The art studio in our classroom continues to challenge us year after year. I have so many questions about how to support student learning, how to foster their creativity, and how to "control" materials without "controlling"
I have seen so many beautiful art spaces while visiting different learning environments. They are full of loose parts, beautiful materials, and different mediums for children to use in their representations. But how ... without sitting there for the full day, do you slow children down? How do you support students in making thoughtful decisions and using materials purposefully?
Is it ok that a student takes 35 pompoms and glues them onto an egg carton? What are they learning? Are they experimenting with glue? Do they have a purpose that they are unable to verbalize? I see these "scenarios" so often and I am often at a loss as to how to interact. I watch, I ask questions, I try to find meaning in all experiences.
We have spent a long time in our art area slowing down children, asking them questions about their thinking, guiding them to think carefully about what materials they will need for their creation or art. I personally feel that we have done a lot of intentional work to support young children in this area of play.
We have set out small wooden bowls so that children will choose materials a few at a time to bring back to the table rather than bringing all of the pipe cleaners and using them at their disposal. We have presented materials in transparent jars and sorted them with the children by type or colour. The simple idea of sorting by colour really encourages children to make purposeful decisions. "What colours do I need?" they think, rather than sticking their hand into a mix of crayons and grabbing a handful.
Further, we slowly add to our art area. We began the year with pencils and sketching materials. We slowly added pencil crayons, crayons, scissors, glue, recycled materials. Each time slowing down to ask the children about the new materials, their purpose and how they can be used.
"Making a plan" is something that we encourage children to think through. I have seen other educators use paper and have children draw/sketch out their ideas sometimes record the materials they need. We have tried this a few different ways and I believe for some children it is helpful/useful. However, more often than not the children evolve their plan and make decisions in the process. When working on a larger project or idea we do encourage them to draft plans, but there are children who are turned off by this process or uninterested. So, we still aren't sure about planning...does it need to be on paper? can it be a discussion? how detailed? how specific? how open?
Although this area is a constant learning curve for me, one thing I know for sure is that it is open ended. Sometimes we add materials to provoke children's thinking, but never do we set out something to complete, copy, or "do".
We have moved quite far away from "crafts" in our classroom. We don't make turkeys at Thanksgiving or snowmen that all look the same once the snow falls. Although there is nothing wrong with doing a crafts. I see a place for crafts with family or friends at home. However, in the classroom we have thought critically about the purpose of crafts and their role.
Crafts do not encourage children to think outside of the box, they are prescriptive in that they encourage children to "all do the same thing", and they (in my opinion) mostly teach children to follow directions. Moving away from this "craft" mindset also saves so many hours! We do not have to cut out hearts or circles for the children.
One drawback...parents LOVE crafts. They absolutely love to see little chickens coming home around Easter! Not all parents of course...and as we have moved through FDK into our 4th year our families are really starting to value and appreciate the children's personal art/creations. But it was a journey of education for parents as well.
We try to document the process of the children's creative expressions to illustrate the depth of thinking that can come from these experiences. We want the parents to see and appreciate the process that we get to experience in the room, so we try as much as we can to make the process visible through documentation.
We can learn so much about a child watching them create - are they resilient? will they brainstorm when things go wrong? what do they know about different types of materials? do they slow down and think about their decisions? do they plan?
I wanted to share an experience that came up in our classroom this year. I was really interesting and sort of crossed the path of "prescribed" and "child-centred". One of our students shared that he knew how to make a hat using just a single sheet of paper. He took out a long paper and began to go through the steps that he had learned, at home, to create a hat.