Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Hair Painting Project

I've written before that I do much of my curriculum planning while on the commute into school, a time-frame that has been greatly condensed with my family's recent cut-the-fat-out move into downtown Seattle where my morning drive has been reduced from 35 to about 10 minutes (yes, I know, I should be cycling, and that will happen soon). I arrived yesterday with a good idea about what we were going to do for most of our time together, but was dissatisfied with my plans for our art station, not so much on artistic grounds, but rather based upon the idea that plagues me every now and then that the kids have another 15+ years ahead of them of sitting in chairs at school and I, as a counter-weight to that, need to keep them on their feet as much as possible.

So it was with the general idea of verticality that I began scouring the nooks and crannies of Woodland Park, coming up first one big box, then more.

At first it was just going to be those 3 large boxes, until, while struggling with the lid flaps, I had the idea of using the glue gun to connect them, making ceilings without walls, and walls without ceilings.

On a roll, I started adding smaller boxes and other sheets of cardboard, cutting doors and windows, until I'd created a sort of box house or city, with a variety of inside and outside spaces.

It was an unusual enough set up that the first few kids who arrived in class watched it from the corners of their eyes, but without stopping by to figure it out, so I asked a couple of our parent-teachers to just get going on the high parts, which is one of the best ways I know to encourage kids to want to try something. Adults at work, be it painting boxes or cleaning toilets, has an attractive magic in it.

It wasn't long before a core group of inside-outside painters were hard at work, some setting up shop in a single place, going deep, applying coat after coat of tempera . . .

. . . while others explored a variety of spaces, carrying a brush in one hand and a paint cup in the other, adding a dot of color here, and a dot there.

It's true that one of the weaknesses of my planning system is that I don't always have the time to think things all the way through, and about a half hour into this project I began to ask the parent-teachers managing this project what we ought to do with the clumsy contrivance I'd created, soon to be soggy with paint, when we were ready to clean-up. 

We finally settled on the old stand-by technique of just sort of shoving it off to the side and figuring out what to do with it later. I'll probably let the 3-5 class have a go at it on Monday since it's already in the middle of the classroom, then let it hang out all next week for non-paint play purposes. See? I'm planning days in advance now.

I had thought enough in advance to know that we would get paint in our hair.

After all, that's one of the hazards of working in a space with freshly painted ceilings. What I hadn't anticipated was how fun it would be to paint one another's hair on purpose, a trend that didn't meet with the overt disapproval of the presiding parents, many of whom broke out their cameras to record the moment.

If there is one comment (which I take as a compliment, even though it's not always offered as such) I hear from parents more than any other it's some variant on, "This is why we come to preschool, to do things we will never do at home." 

Often it's phrased as, "Teacher Tom do you have any towels we can borrow for my car seats?" or "Ugh, you're going straight home to the bath tub," or as Calder's grandfather Dick expressed it yesterday, "I'm glad I wasn't working today." But I know what they really mean despite the edge of irritation in their voices.

If you're going to be a commute time curriculum planner, which I highly recommend (and indeed it's hard to justify any other kind), you might also want to also work on developing a bit of purposeful obliviousness buoyed by a faith that once bath time is over and the photos are being reviewed, mom, dad, and grandpa will be able to laugh about it.

(Oh my.)

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Kristina Yapp said...

You are so brave! Not only do I get flack for messy projects from parents and grandparents, but from my fellow teachers as well. This, however, is an inspiration. I think I will share your blog with my co-workers and parents - because I have never created a mess quite this bad! When they start to complain about painted hands or paint spills on the art table, I will simply remind them of you. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I often wish that could post a sign outside my classroom that says something like, "Dear Parents; I know that your kids own beautiful clothes but if you wear them to school they WILL get dirty and NO, i will not "make sure " they are wearing a smock.
I once had a very nicely dressed 3 year ask me if he could sit down. Huh? Yes, of course, Mickey." He was standing in the sand box area. Oy.

Unknown said...

oh- I used to have a little girl in my room who went home nearly every day with her hair painted a different color! Her hair happened to be blond- so you could REALLY see it! Her mom thought it was quite fun and had no problem with it! If anyone is concerned about it...I simply remind them that it IS washable and should come out of hair as well as clothes :)

Laura said...

Oh my is right. That looks like fun. i love the paint in their hair! My daughter would thrive in your class. She can't go a day without paint, markers, or something else drawn all over her body. She seems to think her skin is a better art paper than anything else.

I am sure the parents know that this is how you teach and that they should put their kids in play clothes for school. Keep up the fun work!

Anonymous said...

I too, believe in the planning while commuting. I HATE having to fill in a calendar for the whole month- I know it's almost always just a formality, the kids' almost always come up with something so much better than my adult brain could ever imagine!

Unknown said...

When my 3 and 5 year old chose their clothes for "school" I tell them over an over "that's ok as long as you are ok with getting it dirty or having paint stains". Kids are not dolls, let them at it I say. Way to go TT! I love your approach.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

It looks like a wonderful time had by all!!
Very nice post Teacher Tom!

Anonymous said...

Dear Teacher Tom,
Please may I be in your classroom, when I am done being in mine? That painting thing looks like the most fun EVER, and I am on the look out as we speak for boxes. Of course, I will also have to find a couple of zanax tabs for my assistant...she HATES messes! but too bad for her, we're going for it!

Betsy said...

We were on the same wave length this week, except for the fact that I avoided the whole painted hair thing by painting outside the box and using markers on the inside. Photos of our big box play can be seen at

Unknown said...

life IS messy! cheers to you!

Let the Children Play said...

The Ooey Gooey lady has a fab notice for parents on her website and I think it is called "Red Paint in the Hair". All about how if your child goes home with paint in their hair then they have been having fun and learning. Reminds me of this!

Anonymous said...

WOW! What a fun mess! I have used markers and stickers, but never paint. Maybe with a drop cloth and a bit smaller boxes I might do this. It does look like fun. Especially the "accidental" hair painting. I sure my parents would love me for that one....