Friday, November 23, 2012

"The Right Way"

"I support the arts, not the crafts!" ~Frasier, indignantly, upon learning that the new art museum he was being asked to support was a doll museum

The idea was that this was going to be a Thanksgiving-themed craft. If you know anything about our school, you'll know that "craft" opportunities are few and far between. This is not out of any Frasier-esque snobbishness, because I've been known to enjoy getting my craft on with the best of them, but rather that, by definition, crafts are art projects with a "right answer," whereas we prefer our preschool art open-ended.

Still, every now and then we give the kids a chance to try out a step-by-step process at the art table, something with at least the possibility of a pre-determined goal at the end, you know, like a puzzle: "Today, we're making spiders," "Today, we're making flowers," "Today, we're making turkeys."

We tried versions of this last week with all the Woodland Park ages, 2-5, but this was also a week in which the public schools we're not in session so we had a number of elementary school aged kids visiting us as well. I told each of the art parents, the parent-teachers responsible for managing the project each day, that despite the fact that there was an "obvious" way to interact with the glue, the feathers, and the pre-programmed paper plates with google-eyed turkey heads, we were to avoid bossing the kids around about it. (Our older students used old CD's instead of plates, affixed their own eyes, and cut their own beaks, but otherwise it was essentially the same project.) Even though there was an obvious craft going on, I still wanted the children to have the chance to interact with the materials according to their own curiosities.

Yes, I pre-made a couple of "correct" versions in advance, as "inspiration." I was also wondering if our older visitors, those 6-10 year olds, would supply some genuine inspiration by sitting down with the preschool kids and role modeling a step-by-step approach to crafting turkeys. In other words, as should always be the case with school, it was an experiment and I was curious to see if we could, by these clever, non-bossy means, guide at least some of the kids into creating identifiable turkeys to adorn their family's holiday tables.

Even though few of the children did this craft "the right way," they still created their own step-by-step processes. Here's Step 1 . . .

That said, I'm happy to report that every single 2-year-old started by covering the pre-programmed turkey eyes with a nice thick pool of glue, then covering what used to be its face with feathers. Every one of them approached it this way. And you know what I'm most proud of?  I didn't hear a single adult say, "No, no, no, put the glue around the head!" I did hear a few request that the glue be kept on the table, as opposed to chair seats or the floor, but you know, that's mostly out of courtesy to the other people who might want to later sit or walk.

. . . Step 2 . . .

A few of the 3 and 4 year olds managed to create turkeys with visible eyes, although more often than not, those eyes were again mere targets for glue and feathers, despite the best efforts of our older visitors to demonstrate "how it's done."

. . . and Step 3, which involves even more glue!

The 5's class, when it was their turn, got into making alien turkeys: bizarre creatures with dozens of eyes and extra beaks, and other deformities.

With the CD turkeys we wound up putting wax paper under them to accommodate the glue.

And at the end of the day, there might have even been a few turkeys made "the right way."

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Anonymous said...

We also try to keep our projects more open ended at our house, but I struggle sometimes with what I find to be "wasteful" use of materials. When I offer an entire container of glue or other craft/art material to my kids (3 and 4) they will often squeeze out (or dump)the entire contents within minutes. I've taken to portioning out the materials so that they have access to a limited amount of any one thing, but I wonder if this isn't preventing them from learning self control when there are limited resources.

We've had a lot of conversations about being respectful of our environment and not being "wasteful" of precious resources, like water, but these lessons don't seem to translate well to our craft/art spaces.

They do get plenty of opportunity to explore in "messy" and unrestricted ways, both in our outdoor play spaces and inside (lots of "sensory" play). So, I don't think that it's an issue where they aren't being given enough opportunities to dump and pour and use as much of something as they'd like.

Do you address the issue of limited resources with the kids in your group, and if so, how is it usually received?

Teacher Tom said...

If it's too valuable to be used freely, we don't bring it into the classroom. I want children to be able to explore and experiment freely. When it comes to educational materials, it's hard for me to think in terms of waste because it seems to me it's ALL being used in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. That's why much of what we use in our classroom is stuff others have designated as "garbage." That's an endlessly renewable resource! But even when we do use new stuff, like paint and glue, I rarely place limits on use.

Jean said...

I love this! I've never been a 'dot, dot, not a lot' glue person when offering materials to kids. For our school, 'express, express, make a mess' is more apt.

Anonymous said...

I also try to offer more open ended projects. Many of them are process oriented. Check this one. I called it: Fall Collage in Box. It is simple, fun and there are no "rigt way or wrong way" to do it.

Jackie said...

I love it Teacher Tom!
I wouldn't have expected crafting to look any other way in your classroom! The way your students are given the opportunity to freely and creatively explore their materials and their environment every day is the reason that your followers love and respect you!

You've inspired so many of us with your approach to play and learning, and you've eased the burden for many who, before discovering your blog, believed that learning and teaching was best carried out through structured schedules, academic worksheets and pre-fabricated toys and equipment.

Thanks to you, and those like you, the tides are turning, and there is a growing population of parents and educators, now realizing the value and importance of giving children the opportunity to learn through open-ended activities, loose parts, and imaginative play. The magic truly happens when we hand the reins over to the children and stand back and observe.

And that, Tom, is why we adore you. You're an inspiration, and your words of wisdom keep us on track. In the hustle-bustle of the day, when sometimes it would be easier to step in and DO for the children: to lift them up that ladder or to move that heavy object across the yard for them, I think of you, and I remind myself that the children will learn more, have more fun, and feel a sense of accomplishment if I give them the opportunity to do it for themselves, or if I encourage them to collaborate together to make it happen.

You are, quite literally, changing the way people think, parent and teach.

Having said that, I absolutely love that you rolled up your sleeves and got out the googly eyes and the feathers this week.

When I saw that we were in for a crafty post from Teacher Tom, I admit to being a little curious (read: shocked), but I was relieved and not a bit surprised to see how your craft session all played out.
Of COURSE it was an opportunity for the students to dig in, get messy, explore and create in whatever fashion they chose. I shouldn't have been any different coming from you!

Good on ya, Teacher Tom! I''m sure the kids had a blast.

Teaching Munchkins said...

Hi! I just came across your blog and I enjoyed reading this blog post. I am also all about process art and try to engage my preschoolers in focusing on the process of an art project, rather than the product. =) And I have learned that some children have trouble with that- and they need that teacher example, which I try not to provide all the time!
I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award.
Check out my preschool blog to learn more about the award!

Teaching Munchkins



Deborah said...

Lovin these Turkeys!

Mammasaurus said...

I am new to thinking that actually removing the expectations from a project ie. Today we are going to make space rockets that looks like this one ( whilst pointing to a super dooper space rocket creation from Pinterest for example) is actually setting up all involved with an element of unnecessary pressure from the outset. Also I feel it is to some degree stifling their imagination and creativity.
I've started 'The Creative Project' over on my blog and I'm pledging to open myself up to full child-led arts and crafts to really encourage creativity and imagination and in turn, confidence for my children. A reader pointed me to this post of yours and I just love it x