Friday, January 08, 2010

Catapulting Mud

There is never a shortage of mud in Seattle and the Dennis the Menace style cliché of kids playing with the stuff doesn’t seem to cause even a moment’s pause in the children’s pursuit of it.

With the rainy season fully upon us, the kids haven’t failed to notice that our rain barrel (which contains water redirected from the roof) is now perpetually full, meaning the self-imposed rationing required by our dry fall is over. There have been dozens of mud soups, mud pies and mud puddles, but the big communal outdoor pursuit during this first week of the year has been to mix up large batches, then to use shovels to “catapult” it against the wall of the school, creating results like this:

This is only shows a small portion of our mud art. I couldn’t figure out how, for instance, to photographically portray that there are splats of mud as high as 15 feet up the wall. The boys (and the catapult-ers so far have been mostly boys) are not always as accurate as they hope (another cliché about the broad side of a barn comes to mind) which makes our garden area a hazardous place to be these days. Hazardous at least in terms of choosing the time and manner of one’s own besmirching. This has naturally caused some conflict that, so far, hasn’t been satisfactorily handled.

Just at the end of play yesterday, our lead catapulter, Thomas, suggested that we need to set up a “safety perimeter” using caution cones the way we did when we used our dangerous tools to help along our decomposing pumpkins. We’ll probably also need a group discussion during circle time on Monday to sort out some of the rules around mud flinging.

All that aside, however, one of the best things about this entirely child-motivated project is that it’s caused the adults to avoid the garden, leaving the children out there, under our eyes, but not within reach, to guide one another. There’s been a lot discussion among them about how to best do what they’re doing, especially on the topic of getting it up to the second story windows. And there’s been a lot of laughing into one another’s faces, which to me is an act of pure love.

Just on the other side of our garden fence another group of artists, inspired I think by the catapulters, has taken on their own, less muddy outdoor art project using wet sidewalk chalk to create this beauty:

Several years ago, we were the lucky recipients of dozens of jars of very old powdered tempera paint from an artist who was cleaning out his basement. We’ve been feeding off this supply for years and are now down to the browns and blacks. I wanted to try extending the mud play inside yesterday, so cut the side off a washing machine box and put it on the art table. We then used our boxes as tables to set up a mixing station where the children found bowls of brown, black and white powder, spoons, small scoops and buckets of water. On the cardboard we had out various tools used by plasterers and masons for scoring concrete and creating texture and patterns on walls and floors. It was a huge mess (special thanks to our art parent Aya) tons of fun, and mostly a project of the girls. It had the added sensory element of filling the room with the old style odor of egg tempera.

This is our masterpiece:

You can’t really tell from the photo, but it’s about 5’X3’. You can probably see that we wound up adding some other colors as well.

Here are some close-ups of the details:

I love rich texture like this. It's the reason Van Gogh remains my favorite painter.

As we were working on it, I said, “When it’s dry we should hang it on the wall.”

Ella stopped what she was doing to look around the room thoughtfully, “Maybe we should hang it on the ceiling.”

Brilliant! One of the problems with our space is that it tends to be a bit acoustically challenged. The parent part of the community started the year by discussing the idea of installing some sort of sound absorbing apparatus on the ceiling. I can think of nothing better than cardboard covered in children’s art and the installation will probably require nothing more than mounting tape. We’ll have to see how it dries, but we have seven more sides of appliance boxes at our disposal . . .

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Rose said...

I love the creativity. It inspires me to be more creative (or allow the kids to be more creative) here.

Monkey's Mama said...

I love this! Van Gogh is my favorite too. I'd always loved the prints but really loved it when I went to that exhibit in LA years ago and was surrounded by texture. And I'm jealous that you have a space to go outside in the rain. We just have the gym because the playground we go to is too slippery when it rains.

Scott said...

The texture on their painting is great. Great idea for using various "real" tools on the painting.

I've never put out dry tempera for children to mix on their own. Maybe I've found my "failure" project for the year?

BellaDaddy said...

OK, THIS is cool...can't wait to get our little ones hands muddy...although, she's all squeamish when she gets chocolate on her fingers...."Daddy, I need a wipe...NOW"


Teacher Tom said...

If someone (like you, Scott) are planning to try having kids mix their own tempera, and you want them to work with thick paint like this, you need to give them small bowls nearly full of powder. Their tendency will be to fill the bowl with water no matter how much power is in the bowl. If the bowl starts pretty full, then they're less likely to get it too thin.

If it is too thin, keep pouring powder on top and let 'em keep mixing. It really helps that our paint for this project was free.

It occurs to me that you might be able to get a similar effect by adding flour to liquid tempera . . .

Anonymous said...

As a the parent of a former student, am I allowed to ask "How many sides left of the old box?

Centers and Circle Time said...

Darn it Tom! One of these days, I'm jumping on a plane and flying to your school. I can't believe you're having soo much fun.

I remember making mud pies when I was little and my grandma providing tin pans and spoons to do it with. I added leaves for decoration and left it out in the sun to bake. My cousin and I were convinced once it dried out it would turn into a "real" pie.

We have lots of rain here in Orlando. These folks would have my head for playing in the mud. Last year none of my students even knew what mud was! Arrrgg!

When did my director say she would be out?

Mariah said...

Mud Art—how absolutely wonderful! I must say that their tempera piece is beautiful! It make me wish I could be a student in your class :)

Unknown said...

How brilliant! I love the textures. And I am so glad that a few other colors were added in : ). Very pretty! Can't wait to see it mounted!

Juliet Robertson said...

This (along with many other) postings is great. It's so nice to read about real play, getting messy, learning about risk and challenge in an outdoor context.

Thanks for sharing all your adventures in pre-school.


Anonymous said...

The wall looks so much better when touched by creativity! Well done kids!

Kierna C said...

Love it! When we moved into our new building 5 years ago we had a pristine white wall at the back of the playground....for 3 weeks before we painted it, threw mud at it, chalked on it etc. When we had our official opening & the architect came back I thought he was going to cry! hahaha
My motto (from a friend who is a principal)- 'it's easier to ask for forgiveness then permission'