Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Best Things in Life are Free

You know the saying, "The best things in life are free?" Well, I'm here to tell you it is true! Because in my room, drawing and coloring are free! We're big fans of "Free Drawing" in the Art Studio. It's a simple idea, an area where my students can choose from a variety of materials...and choose what they want to do! No strings attached. They can color coloring pages, play with play-dough, draw with crayons, markers, oil pastels or pencils; cut and paste galore, use tracing paper, stencils and how-to-draw books.

Wait. Coloring pages? you may ask alarmingly. Those come from coloring books, right? Why, I thought coloring books were the suffocaters of childhood creativity!? Well, if they are, my creativity would have been snuffed out decades ago at my grandparent's house, where I spent happy hours coloring from books found in my Baba's dining room hutch. So no worries!

On normal days the kids can do free drawing when they finish up their assigned lesson while exhibiting their best effort and caring and consideration for their fellow artists. That, as it turns out is a big incentive.

However, early in the month of March..the now dreaded month of March because of...dun, dun, dun standardized testing, in order to combat what I call Testing Fear and Fatigue™ (TFF), I offer entire weeks of free drawing time.

Let's take a photo journey of this past March to see how free drawing (which included the coveted "play with clay day"!) worked to heal my kid's TFF...

If my room was a country, coloring pages could be currency.
Warning: Some of the children you are about to see are 5th graders! Practically tweens. Who cannot get enough of playing with play-dough.

Using the tools is a satisfying endeavor. Small-motor skills refinement, anyone?

A Rose, is a blue. 
Someone is either hungry, or a burgeoning chef. These are "carrots". And lots of them.

Free choice. Free to choose what creative endeavor you'd like to try. It's quite a concept. One that's been forfeited almost entirely from our current school day. A reality every teacher I know struggles with.

No matter what day it is, there is always a student who wants to draw with oil pastels. One child described the sensation like "drawing with colored butter." 
Drawing on paper what is in their mind's eye can give children a sense of empowerment that may not exist in their every day lives.  They can put down their dreams in a tangible way, that they or anyone else can witness.  Some of my children are homeless.

Tracing paper is quite a commodity. I suspect using it builds confidence and I know it refines hand-eye coordination, especially important for children who have little opportunity to draw at home.
Coloring mandalas has a calming and centering effect. I stock up on mandala coloring books for that very reason.

For many of my students, the time they spend exploring with art materials in my room 40 minutes per week, is the only time they get to work with art materials at all. My Art Studio is a No High Stakes Testing Zone. A sentiment that seems to have resonated with concerned folks across the country...

As for my young artists....we create and imagine while we can...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Harbingers of Spring!

Let it be known...I like to teach with the seasons. And there's this big ol' forsythia bush on the outside corner of my school with branches just begging to be rendered. So today I lopped off a few branches, stuck them in some sturdy yet Scandanavianly appealing Ikea vases and everyone got to draw a "harbinger of Spring".

Of course "harbinger" is the word of the day and after I told the kids that a harbinger is a "sign of what is to come" (sounds pretty thrilling when you put it that way, right?), the kids all wanted to share all the harbingers they've noticed out and about. Apparently, anyone who is anyone has either seen a forsythia bush or has one in their yard!

We started out talking about the simplicity of the forsythia flower and how it grows on the branches. A little green clasp with 4 or 5 petals growing out in a star-burst (we even counted!).

We used collage technique with wallpaper and shiny paper to create the table and the vase that supports the branches.

Makes for good conversation, this sharing our excitement about the coming Spring. A simple lesson about observation, contemplation and appreciation that the whole school can share.
Course, some people had their own ideas for drawing forsythia! And that's just fine with me!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Am Your Groupie: Eric Carle

Welcome to my first installment of I Am Your Groupie, where I feature an artist, author or even just a person who has contributed so much to my world-view and brings me SO much happiness and inspiration that I would gladly give it all up and follow them around if they were on tour.

Today I feature the beloved children's book author, Eric Carle! I am in love with every single one of his charming, whimsical, gorgeously illustrated books because every single one of them is the perfect vehicle for an art lesson for kids K-3! The only exception is  Draw Me a Star...and don't get me wrong, it's an amazingly crafted and gorgeously illustrated book all about the creative process--the illustrations are sort of reminiscent of Chagall (hello? artist connection!)...but there is one page where...ahem... there are naked people! But no worries, because I just skip that page as stealthily as you please.

My kindergarteners do an author study every year on Carle and boy-oh-boy do I hop on that band wagon. This year was extra cool because the K's did a little community service project collecting useful items for a local animal shelter. So I thought I would do a little "connection" action and use his book Have You Seen My Cat? as a springboard for a cat drawing and collage lesson.

All of Carle's rhythmic, repetitive, yet engaging books are perfect for choral read-alouds, I think. The children really get a kick out of reading with me, especially when I include some dramatic flourishes with my hands, or change up the emphasis on that one sentence. "Have you seen my cat? Have you seen my cat? Have you seen my CAT??" You get the picture.

Enjoy the photo journey of our lesson and after you're done go take a virtual tour of The Eric Carle Museum

 We start out by drawing a cat using simple shapes.  Plus we add a line that shows us the ground and the sky. Or for that matter, the floor and the wall! Trace in sharpie and then color in with crayon. I really like the Crayola Construction Paper crayons because the colors are a bit bolder. I add them to my buckets of the traditional colors. 
                                                                 Notice how all the cats are unique individuals!

Then we can add the collage pieces with glue sticks. I use small squares of animal patterned tissue since the cat in the story was a calico and her kittens were miniature big cats! They can choose the small squares of multicolored tissue for the cat or the blanket or rug. It's all good! 

                                                                                      This is my cat!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Deluged by Dragons!

Dragon Show!
Ah...dragons. Such an inspiring subject for young artists. Such a no-brainer as a topic to cover. And cover it in depth we did! My 3rd graders spent weeks on these lessons and never, ever showed signs that they had hit a creative wall. So the new year cooperated nicely, well, the Chinese New Year did, 2012 being The Year of the Dragon! So we began with that, since you must begin somewhere and the more concrete and tangible you can be with young children, the more invested in the journey they will be. This was also a perfect way to integrate different cultures into our discussions. I have some Chinese American students who were excited to personally share their experiences, and many of the other kids were familiar with how the Chinese celebrate and ring in the New Year, as well.

I created a power point that began by highlighting the fact that the dragon has very special symbolism in East Asian cultures. Then we saw some examples of dragons in popular culture. I shared a cool video produced by The Discovery Channel, a faux-documentary that presupposes that dragons are real. But we made sure that we understood that this was fictional and opposed to nonfiction, connecting the use of vocabulary they use in their academic setting to the world of the Art Studio. As we got deeper and deeper into exploring dragon mythos, the more interested and excited the kids got. This book Dragonology proved a source of great interest to all. We discovered that dragons are all over the place; in literature, film, art and culture. (Obviously this unit took weeks... and if I didn't mention it before, my days are chopped into 40 minutes classes!)

So let's start a photo-journey about creating Dragons....
Some added texture by using crayon texture rubbings
Some drew their textures

We started with a simple lesson on using shapes to create the basic shape of a dragon. (I do this with all my drawing lessons). It demystifies the drawing process and allows children to feel more confident when tackling a more complex drawing. In pencil we started. Then after learning that dragon's bodies have scales and lumps and possibly bumps, we added details and texture. Then we traced it all in a thin-tipped sharpie.
Next comes the water color painting! (A beloved activity if ever there was one. Very soothing and engaging.)

After painting - the only other thing that made sense was to make these creatures POP OUT! I mean, come on! We cut them out, added some small stacks of corrugated cardboard to spots in the back and mounted on black construction paper to capitalize on the drama!

Oh, wait! Not dramatic enough for you? Well then how about if we create a shiny border with a collage pattern of paper? I mean, dragons are very commanding creatures!

Here's the final display for all to enjoy: (this creates some chatter among the younger kids..."When do we get to do dragons? And the older kids..."I remember when I made a dragon! I still have it!")
So you think we're done here? Oh, but how wrong you are. We haven't made these dragons in clay yet! We work with air dry clay which I like, because my kiln is a little wonky and it scares me a bit. When we work with clay my mantra is: "your hands are the most important clay tool you have!" Although we do have an extremely special tool, I call a "tiny tool" to slice a mouth, poke in eyes and flaring nostrils. It's actually a...toothpick.
The modge podge(gloss medium is what I call it, more sophisticated!) looks sort of milky but then it dries nice and shiny.

This dragon is missing a wing. That happens when you don't attached the clay properly! But these things do happen. we hot glue gunned it on later.

This dragon has details added with a sharpie, then glossed.

A dragon in hand is worth two in the...oh never mind.