Wednesday, May 11, 2011


One of the projects we do every year involves reading the Leo Lionni book Swimmy, then making squirt bottle paintings. At the end of the book, there is a picture of all the little fish swimming together so that they look like one big fish in order to chase away the predators. 

In an attempt to recreate this image using squirt bottles filled with liquid watercolor, I turn our table on its side, cover it with paper, then "mask" it with dozens of tiny cut out fish in the hopes that after the kids squirt it for awhile, we can remove the little fish to reveal the big fish they have made together.

If you look carefully at this picture, you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, I went to the effort -- and it's no small effort -- to arrange the little fish, using mounting putty instead of doubled over masking tape as I usually to, thinking that this would make the project go faster on my end, only to discover that I couldn't find my regular trigger-style squirt bottles. As class time approached, and having sought in vain, I resorted to a collection of the kinds of bottles that require kids to push down on the top of the bottle to make it squirt. These are sold to be used by kids, but the children I know have always struggled with them. Oh well, I thought, I'm not abandoning the project after all my work, and besides a little struggle never hurt anyone.

As it turns out, they found the struggle not worth the effort. A few of the kids gave it a brief try but gave up quickly in favor of more interesting things around the classroom, leaving our poor Swimmy fish virtually white as we approached clean-up time. That's when I rounded up a few of the older kids, those with the strongest hands, and sort of cajoled and coaxed them into a robust squirting session. Naturally, that resulted in an over-saturated painting, and when I tried to remove the little fish, the mounting putty stuck far too securely, causing the wet paper to tear and, well, not only did the process suck, but also the result. 

A few of the kids gamely told me they could see the fish, but I think they were just being kind. 

The disappearance of the trigger-style squirt bottles was doubly disappointing to me because I'd planned to have the Pre-3 class use them to paint some of the coffee filter "ribbon" that we'd received last year from our friends at Upcycle Northwest

This is technically industrial waste. It's what's left over after round coffee filters have been stamped out of the paper. So in lieu of squirt bottles we just mounded the filter paper and gave the kids brushes and paint.

As you can probably tell from these pictures, the kids had far more fun painting the underlying butcher paper, while the coffee filter paper was more or less just in the way. In spite of that, just being in the vicinity of all that over-painting and spilled paint, the filter paper incidentally absorbed quite a bit of color.

Back to back "failures" weighing heavily on my mind, I trudged outdoors to get ready for our transition, when what should I discover but our trigger-style bottles, sitting there right in plain sight! Yes!

I unspooled several dozen yards of the filter ribbon and draped it over a drying rack in the center of our outdoor classroom.

Now that's more like it. The week in art wouldn't be shot after all!

Now that's more like it! We even got to use the squirt bottles to paint the beach hut.

And when I unfurled the ribbon we'd accidentally painted with brushes (i.e., spilled paint) I found they were quite beautiful after all, so I hung them from the ceiling.

And populated our undersea "Swimmy world" with several magnetic fishing holes.


Maybe I'll have time on Thursday to cut out a bunch of tiny fish . . .

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Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

There's so much to like in your post today ... certainly lots of resourcefulness, and persistance... and really although art is about process... (and this process was extremely interesting), these coffee paper streamers hanging from the ceiling are amazingly stunning. It's nice how hanging something from the ceiling can affect a rooms' mood. I think it gives it a happy, stimulating, creative ambience!

Just a wonderful post!

Buddy said...

Creativity always produces unexpected outcomes.
At the end of the day the children had experienced the dynamics of "art in progress".
It also looked like big messy fun and one more go at paint and paper!
Well thought out post.

Buddy Foley

Heather said...

My preschool is partway through our "ocean" topic at the moment, and I am SO EXCITED to give this a try. My local library has "Swimmy", so I'll be getting that out, and doing the art project too. Although I can imagine that it will take some time to cut out all the fish . . .

amy said...

I covet that coffee filter ribbon...

Unknown said...

love them hangiing from the ceiling and love that you just kept going with the flow and it all worked out!

Farah H. said...

From a scrapbooker point of view, I would suggest for you to get a fish shaped puncher and repositionable adhesive. Cutting each fish by scissors will be a great time consuming effort :( Not to mention the agony of taking out all the stuck fish paper pieces, which seem to stuck forever on otherwise great artwork.

Anyway, I usually read your blog to get some play idea to entertain my toddler son so that he will let me do some craft work on my own :)) Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

This is a brilliant project and the results were wonderful (both the art and the learning). Kudos to you!