Camp Creek Blog

In the studio: Rationing art supplies, part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2007 at 06:57 PM


We had a lot of visitors to the TPS* and during our post-observation talks, the same questions were raised again and again. A frequent observation by visiting educators was something to the tune of "Our students couldn't handle this."

As in, they couldn't handle the wide-open spaces, they couldn't handle the number of choices, they couldn't handle the sheer amount of art materials they were allowed to choose from.

wo-shelves.jpgAnyone who has watched a preschooler glue four thousand sequins methodically to a single piece of paper understands where they're coming from.

There is a look in the eyes of a three-year-old … eyes darting back and forth … as they see a large clear container filled with buttons. The look says: "How can I get these buttons?" The look says: "How can I get ALL of these buttons?" The look says: "How can I make sure NO ONE ELSE gets MY buttons?!"

Yet our students worked cheerfully with the big container of buttons right there in front of them and didn't freak out or anything. How did we do it?

There is a certain amount of training necessary. I remember hearing some diet advice a long time ago -- that you should keep a big supply of your favorite guilty food (e.g., miniature Snickers) in the house, so you could calm down and your brain would allow you to diet without sending you freak-out "MUST BUY SNICKERS" messages.


Similarly, you must help the children realize that there are plenty of buttons for everyone. The buttons will keep on coming. There is not a single, limited supply of buttons.

When introducing a studio environment, whether at school or at home, it helps to start with a lot of less-expensive, easy-to-procure items (pencils, paper, markers, popsicle sticks, glue). I like reams of copy paper for drawing; there are 500 sheets in a ream so it's relatively inexpensive, but nice quality. A ream of legal-size copy paper shakes things up a bit.

collaging.jpgStart tearing out sheets from magazines before you recycle them, and fill a box with these, for collaging.

Get a bin and throw your clean recyclables into it, along with a few rolls of masking tape for sculptures.

Fill a basket with things from the yard — leaves, pinecones, twigs, acorns, pebbles, shells, etc. Nature's art materials.

Now you've got a nice starter studio.

We added other materials slowly … buttons, beads, lacing, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, plastic-coated wire, etc. If our students came in on the first day of school and found a completely stocked art studio, I'm sure they would have wigged out as well. Instead, they slowly grew to know it as a place where neat new things were always appearing, where there was enough for everyone.

We never doled out buttons. "Everyone gets three buttons!" That's the type of thing that makes you feel greedy and desperate. Sometimes, you just have to let them glue and glue and glue until they get past the panic stage. But once they understand you're going to keep supplying them with the good stuff, they calm down. They're able to cast their eyes over a display of materials and choose with care the thing they really need.


Continued tomorrow...

*TPS = tiny private school


Published by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2007 at 03:19 PM


I just read another homeschooling blog post that declared how great it is that homeschoolers read more than non-homeschoolers. They're better readers, they like to read more, they read more often, etc.

My first reaction is, well heck yeah, they have time to read!

When I was running a (tiny, private) school, we made time each day for the children to read to themselves. This was in addition to the time that they were read aloud to by their teacher (Kindergarten through fourth grade). Visiting educators' reaction? We don't have time to do that. There is too much to teach. We already don't have enough time to cover the material.

This is the sort of thing that made me grind the heels of my hands into my eye sockets. Which way to attack this? You could go straight for what really matters in education today and point out that the kids will learn more, and be more receptive to learning, if they are calm and relaxed and rested. (Our kids read after lunch. It made a lovely quiet transition to the afternoon.) Or, you could go the other direction and point out that test scores don't really matter if we raise generations of kids who can't or won't or don't read.

I remember talking to the 8- and 12-year-old sons of a friend several years ago (back when kids that age seemed enormous). I asked what their favorite books were. Both of them moaned and groaned and said they hated to read.

... Hated to read? Hated to read?! Well, I ... I don't know what to say. That's like saying you hate to eat. You hate to watch TV. How can anyone hate to read?

But they went on to explain why they hated to read --- it was because they hated the books they were forced to read at school. They were so boring. Etc. So I said, well, huh, I could choose a book for each of you that you would love. You would love to read. They rolled their eyes and said no way. I couldn't pay them to waste time reading anything.

And there's the rub, because when would they read these great books I had for them? Their days were very full, and the little bit of free time they had they really preferred to do something else. Like, there would be a long list of things they would prefer to do, and reading would not even make it to the bottom of that list.


They also told me that boys don't like to read, boys like sports, but that's a whole other ulcer-aggravating conversation.

This is a deep-and-wide topic, and I can’t plumb its depths in this one post, but I will reiterate this: When I read (or hear) homeschooling parents say sanguinely that homeschooled kids love to read or are great readers or etc., I think, the greatest thing about homeschooling is time. All that lovely, blessed time. No worries about having to choose how to spend your one free hour a day, whether you should crash on the couch and watch “Scooby Doo”, play with your dog, work a little on your airplane model, help your mom make a pie, play a little Age of Empires or maybe a game of chess with your dad. There’s time for all of those things — and still time to read Treasure Island, Rascal, Kon-Tiki, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, or The Dark is Rising.

That's a great thing about homeschooling, but schooling can easily (easily!) make room in the day for kids to read books of their own choosing, silently, to themselves. And (rolling my eyes now) the kids' attention and attitudes will improve and they will actually learn better anyway, so you haven't actually cost yourself anything just for the mere benefit of raising generations of readers.



Jim Trelease: Sustained Silent Reading — Reading Aloud’s Natural Partner

If the majority learn to read but don't read, we must ask: Why are they not reading? The only logical answers are either because they don't like it or because they don't have the time. There are no other major reasons. Eliminate those two factors and you've solved the American literacy dilemma. Reading aloud goes to work on the first factor and SSR attacks the second. — Jim Trelease

Washington Post: The No-Book Report: Skim It and Weep

We pride ourselves on being a largely literate First World country while at the same time we rush to build a visually powerful environment in which reading is not required.

"Sustained Silent Reading" Helps Develop Independent Readers

Teachers should be right there on the floor (or in another comfortable spot) -- modeling a lifelong love of reading.

Note: Upon rereading, my mom and dad activities are so gender traditional. For the record, I play chess (although I prefer Scrabble), and my husband, while no pie maker, makes a mean pot of soup.


I am not bashing homeschooling families for basking in the contented glow of their great readers; it just drives me crazy that kids in school don't have the same luxury of time to become great readers.

How can a generation of non-readers raise a generation of readers? If kids never discover a love of reading, how can they introduce it to their own children?

In all my years of running my small private school, I never saw a child who didn't love to be read to, regardless of age. I still read to my nearly 11-year-old every night. Right now we are reading Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

See also: Teaching Kids to Hate Reading and In Defense of Reading .. Which Should Need No Defense


Comics project: Writing

Published by Lori Pickert on November 10, 2007 at 12:58 PM


The comics project has branched off into two different types of writing work.

snoopy-computer.pngSnoopy and his typewriter inspired the writing of stories. Jack first asked for a typewriter, to which I didn't say no (I love typewriters, too, and I typed on one all the time when I was his age!) but did gently suggest that while we shop for one, he might utilize the computer we already had.

His stories are wonderful. I will probably have to type an entire one in here to share. Maybe "The Hot Dog and the Hog". I believe that one was inspired by Just So Stories.

comicbk.jpgNow he is writing comic books. First he copied individual comic strip characters (Calvin & Hobbes), then he copied whole strips, then he drew his own C&H strips, then he made up his own characters (still related to C&H) and drew their strips (George & Falkin). Whew. Then he drew entirely original strips. Then he wanted them to be published, in the newspaper, for everyone to read. (Pause for explanation of why we might not be able to get that to happen by, say, Monday.)

He reads comic collections in book form, so he made two books of comics, as in actual books. He used hardcover blank sketchbooks, but he is also interested in having copies made so he can sell them. (Of course.)

And now he is writing comic books. He has been reading some books he dredged up from our home library about the Incredible Hulk and Spiderman — books that have chapters up front about the writers and artists and comic book publishers. His Spiderman book lists all the villains, so that's what he's concentrating on right now for his characters: Mom Lady and her sidekick, Son Boy.


Cardboard dollhouse

Published by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2007 at 08:53 PM


Who knew cardboard could look this good?

Adventures in wire continue

Published by Lori Pickert on November 7, 2007 at 07:07 AM


We are still working with wire.

The above photo is the wire heart Jack made me that spells out "m-o-m". He's also been making toys — and selling them! (Pause while he makes a paper box to hold his money. Pause again while he makes so much money the paper box won't hold up and he needs to construct a heavier one. Pause while his older brother explains business loans and offers to loan him money to buy more supplies so his business can grow. Pause while he scoffs at that idea and points out that mom already bought his materials. Pause while he makes himself a nametag that reads "Certified Product Salesman".)

The wire came out originally to make an armature for a bird sculpture. Then it became the mostly two-dimensional bird sculpture. Then more wire sculptures, toys, tools, two-dimensional pictures...

I know I'm beating a dead horse, but those wacky kids and their short attention spans.

When I'm sure he's done everything he wants to do with the wire he has and the ideas he has — good and completely done — then I want to show him this:






And this:



Another great Calder link: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

My fan mail is enormous. Everyone is under six.
Alexander Calder


A fantastic collection of Calder links

National Gallery of Art: Virtual Calder Tour

One last note on working with wire: It can be pokey and it is important to supervise its use and make sure the kids understand and respect the material. I am usually overboard on safety issues, but I don't make the boys wear safety glasses while they work with it or anything. I don't restrict them to short pieces (to lessen their chances of poking an eye, either their own or each other's). These things can happen, however, so be aware and beware. (I think I just invented a catch-phrase!)

And another note: If you know someone who works for the telephone company, they can get you the most fabulous multicolored, plastic-coated wire. If you are a teacher, you can ask very nicely for your class. They always said yes to me, but then I can really turn on the charm.

No, 'pokey' is not a real word. But you knew exactly what I meant, didn't you?

Children's book beauty

Published by Lori Pickert on November 6, 2007 at 12:57 PM


All you collectors of vintage children's books and admirers of vintage children's book illustrations need to check out the eye candy at Book By Its Cover.

Another homemade dollhouse

Published by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2007 at 10:50 PM

beautiful kid space

Published by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2007 at 03:55 PM


Mari Eriksson has some beautiful photos on her blog of her home, including some truly inspirational kid spaces.

All posts on this blog that have to do with children's spaces in home or school are tagged "environment". An explanatory quote from The Hundred Languages of Children:

A Space That Teaches

The environment is seen here as educating the child; in fact it is considered as 'the third educator' along with the team of two teachers.

In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround the people in the school and that they use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are seen not as passive elements but on the contrary as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of children and adults who are active in it.


In our school this translated to a classroom that was very open and flexible, with areas that could be transformed according to the children's interests and project work. An open area that had a play kitchen, table, chairs, couch, etc., during one season was transformed into a library for several months, a skating rink, a rocket ship factory.

At home, children need space to build and — I think this is key — room to keep a project out while they are working on it.

Again, we talk about children having short attention spans, but we make them clean up their projects and put them away each evening! How can they do extended work, adding layer upon layer of understanding, if they can't keep an unfinished painting? LEGO structure? block city? cardboard box building?

Children need the opportunity to work on something again and again, until they decide they are finished. One of the things I love about Mari's spaces is that they are so fresh and spacious. Empty space gives ideas room to grow.



In the dollhouse

Published by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2007 at 01:00 PM

hoth1.jpg Construction of the Jedi temple has not quite begun. The research period is in full swing, which involves a lot of stop-action watching of the second trilogy.

In the meantime, a small box was added to Jack's birthday LEGO set, the Hoth base, to enhance it to his standards. (Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars movie. All we need now is an AT-AT.) There is also going to be some painting of the old corkboard he's using as the ground -- white, for snow, of course.

Soon the temple will begin to be built for real. So much debating about what will make the best elevator, etc.

One great thing about homemade constructions — Jedi temples, car garages, dollhouses, etc. — is that there is no guilt when you dispose of them when they are no longer played with. Also, they are, of course, the ultimate green choice — don't buy new, don't buy at all! Make something out of recycled materials, which can later be recycled again when you are finished.

hoth2.jpgMost important, there is an entire creative research, materials choice, construction, and decoration that the kids get to do. It becomes art, craft, and science project in one. (Have you ever made a garage door? an elevator? a rotating helipad? Simple machines, baby.)

msk-carwash.jpgYou may remember the great Martha Stewart Kids article about making a car wash and garage out of things from around the house. (Why did they cancel that magazine again? Best magazine ever. I saw an entire set for sale on Ebay not long ago. Too rich for my blood, but boy would I love to get a hold of the issues I missed.) I have tried in vain to find it on Martha's website; it was in the MSK winter/spring 2003 issue.

Elisabeth Dunker of Fine Little Day has a fantastic flickr set of the wonderful dollhouses she and her daughter made. They are wonderful, and they remind me of a classier version of Phoebe's dollhouse on Friends.

I want to make one of those for myself.

Dutch of Sweet Juniper made his daughter a quick, inexpensive, modern-style dollhouse that I lurv.

Of course, another great thing about the homemade dollhouse/garage/Jedi temple is that you don't have to worry about those pricey dollhouse dolls and accessories. You can use what you already have on hand -- action figures, Hotwheels, Polly Pockets. Start with the people to choose your scale.

Of course, anyone who owns a dollhouse will tell you that it is inevitably overtaken by unusually large and/or small friends anyway. The Hamburglar living in the back bedroom, Strawberry Shortcake hanging out in the kitchen, not to mention plastic dinosaurs and teeny plastic jungle animals lurking around the back door.

Then there's this groovy modern plexi dollhouse from Better Homes & Gardens Gifts to Make Yourself in 1972. Love the fireplace, baby.


Not as futuristic as a Jedi temple, but still plenty cool.

Finally, our friends Pete and Tom made this amazing Dalek city. Super cool, isn't it? Show that to any medium-size child and the ideas should start popping.


Published by Lori Pickert on November 3, 2007 at 01:00 PM


Cookie Magazine has a great little online article about terrariums.

We still have the raw materials for our project sitting in a nice, neat pile (maybe with a cobweb or two) out in the barn.

I never did find the Martha Stewart Kids magazine with the instructions and photos about paludariums. While hunting for it, however, I undercovered another half-dozen MSKs in random parts of the house. So it was totally worth it.

And now, just like my favorite shelter magazines, the High and Low versions of terrarium decorating:


High (classy Cookie Magazine): Terrarium, $118. Tyrannosaurus, $12.


Low (cheap Lori's version): Aquarium, 10 bucks. Brontosaurus, $1 at dollar store.

Whatever your price point, you and the small child in your life can find happiness with a miniature jungle. Enjoy!