One Sunflower

art and penmenship

Participation in the visual arts for a preschooler is actually more of a science experiment than creative expression.  They are more interested in how their water turns color than using watercolor paints on the paper. Their paintings with tempura become brown because applying the paint is more important than creating an image.  Collage to a four year old is all about how fast and how much glue can be squeezed onto paper  and finding out what will stick to it. While I give them plenty of opportunities to experiment I also start providing demonstrations of how these materials can be used with some control and planning to create visual representations of  ideas.

Along with this experimentation in mediums, I like to provide structured lessons in drawing – or rather, copying images.   The work on the walls in my classroom is more often not  “art” but  “penmenship,” and it is very prescribed.  Much like the drawing exercise Juliann described in her last blog entry,  I begin the year with my students learning how to draw circles and other basic shapes. Then I show them how shapes can be combined to make things like people, houses, trees, animals.  Of course some students have this all figured out and don’t need any help at all.  But other students have no prior experience in representing what they see in the world and with a few tips, can become more successful.   Plus, learning to do all of this will help when it comes time to deciphering how to make those letters and describing details that are important.

My month with snowmen is a perfect example of how I put it all together.  We’ve already been working on drawing circles for a while but in December I start focusing on purposefully drawing different sizes.  I also include check point experiences with cutting: first a large circle, then medium, then small, so that after 3 weeks, we’ve got what it takes to build a snowman. By then, we are reading our favorite snow and snowman stories like The Mitten, The Snowy Day, Sadie and the Snowman, Katy and the Big Snow.  We make snowmen with play dough, “plow” in our moon sand, shovel shaving cream, and create faces on pancakes.

It was just luck that we had real snow in January and my students could draw on this experience in their writing and recreating.  We glued those circles into snowmen and used collage materials to decorate them.  Yes, this art project was a bit prescribed, but the boundaries were few and the experience is one they can build on more creatively in the future.


it only takes a spark

Many of the parents of my students are unemployed right now, some because their work is seasonal, some because of this lousy economy.  Probably the only benefit to being unemployed is the ability to be more a part of your child’s life. I’ve been encouraging families to take advantage of this down time and spend time with me in the classroom.

The first week back in school after Christmas, I had a shy mom come into the classroom, her eyes seeking reassurance.  I smiled and invited her to make herself comfortable.  Most parent helpers like to tag along with their own child engaging in their play scenarios.

Marie started out that way, playing in the kitchen area with her daughter.  But I noticed she found ways to support other children too, counting at the whiteboard, modeling how to draw a snowman, joining a table full of children at lunch time. 



“I need more numchuks,” Leopoldo told me.  “What do you mean?” I asked, and he proceeded to tell me about the Wii game he is currently playing and how”numchuks” will help him win the game.  (My husband tells me the real word is: “nunchaku.”)

Why am I sharing this conversation?  Because it is what led me to my last entry on my other blog about pride and my present conundrum.

I wish my students didn’t play as many video games as they do.  I wish they were outside, using their bikes to jump puddles, crashing remote control cars into trees, creating dams with sticks and stones in the ditches in their back yards.  I wish they were playing soccer or basketball at Boys and Girls Clubs, following  older siblings into Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or dreaming of when they will be old enough to play musical instruments or be in the school play.  These are the kinds of experiences I had as a child that challenged me and developed the sense of pride and self regard I believe is crucial for children.

I have a son who plays video games.  I hear him talk about the various levels he has achieved and I know he is proud when he gets to the end of a game – or when he plays with friends and is able to compete successfully.

So I tuned in again to what Leopoldo was telling me and I talk to him about the feelings he has when he plays the game, focusing on the pride part  and the awareness of having steps to go through, and the fact that there is ultimately a goal.

Of course I sneak in analogies about his favorite game of basketball and the skills he’s learning about writing.
After all, deep inside I’m still a teacher born in the middle of the ’50’s.