Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Enhanced Leaf Rubbing: Engaging "The Masses"

Each year, I trot out the leaf rubbing material. Typically, the most exciting part of the project is taking the tour of our neighborhood to collect leaves. After that, each step of the process becomes less popular with the result being that maybe a couple dozen leaves get successfully rubbed, mostly by one or two kids who really get into it. That's enough for me, that only one or two kids milk something for everything it's worth. It's one of the things I value most about teaching in a cooperative: we don't need to jettison activities just because they don't engage "the masses." We have enough arms and legs around the room in the form of parent-teachers (child:teacher ratios anywhere from 1:2 to 1:4 depending on age) that we can usually afford to let a station run, and run well, for the edification of the few.

Still, I'm always looking for ways to expand the appeal of projects, especially traditional ones like selecting an attractive Fall leaf, then using a crayon cake (or the edge of an unwrapped crayon) to transfer its delicate structure onto tracing paper. It's a challenge for most preschoolers to hold the paper still as they rub. We used to solve this problem by taping the paper down over the leaf, but the time that took often caused us to "lose" the kids with shorter attention spans, who just wanted to get busy coloring. Then we hit on the idea of using clip boards as a kind of "third hand" to keep things from moving around so much.

Of course, at bottom, the real challenge of leaf rubbing with preschoolers is that it's a technique that requires the touch, experience, and patience usually found in older children, which is why I was interested to give it a go with our new 5's class. It was purely serendipitous that both Duncan and Addison had recently begun to talk about land artist Andy Goldsworthy and had both expressed an interest in trying to create "art like him." Duncan, in particular, had told us that the important first step is to "look around and see what nature things we can find, then make art from them." I sold the neighborhood leaf walk as a Goldsworthy-esque hunt for "nature things," which is why we came back with our bags full of more than just leaves. After a session of arranging leaves, sticks, seeds, fruit, and rocks into artwork in the outdoor classroom, we still had plenty of pretty leaves left over to use later for leaf rubbing.

But before getting there, we needed to make our own crayon cakes, the first step of which was to pick the paper off old crayons and sort by color. I knew that this activity, in and of itself, wouldn't hold our attention for long (I've done it often -- it's both tedious and painful on the fingernails), so I wanted to figure out a way to melt the crayons as we went, which, I thought, would add some glamour and motivation to the project.

Look at all those careful fingers. Holding children competent is always it's own reward.

We have a classroom crayon melting rig that I know will liquify the wax, but it involves balancing little pots in a pan of boiling water on a portable stove burner, and I wanted this to be as hands-on as possible, so instead I thought we could try the hot plates we normally use to make encaustic monoprints. I tested them out prior to class and found that they could, indeed, melt crayons, but they didn't get hot enough to melt more than 1 or 2 at a time. It would be a slow process, but hopefully engaging.

I love that the kids got an extended opportunity to freely explore the way wax melts.

And it was engaging, especially for the handful of kids who stuck it out, remaining at the workbench for nearly an hour at a time. We did this over two class sessions, with the kids discovering for themselves, through trail and error, that we were only going to be able to melt a little at a time. I'd provided craft sticks to use for stirring, which they discovered helped accelerate the process. Slowly, but surely, we made our crayon cakes, adding melted wax to our molds by the teaspoon-full, a process that looked painstaking to me, the teacher peering over their shoulders, but it was enough for the kids, who showed an impressive amount of concentration and patience.

After a couple hours of work spread out over two days, we wound up with a 8 completed crayon cakes. 

Now remember, we were going through all of this by way of enhancing the leaf rubbing experience. So far, all of the 18 kids had had a hand in some aspect of the project. I made a big deal out of the cakes we'd made, peeling the wrappers off in front of the group to show them what "we'd made," then demonstrated how they could use a clip board, and this very thin paper, and their brand new crayon cakes to "do the magic trick" of making a detailed an delicate impression.

I'll bet at least 8 kids made more than one rubbing. Progress.

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1 comment:

Julia said...

If you want to make peeling crayons easier, try soaking them in water for a few minutes- most of the wrappers will come off on their own. Certain colors don't come off, but about 75% will.