Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Planning Art Activities for Toddlers

Smiley is enjoying his Art Play for Tykes class at the Amazon Community Center.  He calls it Messy Art Class.  We're now starting a second edition of the class.

We've had several teachers, and all were friendly and capable.  But none really understood toddler psychology, and often the activities were "parent projects with kids told they were helping".  So here is my explanation about pedagogy for toddler art projects.

I'll use photographs from one of the best projects we've done, which still required a bit of my own tweaking.

Phase One

Before the project starts, most toddlers need a few minutes to simply explore the materials.  This is especially true in a classroom setting, when it should be assumed that some toddlers have not had any previous exposure to clay, paints, or perhaps even markers.

Smiley was one of the toddlers that had never used markers before.  At home we only use crayons, to make clean-up as easy as possible.  So he was given a few minutes to draw however he wanted, to learn what markers are like.  (These drew a bit differently than his crayons, and were also strongly scented.  Also, at home we ask him to use one crayon at a time and put it back in the box before taking a new crayon -- here he had a pile of markers to use but had to share them with his neighbor.)

To wind down the exploration phase, I offered a general suggestion (make circles).  This tested whether the exploration had "gotten out of his system" and he was ready to do guided work.

As another example of how deep is the drive for exploring new materials, the first time Smiley was given clay he simply washed it with a small potter's sponge for almost ten minutes.  The textures were numerous and captivating: the smooth and slightly squishy clay, the cold water in a small bowl, the rough and very squishy sponge, the slippery yet sticky wet clay that began to coat the workbench...

Phase Two

Now the actual project begins.  We were supposed to make puppets from white paper lunch bags.

Even with the teacher's sample puppet this was a very abstract activity.  So we began with a lot of guidance and some help.  I asked him about body parts, one by one, and he drew them on the bag.  He said the puppet was of a bear, so I drew an outline to reinforce that this puppet was a pretend bear and not an anthropomorphic paper bag.

The mouth, hidden inside the flap, was an especially abstract and confusing part.  He was obviously totally confused by the mouth, so I drew that for him.

Phase Three

Now we repeat the project with minimal guidance and preferably no help.  (Using Vygotsky's terms, we are reducing the scaffolding and letting the kid produce his or her own work.)

Starting over, Smiley makes a second puppet doing all the work himself.  I still prompt him when he is stalled or confused, for example asking him if his puppet will have a nose.

This time he understands the mouth and draws one himself.

Phase Four

The last "productive" phase is to let the child enhance his or her own work.  The teacher had a nice supply of googly eyes, sequins, feathers, sticks, and other materials to glue on the puppets.

Smiley picked two googly eyes for eyes, a third small one to be a nose, and two sticks for hands.

He also used a feather for the tongue.

Notice that his googly eyes were not put on the drawn eyes, and the "hands" are placed in a way that only makes sense to him.  That's okay.  This puppet is 100% his work and choices.  As another example, the first puppet had a tail but he decided the second would not, and it would have been equally valid if the second puppet had no nose or feet.

Any toddler art project can be enhanced, but some of the most interesting ways are unfortunately difficult to find in books.  For example, after making a watercolor painting, try sprinkling salt onto it, or (with close parental supervision!) dabbing it with a Q-Tip dipped in bleach.

Phase Five

If the project was happening at home then we could stop, clean up, and be done.  But in a classroom setting there is the practical matter that the kids will not all finish Phase Four at the same time.  We need a "filler activity" until the next project begins or the class is dismissed.

So we went back to drawing with markers on plain paper.  This time I prompted Smiley to try more advanced techniques: pressing hard or soft (which he was delighted to see had more dramatic effect than with crayons), making dots, etc.

Last week we were painting with brushes, and I introduced Smiley to finger painting during the last few minutes before class was dismissed.

Using the Phase Four enhancements on the Phase One explorations is also a sensible thing to do as a "filler activity".

Alternately, set aside one type of enhancement for kids who finish early.  For example, in this class students who finished early could have had a chance to use their puppets outside in an impromptu puppet show booth.

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