I wish I'd taken more and better pictures of this project, although it was such a hit with the kids that I might very well just do it again today. I got the idea for this from the terrific homeschooling journal Childhood Magic.
Essentially, we melted wax, then poured it into molds. To be honest, I've been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not to attempt a hot wax project in a preschool classroom for a couple weeks. Sure it looked like fun, but what are the odds that a 2-year-old would be able to manage it without blistering the back of a hand? There are, after all, some things one can do in a one-on-one setting like a homeschool that one just shouldn't attempt with a group of 26.
Finally the side of me that wants to hold children competent won out.
Although I do happen to have a stash of bee's wax in the storage room, I decided that crayon wax was much more plentiful and stripped down a bunch in preparation. We don't have access to a stove or microwave in our classroom, so this is the wax melting rig I came up with:
Again, it didn't even occur to me to photograph it in operation, but that's an electric burner underneath. We put about a half inch of water in the bottom of the pan, then melted the primary colors in the little measuring cups I pick up for $1.50 each at Daiso (the Japanese version of a dollar store). I'd tested them the night before at my house and while the wax melted, the handles didn't seem to conduct the heat and they had convenient little spouts to aid in aiming a flow of liquid wax. We kept this contraption out of reach of the children.
Two parent assistant teachers were assigned to the project, although there was often an additional adult working the station as well.
While the wax melted, the kids rolled out playdough (I started with clay, but it was too stiff for the youngest kids and I didn't want to monkey with adding water to an already relatively complicated process) then made impressions with items like these:
They were then given a metal cup of melted wax, told which parts would burn them and which part they could touch, and poured it into their mold.
The pouring of melted wax was nothing short of awesome. Since we'd never tried this before, I'd told Benjamin's mom Robin and Vaughn's mom Susan that they ought to use their judgement about whether or not to let the youngest kids pour their own wax. I've watched children working with art liquids like glue and paint for years and it always winds up all over their hands, so I was understandably leery. But each and every one of those kids yesterday approached the task with a caution and care far beyond anything I've ever seen out of young children. Sure, there were some who overflowed their molds, but far more common was a careful meting out of the substance, often one or two drops at a time.
Since the wax only took about 5 minutes to re-set, the kids were able to appreciate their result fairly quickly. And I've never had kids more excited to take their artwork home as we did yesterday. Normally, there's a bunch of samples left in the classroom, but of the dozens of wax figures we made, these are the only ones left behind:
It's a representative sampling, but some kids took home some impressive replicas of the originals. Isak in particular spent over an hour experimenting with the process, learning to make his impressions in the playdough deep and "sharp" in order to contain the wax.
The art table was slammed yesterday, with every seat being occupied most of the morning. A few kids got near enough to the heat to sense the danger, but Robin told me only one of them dripped hot wax on himself. So intense was his concentration, that he didn't even really notice, she said, picking it off later, rather absent-mindedly.
Okay, now that I've written this, I'm convinced we're doing it again today.