Friday, November 14, 2014

Sling Shot Painting?

Yesterday, the wonderful Kisha of the Discovery Early Learning Center preschool, posted a video on the school's Facebook page of her kids engaged in an art exploration that she described like this:

Sling shot painting in the art studio! I dare you! The children took this idea and "stretched" it beyond the idea that I had in my head as I set out the materials. What they did was way more awesome than what I envisioned.

She did not share the idea she had in her head, but I reckon it had something to do with sling shots. What I saw in the video were baggies of paint with small holes cut in them, hanging by string from lengths of wood. Kids were paired up, holding opposite ends of the sticks, across the table from one another, then working together to bounce the sticks up and down so that the bags hit the table causing paint to squirt out onto paper. There may be more or less to it than that, but I'd viewed the video just before leaving on my bike commute to work and by the time I arrived on Woodland Park's doorsteps, this was the take-away that had become fixed as an idea in my own head.

We didn't properly take up Kisha's challenge in that we did this outdoors rather that in the "art studio," largely because we don't have an art studio. The three-year-olds were the first to give it a go and, honestly, it went pretty much exactly as it had happened on Kisha's video. It took the adults awhile to figure out how long the strings should be and how big to cut the holes in the bags, but the kids took their ends of the sticks and started bouncing them, creating wonderful splats on the cardboard we were using as targets . . . And also, in equal measure, sending dramatic streams and sprays of paint through the air, which I hadn't seen in Kisha's video, but anticipated, not being inexperienced the ways of flying paint.

By the time the four and five year olds arrived in the afternoon, I felt that we'd worked out the kinks and were now ready for an even more rousing session involving bigger, rowdier kids. And indeed, they fell on it immediately, bouncing those sticks with abandon, emptying the first couple of bags onto the cardboard, themselves, and the world around, then, after about 10 minutes, abandoning the project for greener pastures. 

That's the way it goes sometimes in a play-based preschool: something that was a hit one day with one group of kids is a dud with another.  I made a few attempts to lure kids into a re-engagement, but by then most of the more gung-ho types had cleaned themselves up and weren't too eager to go through the experience again.

As a cooperative preschool with lots of adults around to support me and the kids, we have the luxury of assigning an adult to "manage" stations like this. At our fall orientation meeting, one of my requests of these parents addresses exactly this scenario: "If the activity I've planned appears to be a dud, please start goofing around with whatever it is and see if you can make me right. If you can engage even one kid, it's a success." Wyatt's mom Amy had been responsible for the morning session and since the kids fell on it, she mainly spent her time refilling bags with paint, untangling string, refining the process, and generally just trying to keep up with demand. 

Yuri's dad Bill was at the art table during the afternoon session, and when he found himself alone, he got busy tinkering. He was down there by himself for quite some time, not just standing around, but goofing off. After a bit, I noticed that he had managed to attract some curious kids. His innovation was to dispense with the sticks altogether and to instead tie the baggies of paint to long pieces of string that he threaded up and over the clothesline we use to hang drying art. The kids were then pulling on the string, raising the bags up and down. Some were bouncing the paint bags a la the original stick version, but others were raising them as high as they could, then releasing the string so the bags fell with a, explosive splat.

This is the sort of thing I love about the cooperative model, this incredible interplay between children and playful adults. What Bill was doing was more than just creating an "art project" for the kids, he was role modeling goofing around, tinkering, or, if you will, the sort of creative persistence that is the only reliable connection between failure and success.

On Monday, I will, in all likelihood, reset Bill's version of "sling shot painting" for the three-year-olds. May it continue evolving from there.

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Unknown said...

Hi my name is Ashley and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed reading your post. It definitely looks like something interesting to try with my future classroom one day!!
Thanks for sharing!

Tanya Beautifulisme=) said...

I love this!!! Two months we did something like this in our school parking lot. We use sponges and the kids had a ball! I love thinking out of the box painting projects! Thank you sharing! ������