Thinking About Art

On Tuesday, I am presenting Project: Preschool’s inaugural workshop series: Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. I am super excited and nervous about it, as it will be the first time that I have presented my own material, outside of this blog. I have no doubt that everything will be fine, because I have spent the past two days making sure that everything is prepared. I even found a huge technical glitch today that I thought had been resolved months ago – I am definitely learning the lesson about checking behind myself.

Over the weekend I have had a thought bouncing around in my brain. It never really rested and solidified until today. I was thinking about children and art. Since the workshop is on creativity (and I am working on another one related to art in the classroom) I have planned for participants to complete an art project. But in the beginning, I had prescribed what they were supposed to create while doing the art. The thoughts that bounced through my head were questions about why I was structuring the workshop activity in this way, especially since I am discussing the points of motivation having to do with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Obviously, prescribing an end that participants should meet would give them a purpose, but I’m not sure that is the type of purpose that I am going for. It doesn’t give participants autonomy, because I am telling them what to create. I guess I could argue for mastery, because participants would get better at creating whatever it was that I told them to create, but to what purpose am I telling them to make it?

If you are confused yet, I am sorry. But the entire thing made me stand back and take a hard look at just what exactly I was calling “open-ended” or “child-centered” art. Of course, sometimes when we do art, we do have to prescribe an end. But for most art projects, simply giving children materials and letting them create at will teaches us a lot about their interests and their character. It also shows us what skills they have and what they need to work on, and gives them the freedom to experiment with tools and materials in ways that interest them.

I’m sure that I will be thinking and talking about this subject more after my workshops. One of the cool things about teaching is that you are able to learn as much as you are able to teach. I am looking forward to learning more from other teachers while we discuss different aspects of creativity, and I am looking forward to diving deeper into the activity that we call art.

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Observation During Easel Painting

During my research into effective education methods I have read a lot about observation. I have even tried to incorporate it into the classroom, which can sometimes be difficult when you do not have a co-teacher in the classroom. This past week I have been trying to put together developmental portfolios for the children in my classroom, so I was prompted to put together some observations of the children as they painted at the easel.

What an eye-opener that was! I literally stood behind the children as they painted, as inconspicuously as I could. I had notebook and pen in hand, writing vigorously about everything I saw; from the colors used, to the types of brush strokes used, to the words being spoken as the child painted. Not only was it interesting to actually “see” what the child was doing, but I got several ideas for projects that will continue their explorations.

For example, one child used her finger to trace patterns in the paint that she had applied to the paper with her brush. This inspired me to include a printing project for next week in which the children will apply paint to the table top, use their fingers to make patterns in the paint, and make prints of those patterns. Another child concentrated on mixing the colors and observing the affects. This inspired me to come up with more color mixing projects, as well as making cornstarch and water projects available (I have been looking to do these projects for a while; I just don’t have the right materials for them yet). Still another child approached the easel painting with hesitancy and caution, since it was her first time. This inspired me to make easel painting more available on a day-to-day basis so that she will be more comfortable with the creation process.

One child was very vocal while she was painting, and it was interesting and fun hearing what she was thinking about while she was painting. And since I wrote it all down and plan to put it in her developmental folder, it means that I will have a record of it to look back on. Her parents will treasure this observation as well, I’m sure.

This experiment of mine really paid off and allowed me to see how observation can lead to bigger and better experimentation and exploration in the classroom. When we approach observation seriously and think about it in a way in which it inspires new activities, it becomes an indispensable part of our teaching strategy.