Thursday, May 04, 2017

Painting It Rainbow

During my first year at Woodland Park, I taught a five-year-old boy who was enthusiastic about volcanos. His interest was such that it infected his classmates. He had seen a vinegar and baking soda volcano at work and so we decided we would try to make one for ourselves. At the time, I had been working on a project with a paper mache artist and was keen to try out the technique with the kids.

I've detailed the process here on the blog, but essentially we started with a 2 liter soda bottle, put it on a base, made a framework of masking tape, mixed flour and water into a paste, then ripped up some grocery bags to use as our medium. It was an absorbing process, one that took several days as we added layer upon layer. When we were done, we felt it looked a little plain so we decided we ought to paint it.

Our volcano enthusiast informed us that volcanos are brown, but his friends had other ideas. One thought it ought to be purple, another red, and yet another pink. We had a healthy debate about the virtues of each until someone had the idea to settle the matter by "painting it rainbow." This compromise was immediately adopted by all of the kids, excepting our expert, who continued to grumpily insist that it had to be brown, but he apparently accepted the concept of majority rule even if he wasn't happy about it. We broke out paint cups filled with primary and secondary colors, then went to town, creating swirly, rainbow-y flanks. Then, in the moments after the rest of us had turned away to let the thing dry, our enthusiast took a brush and, in a matter of seconds, feverishly blended our rainbow into a brown mess. Even as the rest of us complained, he remained delighted.

I learned two main things from that project: 1) if at all possible, don't stop at majority rule, but rather continue talking until some sort of consensus is achieved, and 2) how to manage a rainbow painting process to best ensure that the children's collective vision is realized.

I'd come into teaching convinced that voting was the gold standard when it came to group decision-making, an imperfect, but essentially "fair" system, but over my years working with children (and, truthfully, with their parents as we work together to manage our cooperative preschool), I've come to recognize that achieving consensus may take more time, but ultimately it produces results that preempt the kind of grumbling and even sabotage (like we had with our volcano) that too often results from one side imposing its will on another. With adults there may be grumbling about the time-consuming, inefficient process of achieving consensus, but that has never seemed to bother the kids, which is why we often talk these sorts of things to death at circle time, giving everyone a chance to share his opinion and not moving forward until everyone is either on board or has decided to set her objections aside.

Since that first volcano project, I've facilitated dozens of similar discussions about how to "decorate" group projects ranging from birthday thrones to cardboard box space ships and every time, we achieve consensus around some version of "rainbow." Last week, our 4-5's class, for instance, began work on a volcano of their own, this one being created for the year-end play on which we've been working since January. The first few kids agreed that it ought to be painted either black or gray, but then someone had the idea of purple, which lead to others suggesting their own favorite colors. Then, as always happens with preschoolers, someone had the brilliant idea (and it alway strikes the children as a brilliant idea) of painting it rainbow. Most of the kids immediately jumped on that bandwagon, but a few remained attached to black/gray. Once this became clear to the kids, they simple coalesced around the idea of half rainbow, half black/gray, and everyone felt like a winner.

(As an aside, I want to point out that while committees of preschoolers almost always agree to rainbow, committees of adults tasked with choosing colors almost always settle on some version of beige. Just saying . . .)

In order to prevent a repeat of the volcano "browning" incident I've learned to have that discussion before we get started. I'll ask something like, "Does anyone know what happens if you mix all the colors together?" And several will call out, "It makes brown!" I'll then say, "Did anyone want a brown volcano?" And since (that first time being the only exception) no one has championed brown, the answer is always, "No." We then enter a discussion about exactly what "rainbow" means, which is invariably some version of stripes, either horizontal, vertical or a combination of both. I then tape things off according to our agreement, providing guidelines to help us all achieve our collective concept.

This year's class, as many of them do, went beyond rainbow, agreeing that we would also cover it in glitter and gems, then include a flow of "orangish-redish" lava down it's flanks.

Our rainbow painting met with everyone's approval, all agreeing that we had achieved our vision. We then, as you can see from the pictures, completely obscured that layer under glitter and gems, a result that left no one dissatisfied. Today, we will add the lava flow.

By Monday, it should be finished. I'm curious, however, what we'll decide to do with it. We've created it as a prop for our play, but they all know it's also been designed for vinegar and baking soda eruptions. Will we decid to save it for the play? Will we erupt it every day for the next few weeks? Or will we wait until after the play and erupt it as a kind of year-end celebration? I'm eager to find out. It's a process, like most, I've never managed before.

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1 comment:

Chris said...

I love the addition of glitter.
Once long ago, I also had kids work together on a volcano like this. We covered the volcano with glue and colored sand. When the volcano errupted it pushed the sand ahead of the flow like molten lava .I bet the glitter will do the same thing if some of it is loose.