Kids and photography

Published by Lori Pickert on October 1, 2007 at 08:18 PM


Cameras are an important homeschooling tool for us.

The boys' photographs never fail to impress me. They notice and focus on things I didn't see. They capture the experience from their own kid perspective. And they never fail to highlight the things that mean the most to them.


Invariably, I think their pictures tell a more accurate (and more humorous) story than mine.



We use cameras for snapshots, making art, communicating with friends and family, field trips, journaling. We also use them just to help us focus more — taking them on a walk in the woods, for example. We notice so much more when we bring our cameras, because we're really looking — looking to see what's there, searching for things that are interesting — instead of just talking and walking.



I notice that they tend to zoom in closer than I would sometimes, and often they step back and take much more in than I would.



They are very creative, and they come up with ideas I'd have never thought of.



Like other types of artwork (drawings, paintings), photographs give us a starting point for interesting conversations and the boys have a different, non-writing way to take notes. They can catalog interests, questions, ideas. The boys' photographs become a jumping-off point for conversations that might lead to something as simple as looking up a type of tree and as complex as what the symbols on cemetary markers mean. The cameras are our tools, and their photographs become our resource materials.

All photographs except the top one were taken by my sons, at ages 4 through 10.

In praise of high-quality art materials

Published by Lori Pickert on September 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM


For the seven years that I ran my private school, we had an art- and project-based curriculum. Soon after we opened, I discovered the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, and learning about their methods inspired and informed the remainder of our days in the classroom.


One of the tenets of the Reggio approach is that children deserve high-quality art materials.

Why buy expensive high-quality materials for children? They just burn through whatever you give them. Can we afford to buy them expensive paper, when they can produce 25 drawings in one sitting? And that sitting only lasted 20 minutes?

Giving children high-quality materials sends a message. It’s not enough to say, “I think your work is important.” If I give my children cheap paper and paint, what can they produce? Muddy-colored paintings that dry and flake off cheap, thin paper that tears easily. My words are saying “Your work is important” but the materials are saying “Your work is not important.”


It’s true that you can’t just hand children a pile of expensive paper and a basket of high-quality markers and walk away without a backward glance. You need to convey your respect for the materials and show children how to use them properly and put them away so they’ll be good for next time.

The youngest children in our classroom — just-turned-three-year-olds — were capable of washing out their paintbrushes and palettes and putting them away. Age is no excuse for not taking care of your materials.

It’s also valuable to teach children when it’s appropriate to use “regular” paper and when an artwork deserves the better, more expensive paper. The lowest-quality paper I can accept is copy paper — not too expensive at 500 sheets for a few dollars. We use copy paper to make marker drawings, pencil drawings, mini-books, etc. We go through a lot of it. But we also have watercolor paper, large loose sheets of drawing paper, and heavy paper for painting with tempera and acrylics, charcoal, and ink. Children can learn to use regular paper for sketching, everyday drawing, and early drafts and use the best paper for their best work. Talking with them about their intentions before they work can help them decide which is appropriate. You can also encourage them to pull out the good paper after they’ve done several renditions of a drawing on regular paper.

There are many steps to introducing high-quality materials and tools to young children and teaching them how to use and care for them. For now, I’ll just say the following:

• High-quality materials convey to children that their work is important.

• High-quality materials inspire children to work more slowly and carefully.

• Children's important work deserves high-quality materials.


The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. — Loris Malaguzzi

Weave it to me

Published by Lori Pickert on August 24, 2007 at 01:38 AM


Karrie from Girl on the Rocks is starting a week of weaving information about looms, patterns, and more. Check out her blog for great ideas about palm-sized looms and weaving projects.

For young children, you can't go wrong with a classic plastic pot-holder loom and a bag of nylon loops. This is the type we use with kids age 3 and up in the classroom and art studio.

The loom pictured up above was a heddle loom we used in the classroom. It is useful for weaving belts, skinny scarves, bracelets, bookmarks, and headbands. You can make your own heddle with popsicle sticks; maybe we'll show you how in another post.

For large weaving projects, or shared projects on which several children can work together, you can purchase large classroom looms for about $215. Or you can do what we did — find a big, cheap wooden picture frame (thrift store, garage sale, junk shop, or clearance), drill holes along the top and bottom, and insert pieces of dowel rod you cut yourself. Total cost: approximately $4.00. We added a couple of pieces of wood at the bottom to serve as feet, strung it up, and we were good to go. (I can’t find a photo of our loom to share, unfortunately…)

Read about it elsewhere:

Purl Bee: The Lure of the Loom


eloominator blog

For a nice selection of plastic and wood looms, check out Dick Blick. Be careful: art supplies are just as enticing online as they are in person.

How to Build a clay table

Published by Lori Pickert on August 23, 2007 at 01:56 AM

If you work a lot with clay, you can build your own clay table.

First, find a cheap wooden table at a junk shop or garage sale. (Habitat for Humanity ReStores offer both used furniture and used building materials.) We paid $10 for our table.

Next, cut the legs down to size so the height is appropriate for your children. (Measure the first leg, then hold it up against the others to make sure they match exactly.)

Purchase enough plain canvas (about $2 to $4/yard from the fabric store) to cover the table top. Be sure your fabric is wide enough to wrap around each side. Before you go to the fabric store, take a look at the edges of your table to see how much extra material you'll need. Simple table tops will only require four inches or so; tables with elaborate skirting will require more.

At home, center fabric on the table top. (You don't have to cut the material to size -- just leave the extra and you can trim it off later. You just need to make sure it's wide enough and long enough to cover.)

Using a staple gun, put one stable in the center of one side of the table, wrapping the material around and stapling underneath the table top. Stretch material and continuing stapling, finishing first one side, then its opposite side, then the final two sides.

The finished canvas-covered table is perfect for working with clay. The canvas absorbs excess moisture, and clean up consists of just brushing away extra dried clay pieces the next day. If your clay starts to become too dry, give the canvas a spritz of water.

If you don't have room for a whole table, you can cover a piece of chipboard or plywood cut to your desired size, and bring it out when you're ready to pinch, poke, and roll. Just be sure you lay a towel or other protective layer between your clay board and table to prevent scratching.