisky ( and a pattern in one of the earlier photographs is reminiscent of concentric circles).

“I like drawing random things that come into my head. Then they don’t have to be anything”   said my 6-year-old.

I explained that this is called abstract art. I have an artist friend and we all visited her exhibition recently. I told them that this was the kind of art that she makes.
Later, I printed some Kandinsky paintings, placing them around the edge of the vanity mirror.
art on mirror table
glass pens on a mirror table

“Why did you name this one the traveller?” I asked.

“He looks like he has a bag on his back and the multi-coloured bits look like a map”

The mirror table is also the perfect surface for shaving foam.

mirror table shave foam

On a flat, even surface their natural instinct was to cover all the space, smoothing it over like icing a cake.

shaving foam on a mirror table

They began to create a story.

How about we’re the servants and it is the queen’s birthday and she wants us to decorate everything?

Now we need it all smooth again. We are the servants.

Wait, she said decorate everything. How about our hands? Oh no there are some gaps.

Maybe the queen will be mad. Come on we’ve got to make it smooth.

I don’t think she’ll be mad. She is the nicest queen. Everyday for pudding she gives us cupcakes.

It’s all textury, move your hands around like this.

Or I could do an M – like this.

IMG_0428

The scenario soon changed to one where they were at school.

There is lots and lots of art  but you don’t like doing it, do you?

Of course I do, why wouldn’t I? I love it

No, but remember we’re playing a game where you don’t like being creative . You just like playing video games and stuff.

I know, this is creative and you don’t like it. Pretend when someone asks you to do something creative you just say ” but when can I watch tv?”

Do you know what I’m going to do next?

No

Neither do I but it will be something creative.

How about you make a snowball?

The girls  abandoned a game of Minecraft when I put the foam out.  It is interesting that they were exploring ideas about creativity in their play.

Additional mirror table activities can be found on my mirror table Pinterest board.

Waiting for the Fish

dads gone fishing‘ 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.  My views changed after a few great camping trips as an adult 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 eight hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, three 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 its 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.

curlew 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.

curlew lake

The Foot Spa
The Foot Spa
I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me to. 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.

WaltWhitman

They found magic in the simple things.

Eeyore's bbq

Look I think Eeyore has been here

Maybe it’s his barbecue?

Really! Do you think so?

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass

curlew lake
building sculptures
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.

canoe on curlew lake

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.

Here we go
Here we go

My first fish
My first fish
Then the fish got bigger

fishing
They were so proud of their catch.
trout

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.

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!

Drawing with sticks on rocks
Drawing with sticks on rocks

building a xylophone
building a xylophone

Let's see how many 'Y' sticks we can find.
Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.

Look what it can do.
Look what it can do.
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.


Free Resources for Play and Ideas for How to Use Them.

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.

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.

water beads

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.

foot spa

Squeezy Bottles for Puffy Paint

Someone was giving away squeezy bottles, they were perfect for  puffy paint.

puffy paint

My eldest was very impressed

Wow! What is this?

she remarked, when she spotted the dry pictures.

Mirror Play

I saw an image of a beautiful mirrored table recently, so when someone offered mirrors, I thought we could recreate something similar.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Teach Preschool Science

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.

paint rolling

 Child 1 : 5-years-old    Child 2 : 3-years-old.

eyeball

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.

golf ball

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…?

tap science

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.

foam bubbles

 

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.

I love this quote from the American Scientist article entitled ‘Science as Play

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?

 

 

 

Ideas for Learning Environments Inspired by Children’s Museum of Tacoma

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 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.

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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.

light table with maps and plans

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.

More building – drainpipes and gutters

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.

How Should You Teach Preschool ‘Art’? Process Versus Product

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

I've chosen 3 colours
I’ve chosen 3 colours

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.

salad spinner painting

3. Spin

salad spinner art

4. Check results

salad spinner art

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?

salad spinner art

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

salad spinner paint
It makes a kind of bumpy pattern

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

marble and salad spinner paint
It looks like a puzzle

The next attempt came out differently

salad spinner art
When we put marbles in it makes a noise. Sometimes they get stuck in the sides and we have stop.

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.

salad spinner plates

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.

Examples of Process Oriented Art

 

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after-dark-playing-in-the-dark2My 5-year-old was petrified of the dark when she was younger.  She couldn’t even bear to have the curtains open and see the blackness outside. Only later did we discover that she had really poor eyesight and her fear gradually decreased once she had glasses.  It is so lovely to see the progression from a terrified toddler to an excited child  who loves to play outside in the dark with a torch.

 

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