Monday, October 13, 2014

Painting That's Not Painting

I love to paint with young kids. I enjoy seeing them explore and try new things.

But I know many teachers of young kids that struggle with painting. They don't want to do it or they do it reluctantly. They don't want to make a mess or to lose control.

This week we did an activity that I think these paint-shy adults would enjoy. And their kids will, too.


We drew on coffee filters with washable markers. We used just red, yellow, and orange. (These colors coordinate with our talking about fire. They are great autumn colors, too.)


Kids drew whatever designs they wanted. They used one, two, or all three colors as they chose.


When they were finished drawing, they "painted" over the drawings with water. We used watercolor brushes to better control the amount of water that was applied.


The paper towel under the coffee filter was just to catch all the "bleed through." But most kids liked those designs, too, and took them home.



One boy wondered what would happen if he put a paper towel on top. So we tried it. He took home three designs!


I don't mind a mess. But we really enjoyed this less messy "painting" activity. And watching the lines blur and spread.


We always try to remember to write our names. One thing we learned: write your name before you paint with water. The pencil won't blur and it's hard impossible to write on wet coffee filter.


Some great paintings that really were not paintings!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Just a Little String Painting

This week we did a favorite activity. Well, it's one of my favorites but we don't seem to do it very often. String painting. 


String, paint, paper. Pour paint in a shallow container. I like to attach a clothespin or something on one end of the string (for grasping and pulling). This week we used shoe strings, cut in half; the aglet end went into the clothespin. You can use regular yarn or string, too. I always prefold the paper before kids paint. 


Dip the string in the paint. You don’t need a lot of paint on the string, especially if your paint isn’t too thin. Paint will easily adhere to the string. 


Arrange the string on your paper. I encourage kids to arrange the string on one side of the fold but they usually do whatever they want. And it still works. On one side of the fold helps with the next step. But I think kids’ creativity and ideas are more important than the “technical” aspects of the activity.

Make sure the end (in this case the clothespin) is past the edge of the paper. 


Fold the paper over the string. Lightly hold the paper closed. (I offer my hand for this, so kids can concentrate on the next thing.) Pull the string out of the paper. Watch it swing (and maybe get some paint on the table). Return the string to the paint. 


Open up your paper to see the design. (We usually notice that the design is the same on both sides of the paper.) 


Repeat with another color or more of the same color. Or just be satisfied with the great design you made. 

I've done this with butterfly-shaped paper (and the designs look great as butterflies). We've used multiple colors. We've tried to make specific symmetric designs. Overall, a great activity for fun and exploration.


Caution: You are now approaching the reflective part of this experience. You know what that means. I’ve been thinking about what I saw.

I’ve done this with various groups of kids over the years. As I thought back over our experiences this time, I realized something. Each child did the same thing. We had two colors out. Each child used each of the colors once. And then was done. 


Now, that’s fine with me. But usually I have a child that enjoys the process or the design and will do it again and again, several times, no matter how many colors (1, 2, 3) that we have out. 

But this group did one red and one blue (or one blue and one red) and then was done. I pondered that on the drive home. And talked about it with Cindy. Why did they each do this? 


I wonder if this is what they’ve absorbed from their experiences at school. Go through the specific steps of the activity and move on. 

Now this group is creative. They like to explore and experiment. But if something has some specific steps, they do what is required and move on. 


I encouraged them to add more red or blue. But they were done. I respect a child’s choices. I think he decides when he is done. I didn’t push my agenda on them. 

But I did find it interesting. In other painting activities we’ve done so far this year, I’ve seen variation in the way the kids approach it and complete it. Some will be done in a few strokes. Some will work for a while. 


But this one was strangely uniform in approach. Not that it’s bad or wrong. It just has me thinking. And wanting to make sure that I don’t squelch a child’s unique approach to what we do. I want to encourage creative thinking and exploration, not stifle it.