Friday, January 30, 2009

The dot

When I retired from teaching, I was given two copies of the same book by friends. I kept one and donated the other to the school library. The book is called "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds and published by Candlewick Press ( The inscription on the inside of the one that I kept reads "Karen - You are this teacher! Don't ever forget that! love, Peter" No. it is not the Peter who wrote the book but my friend Peter whom I mentored as a new teacher and then collaborated with on a number of interdisciplinary lessons.

Yesterday when I wrote about not always being able to create just because someone says it is time to do so, I thought about this book. The basic story is about a little girl who says she cannot draw. The teacher encourages her to just make a mark and she makes a dot and says there! How the teacher uses this dot to encourage her to explore her creativity is the remainder of the story.

I always told the parents of my students that some of the hardest thinking their children would do during their school years would happen in the art room. Think how intimidating it is for someone to give you a blank piece of paper and say draw something. Most adults respond that they can't draw a straight line. I always respond, "Good! That is why they make rulers and straight edges."

Don't get me wrong. I know that doing math or writing sentences for your spelling words is not easy for children. With those subjects, however, there is a place to go to find the right answer. In art the answer lies within you. What is the story I what to tell? What color makes me feel happy, sad or excited? How does that object look to me? What shapes do I need? These are just some of the questions that the child needs to answer as they explore the visual communication process. Are there wrong answers? Some of the answers are more pleasant than others but that doesn't make them wrong. Often the picture that did not work is the one that teaches us the most. It helps us to develop aesthetic judgment or to work on creating a clearer image next time. There are incorrect ways to use the materials or tools but that is why the art teacher shows how to use the tools or materials before they start. (Modeling how to use the tools or materials is one of the important skills of teaching.)

If you get a chance, read "The Dot." Then get a piece of paper and a marker and start exploring your ideas. Remember that a line is just proof that a dot has moved around the page.
Have fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

No art class today with Leah. We are expecting at least a foot of snow if not more. So after I get myself organized I'm going to work on my own stuff.

For the past few years I have mostly been working in collage, combining paint with cut or torn paper. More recently, I have been working with smaller pieces. About a week ago when I was reorganizing my studio, cleaning up my workbench and making shelves more orderly so I didn't waste so much time looking for stuff,, I found that I have four different kinds of watercolors. I set a goal for myself to incorporate watercolors into my work. The first piece I did combined some printing with watercolor and cut paper. After inking a piece of corrugated cardboard, I printed it on the surface of some very nice watercolor paper. Then I wet the entire surface and randomly painted with watercolors, letting the colors run into each other. I let this dry. I used a sharpie marker to draw images into the watercolor and then went back into the images with deeper watercolors. I had forgotten how much I liked the way black line and watercolor look.
The printed image reminded me of wood and looked like the side of a house. I often add a window in my work, I like the idea of a picture in a picture. I decided that I would make one of my cut paper collages on the printed section. I was pleased with the results,

Today I decided to just use black line and watercolors. The image is small, 3"by3". I quickly sketched the still life in pencil, traced the lines with black ink and proceeded to paint the image. I worked with watercolors on dry paper which gives a different quality to the painting. The work went fast. I had planned to create two or three more. Unfortunately, I was interrupted by a phone call and when I returned to work the muse had left me.

This is an important thing to remember. A young child may not always feel like making something that day or minute. Creativity cannot be scheduled. This is why it is important to have a space where the young child can draw or paint freely as the "spirit moves them". When I was teaching, I called my classroom the art studio. This led to conversations about what a studio was and why it was different than other rooms. A studio is a place where an artist goes to make art. Try to create a small studio space for your child. He or she will love it! I remember the day that i was describing my studio space to some students. A second grade boy, looking at me with awe, whispered, "You have a studio in your house. Could I come over sometime and share it with you?"

A quote to think about:
"Children don't need mechanical toys to teach them about the world. The world itself is a kid's brain gym" - Lawrence Katz, PHD, from Better Homes and Gardens, November 2005.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Glitter, Glitter, Everywhere

Art class for children two years old: Week two

Week two at my art class with Leah answered my question about the purpose of this class. It is just about making things and not about teaching parents ways to work with young children We worked with glitter. Why anyone would choose glitter as the art material of choice for two-year-olds is beyond me. Don't get me wrong. I love glitter! It has a definite use in art work of young children. It can really help children learn about when enough is enough. Children of this age, however, are not at that level.

At this class we were given a 10" cardboard heart shape, a small tub of Elmer's glue and some q-tips. The instructor asked the children to cover the cardboard heart with glue using the q-tip. Asking a young child to cover a 10" space with a q-tip is like asking your husband to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors. The q-tip does not pick up very much glue and makes it difficult for the child to cover the space. Once again I would suggest the use of a cheap and disposable foam brush. A one inch brush will help the child cover the area before the glue starts to dry. They were asked to cover both sides of the heart which meant that the grownups were required to hold the heart steady in the air to avoid the glue coming off one side in the process of doing the other. Not as easy as it sounds!

The second step of this lesson was to have the children sprinkle glitter onto the surface of the heart over a tray. Leah was proud of her heart and wanted to take it home to hang it up.

Realizing that this would not take too long. The instructor planned another activity, making a wave in a bottle. Let me explain how this was done. Take and empty water bottle (1 liter size).
Pour about 1/3 cup vegetable oil into the bottle. Fill the rest with water. Shake the glitter in to the bottle by pouring it through a funnel. Add four drops of food coloring. Put the top on the bottle and fasten with duct tape. Give the bottle a shake.

This activity held no interest for the young children. First of all, they didn't understand what they were doing. Secondly, the glitter wasn't essential for the activity. Mostly, the glitter just stayed on the bottom rather than floating through the water.

Here are some facts about glitter:
  • It's pretty.
  • Young children are attracted to it.
  • It sticks to everything, especially young fingers which are apt to go into the eyes and mouth.
  • Glitter enhances the look of many things but can also take away from the images when overly applied.
  • If not applied correctly, it tends to fall off the art work and makes a mess in your environment.
  • Once it ends up in your carpet it never seems to go away.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Easel in the Kitchen

I'm sorry that I didn't write this sooner but I was trying to find a picture. Unfortunately, I didn't find it. In case I haven't mentioned it, I have three children, Jeremy (33), Sarah (26) and Zachary (20) and I worked full time even when they were babies.

I always kept an easel in the kitchen when my children were little. At first it was out of necessity. When we lived in D.C., the apartment was small so, the only place to put an easel was in the kitchen. Watching Jeremy draw or paint while I was preparing dinner soon became the highlight of a very busy day. As he was drawing, we would talk about the colors he was using or he would tell me the story of his picture. Occasionally, he would ask me to write down what he was saying. I seldom wrote directly on his work. Instead, I would write on a separate strip of paper. The strip would then be placed under the picture. The wall behind the easel became his gallery. While Jeremy majored in jewelry design at Savannah College of Art and Design, he currently works for a large food chain in their marketing department.

After Sarah was born, we returned to Maine. There we had a larger house but I still put an easel for Sarah in the kitchen. Sarah was and still is a talker. She would chatter away while I worked. By now I was more skilled in finding out the meaning in the scribbles, although with her there were few scribbles and more images. She always wanted me to write what she was saying and wanted it placed on her pictures. She loved words and books. Any folded piece of paper became the place to write her story. Needless to say,she read early and is still an avid reader. Sarah received her BA from Dartmouth in art history and a masters in art history from the Courthauld in London . She is currently a free lance writer and editor.

Zach did not spend as much time at the easel. Perhaps this was because I was also busier and we spent more time transporting people around. Jeremy was in high school and needed transportation to and from marching band and Sarah and I were in a clogging group where I was an instructor. He was more likely to lay on the floor with a pad of paper and a crayon. As he grew older I discovered that every time he read a story or watched a movie, he would have to draw a picture of it. It was his way of processing and remembering. Today he is majoring in film at Emerson College and still drawing pictures of the movies he sees. As evidenced by this quick sketch of the joker in Dark Knight.

On my granddaughter's second birthday I bought her an easel to keep the tradition going.

They also make a great place to hide!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's with the name...

You may be wondering about the name of my blog. For many years the license plate on my car had this message. It was my way to advocate for the teaching of art. Many people would ask me what a t chart was. I would explain that it was an assessment tool but the license plate should say teach art also. The use of the numeric 2 was due to the limitations of characters on a license plate. While it wasn't the greatest way to advocate for my subject, it a least got people thinking and talking about art.

As an art educator I was often confronted with the fact when most people, including most school committee members and administrators, talked about education, they really were only talking about reading, writing, math and science. What they failed to recognize was the importance of an aesthetic education in the development of a child' s learning process. The introduction of "no child left behind" limited the focus even more. Numerous tests for reading and math left little time for art education.

I had spent 13 years volunteering for the Maine Department of Education, working on developing assessments for the state, writing the state standards for arts education, training to be a table leader in teaching other teachers how the tests would be evaluated, and even working with the people who were going to be scoring the tests to ensure that they were looking at the responses for the correct artistic answer not the best writing. I even had the privilege of meeting with members of the State of Maine School Board to look at the arts assessments. What marvelous progress I felt we were making! And then the focus of education went back to looking at only math and reading scores as ways to prove that schools were successful.

Many people didn't have a very successful art experience in school so they fail to see the importance of a good art program. Their image of an art class is one where everyone made the same project. While this may be a fun release from the standard fair of daily ditto sheets and workbooks, it has very little to do with art education. A real art class should help children explore their surroundings, learn about the history of the world, learn to make informed judgments and learn how to question what they see. Many parents were amazed to find out that I used art history as a basis for teaching art skills to my students beginning in kindergarten. We would look at the works of an artist, or a selection of art works on the same topic, and talk about the use of color to convey meaning, how lines help us see the idea,what were the shapes they saw, or what was it that the artist was trying to say. Very often the younger students saw ideas that were new to me as they were looking at the art work with a newer (no preconceived notions) eye.

When I wasn't using reproductions of artists' works, I often used children's books from the school library or my personal collection to show students how the arts influenced idea making. Connecting ideas with words and images is important in a young child's development and literacy.

More about this tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thursday afternooon

After spending so much time thinking about children's art it was fun to spend Thursday afternoon crafting with some friends at the Portland Elks Club. We had been talking about the up-coming Valentine's Day Dance and the centerpieces for the tables when it was suggested that it might be fun to create some of our own. Always ready for an art project I volunteered to come up with an idea.

After a quick trip to the Christmas Tree Shop, I returned with some glass heart shaped vases ( 4 for $1.00), three packages of hearts on stems ( a package of six for 99 cents) some peel and stick hearts, a few bouquets of silk roses from Micheal's craft store ( two for $400) and a collection of foam letters, glitter and heart shape stamps from my own supplies. We were all set.

We had no specific plans for the decoration of these vases. We simply looked at the materials and started experimenting. We had a bag of candy hearts with sayings on them and used them as resources for our words.

The results were quite pleasing. I was thinking that this would also be an easy and inexpensive way to make a personal gift for young children to give to grandmothers for Valentine's Day gifts.

The final picture shows some of the vases. Not too bad f I do say so myself. We added some shredded mother of pearl paper inside the vases to finish them.

It is really fun to sit with friends and share a creative activity. We talked and laughed. We offered each other suggestions and we gathered a crowd of interested by-standers who were quite amazed with our artistic abilities. A fun afternoon with friends for very little expense. Have a great Day!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Size Matters

I hinted about this is my second blog. The size of the paper that you use when working with a young child is significant. Working too large can intimidate the child (think of all that empty white space) and affect the outcome. The question you need to ask yourself is "what muscles are you trying to exercise?"
EXERCISE? Yes, exercise. Art making helps develop both gross motor and fine motor skills and aids is the development of coordination and muscle control.

For example, if your child is painting at an easel while standing, he or she is more likely to use gross motor skills, longer movements using the entire arm, shoulder and elbow. If your child is sitting and drawing or coloring with a crayon, then he is more likely to use small motor movements, using the hand, wrist and fingers. Gross motor skills are the kind you need to throw a ball, jump rope or swing a bat. Small motor skills are the kind you need to work scissors, string beads or write words. Knowing what your motor skills you are working on can help you decide what size paper to use. Of course, with small children any thing can happen. You all have seen a child painting at an easel making very small brush movements and a child swirling the crayon around the paper with the entire arm moving. Let the child go but offer suggestions about how to move the tool that is in his or her hand.

As a general rule, a large piece of paper encourages larger movements and a small piece encourage small movements. So you see, size does matter.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

But I don't want to....

It's 5:30 in the morning and here I am typing on the computer because I have so much I want to tell you. When my daughter-in-law Julie asked me to take this art class with my granddaughter Leah, I was thrilled! What a wonderful gift she has given me! What could be better than to spend an hour sharing something that I love with a child I love?

While I knew that it would be difficult for me to attend an art workshop with children as a participant rather than the instructor, I promised myself that I would use this time to focus on Leah. I think I did rather well. I held back with my suggestions but I could not help myself from observing what was happening with the other children.

First, let me say that I am wondering what the goal of this workshop is. Is the instructor simply hoping to expose the children to the art making process once a week for an hour or, by including the parents, is she hoping to show them ways that they can continue to explore the arts beyond this little room? I'm hoping that it is the latter.

It was interesting for me to see the parents as they brought their children into the classroom. They were all wearing nice slacks and beautiful sweaters. I, on the other hand, had on a pair of paint stained jeans and an old sweatshirt. Did they not know that toddlers could be messy in their creativity? I also had an apron for me and one for Leah. This prompted one mother to say that I must be an artist as I came prepared. What gave it away? My paint stained jeans or the aprons?

As Leah and I immersed our hands into the finger paints and smeared them over the surface of the paper (which I think was too large for the size of the children, 22" by 26") I watched the other children and parents. One mother kept saying that her child was more interested in music than visual art. I thought great! Play some music, classical, jazz, reggae, while the child finger paints. Encourage him to show on paper the way the music sounds. This is a great way for children to connect visual images to sound patterns and leads to fluency in reading. Being able to see the patterns of words as well as hear them aids children with their oral reading and writing. Great poetry always sounds better when read by the poet that wrote it! The writer hear the cadence of the words as he looks at them, so he knows when to emphasize and when to hold back. Ah, but I digress.

I was most fascinated by the child who refused to touch the finger paint. The mother seemed embarrassed that he wouldn't put his hands in the paint. He kept saying, "but I don't want to."
The mother said to me as I was helping Leah wash her hands that her son was not comfortable with the finger paints and almost apologized for his behavior. I told her not to worry. He was only two and many young children are sensitive to textures (Why do you think they gag when given lumpy food?) and that this to would pass. What I didn't do was offer suggestions for ways that he could engage in a the finger painting process without having to use his hands. I didn't want to appear to be taking over the class but next week I am going to give her a few ideas.

Here are my suggestions for finger painting with young children. First of all, go to your local dollar store and find a large, plastic serving tray. The one in the picture was purchased at The Christmas Tree Shop for $1. Use the tray to place the paper in while applying the paint. This provides for less mess and easy clean-up. It also helps to keep the size of the paper in line with the size of the child. Trying to put finger paint over a large surface created some frustration among the children as the paint had dried in many places before the child had the opportunity to work into the surface.
If your child doesn't want to touch the paint, there are other ways to apply the paint onto the paper. Using a sponge brush (29 cents at A.C. Moore) or a sponge roller (also available at A.C. Moore, Micheal's Craft store or Joanne Fabrics or any craft store in your area) is the cheapest way but the foam absorbs some of the paint. I prefer using the rubber roller, (This is also available at most craft stores or on line at Dick Blick or Sunshine Crafts) a little more expensive but the roller moves the paint over the surface without soaking up the paint. I discovered this when I was teaching a child who was severely tactile defensive.
To create marks in the paint give your child a popsicle stick or tongue depressor. She can use this to make lines in the paint. Pieces of cardboard boxes can also be cut to create multiple lines. (check out the one in the picture.) Experiment with other objects in your home like plastic forks, hairbrushes, potato mashers. The possibilities are endless. If your child doesn't mind putting her hands in the paint, her hand is still the best tool. Encourage her to move her fingers in differnt ways. Use the side of your hand to make fatter lines or a fist to move larger areas of paint.
Probably the most important part of this whole process is for you to enjoy the experience, too. Modeling how to use the materials without dictating what the image should be is key. And talk with your child about what is happening! Don't try to guess what the child's marks mean, ask questions about the lines he is making, encourage him to describe what he sees and how he feels, and, if the mess gets to be too much, remember the day when you wish your child was there to make a mess comes too soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Art class for two-year-olds

I attended an art class for two-year-olds today with my granddaughter. It was the final catalyst for me to start a blog about the importance of art in any child's education. I loved Leah's openess to the process. She seemed to relish the opportunity to stick her hands in the finger paints and squish the color between her fingers. Applying it to the paper was secondary but eventually created the desired response. "I need green," she would say as she was smearing the purple onto the surface. "See Grammy. See the colors!" She allowed me to share her paper, encouraging me to add more color. I started to show her how I could use my hands to create different types of lines and shapes.
"Look Grammy! I made grass!" And indeed her lines moving upward did look like grass.

I have wanted to start this blog for months, ever since the economy started to collapse. I had concerns that with limited funds the arts programs in our schools, which have already been plundered by the increased load of tests, would begin to disappear from our curricula completely. You see, I grew up in the generation where arts programs in our schools began in junior high. Any formal art class in the elementary program was the result of an individual teacher's love ot the arts or a random coloring exercise which had very limited instruction. Yet I became an art teacher and an artist in spite of it all. I was one of the lucky ones, though, as I had an uncle who was an art teacher in another community. His house was an opportunity for me to explore art materials and the joy of creating.

Let me tell you a little about myself and perhaps that will help you understand my purpose in writing this blog. I was an elementary art teacher in Westbrook, Maine for 23 years. Though certified to teach art in kindergarten to high school levels, I chose to work with the youngest children because this is where the magic begins. Although I was labeled an art educator, I referred to myself as a literacy teacher. After all art is a language. It is the first written language of a child. That first line drawn with a crayon on a piece of paper is the child's way of telling you what he knows or understands about his world. Although it may look like a scribble to you, to the child it has meaning. When my first husband was studying at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., I was the Assistant to the Director at an inner-city daycare which was a pilot program for using the arts to teach math and reading skills to preschoolers. This gave me ample opportunity to observe how the arts help children learn. (More about this later)

Through this blog I hope to share not only my view of the arts but ways in which you can advocate for art education in your schools and why. I will share some of the lessons I used with young children and some of my own artwork. I also hope to hear from you. What do you want to know? What are your experiences with children in the arts? What do you want me to explore further? I hope to share books and articles with you that I have found helpful in my journey into the arts with children. You see this is my first blog. I am absolutely new to this idea. If my daughter Sarah (read hadn't encouraged me, I might never have thought of it at all.
Talk to you tomorrow.