Tag Archives: art as exploration

I Can’t Be a Teacher who Discourages Mess and Noise

For a teacher like me, who spent her teaching career with under 5’s, I am used to teaching in a messy, noisy environment.  Children are permitted and often encouraged to make a mess and be messy.

duck swimming down the waterfall

Young children need to do and create things on a large-scale. They use big chunky brushes, they use oversized pieces of paper, they are developing their motor skills through moving around in a large space, they build with big bricks, look at big books and work on the floor.

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Children are developing their language, communication and social skills. They are encouraged to talk as they learn, to ask questions, re-tell events, act out scenarios, explore sounds and negotiate with their peers.

If an early years classroom was always tidy and always quiet, I would be very concerned.

Early years classrooms are well organised. Resources have their place and children are shown how to return resources and take care of them.  But when the children are at play they are rarely tidy.

dens

Early years classrooms discourage shouting, teach children to take turns when talking in a group and are building the foundations of listening skills but much of their learning is verbal and kinetic so would not and should not be silent.

It makes me so sad to see children at desks in silence once they start school, children walking around the school without making a sound. It saddens me to see lots of whole class teaching where there is little room to be different, make choices or move around the classroom. Carpeted classrooms where we have to be so careful about making a mess, so there are no painting easels, water trays or sand boxes. Where the kindergartners don’t have an outdoor classroom to extend their space and experiences. Mostly, the teachers know that this isn’t right for the children, they do their best to bring fun into the classroom and make learning as active as possible, but their hands are tied by environments, school policies and by national or state curriculum and assessment.

Sometimes I think I should return to teaching to show that there is another way. Mostly, I think I’d end up demoralised, frustrated and constrained by a system with very different values.

Yesterday, for our final art lesson, I wanted the children to have fun with art, to work on a large-scale and be messy. It was to be an outdoor celebration of art.  My plan was to set up a number of art stations outdoors and have a volunteer on each station.  This didn’t quite work to plan due to a shortage of volunteers so I scaled it down to 3 activities.

Activity one

I taped paper to the base of a large paddling pool. The children squirted tempura paint in different colours into the pool.  I then threw in a variety of balls. We worked together, holding the pool and tilting it to make the balls roll in the paint and make a pattern. The children squealed with laughter. They took it in turns to send the balls towards different members of the class and tried different techniques to make balls of different weights and sizes move.

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Activity two

I added powder paint to pots of bubbles and mixed it well.  A large piece of paper was taped to the wall and the children used a variety of bubble wands to blow the coloured bubbles onto the paper and make it pop. They enjoyed touching it with their hands as it popped and dripped down the wall leaving splashes on the floor.

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Activity Three

I would have done this one outside on a large piece of paper too, but I felt the teacher felt more comfortable at a table, so this activity was moved inside. The children blew paint onto their paper with straws and then used sharpies to turn the shape into a character or person.

My teacher was a substitute. She greeted me with a bewildered look when I described the projects. Her face suggested she was unsure that I had thought it through and that it would be a logistical nightmare to manage.

I suppose our priorities were different. I didn’t care if the kids were noisy and overexuberant. I wanted to see them laugh, explore and take risks. I didn’t mind if transitions weren’t completely orderly. The children were excited by what they had experienced and what they were to try next. I didn’t mind if the children were messy and paint got onto the playground. The paint was washable and the weather would wash it away. I didn’t mind that the end product wasn’t beautiful or particularly thoughtful. I  wanted them to see that we don’t always have to sit at a desk to paint, that we can create with our whole bodies and with a variety of materials. I didn’t have a learning goal. I wanted the children to share a new experience and to have fun.

Children from other grades who were out at recess, came flocking to see what we were doing, they looked on with envy. The Kindergarten children were full of joy, they talked freely amongst themselves and to me, without inhibition and they helped me to lay the pieces to dry, placing rocks to stop them blowing away. They enjoyed the responsibility, before returning to the classroom to sit at desks, eat their snack and listen to a story in silence.

If you have thoughts about spaces for children Suzanne Axelsson is collecting information about how space affects children’s play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching…. if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact…  You can respond to her questions and engage in a conversation about learning spaces here.

 

 

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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