This afternoon’s threat of rain sent us to the basement to do some light play and exploring with the Picasso Tiles on the overhead projector. We’ve been playing this game about taking a vacation inside a snake (a crawling tube toy) for the last few weeks together and so a string of bone-like beads was added to our choices of what to put on the projector.
The ever-compelling circus rings were still hooked up in front of the wall that the light shines on so a circus show was going on while we took turns telling stories about the snake.
When we tell stories together, we practice showing what we know about the world, work on memory and recall skills, and build vocabulary. When our friends perform during our stories, they work on listening skills, practice taking turns, and build their gross motor skills.
In our Tuesday class, we have some friends that are seriously focused on construction and cars right now. So after a few weeks of chaos and struggling to provide activities that would hold their interest, we switched and started a transportation and construction topic. This mixed aged group of two to five-year-olds is now happily immersed in teaching their teacher about what each of the machines will do and fully engaged in exploring ways to show what they know about construction sites.
As we played today, we worked on fine motor development as we held paint brushes, pinched play dough and used toy backhoes to scoop and pour sand. We practiced peer-to-peer and adult/child communication skills when we described our map paintings and directed our friends in our exploration of the sensory table.
At the sensory table full of sand and new construction toys, we had many chances to develop our negotiation skills as we navigated who would get which truck and to practice how to be kind to our friends while also expressing what we wanted.
We even did some work with one-to-one correspondence as we lined up the trucks and counted each of them.
It was a peaceful and fun day of construction play!
If you’ve ever tried to make something you found on Pinterest, I’m sure you can identify with the idea that sometimes those ideas just don’t pan out the way “they” said. Today was an example of a successful experiment when we used the salad spinner to make spin art. The idea was to make monster faces (it’s almost Halloween) and the children chose not to do that, though they did have some good laughs at the few monster faces I made to show them what was possible.
This activity turned into a great opportunity to practice squeezing and to use our knowledge of how to make hypotheses during an experiment.
We had tempera paint sticks to draw on the plates first and then there were four color choices to drip onto our plates before spinning them. We experimented with what would happen with a few droplets of paint versus big globs of paint and explored concepts of cause and effect as well as problem solving as we tested out fast and slow pushing of the spinner handle.
We also did some practice using the tempera cake paints. During circle time, we talked about how to use them successfully. The children described the way to get the most colorful paint by dipping the brush in the water, swishing it on the dry cake and then applying the brush to the paper.
First, I made some red lines on one side of the paper that was taped to the white board. Then we took turns each adding a set of marks to the page.
It was good practice in waiting our turn and gripping the brush and making creative choices. And we even got a chance to do some social conflict resolution when one friend made marks that covered another friend’s marks. This was an awesome chance to work on negotiation skills as we talked together as a group about whether we all wanted a second turn to return to the painting and make another set of marks.
In the end, we had a beautiful painting full of interesting marks: some dry, some wet. And we even got to experiment with color mixing when one friend showed the others that if she swirled her brush on the red cake and then on the blue cake it would leave purple paint on the paper.
Doing collaborative work can be very hard for people of any age. And particularly difficult for children that have a strong sense of how they would like their work to look. It is an excellent opportunity to practice communication skills however, and the end result is often stunning and unique.
Today as we practice using scissors, I notice that Rocket has been working at home to gain control over this tricky combination of actions-there is so much to think about when working to cut a curved line-one must open and close one hand, hold and turn the paper with the other hand, watch that the blade follows the line, it is so many different things to keep in our minds at once! When I tell him that I see that he has figured out how to turn the paper as he cuts and that he is concentrating and working hard to follow the spiral line I drew for him to cut on, he says, “Like, Lightening!” And I realize (re-realize?) a few very important things in this moment:
1) That we begin comparing ourselves to our peers very early. Lightening is another friend in our group that spends a lot of time making art with her family and is very comfortable and confident using art tools. I had no idea that Rocket was paying attention to the ease with which Lightening used scissors. Rocket’s huge grin when I called the class’ attention to his work was so lovely.
2) That daily attention to small tasks helps us gain mastery in such small increments that it is almost imperceptible. We haven’t used scissors in the classroom for a few weeks so the difference in his ability and confidence seemed vast to me. And this is such a gift if I think about how it relates to my own studio practice. When I practice painting and spend a little bit of time here and there working on something that feels important to me, surely my confidence and skill improves in similar increments. Rocket taught me in this moment to be gentle with myself and to recognize that if it matters to me to learn to be better at something, I will do just that.
3) That acknowledgement from peers is perhaps more important than from those in more powerful positions and that it helps us to stay focused on our work. We sat together while he worked for ten minutes or so. And he started to give up because the kinetic sand that Dr. Kitty and Professor Worm were playing with and the stories they were telling with the plastic animals buried in the sand were very compelling. I took a minute to show them what he was doing and point out how he was turning the paper and opening and closing the scissors with such strong muscles in his hand and that was all he needed to be able to refocus and continue his task. This is so applicable to my practice too! A little bit of positive feedback goes a long way and helps to motivate me to return to my tasks. And when I don’t have someone to call my peer’s attention to my successes, then it is important for me to not play small and to do that for myself without feeling like it is bragging or unimportant.
I am so grateful today, for my friend Rocket, and the gifts and insights he gave me into how noticing the progress of my little loves can help me be peaceful about my own progress. Thanks Rocket, I had a blast today!
Other than the work I do in the classroom, I also have a strong studio practice. Like all artists, I often struggle to strike a balance between the work I do for other people and the work I do for myself. It’s not unusual for me to spend fifteen minutes in the studio one day and not return for a week. And it’s also not unheard of for me to spend hours there on a weekend, music blaring, and multiple projects going at the same time.
Earlier this year, I attended a Storytelling retreat where I began some watercolor paintings to gather my thoughts around the Five Elements and all the poetry and beautiful stories we heard. I’ve been working on these paintings since the summer, carrying them around and showing them to people, adding to them with tempera sticks, graphite, ink, gouache and water soluble crayons when the mood strikes me. Sometimes, I will just sit with the pages and flip through them, making notes on post-its about what I want to do next time I am painting on them.
Last Friday, I got to the “time to take a step back” place where there was real potential for me to overwork the pages. So, I trimmed them all to the same approximate size, folded them, and set them out in a grid so I could see how they would be in conversation with one another.
This is one of my favorite moments in the process of making an artists’ book. I love to see how the images relate and to find ways to deepen their message by combining them into signatures.
Typically, I make three page signatures, which means that there are three pages folded together to make one section of the finished book. If you think of each page as a painting, that’s six paintings that are now next to each other and in combination.
And one painting gets to be in the center of the signature, which means that it is folded and the stitches will be visible at the fold, but it will not be next to other paintings. Setting the pages up in a grid like this, allows me to see how each page might talk to its friends and choose a rhythm for the ways that each signature will move. Sometimes, it’s the colors that signal which pages go together. Other times, it is the marks or repeated words that help point to how to combine the pages.
For this book, I have eight signatures of three pages each and two pages set aside to be the covers. It worked out perfectly! Here’s the signatures stacked up and waiting to have detail painting added on another day.
Reading books is a great way to introduce a topic and offer ideas to build on for the day’s play. It’s a simple way to come together and talk about what we see and hear. When we listen to stories read aloud, we develop literacy and communication skills as well as practice memory and recall. After the relative chaos of the last week, a fresh set of books was called for to get us more fully engaged! So, a quick trip to the library offers some fresh ideas for how to build on what we’re working with in the classroom. Remember, RADLabs isn’t in a typical classroom, we have three different groups ages two to six with infant siblings joining in for circle time at three different houses on three different days. Some children attend more than one day so we have separate topics that we work with over the span of several weeks that relate to the interests of the group and how they prefer to interact with each other.
On Mondays we’ve been exploring storytelling, so I picked out Zen Shorts, Tell Me a Silly Story and Bear Has a Story to Tell as well as a super silly one called The Seals on the Bus. We’ll continue reading the Homegrown Books and using our Tell Me a Story cards.
Tuesdays we’ve recently switched from a laboratory topic to transportation. There is a great work site full of bulldozer and dump truck toys in the front yard. And a sensory table car wash that proved to be so much fun last week. So, today I picked up Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Dig, Dogs, Dig and Build, Dogs, Build.
There are sure to be some fun and creative pictures posted as we explore these topics over the next few weeks and I’d be thrilled to hear what books you and your children are loving!