In the studio: Works in progress

Published by Lori Pickert on January 10, 2008 at 10:11 PM


Wonderful reader Jill asks:

How do you corral the projects?? Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes.

As Jill has already discovered, the only thing more beautiful than a basket of garbage is a room full of pieces of garbage taped to other pieces of garbage.

Of course, your child knows that the macaroni box taped to four soup cans is a turtle (or a lunar rover, or a brontosaurus, or a fax machine), and maybe even you know that (if s/he told you), but to everyone else, well, it's a look, yes, but maybe not the look you were going for.

How do you corral the projects? In the classroom, we had shelf space for ongoing projects, and we interspersed shelves filled with beautifully displayed art supplies with shelves filled with garbage, i mean ongoing projects.

At home, I have ongoing projects on top of the bookshelves, scattered across the table, and on the floor. SIGH.


At school, we dealt with ongoing work by sticking a Post-It note on it recording what it was (according to the maker) and their plans for it ("I will paint it", "Add eyes and nose", "Add Steering Wheel", etc.). We would reference those notes when reminding the child of the work they had planned to do and also when asking them if they were finished yet.

At home, with my two students, I don't usually have to put a Post-It on anything, but I do write down in my notebook anything they have planned so I can remind them later and also so I can make sure I get whatever they need from me to finish their project.

(I could never keep track of anything if I didn't have a designated homeschool journal/notebook.)

Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? Yes. The amount of time I let them sit out is definitely indefinite.

Let's talk ideal situation. Ideally, you are writing down what they are doing along with their requests for additional materials ("I need green and brown paint for the turtle's shell", "I need another soup can for my rover", "I need something silver for the top", etc.), their plans (see above), and their questions ("What goes on top of the rover?", "What does a turtle's tail look like?", "I need to look at the seatbelt in our car"). You use that information to keep things rolling:

"You said you wanted to see what was on top of the rover. Let's look on the internet."

"The green and brown paint you asked for is in the art studio. WEAR A SMOCK."

"Do you want to go look at the seatbelt in the car today?"

and etc. So, things are moving along. A project is done when the child says it is done. However, if it hangs around, the child may decide they want to do something more to it, which is a very good thing. In the classroom, children will copy each other's creations, which is an excellent thing. Child #1 makes something, child #2 copies it and adds something interesting, then child #1 goes back and wants to add it to his as well. It's all about extending the work. If you have more than one child, and they are close enough in age, maybe you can enjoy the same effect.


When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? Basically, things hang around until I'm sure the child is good and completely done with them or until I am convinced they have been completely abandoned or because I am in a bad mood and want the room to be clean.

(Guaranteed, if you throw something away, the child will ask for it the next day.)

(Buy black garbage bags for cleaning the studio. There is nothing like the face of a child who just found his or her beloved art project in the trash.)

I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes. Ah, I feel for you, Jill. Rome wasn't built in a day, however, and neither is a lunar rover made from a macaroni box. It all takes time, and you just have to figure out a way to lessen the effects of helping your child become incredibly intelligent, creative, and expressive.

paint-turtle.jpgDesignate one shelf for ongoing projects. Make room for two or three things per child and that's it. If they want to make something new, they have to finish their old thing first.

Work with them, however, and facilitate their work by paying attention to what they say they want to do and supporting them (by reminding them of their plans, by giving them requested materials) so they can reach their goal. I repeat, it is all about extending the work. The more often they work on one particular thing, the deeper and more layered the knowledge will be.

When they are finished, help celebrate what they have accomplished. Take pictures of it. Show it to people: family members, friends, delivery people. Make a big deal about it; show them how impressed you are. (Don't be fake about it, though. Be sincere.) Kids see what is important to you and they want to impress you. Your attention is a powerful motivator.


Comment by Deirdre on January 11, 2008 at 03:19 AM

Love these posts---they keep me inspired and I learn from them. And I love knowing that you toss things when you're feeling pissy too:-)

My two guys are still pretty small, so the projects are too---and I've found designating a dishpan (those plastic bins w/o lids and a nice lip for kids to carry) for each guy works well. I can handle the big project, it's the litte googlie eyes everywhere or scraps that make me crazy. The dishpan makes it easier for them to clean up, and to keep little brother out of unfinished business.

The other item I wanted to mention was a "cocktail" table we found ---tall legs, probably a 4 1/2 ft. tall table, that allows things to dry, etc., without the two year old getting hold of it. He likes to camp out under it too. I see these tables everywhere right now. Could probably easily do this to an old table by just setting it on something strong...

And Lori, I'd love to send your son a thank you note for all the ideas I'm stealing here. Just send me a snail address and he can eat his words:-)

Comment by molly on January 11, 2008 at 04:03 AM

Just last week, my kitchen island was covered with an alien made from clay. The final application of water to make his skin smooth was unsuccessful (fortunately for me) and Aidan decided to break him into smaller pieces to make baby aliens (much easier to store and ultimately dispose of). I really need to get back to keeping up our homeschool journal - I've gotten a little lax about our record keeping. Thank you for all the advice and encouragement.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 11, 2008 at 04:11 AM

aw, deirdre, thank you :^) and i do get ticked off and throw things away, but usually jack asks for them the next day. :^O

i know the type of bar cart you are describing, and i can see that working really well!

lol, molly. it usually works somewhat differently .. as in, big alien first and then *separate* baby aliens .. or big whale and then baby whales .. it works for everything. also, there always seems to be *food* that must also be made, and food tends to be teeny tiny scraps of paper that go everywhere...

thank YOU for your comments, because they definitely function as encouragement for me to keep posting. :^)

Comment by Jill on January 11, 2008 at 12:56 PM

Hey, thanks a lot!!! Wow, you really helped me to see things differently. I taught elementary school for 5 years back before my kids were born, and I didn't have so much trouble encouraging creativity and allowing the room to get messy, but my home is another thing. Thank you for reminding me that our own kids are important and that their intelligence, self-confidence, etc. depends on it. I need to loosen up, that's for sure. I'm going to print out this post and hang it in our craft room. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to help someone you don't even know!!!

Hey, that would be hilarious for Jack to receive some thank you notes in the mail. I'd write him one too, if you don't mind giving me your address.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 11, 2008 at 02:25 PM

jill, thank YOU for your great questions and feedback.

you guys are SO funny re: the thank-you notes. it was actually my older son who made the grumpy comment; jack wrote his letters with a smile, as usual. :^)

Comment by mary on January 12, 2008 at 06:01 PM

I am have great stockpiles of "garbage" saved but have not been so good about keeping it accesible. Thanks for the reminder and for always inspiring. I have left a little something for you on my blog....

Comment by Nancy on January 13, 2008 at 07:29 PM

Thank you for reminding me to save garbage at home and not just at school. How quickly I forget. I'm inspired!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2008 at 12:56 AM

thank you, nancy :^)

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