As a boy I made a lot of art. Mom kept pencils and paper in her purse at all times. That and Lifesavers is what she tended to offer us when we got squirrelly in non-squirrel friendly venues. I remember spending entire sermons drawing what I called "Funny Faces," which were attempts at drawing people that featured heads with faces, arms, legs, but no torso. I knew something was "off" with these attempts, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what I was leaving out, hence the name. I recall drawing, coloring and painting for hours on end, but that entire experience was limited to the venue of hearth and home.
I don't know if I would have spent time making art in preschool because, like all the kids on my block, I didn't go to preschool. And my kindergarten was the kind of place where art projects were handed out to everyone at the appointed time and we all followed the teacher's instructions. If memory serves most of these projects involved coloring, and even then we were told to always color side-to-side, not up and down or, heaven forbid, in circles. I have absolutely no memory of art being part of my formal education until I reached middle school where I had a cool, hippy teacher who let us listen to our favorite radio station while painting with oils.
All that to say, I don't know if I would have been one of those boys who regularly frequented the art table at Woodland Park or not. There are always a few in every class, but they are far rarer than girls.
Yesterday, for instance, we were making our snack table place mats, which we will use all year. It's basically a freeform art project involving bingo dotters, markers, and stickers, followed by getting to run your finished piece through the laminator. The table was slammed with children from the start. It didn't really pop out at me that there was a gender imbalance, but sure enough, as time started to become short, we were mostly chasing down boys to get them over there to at least put a dot on a piece of tag board to call their own.
This isn't just a Woodland Park phenomenon, of course, boys as a gender are notoriously averse to sitting down and making art, although we all know that activities like painting with vehicles, fly swatters, or rolling balls will tend to attract more of them. In general, I've found, that boys are going to be more attracted by processes that keep them on their feet and move their bodies.
That's why I was interested to notice how many boys were sitting down, yesterday, to play with this little play set.
We have four pieces of cork, tiny hammers, tiny nails, and lots of colorful shapes similar to traditional pattern blocks. The shapes have pre-drilled holes in them, so the kids only need to hammer hard enough to get the tiny nails into the cork. In the past, in spite of the inclusion of construction tools, this has remained an activity dominated by girls; girls who very often and very quickly figure out that they can eschew the tiny hammers and instead just push the nails into the soft cork like thumbtacks.
But this is the first time this toy has made at appearance since we introduced our outdoor construction station 6 months ago, with it's plenitude of real hammers and nails. I can't say for sure that there's a connection, but I'm having a hard time thinking it's a coincidence that this activity was suddenly popular amongst the older boys who have the most experience using the real things.
And not only that, but their play was sustained, artistic, and clearly undertaken with end results in mind.
Not only that, but they tended to stick with the hammers throughout, carefully positioning and tapping those tiny nails, demonstrating excellent fine motor abilities, patience and concentration.
Of course, this wasn't "sold" to them as an art project, so that may have had something to do with it. (I know last year, Jack wouldn't go near the art table until I moved our art projects to a different table and called them "math" projects -- then he was all over it.) But, this isn't this toy's first trip to the rodeo and it is the first time I've seen this level of concentrated involvement by our boys. It may have been a fluke, but I'm keeping an eye on it. I'm hoping that this is more evidence of our new outdoor curriculum making changes in how and what the children are learning.
Another theory I'm working on proving or disproving early in this school year is the notion that art activities that don't normally attract boys when undertaken indoors, will be more appealing in an outdoor venue.
Yesterday, we took the clay outdoors and while I didn't really notice a particular surge of boys, I was pleased to see that Orlando, normally not one of our most avid artists, having a ball playing with the "mud," as he correctly called it.
I will have more to report as the experiments progress . . . And now to start working on schemes for getting more girls into our block area without turning off the boys.