Friday, March 19, 2010

The Spore Project

We tend to approach our art table as a place to explore. We provide a rotating selection of art materials, and perhaps a few samples or ideas to get things going, but otherwise the children are encouraged to make it their own. Sometimes they even create things that adults find beautiful, but more often than not that point of beauty is only a step in the process, a moment that is perhaps appreciated, but then moved beyond as the child continues his scientific examination of the concrete world at his fingertips.

This is what I have come to define as art in a preschool classroom. (I know that my Reggio Emelia friends approach preschool art in a different manner, one that intrigues me and has recently sparked some doubts about the sanctity of this "process" approach. I'm expecting my definition to change as I learn more, but for the time being, this is the one at the bottom of our work at Woodland Park.)

More rarely, we engage in the "crafts," which I define as an activity at the art table with the goal of manufacturing a pre-determined object. You can usually tell it's a craft when the art parent feels compelled to announce, "Today we're making spiders," or "Everyone's making flowers," as children approach. Craft projects also tend to be those that require a lot of adult intervention to produce the objective, especially when working with 2-3 year olds. More often than not our craft projects are chosen because they encourage children to explore certain classroom skills (e.g., cutting on a straight/curved line, operating a stapler/hole punch) or work on fine motor skills (e.g., using brads, lacing), with the "art" being a motivator.

Sometimes, however, our crafts are designed to be discrete parts of a larger art project, one that proves the assertion that "together we're a genius."

Yesterday we made mushrooms:

These creations were inspired by an installation artist named Doug Rhodehamel as part of his "Spore Project," a worldwide effort intended to:
. . .  promote awareness for the support for art education and creativity in day-to-day life. The project illustrates the importance of self expression, resourcefulness and creativity – specifically, how to look at one thing (a simple paper bag) and see what it can be instead of merely what it is. The project was created to build awareness, specifically to let people know the importance of art.
That's right, these mushrooms are made from brown paper bags, wooden skewers and tempera paint. His step-by-step instructions for making them are here. We discovered yesterday that we didn't need the glue gun and even the rubber bands were unnecessary, although both would probably extend the lifetime of individual mushrooms.

We also discovered that the process of shaping the mushrooms was a little beyond the abilities/interest of many of our preschoolers to master in one session, so there was, as with most preschool crafts, a lot of adult assistance here. I'm planning to have paper bags, skewers and paint available next week as well in the hope that 2-3 of the kids who were able to manage it will help teach their classmates. It works for making Chinese New Year paper lanterns and cutting out Valentines and it seems like it could take root here as well.

We started out working indoors, using those nice chunks of styrofoam you see in the pictures as a base, then took them outside where we continued painting and installing around Little World.

We will decide next week how many mushrooms we want to make and the other details of our installation, then take pictures and send them to Doug!

Here are a couple photos of other installations from Doug's website:

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Unknown said...

These are really neat! And wouldn't they be a neat addition to a Little World? Are they coated in something to help them withstand the elements?

As for the art vs. project debate, I contend that while art is definitely very important, this is a place for projects in the preschool world, too (especially to hone some of those skills mentioned).

Teacher Tom said...

If they were going to last beyond the next rainfall, Ayn, they would need some polyurethane or something. I'm tempted to pick out a few to preserve this way. After today, we probably have at least 50 now. I think I'll let it run next week and see if we can come up with a 100+, then maybe we'll haul them up to the neighborhood park to install them for the photo.

allie said...

Process is, in my opinion, the most important reason to encourage children to make art. Provide them with materials, and then let them go. The most product oriented thing we do is self portraits - and the provocation is "draw a picture of you". We often end up with superheroes and Moms in the pictures, or dogs instead of people - but that doesn't matter. It is the experience the child has in making. These all came out lovely, by the way - when the clous roll in, they would probably look great in the sensory table with some dirt - little little world!

Unknown said...

Art is one of my favorite things. I can't wait to see the final picture. Very exciting!

jenny said...

Love it - love the whole process from start to finish. Thanks for introducing me to the Spore Project. I'm off to peruse...

Lindsey said...

Oooh, I'm only now getting a chance to jump around your blog and read some of your earlier posts. I really like what you are doing!

If you want some more weather proof toadstools and can get your hands on some left over plastic easter eggs or similar shaped plastic pots from the recycling bin (we used a few apple sauce pots) then you can try the tin foil versions we made a month or so ago. They have the nice side effect of not poking people with a BBQ skewer when they accidentally get trampled. It was too rainy for us to do the paper bag ones at the moment. I guess we'll save them for the middle of the summer.

Lauren Wayne said...

I'm here via The Parent Vortex, and I'm so glad to find your site! What fun mushrooms.

I like your distinction between art and craft time. I think that will help me both let there be more art time, and also help me be more patient during crafts!