Friday, March 12, 2010

Boy Art

I want to thank everyone who took the time to comment on and email me about yesterday's post on the role, if any, gender plays in the practice of teaching preschoolers. You gave me a lot to think about and sparked a number of "ah ha" epiphanies as I read through them.

I'm far less perplexed about the different energies girl and boy preschoolers tend to bring into the classroom. I could write a book about that, but since many, many others have before me, and anyone who has spent any time with young children is aware of those differences, I'll just let that stand as a self-evident truth

My blog friend and fellow teacher Launa Hall over at The Classroom Composition asked in yesterday's comments if we strive to create gender balance in our school's enrollment. The answer is No.  We make special allowances for alumni, but otherwise we're a straight-forward first-come, first-serve school.

A few years back we wound up with a Pre-K class with 7 girls and one boy. There were a lot of younger boys in school with Sam on the other days of the week, but during that special Tuesday afternoon session, he was "the man." His mom Jean, I know, considered finding another school when she first saw the roster, but I'm glad -- and I think she's glad -- they hung with us. I worked hard to make sure I provided the kind of hands on, full body activities that tend to appeal to boys, and I often fudged things to make sure his opinions weren't always trumped by rainbows, unicorns and ballerinas, but it wasn't always easy. There was one day when I suddenly realized that we had spent nearly our entire 2.5 hours sitting on our blue rug, talking. Sam was about to burst! By the end of the day, he was one squirming, writhing, bouncing, flailing little boy, but you know what? I'm proud to say he pulled it off.

I knew I needed to reward this incredible feat of self-management so we spent the rest of the week doing activities that didn't require a moment of sitting down and minimized the need for discussion. We even did our entire circle times on our feet, jumping, swinging our hips, and chugging like choo-choo trains. I noted that several of the older girls chose to sit out circle time that week, but I didn't care, I was balancing out the preceding Tuesday.

I'm guessing that most preschool teachers strive to balance out their curriculum in this way, even if they don't always have a gender balance in their classroom. Boys tend to dominate the block area, so I'll introduce things like ponies or costumes to lure girls over. Girls tend to dominate the art table, so I try to mix in "art" activities that will appeal to boys.

Yesterday's art project was a classic example of boy-energy oriented art: an on-your-feet group activity that lent itself to "drive-by" participation. I rolled out a sheet of butcher paper, taped down some blocks to create a rim around the edge of the table, then broke out corks and ping pong balls for the kids to dip in paint and blow around with straws. Many girls tried it out, but this was definitely one for the boys.

By the end of the session, several of the boys lead by Finn P., Isak, Ariya and Marcus had discovered that I had provided "bendy" straws, and had turned them into hockey sticks to move the balls and corks around the table. It got a little wild as boy energy sometimes does.

I've just learned that next year's 3-5 class is going to feature a girl-heavy roster, but my Pre-K group is 8 boys and 1 girl. Demographic anomalies keep things interesting.

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Scott said...

Oh, Tom. I'm definitely taking this idea! This looks like so much fun - and creative.

I really like the long blocks around the table to keep the balls and corks "in play." I've never seen that before (and I'll take that idea, too!).

Tom said...

Great idea! Even for my college students.

Launa Hall said...

Thanks for the link, my friend!

Love the art project. I'd seen marbles before, but not corks, and not blown through straws. Such a great intro to physics, too...awesome.

I'm happy to hear that your preschool takes who comes. Of course it does!

Unknown said...

One year, I had a class of 18 boys and 2 girls. The balance can be created, but sometimes it takes a little effort on the teacher's part.

I have a great mixture this year, the boys love art and the girls like to play blocks, so we have great groupings with boys and girls in the mix. Ironically, often the boys are the first to ask to go to dramatic play/home living. They generally play gender typical roles, but I LOVE it when they step out and try something new!

Annie's Alphabet said...

We talked about gender differences at school the other night and I was surprised to hear many of the teachers thoughts on this. I never had a problem getting kids to play anywhere in my room...could be it's so small they just play where they can. :) My girls love the blocks and are often the 'block starters' and the boys all love the art area and ask everyday whats happening there...although we are pretty messy with our art.
I love your blog...and we will definitely need to try the blowing of ping pong balls.

sewa mobil said...

wow great post and great advice. I tend to only read the blogs that I find interesting .
Keep posting stuff like this i really like it.

kristin said...

i agree! i agree! i agree!

i never even consider boy/girl composition when filling our classes.

i do think, however, one of the best things we've done is having a "man teacher." we've had three over the years and i like knowing we're providing genuine balance.

way to go, teacher tom.

kristin said...

by the way, i found myself telling yesterday's class about my friend, teacher tom, who plays a drum instead of ringing a bell to alert clean up time, etc.

my daughter, eliza (5), chimed in, "yeah, i know teacher tom too."

: )

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

I find gender conversation fascinating. We are part a product of our culture, our genes, our family roles, our consumer culture, and our brain. Then there's the magical spirit/soul part. I like to look at what the many "parts" play in defining our and our childrens' roles both at home and at school.
Sorry, but your title "Boy Art" caused me to do some deep breathing. We have a lot of influence in our role as teacher. If we think of the environment as the 3rd teacher, what is that third teacher saying? Is it speaking in ways you might not intend?
I find personally, that sometimes it does, and I have to rethink subconscious values that I might be promoting. Turns out in many non-western societies there are more than 2 genders defined. My sister-in law who works at Advocates for Youth, told me about this, and while it is accepted that we are either male or female in the USA, it is still wonderful food for thought. Great post and conversation!

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

PS You can use big blocks blocks (covered in some paper if you want to keep them clean)to make ramps, and use golf balls and wiffle balls with paint too. There's a wonderful Eric Carle video about his process of creating, and it is very similar.

Anonymous said...

I'll be recycling this one! The outcome is brilliant! Very MOMA.

Betsy said...

Hi Tom, I am director/teacher of a preschool in CT. I love this "boy art" and will definitely give it a go with my Pre-K class, which is comprised of 8 boys and 3 girls. The parents of the girls were a little worried at the beginning of the year, but we have become a tight-knit group of friends!

Play for Life said...

Great idea Tom!

We usually use marbles and ping pong balls rolling around inside trays for pattern making but after reading this we'll bring out some really big paper and try a group activity blowing the balls around with straws inside our tray-table-top ... and like yours, we reckon our boys will love it ... in fact they'll dive on it!

Actually the weather here in Melbourne Australia is so beautiful at this time of year, this will be a great activity for the children to enjoy tomorrow in the great Aussie outdoors!

Thank's for this one Tom!

miss c said...

this is great. i am so borrowing this idea for the coming school year. i have done similar projects, but not on such a large scale. i'm excited. thanks.

marvica said...

This is amazing! our nonprofit org will use your idea on an openair festival for children with special needs :)