There is a short list of items every teacher considers essential to running his preschool classroom and on mine, right near the top, is white glue – gallons of the stuff. Typically we order 6 gallons to start the year, knowing that we’ll likely have to place a second order sometime around late winter.
While most of us think of glue as a means to an artistic end, un-indoctrinated preschoolers approach white glue as an art medium all by itself (much the way they do tape). We do dozens of collage projects in class using all sorts of exciting materials (e.g., carpet squares, feathers, spare marker caps, small metal parts from machines we’ve disemboweled) but inevitably there are a half-dozen or more finished pieces that are nothing more than a pool of glue overrunning a piece of cardboard. Usually, these pieces are stuck so firmly to our drying shelves that I have to use a screwdriver to pry them off. Often they’ve dripped through onto the art of others. Sometimes they take the whole week to fully dry.
Man, that drove me crazy as a beginning teacher. “Don’t you want to put something in all that glue?” I’d ask, but as I’ve learned to give up my agenda in favor of the children’s, I’ve just started ordering more glue. And why not? As an art medium it costs less than half of what tempera paint costs, and while clean up is a bit more of a challenge than paint, it’s still water soluble, at least while it’s wet. Where I once saw waste, I now see beauty.
And it’s the greatest beauty of all; it’s that look of meditation or concentration that settles over the face of a child as she systematically empties bottle after bottle of glue onto a target of some kind. It's clearly a scientific exploration into the physics of viscosity, gravity, and squirt bottles. Or maybe it's part of a spiritual journey, judging from the look of tranquility on some of their faces. It doesn't really matter. All I know is that some kids are driven to it and far be it from me to tell them when to stop. I love how earnestly they hold up their empty bottle to declare, “I need more glue.” And I love even more that we hand him another full bottle. An adult could stand there over a child’s shoulder, I suppose, and give instructions on the “proper” use of glue, stopping him after those few essential drops, but I’ve found it far more satisfying to just let kids get there on their own – and they always do, eventually.
But first we have to let them get it out of their systems. One way we do this are our ongoing group, glue collage projects. Parents have come to refer to this as the “glue table,” although it is technically our Do-It-Yourself Table. I have an enormous collection of what was formerly referred to as garbage that we use for these projects. Here is one we are working on right now:
We’ve been adding to this piece since the second week of school; not every day, but frequently enough that the glue bottle emptiers among us are getting their fill. As you can see, we’ve decided to start adding glitter – you know, for the holidays – and it will take a ton of glue if we’re going to encase the whole thing.
We usually keep these projects around for several months, bringing them out until they attract no customers, then they get pitched. Although, here’s one that’s been hanging on our wall for the last 3 years:
That particular class of kids really grew to treasure their group project and were one day talking about wanting to paint the whole thing gold. That evening I gave it a coat of metallic gold spray paint and put it by the front door for the kids to see as they entered. As they arrived, each and every one of them said, “Look mom! It turned gold!”
(Note: Many of you have asked for a photo of our volcano. I'll try to remember to take one today and post it here tomorrow.)