Open thread Saturday

Published by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 02:17 PM

It’s open thread time again! Bring it on: questions, comments, observations, suggestions, tips, hints, anything you’ve got.

And enjoy your weekend!

(p.s. I answer nearly every comment posted to this blog, but if you don’t leave an e-mail address I can’t e-mail you a copy, so I hope you’re checking back!)

45 comments

Comment by jessica on November 15, 2008 at 03:28 PM

I'm curious how people structure their days. Do you try to stick to a schedule? After breakfast and clean up chores we gather around the piano to sing some songs, then prayer, have 20 minutes of quiet reading, and then I try to follow my kids lead from there. I have 4 kids ages 8, 6, 4, 1 1/2. Usually what happens is that they just go off and play, I get caught up in my own project, and before I know it it's past lunch time and I don't feel like the kids did anything productive, their totally wrestling and bugging each other, so bugging me. There are days when I remember to ask them each what they'd really like to do that day, then make it a point to spend at least 1/2 hour individual time with each one, but that can get exhausting, or we have too many divergent things going on.

I guess I'd like suggestions on how to bring more collaborative creativity into our days and how I should structure our time so I feel good about how our time is spent.

Comment by Leisa on November 15, 2008 at 03:50 PM

good morning open thread!!

Any specific art questions? The studio teacher is available!

I'm finishing a few quilts for my etsy this morning & am excited about the giveaway!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:00 PM

good morning, leisa! i wish i could show you all the new art supplies i bought yesterday. this week it was all about ink.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:06 PM

jessica, since you are interested in boosting the collaboration aspect, i would suggest choosing a time when you will work on projects — either in the morning or right after lunch, whatever works best with your schedule. if you can get all the kids working together on one project, all the better. start off by maybe reading something project-related aloud (no more than 5 or 10 minutes) then discuss plans for the day. let the children work for a time (whatever works best for you) then clean up then share what they did that day and discuss plans for the next day.

during that time you could document what each child was doing, write in your journal, take photographs, work one-on-one with one child at a time writing a book or reading or labeling a drawing, etc. but you would all be together working alongside one another.

do you think that might work for you?

Comment by Leisa on November 15, 2008 at 04:08 PM

Where did you go?

What are you doing with INK?

I tried to get out my Gocco the other day and realized that my mom has half of the parts! They (the parts) are on their way! I'm going to play around with printing tags for my quilts- paper tags- and then I'll move into sewn on labels:) Thanks for that link!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:08 PM

and .. just heading off any misunderstandings .. no one *has* to do projects in this way .. but if you are using a schedule or if you have several children and want to encourage collaborating, this might work for you. and if not, it’s always a learning experience! (repeat after me .. mistakes are good ..)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:14 PM

leisa, we’ve been reading some books about chinese sketching and painting. we went to buy some fountain pens, ink, and ink brushes .. oh my. we bought pentel arts color brush .. which is a water-based ink-filled plastic pen with a brush tip? everything ended up being 30% off, too.

we are using the books as inspiration during our daily sketch time. and we’re going to try to sketch outside every day for 15 minutes, too.

did you end up with the gocco stamper? if not, it’s probably at school, and i need to give it to you. it’s no good to me without a gocco to go with it!

Comment by Leisa on November 15, 2008 at 04:28 PM

I don't have the stamper here- but who knows- maybe it's in the box my mom is sending! I'll let you know!

Comment by Nancy on November 15, 2008 at 04:34 PM

an observation and a question:
--Lori, you've said before that kids know when you're documenting -- they get it and it can help encourage what they're doing (i.e. if mom's taking pictures, I must be doing some big work here). this week I was busily snapping pics of my kids on the potter's wheel and that clicked for me. I realized how I can really use such observing to keep stuff happening (not in a manipulative way, but my attention can really nudge).
--and randomly, what thoughts do you have about the pincer grip? I realized my just-turned-four boy holds pens in his fist (not a pincer grip). and he is my resistant drawer, often because he can't get what's in his head on paper (that's what I think, anyway, plus having an older sister who does detailed drawings doesn't help). so let this all develop on its own, give him what he likes (collage, etc), or encourage the pincer/drawing in some way? (observational drawing, for instance, drove him *wild*. he fled.) --Nancy in NC

Comment by Juliann on November 15, 2008 at 04:37 PM

I am a classroom teacher so my point of view may be a bit different. Currently I am focusing on language development. I have been trying to pay closer attention to how young children use descriptive language. I am concerned that too much tv or computer time will not support the child's acquisition of a strong vocabulary. I have a few children who use wonderful words to describe their work but others who don't seem to know where to begin. I am especially looking for read aloud books that will help children gain a broader vocabulary.

Comment by Juliann on November 15, 2008 at 04:40 PM

Nancy - such a great question and one we are struggling with at our school. We have kids with all sorts of grips and we are getting pressure to correct their grip because once formed, it is hard to correct. I believe that a fist grip is an early grip and I don't try too hard to correct that one. It is the child who is almost there with their grip but doing something odd with the angle or finger placement that I might correct. But, I think I would look for ways to help the child who is frustrated by not being able to get their ideas on paper. I wonder if others have some ideas for steps in the process.

Comment by Aimee on November 15, 2008 at 04:51 PM

I hope it is ok to post a comment on what Nancy posted...
One of the things we did at the school I taught at to help children with the pincer grip, is to offer things like tongs to play with in sensory tables or in a basket of crackers at snack. Another thing that helped and these ideas came from an OT, to have very short crayons available for drawing, very short, just the end, so that you have to hold with the thumb and finger to hold it. And you spoke of using clay, handbuilding to help the fingers get stronger. Just some thoughts, though if we or the parents were very concerned we would have an OT (We had one who we really trusted.) look at the kid and sometimes all it would take was one short visit with her. She was great at explaining to the child how and why, so they learned to self correct when she wasn't there and she taught us how to help them too. I am in NC too!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:53 PM

good morning, nancy!

i love your observation. thank you so much for sharing. truly, if we treat our job as not just educating our children (stuffing in the three R’s) but as constantly researching and reevaluating how best to support their learning, then not only can our children recognize the importance of their own work through our focus, but they can recognize the importance of *our* work as we educate ourselves. wonderful.

re: your non-pincer-gripping son .. well, let’s see. i am still working on a 12-year-old who holds his fork in his fist. :^P does he have those super-fat pencils to work with? they can help a young child learn to hold a pencil “properly”; they are easier to grip. you can also buy fat rubber grips that fit around regular pencils. make sure he shakes out his hands and is completely relaxed before he gives it a try. and if he’s very resistant, i would wait a few weeks and try again. i quickly looked online at some developmental charts and it seems like during this year he should probably gain this skill. some pick it up earlier; some later — there is a wide variation of normal. how are his other fine motor skills?

re: loosening him up re: drawing, i will throw out a few suggestions and then see if leisa has anything to add -

- get him to draw with his whole arm by using long, thick brushes at the easel

- mix it up by giving him oil pasels or chalk with black construction paper

- let him draw on a chalkboard

i would definitely keep giving him access to the art activities he enjoys the most in the meantime!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 04:58 PM

juliann and aimee were much speedier than me at answering. :^P

juliann, such a good point about the fist grip being the precursor and not necessarily something you need to correct.

aimee, of course you should comment! i love the advice about the tongs. do you have a sense of what the range of normal is for holding a pencil properly?

Comment by Aimee on November 15, 2008 at 05:07 PM

Other ideas about pincer grip. One idea is to get the finger's stronger, so finding things your son is into and setting it up to use that grip, like my daughter loves to eat pomegranites, and will sit and pull out the seeds (using her pointer finger and her thumb) for a very long time. Or what about sorting very small things, like buttons or beans into diffterent cups, but finding what he is interested in, maybe taking apart an old small appliance with a screwdriver.

Comment by Leisa on November 15, 2008 at 05:09 PM

Nancy-

Something else you could try-

drawing with charcoal- or chalk pastels- then he can take a break from holding the material and use his fingers to blend them directly on the paper

I wouldn't expect all 4 year olds to dive right into something like observational drawing. But keeping it around- modeling for him- letting him grow in to the grip- etc- will be the best support.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 05:15 PM

juliann, re: language development/acquisition .. what age do you teach? don’t you think simply reading children stories that are above their own reading ability helps with vocabulary? e.g., reading E.B. White to preschoolers ... actually, reading nonfiction project books to our 3- and 4-year-olds probably increased their vocabularies more than anything!

and i agree with you completely re: screen time .. i’m not against tv and computer (far from it), but i don’t personally think children need to be on the computer before they are older, and the majority of their time should be spent actually doing things .. making, building, drawing, painting, exploring, singing, dancing, pretend play...

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 05:24 PM

aimee, great suggestions for developing fine-motor skills.

leisa, thank you -- i would add -- you can do other things observationally rather than just drawing -- painting, charcoal, ink, carving designs in a sheet of clay, forming three-dimensional structures with clay or recycled materials .. just because you have a reluctant draw-er doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of observation for project work.

Comment by Aimee on November 15, 2008 at 05:37 PM

I think there is a range, at my old school, I think mostly our worry was if the child's grip was frustrating or holding them back from the things they wanted to do. That was why we tried to offer things throughout the classroom that would strengthen fingers not just focusing on how they held a pencil. And it depended so much on each child, what they were working on, how they learned, etc, we obseved alot, so we could try to help as that child needed it. But pretty much by the time they left for kndergarten, the kids had a "proper grip." So by 5 or 5 1/2, though with very little direct teaching of grip. The only time we had direct teaching or OT intervention was when it became someting that was truly hampering the child's ability to do the work or play they wanted.

My own daughter, who writes and draws a lot, had a improper grip and because she did use those tools so much and becasue I knew her well enough to use direct teaching of grip, I did. I just showed her how. The OT told us to have the child place her arm on table, thumb up, then I showed her where to place the pencil, by laying in in the groove between her thumb and finger and helped her hold it between her thumb and finger. But I felt comfortable that this would be ok for my daughter, and would help not deter. I was careful with my tone, to not make it too formal and if she had pushed back at all, I would have dropped it and watched and observed for awhile, supplying some of the other ideas, I have spoke of, in our home.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 05:44 PM

aimee - lovely. you are a woman after my own heart.

Comment by Aimee on November 15, 2008 at 06:31 PM

So my questions are concerning how to take "next steps." My 4 year old has two projects I am following. (I know you said, only 1, but it was hard for me to decide between the two and they kinda relate, at least one led to other.) They are flowers and artists, She is doing lots of painting and drawing of flowers from observation. Reading books about flowers both non-fiction and fiction (Linnea in Monet's Garden, which started the artist project.) She wanted to eat flowers, so we are researching edible flowers on the internet, with maybe some cooking coming later, if that's where it goes. We have visited gardens and she has cut and arranged flowers in vases. One of my thoughts is about going deeper with this. I refer her to a list of her own ideas and also I have added things we have done that would relate. I guess it is a matter of time and going back to her ideas and questions. We have a wall we have dedicated for this work, but wondering if there is more I should do, beside be patient.

With the artist project she says she wants to paint everyday, so we have made that happen and we have read about Monet, Degas, and Renoir, sticking to Impressionists, because she seems to love the way they paint, lots of flowers, ballerinas, and ladies dressed very fancy. We will probably visit a musuem soon.

So I am struggling with being mindful of letting her lead and itching with all these ideas I come up with, which I have been trying to sit on. When do I suggest and when do I not? I am excited about this work she is doing and I want my excitement to follow hers, not take over.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 07:01 PM

aimee, there are no hard and fast rules; i think i’ve mentioned a few times that my boys, now that they are older, always have at least two projects going. i think it’s easier for those just starting out to choose one topic to support — not that the children won’t branch out, but it makes it easier for the adult to learn how to start a project, keep it going, etc.

art and painting is kind of a wide-open interest; i would just keep supporting her there and see if she narrows her focus at all.

for the flowers .. that seems like a really good topic, very rich in possibilities but narrow enough for some focus. you’ve already done a lot there, with hands-on activities, field work, etc. if you have a wall going (i would love to see a photo!), i would feel free to pin up a few fine art prints of flowers since she has expressed a strong interest. there always seems to be a “Flowers” book in the remainder section at the bookstore that is all fine art paintings of flowers by various artists -- that, or a calendar on 90% clearance (though this isn’t the time of year for that) -- you could rip either of them apart and make a lot of prints, both for hanging and just putting in a basket in the art area. books are lovely, but loose prints can inspire new ideas.

it sounds like you are doing a lovely job, including trying to be patient and let her work at her own pace! i would offer different art materials so she can take her thoughts in some new directions -- clay (real clay, not modeling clay), wire, tissue paper, beads, pipe cleaners, oil pastels with colored paper, watercolors, etc. not all on the same day! but adding new materials regularly to her work area. i would take her to the library and browse books that are way above her reading ability to see if anything interests her. make up some small (say 4 x 5-inch) blank books (with only, say, 6 or 8 pages each) and leave them in her area as a provocation.

re: when to suggest and when to not .. my favorite analogy here is hoop rolling .. as in victorian girls with those giant hoops they would roll along the ground, guiding them with a stick. basically, if the hoop is rolling, you want to leave it alone. if it begins to wobble, then you want to give it a little push. and always -- as little as possible. open-ended questions, always. modeling by wondering aloud. reviewing photographs from your trip to the nursery. sitting down and, as leisa suggested up above, doing an observational drawing next to her. if she does an observational drawing, asking her to tell you about it and then labeling the parts (always ask permission before writing on her drawing, of course) -- often, labeling a drawing will pull out a question or a misconception that can suggest a new line of research.

it really sounds like you have something wonderful under way!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 07:10 PM

aimee -- oop, a few more thoughts.

one easy question to ask: is there anything you need?

also, note my suggestions up above focus on offering her materials and resources rather than directing what she does, how she does it, or what direction her interest will take. there is much you can do to encourage and support her work without taking over.

for example, you could let her take her own photographs with your camera when you go to a garden or the nursery -- even very young children can learn how to focus a digital camera -- and often the things they zero in on become rich areas of inquiry -- when you get home, print them out very large (just black & white on regular paper is fine, although since her focus is flowers, you may want to have some color prints made as well!) and hang them on her wall next to her art materials. when you go to do field work, always take paper, clipboards, and plain pencils and encourage her to draw/sketch from observation -- then label at home. and *always* take the time to review these materials one or two days later, asking her to tell you about her pictures, her drawings, even the photos you took. take careful note of what she says. three- and four-year-old children tend to produce voluminous memories from a single drawing or photograph.

okay, getting carried away as usual .. stopping now. ;^)

Comment by Juliann on November 15, 2008 at 07:33 PM

What a great idea to have an open forum and it does seem to be needed.
I am a teacher of 4's but also the program director - we have children 3-5 inour program

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2008 at 08:25 PM

juliann, thank you — we have been having some great discussions!

Comment by Queen of Carrots on November 15, 2008 at 08:48 PM

I got the kids some clay for Christmas--it's probably the wrong kind, but I had a gift card and it was what I could find--it says it's air-drying. At least it's natural and a step up from playdough.

But I'm not sure how to use it. All I remember of clay from when I was a kid was that it was super-hard to manipulate. My 3 year old gets very frustrated with hands-on activities if he can't figure them out, but he also hates to be instructed in how to use things.

What are good ways to introduce working with clay? What are good materials to have alongside it? And what's the right kind of clay and where do I get it when I have the cash to do so?

Comment by Aimee on November 15, 2008 at 09:05 PM

She loves taking photos, so I think that will be the next thing, a visit back to the gardens with the camera and maybe a sketch pad. She has done a flower collage, from paper scraps, but I think I will add tissue paper to the collage materials. And maybe later, some 3-d materials. In general, I think we should work with clay more, and wire is something we have never used. I think she needs time exploring those materials. We have a space that we want to set up as a studio, as soon as we are done with her room, which we are painting this weekend. So it will be easier then, but until then, I need to make space and time for it. Thanks for doing this, it is really nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of.

By the way, I loved what you wrote about all ages beign involved in work. My 1 year old loves to paint and draw and whenever we set up the table for painting or drawing, either just exploring materials or from observation, he is right there, painting and/or drawing too. Though he loves flowers, his project is birds. He loves birds, especially ducks. He got a bird feeder for his birthday and we read about birds and go for bird walks and feed the ducks at a local pond. Because of this both children are learning lots about birds!

Comment by Angel on November 15, 2008 at 11:37 PM

I have a question about clay. Is there a big difference in how easy it is to work real clay as opposed to air dry clay? I live way out in the boondocks and have to order all my art supplies online. The air dry stuff is more expensive than real clay, but looking at Dick Blick, real clay only comes in 50 lb quantities. I have 5 kids ages 3 through 12 who would be using the stuff so I could use some quantity, but I'm not sure if I need 50 lbs of clay hanging around. I don't have access to a kiln to fire clay, but I'm wondering if I ought to have some real clay to build with as well as something that can harden in some other way. We have Sculpey, which is harder for my 3 yos to work with, and Plastilina, which is easier, but which isn't permanent. I also don't have anything in large amounts. (Which leads me to also ask, how much clay should I allow for each kid?)

Comment by Eryn on November 16, 2008 at 12:04 AM

Lori, thank you so much for coming by my blog! I'm (obviously) just getting my feet under me, but even when we struggle, I'm loving every minute of it.

My son is 6, and we're doing a kindergarten/1st grade curriculum. The nice thing about these grades is that they can learn the basics through any media, so we do a lot of art/craft projects. I suppose we've been homeschoolers since birth though.

In regards to the kids working extra hard when I start taking photos, I find also that the reverse is true. Blogging increases the dedication and emotion that I put into even the smallest tasks. Often I think "Oh, wow, I need to get the camera, so I can write about this..." And immediately I am reminded just how lucky I am to be home with the kids. Also, I clean far more often now, because there's no way anyone needs to see my cluttered house lol

I'm gonna go spend the next chunk of time wandering around your site :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 12:16 AM

okay. re: clay .. i hope leisa will come over and give her more expert opinion on this. i would say in the land of clay, at the bottom is playdoh (which is fun to play with as a sensory material but hard to form to make meaningful sculptures and cracks when it dries), then modeling clay (which is very sticky, hard to form, and doesn’t dry), then come air-dry clays and paper clays somewhere in the middle (easier to form, dry without needing a kiln, but are very breakable when dry), and then finally actual firing clays -- stoneware clay or terra cotta.

leisa, correct me if i’m wrong, but you technically don’t *have* to fire firing clays; your work is just a lot more brittle and, basically, uncooked if you don’t.

real clay is optimal because you can actually work it and make complex pieces; you can learn to attach pieces of clay with slip, etc., and it is just a real medium that offers a lot of potential for sculpting and building models.

50 lb *sounds* like a lot, but clay is heavy. it’s not really that much, although it will probably last you a long time. you keep it wrapped up and moist and you can use and reuse it (unless you finish a piece and want to keep it) for a long time.

you can buy scraps of hardwood (the dark brown, smooth stuff you can buy by the sheet) at the hardware store and use it to work on; you can also leave pieces on it to dry.

you can make a clay table if you are really into it .. we bought a $5 wood table, stretched muslin across it and stapled it to the underside with heavy-duty staples. then you can moisten the fabric top before you start working on it.

we had three-year-olds working with clay all the time; it’s not at all too hard for them to use. the type you would buy from, say, dick blick -

http://www.dickblick.com/zz305/17/

comes ready to use. cut off a tennis ball-size chunk and work it a little, then they’re ready to go.

angel, a 50 lb box of clay is only about the size of, maybe, two shoeboxes. not huge!

re: firing --

you could ask around and see if someone will fire your stuff when they have a chance -- universities, park districts, high schools, paint-your-own-pottery places, etc.

many communities have pottery clubs who also might be able to fire your pieces. (you have to prepare your children for the possibility that things might break or explode, however)

we dug a pit kiln; that is a *whole* other subject for another day.

or, you could just work the clay and keep the pieces out, let them air dry, then eventually, quietly, dispose of them when your children have moved on to a new project. ;^) the point is really learning to use the medium *and* being able to express ideas three-dimensionally, after all.

angel, i like your solution of offering real clay to work with as well as other options. i definitely think you should try out the real clay with your bunch!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 12:25 AM

aimee, beautiful -- love hearing about your 1yo. :^)

and you hit on the best part of children collaborating -- they learn so much about each other’s projects .. even each other’s focus within one project. if you are doing projects at a hs’ing co-op or within another learning group, children usually break up into small groups to study specific things .. then they share their work with each other, and everyone ends up with all the knowledge. in my family, just as in yours, my boys tend to study different things, but they both end up contributing to the other’s project (taking field trips, doing art projects, building constructions). :^)

i look forward to hearing more about your children’s projects!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 12:47 AM

eryn, yes! that is exactly what i was saying (or trying to say) -- that not only does it benefit *them* by helping reinforce that they are doing important work, but it benefits *us* .. by reinforcing that they are doing important work. :^)

Comment by Eryn on November 16, 2008 at 12:54 AM

Oh! I am thinking about ordering a Gocco for myself finally. The FIVE YEARS of hinting at Christmas and every single birthday haven't netted me one, so it is time to take matters into my own hands!

Any big tips to look out for? I've done some research on them over the years ("research" is how i justify the amount of time I spend looking at Goccos, the stuff you can make with goccos, and how you make it lol)

I think if I'm going to get one, I need to get a move on, they seem to be getting harder and harder to get every day.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 01:23 AM

eryn, *love* the gocco .. wish i would have bought one before they were discontinued! i think they are harder to find now and more expensive. boo.

i don’t have any advice, except .. they are super-fun! and i like to do that kind of research, too. ;^)

Comment by Leisa on November 16, 2008 at 01:43 AM

In regards to clay- Lori did a great job- as usual:)

I have to say that using real clay is the best- of course. I would go for stoneware (grey in color) over earthenware (red-orange in color). Earthenware has a tendency to stain- clay tables- t-shirts :) 50 lbs of clay is not that much- especially for 4-5 kids. You can knead used clay up- spritz with a little water- cover in plastic- and store in an air tight container. As far as keeping projects made out of regular clay- earthenware or stoneware- they will be very fragile. If you have safe display places- up high- they can make it a few years- just don't bump them!

Building a raku kiln in my backyard is in next summer's plan- so- we'll see!!

Ok- air dry- they are more expensive- and generally come in small quantities- so that stinks. There are also products like sculpey that you bake in your oven. They just aren't anything like clay- but they will get hard and last.

Another thing to consider that is CHEAP and DURABLE is paper mache. I think that people underestimate paper mache and think it's only for pinatas- people have made furniture- and boats- out of this stuff. You can still have some of the molding and modeling qualities of clay- but not have to think about firing. Also- things can be any size! You can also turn it into pulp- with which you can sculpt and model.

link to pulp recipe

http://www.enchantedbeings.com/tutorials/paperpulpcombo1.jpg

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 02:42 AM

paper maché is such a good suggestion; thank you, leisa.

i think it’s important to remember that our focus is on giving children another, really *important* way to work, in three-dimensions, with a very malleable medium. we’re not going to keep every single drawing and sketch (though some of us try), we’re not going to keep every recycled material construction, and we’re certainly not going to keep large dramatic play constructions forever .. so i think the emphasis (in terms of project work) can move off of whether we can fire these clay structures and keep them forever and onto the fact that they give a really wonderful way for children to create models and sculptures.

as well as paper maché, you can just provide recycled materials (cardboard boxes & tubes, cans, plastic lids, etc. etc. etc.) and different types of glue and tape. it’s all about doing three-dimensional work.

Comment by Mary on November 16, 2008 at 03:29 AM

I was gone today and couldn't join in the fun, but I appreciated everyone's questions and responses. Very helpful!

Comment by amy on November 16, 2008 at 09:16 AM

late in the game = I just got home from work. Sorry to have missed the discussion but it was intriguing. Here's my art question, for what it's worth. Background: B. is just three and all about process. Read: experiments, mixes, spills, rips, paints his lunch onto his paper, hangs it up, then rips it apart, then eats it, you get the picture. Typically he is pretty compliant with "we write on paper" but every now and then he gets curious and colors the floor, the wall, the couch, etc. Obviously supervision is key. He tastes most mediums, puts them on his body. Always has a tattooed face these days. I bought some inexpensive temperas in little pots and he experimented widly with mixing, now they are all one color, gray. I want him to have access to supplies and freedom to experiment, but I also want to engender some respect for his materials and, obviously, keep the house kinda neat. I just feel like it would be insane for me to leave the acrylics on a low shelf right now, or the markers, but he seems to have a lot of control over his use of water color and crayons, and is less wild with those, so they stay down. Is it common to have to "graduate" access to different materials? I always participate with him when I first introduce him to a new medium, usually parallel creating, to demonstrate application. I try to hang loose with his ideas for application - today he wanted to paint with chopped veggies - ok, knock yourself out - within the structure of "it can go on your body or the paper, but not the table/floor/easel/wall/me". Reasonable?
I hate the idea of squirreling everything away up high and him having to ask me for things - one because out of sight, out of mind, and I don't want to have to dictate his choices - so the question is about access. I can easily create an art cabinet, as has been well discussed here in the past, but how do I "control" his access to help me meet the above goals? And are these reasonable goals for us? How much or how little control is helpful? He's a willful little person but has a high regard for compromise...

Comment by skye on November 16, 2008 at 12:38 PM

I also was out the entire day but have gained so much from reading the posts.I 've been spending the lst couple of weeks really watching the children seeing what their hand meets each day.Trying to gauge their interests and possible areas for deeper investigation. The 9 yr old speaks animals and photography but is distracted, the 5 yro has been making with paper-paper planes, boats, secret messages, envelopes and my 7yog has copying fairy words out of a book making her own lovely pages in a visual journal.. . I wonder though how to go about this when all 3 of them have a different interests and the little toddler has her own needs. I guess I wonder like the first post, what does it look like? And how do we work around a 9, 7 and 5 yr old who all have different areas of interest. I like the idea of somehow coming together at the start -talking ,collaborating going off and then perhaps coming together again. I just don't know if I can handle painting in one corner, paper mache in another, computer investigation over here and the littlest one getting in on it all. I don't mean for this to sound negative I so want this creative learning environment/process I just don't know how to juggle the ages/ stages,interests.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 02:42 PM

amy, that is, like, the best description of a three-year-old ever.

having materials out and available is something you have to *ease* your way into. in our art studio with 15 children, we would start out with the bare minimum and then build our way up.

you want to achieve certain goals as you go.. things are always in the same place, so the child can both get them by himself *and* put them away. you want to avoid scarcity -- if children think there is a limited supply of something, they will want to use them all immediately. one way to do this is to bite your tongue and realize they are going to use a LOT of something (e.g., buttons) until they understand you are going to keep resupplying so they relax. or you can teach them about resupply with other, cheap materials first -- e.g., provide bowls or trays filled with cut paper squares from magazines for collage, bowls of cut-out letters and numbers, popsicle sticks (one of the cheaper materials), etc.

in general, any new material is going to cause a spike in excitement and kids may become crazed when they get to use it. that is to be expected. with something like tempera, you can dole out small quantities while they experiment with it (discovering that mixing all colors eventually leads to gray-brown). but you also have to accept that until there is something they *want* to do that involves keeping the colors separate, mixing might just be more interesting to them. and learn how to create a distraction so you an grab a painting and hide it before it gets to that point. ;^)

your willingness to let him experiment is great, and obviously you are working toward a vision of making his art materials all accessible all the time. it’s fair enough to say that you will ease into it as he learns to handle it.

we used to get visitors to our school who would look at the art studio filled with child-accessible materials, blanch, and say, “my kids could never handle this.” well, our kids couldn‘t handle it either, if we just dropped them all into that environment on day one. it’s a slow process.

i think you’re doing great; i would just maybe add materials to his accessible shelves slowly, starting out with inexpensive things while he gets the hang of the idea.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 03:25 PM

skye, i tried to answer your questions and ended up writing 20,000 words. so i should probably turn those into blog posts rather than the world’s longest comment.

trying to be brief...

i would suggest that you pick an hour a day to work on projects, and i would suggest that you choose a single topic to start with. your children are great ages to work collaboratively.

please note that i am suggesting you work in a more controlled way to *start*, as *you* learn to facilitate projects. as your children learn to work independently and as you become experienced at supporting project work, you can change this to fit your own preferred style of learning. for example, if you unschool, it probably feels wrong to set a schedule; but if you take tae kwon do or piano lessons, you adhere to a schedule. this is learning a new skill, too.

don’t worry about them having different interests; choose a topic that is interesting *enough* to all of them. this is just your first project; by the time you’re done, you will all have the hang of it and they can take their skills and apply them to whatever they want to learn about.

you want something broad enough to offer many different entry points so each child can focus on their own particular interest(s) within the project, but not so broad that it falls apart. (good - trees; bad - things that grow; good - cats; bad - animals)

remember that the project doesn’t replace everything they are already doing. you are merely making a space for them to work in a focused way. they can still pursue other interests, continue with the things they are working on separately.

you don’t have to do three simultaneous special activities that need your support; in fact, you absolutely do not want to do that. this is why we focus on helping children learn to work independently.

imagine one child reading (and maybe marking pages, or drawing from a book, or making notes in their notebook), one child painting, and you are sitting with the third child helping them make a book. if you are doing paper maché, anyone who is interested is doing it with you, and the other are working independently. etc.

finally, for the toddler, my own opinion is that there is no better place for a toddler to be than around older children doing important work, just soaking up all the lessons by osmosis. or, covered with paper maché. you will have to make accommodations because you have a toddler; your children will have to make accommodations. that is not a bad thing; it’s a great lesson in life.

see?! and this is the brief version! i would sum up by saying it’s completely fine -- in fact, it’s unavoidable -- to take halting steps toward working in this way with your children. remember that you are basically in the training-wheels stage *and so are your children* -- all of you will slowly become more familiar and more competent and then eventually you will master this way of learning (and facilitating) and you’ll ride wherever you want to go. the important thing is to start.

Comment by Dawn on November 16, 2008 at 07:15 PM

It's Sunday... I missed yesterday but I am happy to be able to read through the discussion. So much to learn from others!
Thanks for making all of this available!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 08:34 PM

thank you, dawn! sundays on the open thread i feel like i’m coming out in my overalls with a push broom, sweeping up the confetti and wilted balloons from the day before. ;^)

Comment by Jennifer on November 16, 2008 at 09:03 PM

Great info here. I missed yesterday, but I'm enjoying the discussion. Lori, leave the confetti and balloons out for a few days. We might make something with them! ; ^ )

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2008 at 10:46 PM

lol, jennifer, you are so right! they should go right into the recyclables box. ;^)

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