Thursday, January 17, 2013

Making Time for Art-Making

Today's post is from @coastalnicole, a teacher-on-call from Vancouver Island, Canada.

Texture drawing on recycled plastic mesh - Kindergarten

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
-Pablo Picasso

In preschool and kindergarten most children think of themselves as artists. Sadly, many lose this belief before they are finished the primary grades, let alone before they grow up. I start with this quote because I want you to think of yourself as a nurturing caretaker of the creative little artists that are in your class.

I hope that in reading this blog post, you can take a few minutes to reflect on art making in your classroom. Do you have room for art making? I’m going to talk about three ways to make room – or make more room - for art making: Formal Lessons, Revitalizing Your Art Center and Art Integration. I’m a fan of balancing formal art projects (and yes, crafts too!) with arts integration and time for personal exploration, discovery and expression.

Formal Lessons
It's good practice to teach art skills and techniques explicitly. When I’m choosing or inventing directed lessons I’m thinking about what specific techniques I want my students to learn ie. colour mixing, blending, collaging OR about how the lesson will introduce them to a specific artist’s style that is different from their own and will push their boundaries. These types of lessons are led by an example with some limitations on how the art piece should be constructed or attempted but usually with room for interpretation. The goal isn’t to make a mini-Monet just for the sake of it, but to learn a new technique such as brushwork, the use of warm undertones and the beauty of a limited colour palette like this example below:

Monet's Water lilies – grade 1

There are many great websites to find lesson plans. My current favourite is Deep Space Sparkle. For more lessons and resources check out my Delicious bookmarks.

For me, the goal of teaching students specific techniques and styles is to give them the tools they need and the confidence to create and fulfill the vision they have in their head. Just like math and language arts, they need opportunities to practice – not just perform! In Writer’s Workshop we would never ask our students to write a perfect piece, in one go, to be put on display in the hallway. So please don’t ask this of your little artists; allow time for revision and do-overs.

I also want to encourage you that lessons don’t have to be long and involved or for display. Just like writer’s workshop, in art we can have quick mini lessons – ex. After a little exploration time with a new material like chalk pastels, bring the students to the carpet and show them how to blend chalk pastels with a Q-tip. Then let them continue exploring the materials in greater depth. When you reconvene as a group, talk about the discoveries the students have made. Allowing them space and time to integrate new techniques into their practice will encourage them to add it to their toolbox as opposed to creating a “one-off”. See where these new techniques turn up during the rest of the week! You might just find students using their new skills to draw backgrounds for their farm animals or figurines for their block cities.

Revitalizing the Art Centre
You probably already have an art or “make-it” centre in your classroom. Wonderful! Could it use some revitalization? As a visiting teacher, I see many centres that are limited to construction paper, felts, glue sticks and cardboard. These are a great base but what little artist wouldn’t be inspired by something new? I’m a huge fan of recycling materials into art projects. Recycled materials are free and open-ended. During trips to Vancouver, BC I’m lucky enough to have access to a fantastic alternative art materials store called the Urban Source. Here are some places in your community that you may find free or inexpensive materials:

  • Print Shops: offcuts/misprints of wonderful papers of different textures/colours – staple them into mini-sketchbooks or use heavy weight paper for 3D projects
  • Hardware store: ask for end pieces and off cuts at the wood cutting area, paint chips
  • Thrift Stores: fabric, buttons, ribbon, puzzle pieces, yarn, magazines
  • Beach/Forest: driftwood, pebbles, sticks, leaves, sand

Another way to inspire your little artists is to have lots of library books about artists or non-fiction photo books about a subject you are studying (ex. Frogs) available for them to reference. Or, boost their skills by photocopying and laminating step-by-step drawing guides from books like How to Draw series books.

Art Integration
Now that you have a freshly inspired art centre, I’m going to ask you… Is it always open??? I know it’s messy, and that it is tempting to close it sometimes, but I think of the art centre as an accessible toolbox and a studio area for exploring all subjects. If you take time during your formal art lessons to teach proper care and respect for the art materials, the students will be able to manage accessing these materials responsibly (yes, it will take time and repetition!). As you shift your thinking away from making a product in a block of time, to a studio atmosphere you will find many opportunities to integrate art daily.

Three quick ideas:
1. Have the art centre accessible for writer’s workshop, science journaling, and math.
2. Boost the students’ oral language skills by sitting in a circle and having a mini-critique where they show their work and discuss it. (Think author’s chair.)
3. Choose open-ended art lessons that relate to current topics of inquiry in your class; think of the art making as a way to explore answers to questions or ‘wonderings’. Ex. I wonder what a habitat for a frog would look like? It could be a choice of a group 3D model, an individual drawing or a mural.

Final Thoughts
We share our love of reading, writing, and curiosity about the world with our students. We model being inquisitive mathematicians and question-posing scientist. In the same way, we need to share how we are artists too. Need a little more inspiration? Are you afraid of art? Do you think of yourself as a crafter not a real artist? Then I challenge you to take an art class at your local recreation centre, art gallery or arts council. Get inspired!  I hope you feel courageous enough to embrace a studio atmosphere in your classroom. One that includes time and space for exploration, ‘tinkering’, collaboration between peers, and plenty of time for play – talk - replay. Let’s make room for more art making and keep our little artist believing in their creative selves! 

Look how expressive the K's work is compared to my simple sample!

Nicole says: I am a K-7 teacher on call on Vancouver Island. I dream of having a primary classroom of my own one day, but until then I stalk other teacher’s classrooms with my iPhone for great ideas and consider white space in the day plan to be an open invitation for art making. A practicing artist and exhibiting painter, I blog about my artwork at I blog about my adventures as a substitute at When I’m not teaching you will likely find me trail running, snowshoeing, cycling, sailing, beach combing, or camping… and then returning to the studio with fresh inspiration.

Tomorrow: A post from us, about the Sandy Hook Promise.

1 comment:

  1. I have always struggled with art. While I view myself as a pretty creative person, the creations I have in my mind seem to never be duplicated in the real world. For this reason I tend to avoid producing my own art. But I really want to provide a creative environment for my students. This post will help me get there - i hope.