As a child I loved watching "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" on PBS. He reminded me so much of Mrs. Carpenter, the older widow who lived next door. I adored her. We raked leaves together, she took me to Sunday School, we watched Jeopardy together (she knew ALL the answers), and together we would weekly walk to the library for new books- she was lovely. Mr. Rogers had the same sort of kindness and interest in my learning. His smile was sincere, he was thoughtful in his choice of words, his voice was calming, his words were genuine, and it felt like he was talking directly to me, as if I were the only child in the world. I was special. I believed I could learn and do new things. I enjoyed his stories and field trips around his neighborhood. He dedicated his life to educating children and had a lot to say about how they learn.
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.
Play is really the work of childhood."
Play is really the work of childhood."
- Fred Rogers
Is play truly learning? I sure do think so! Preschoolers are a SUPER busy bunch. Younger students work through art projects much faster than older students do. Their focus doesn't last as long, the concepts aren't as broad, and the work isn't as skilled yet. We're getting there though. We're laying the foundation. We're figuring things out. A big part of figuring things out is exploration. Introduction to new things and seeing what you can do with them.
So how does this apply to art class? While we do work on structured projects, like printmaking and mixing colors, sometimes between those projects we explore a bit through art centers. As a child I looked forward to visiting my grandmother because she had large colorful cardboard building blocks and Mr.Potato Heads. My cousins, siblings, and I would build walls, forts, towers. We'd arrange silly characters with Mr.Potato head parts, like little Frankensteins! We were entertained for hours because the possibilities seemed endless. We were creatively problem solving. We were inventors, architects, doctors. Thinking skills! Problem solving! It's beautiful stuff...
I recently read an article about the importance of art and creative literacy (that's a tough thing to define, but it involves generating original ideas and seeing possibilities and potential). It's worth the time to read it. My favorite part of the article stated that even though we've long had the technology to simply snap pictures of life it hasn't squashed our desire and need for painting, for creating ART. Why not? Well...making art is not about taking selfies and everyday photos, it's about the sharing of ideas and viewpoints, it's communication. Art provides opportunities for even our youngest artists to share their ideas, their feelings, their viewpoints. I'm often amazed by what they come up with! So before recycling an art project that's sent home, ask about what they've made and how they feel about it. They're often much more thoughtful than just scribbles. There might be a story or an idea there that they'd love to share.
In addition to the cardboard building blocks of my youth, I took some newer building materials that my children have outgrown to school for kids to explore. They piece together people, towers, cars, flowers, light sabers, and all kinds of other neat-o things they love to tell you all about! They share supplies. They encourage each other. They swap stories and ideas.
Kids love stencils too! I teach students to use shapes as the parts in their drawings and lines for details, but stencils help them learn how to draw shapes they don't know how to draw yet and they add details to them to transform them into something new. They get to choose. Maybe this is a mountain? If I were to ask I wouldn't say "Hey, is that a mountain?!" or "Nice mountain!" because that might not be what it is! As an adult I'm totally deflated sometimes if people don't see my vision when I think it's super obvious. It plants seeds of doubt, and that can be a real bummer! Nobody likes feeling lousy. Instead I'd ask "Wow, what are you working on?", or "Can you tell me about your picture?". Even little artists can be offended and discouraged. My job is to encourage them to keep thinking, keep doing, keep trying. They're little engines that CAN!
Clay is a favorite for students of ALL ages! Modeling clay works those hand and finger muscles!
We always try to make it a beautiful day in the art room....