During our free-play time at Woodland Park, there is an adult assigned to each of our stations -- blocks, sensory table, drama, table toys, snack, and art – for which they are responsible on a rotating basis. This means that each parent gets several turns as “art parent.”
Some of them don’t hear the score of a horror movie in the background each time the words “art parent” are mentioned, but some do. You see, I have something of a reputation for favoring messy art, which isn’t entirely undeserved, but is mostly based on 3-4 projects each year that get totally out of control.
Many of the parents dread walking into the classroom on their “art parent” day fearing that they'll find they’re responsible for something like fly swatter painting.
We probably reached our high-water mark for messiness a few years ago when Discount School Supply accidentally included 2 extra gallons of red tempera paint in our order. I phoned them about it, and the guy I talked to said, “Just keep them.” Coincidentally, this happened during a week of erupting our volcano so I thought it would be fun to use this windfall of red paint for some sort of volcano-related art. This translated into turning our art table upside down and dumping 2 gallons of red paint into it, call it “hot lava,” then setting a 2X4 balance beam across it. The stated idea was to cross the beam without falling into the lava, but of course, it didn’t take long to understand that falling was where the real fun was. We’d spread butcher paper around the lava pit to capture their footprints. It was a slimy, slippery, painty mess that, frankly, looked very much like the scene of a mob hit.
I think we may have matched that high point again yesterday. We’ve had a very exciting construction site set up in our block area this week and I wanted to extend that play into art. As I rummaged around in the workroom for ideas, I came across an extra jug of purple paint, which probably made yesterday’s art parent, Jaimee, have horrible thoughts about me via the kind of bad-news-travels-fast ESP that notifies parents of teenagers when their child’s been in a car accident.
I removed the art table altogether and replaced it with a tarp, upon which was unfurled a length of butcher paper. The paint went into a tub large enough to accommodate our large Tonka diggers. The idea was to make tracks on the paper. But this seemed like too much of a one trick pony, so I also broke out our rubber mallets, which could be used for “hammer painting.”
Jaimee is an experienced Woodland Park parent, not to mention our chairperson, and arrived dressed for mess. She’s also a teacher so she knew at a glance what she was getting into. I’d provided a chair for the adult, but she just took up a spot on the floor and got to hammering. One of our first casualties was Isak who was sitting with his back to the art table, several feet away, minding his own business, working on a puzzle, when he got splattered. He didn’t notice, but I’m sure his mom wondered how it happened when she picked him up – I’m sure it was dry by the time he sat in the car, right? But Isak was by no means the only, or most, paint besmirched kid yesterday. The surrounding walls and cabinetry took their share of damage as well.
And, of course, there was Jaimee herself who managed the diddly-o-dandy out of that station. She saved a couple of terrific pieces covered in tire tracks and hammer splats (which I forgot to take pictures of), then just kept breaking out fresh paper as we got into straight-to-the-recycling-bin mode. By the end of our day, as so often happens with super messy art, it had evolved into a crazy game of finger painting with Ella, Josephine, Katherine and Annabelle right in the midst of the action.
Here’s what it looked like by clean up time:
This photo really doesn’t even do it justice. The perimeter of purple footprints covered a good quarter of our classroom floor and at least half of the kids. Not to mention Jaimee, who, I might add, looks fabulous in purple.
We spent a significant part of our Circle Time discussing what we thought the cleaning solution smelled like as Jaimee mopped up.
I don’t know how other teachers do it without the daily support of their student’s parents, especially good sports like Jaimee who just dive right in and make the best out of Teacher Tom’s half-baked ideas. I’m fully aware that this could have been a disaster without her. Instead it was a memorable art experience for everyone. I know I don’t always show my gratitude enough, especially in the moment, but our Woodland Park parent community warms my heart every bit as much as the kids. It meant a lot to me yesterday when I stood surveying the damage with Jaimee and she just looked at me and said, “It’s okay,” reading my mind.
I’ll make sure not to do fly swatter painting the next time it’s her turn as “art parent.” I promise.