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Preschool Art – It Is All In How You Look At It

“Ms. J!  Ms. J!  Come look what I painted!”

Ella beamed at me from around our art easel in my 4 year old classroom yesterday, barely able to contain her excitement.  It was catching.  I wondered what I would see as I rounded the side of the easel: her name written across the white paper?  A rainbow with pretty flowers underneath?  Maybe an ocean with all sorts of sea creatures that only a 4 year old imagination could conjure?

Nope, I saw BROWN.

Brown.  Brown paper, brown easel stand, brown paint brushes.  Oh, they didn’t start out brown.  They were initially red, yellow, green and blue.  But now, each of the easel’s paint pots were a murky brown and each brush was dripping with the same goopy concoction.

This story could take two turns at this point.  I, as Ella’s teacher, could have chastized her for mixing the colors, rendering the easel unusable for the rest of the day and the rest of the class.  I could have reminded her of our rule to take care of our room and the things in it so that everyone could enjoy it.  And, I could have taken her paper down and thrown it away, calling it a “mess”.

If you know me, though, this is absolutely NOT something I would do.  Instead, I told Ella that her work was “impressive”.  It was a good word choice; it is quite neutral while still sounding encouraging.  I then asked her to tell me about her painting.

Ella, in her own words, described to me her exploration of the primary colors.  She mixed yellow and blue on the paper and realized she had a green color, but it didn’t match the green in the paint pot.  So, she tried adding some red.  And then some more yellow, and some more blue.  Pretty soon, she was swirling colors together and making a “yummy chocolate pie” on her paper.  Yes, that’s exactly what it looked like to me – pie, but without the boundaries of a crust.  Free exploration with a lesson in color making.  Wow.

That is what art needs to be for children – free exploration.  Children need the freedom to create and explore in a non-threatening environment.  They need encouragement and praise, even when all we see is a mess of brown.  Becasue, in that brown is a lesson to be learned, and it is much more valuable than keeping the paint colors separate.

National Museum Month

May is National Museum Month!  Visiting a museum at any age can be a fascinating, rewarding and educational experience.  However, not all of us are blessed to have good, quality museums in our area, so here are a few ways to bring the museum to you!

Create your own art exhibit with your child as the featured artist.  Spend a few days preparing for the “grand opening” by providing media for creating.  Do not limit your child to paper, crayons, markers and paint; branch out to sculpture by either using play-dough or a homemade dough.  Or, provide your child with a variety of boxes to build a piece of architecture.  Give your child different tools for creating color, such as chalk or even fruit juices.  If your child is old enough, have him or her name each piece of art.  Then, host an art show!  Call the neighbors and friends to visit and see the young artist and his or her work!

You can take this a step further by including several children in the show.  Allow friends or neighborhood children to create pieces of art and display them one afternoon.  It is a great way to involve several children in art appreciation without ever having to leave your home.

Create a “Wax Museum”.  There are two ways to do this: use small figurines or have friends stand in as historical figures.  Any kind of figurine can be used, from Barbies to Star Wars men.  Children can research important people and then recreate that person by dressing up a figurine.  Or, children can become that historical person and pose “in character” for others to see.  Another easy idea (and perfect for a child to do alone) is a paper-doll wax museum, especially if resources are limited.

Family History Museum – why not explore your own background and include the children in the process.  I actually did this two summers ago when I realized an ancestor of mine was one of the first lieutenant governors of Texas.  My son and I created a family tree, researched articles about our family online, and we even made a display of our family to share at a reunion. 

Do not discount small museums close to home!  In our small town we have an art gallery sponsored by the Art League.  It is small, but it is the perfect spot to learn more about art appreciation with my children.  The docents are always helpful and friendly, and the gallery is never crowded.  Our town also has a visitors center, and within our center is a small room of local history and artifacts.  It is easy to go through the entire space in a short amount of time, so my children’s attention spans are not tested by rooms and rooms of displays.  And, the entire area is significant to my children since it is a local attraction.  They are able to see how our town has evolved over the years.

Take a few moments this month to explore a museum or create one of your own.  Museums are fun, fascinating and factual!

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Fun Felt Creations

At the preschool where I work, I am the Queen of the Felt Board.  There is nothing more fun for me than storytelling with felt pieces.  Not only can “regular” people or objects be used, but random shapes (triangles, circles, hexagons) can be used to create the visual parts of a story.  And, the pieces can be used to create a new story as well.

So, it should come as no surprise that I made my boys a felt board.

The felt board I made for my kids isn’t anything fancy.  I created one in anticipation of a trip we’re taking shortly, so mine is small for travelling.  The main components of a felt board set are a swatch of felt, extra felt or sandpaper (I like the sandpaper best), a file folder and illustrated pictures and/or objects.

I started by gluing the felt to the front of the file folder.  The tricky thing is that felt doesn’t like glue.  Using fabric glue, rubber cement or other tacky, thick adhesive seems to work best.  Then, the file folder is stapled up the sides, leaving only the top open (like a pocket).  The staples reinforce the adhesive of the felt to the folder as well.  The newly created pocket can be used to store all the felt board pieces.

Next, the pieces need to be made.  The quickest way to make felt board pieces is to glue magazine pictures to cardstock or heavy paper, cut them out, and attach sandpaper (or a small square of felt) to the back.  No creative artwork needed!  I enjoy creating felt pieces for my boys’ favorite stories, drawing out the characters and bits of scenery that are important to the story on a good quality printer paper (or even cardstock), and then affixing a piece of sandpaper to the back with glue.

For pennies, you can create a felt activity set for your child as well.  They are great for travelling, rainy days…or just about anytime you are looking for a quick activity for your child!  Involve your child in creating the pieces, too.  You will be amazed at what they can come up with!  Felt boards are a wonderful pre-reading activity with younger children and a great bridge to comprehension and retelling in older readers.

Rainy Day Fun With Kids

Spring is a season of change.  The colder temperatures slowly give way to warmer and longer days.  Children beg to play outside as much as they can, so when the rains come, they aren’t always a welcome sight.  Here are a few suggestions to keep your kid happy and having fun, even when it means staying inside for the day.

1.  Singin’ In The Rain!  Turn on the shower and let the fun begin!  While my 3 year old is not a fan of bathing in the shower, he LOVES to put on his bathing suit, his water socks and grab his small umbrella for a bit of fun when we turn on the water.  Have lots of towels handy – it does make a mess!

2.  Rain art.  Create works of art with washable markers on paper (the heavier the paper, the better.  After they are completed, put them outside in the rain and watch the colors run together.  Or, spritz them with a water bottle for a similar effect.  Do new colors form?  Do any of the colors separate?

3.  It is always a good time for a campout!  Create a campsite with a blanket or bedspread draped over a couple of chairs.  Bring along some stuffed animal pals, and even serve up a snack in the new digs.  Turn out the lights, close the blinds, and fire up a few flashlights for some added fun.  Read a few books and cozy up together!

4.  Revive those board games.  Pull out some timeless favorites you have, a deck of cards, perhaps even some dice for a rousing game of Yahtzee.  Or, create your own board game by combining elements of older games! 

5.  Recycle old playdough.  Make magnificent sculptures and let them sit out to dry.  It may take a few days, or put them on a cookie sheet in a low-heat oven to dry out more quickly.  (My boys LOVE to make volcanoes from old playdough and then “erupt” them with baking soda and vinegar.)

6.  Write a story!  Sit down with your child or children and create a story.  Then, act it out and take pictures of each part of the story.  These can be printed out and made into a new book to read together.

7.  Try a few party games.  Why not make your own verson of Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Charades?  How about an indoor treasure hunt or a race of some sort?  My boys love to inflate a couple of balloons and see who can keep them off the ground the longest by bouncing them in their palm.

8.  Decorate the windows.  Give kids some shaving cream to smear on the window or table.  Not only will they clean the surface, they’ll have a great time doing it!  Or, try washable markers or even tempera paint.  They are both easily removable with a bit of water and a rag.

What are your favorite activities to do with your child on a rainy day?

Make Your Home Into An Art Gallery

If you spend any significant amount of time around children, you are most likely going to be the proud recipient of a handmade gift: a picture of a house, some stick people or another treasure.  And, if you keep these creations, you are probably going to end up with enough artwork to wallpaper the living room within a matter of weeks.  Children love to create, and they love to create when you love to display it.  So, make their artwork into something fabulous with these simple steps.

Find a variety of open frames.  Look at craft stores and discount stores, as well as yard sales and resale shops.  You do not need glass; just a nice sized frame that can be hung on a nail on the wall.  Wooden ones are best; you can spray paint them a uniform color such as gold or black.  Also, look for a variation in sizes and shapes, but make sure they are a good size for a child’s work of art to fit inside.

Next, hang your frames (empty) on a wall.  This can be a hallway, a room, or wherever you want to display works of art.  It is best to keep the frames grouped together, although you can spread them throughout your home as well.  If you want to take it a step further, you may back the area inside the frame with felt or another material, or you can even paint the wall inside the frame a nice contrasting color.

Now you are ready to display!  Place your child’s artwork in the frames, and display as long as you or they would like.  When new artwork comes home, change them out.  Rotate them among the seasons.  And be sure to show the pieces off to any visitors you have.  You will be giving your child a sense of pride and accomplishment, and you will have created an amazing conversation piece for your home, all on a shoestring budget!

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