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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.

Cool Craft Ideas For January

Gone are the warm summery days of July, the green grass and lush gardens.  In most areas of North America, we’re enduring chilly temperatures, dormant plants, snow and ice.  The outdoors can still be a great opportunity to explore, play and create with kids, though, even in the middle of winter.

Bundle up and take a nature walk.  See what is changing in your neighborhood.  Are there leaves still on the ground?  Are they crunchy or soft?  What will happen to the leaves?  This is a great time to teach children about the natural process of mulching and fertilization.  Or, if you still have a few choice leaves in your area, collect them and bring them home to make leaf creatures.  Glue the leaves on paper to make people, animals, or even to invent your own creature.  Collect sticks and think of ways you can use them.  Make a windchime or a mobile using small sticks, or if you find a large stick, create a walking stick.  Decorate a stick for the season a lead a parade.  Use glitter and ribbons, get other children involved and let them parade around the area.

If you live in an area where snow is commonplace, make your own popsicles outdoors.  Pour Kool Aid into cups and set outside.  After a couple of hours, check on them and add popsicle sticks when the mixture is slushy.  You can create popsicles in a variety of containers, experimenting with shape and color.  Make a layered popsicle by freezing each layer individually.  Make ice lanterns with your children by putting water in a large bucket, then floating a smaller container in the water.  Fill the smaller container with sand or rocks to weigh it down and force it to “sink” somewhat into the larger container.  Once the mold is created, place a votive in the indentation and light your ice lantern.  A safer method is to turn the lantern over like an igloo and drill a hole through the top.  Light the candle and cover with the lantern. 

Collect rocks and have a blast with a new building medium.  Create a snow fort replica indoors with small pebbles glued together.  Or, make a pet rock.  Decorate your rock with markers and other “extras” you have around the house, small ribbon, pipe cleaners, buttons – whatever you can find to add to your rock.  Create a place for your rock to “live” by decorating a small box or container.

In our temperate climate, we have plenty of animals that still hang around through the winter months.  We love to make bird feeders for our feathered friends.  The traditional peanut butter – bird seed  feeder is simple and easy, and there are lots of different objects you can use to set it up.  Try pine cones, bagels or toast, even small sticks that can be tied to a branch.  Birds aren’t picky, but you do have to be sure that your feeder isn’t going to harm them either.

What are some great ways you can think of to keep your child occupied during the short winter days?  Post your ideas in our comments section and share!

Why Making A Mess Is A Kid’s Job

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”  Words have never been truer than when in relation to children and what they do – make a mess. 

As a parent, it is difficult for me NOT to get mad when the kids make a mess.  It isn’t the mess I dislike as much as it is the not-picking-up part.  Part of me would just as soon not have the messy toys in my house – no play dough or paint, no little cups and pots, no construction toys like Zoob, no scissors, markers or glue.  If they aren’t here, the kids can’t make a mess with them, right?

But, the fact is, kids WILL make a mess.  That’s what they do.  They explore their environment to its fullest, and they use creativity in ways we seem to forget as we grow older.  Children dive head-first into delightful things, such as packing peanuts and glitter.  It is fun; it is learning.

So, while I might not want to sweep up the shredded paper ONE MORE TIME or clean the marker up off the kitchen table – AGAIN, I know that my kids are learning to express themselves and discover more about the world around them with each exciting activity they do, no matter how messy it is.  And that is our job as caregivers – to expose children to as many different situations, stimuli, activities and experiences as possible in a safe (and hopefully fun) way.  Of course, the other side of that is to also teach our children to be responsible and clean up after themselves.  I’m still working on this one.

Someone remind me of this when my youngest manages to spill the fish food all over the carpet again tonight, okay?

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