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.