Monday, July 13, 2009

Almost Every Week We Paint

I talk with many preschool and kindergarten teachers. Many of them tell me: "We never paint." Or they gasp when I say we paint in my class. I understand their reluctance. Painting can be messy and can cause concern for adults. Money spent on paint can be spent on other things as well. Getting those paintings home can present a problem. I think each teacher should make the choices that work best for his or her class and within his/her comfort zone.

Our choice - we offer painting almost every week. Usually we provide painting at the easel each week. If we are doing another painting activity, we do not paint at the easel. (We can handle only one painting activity at a time; if you want to offer easel painting and another painting activity, go for it!) Why offer painting every week? Easel painting offers an opportunity to paint vertically and to use the muscles of the hand and arm in different ways. It's a great way for kids to experiment with color and creativity. Sometimes they paint representational art - art that looks like something (like the painting above). Sometimes the paper is covered with a color or blend of colors. Sometimes they paint stripes in an alternating pattern or make different blocks of color. I'm always excited to see what they will do.

Here's what I've learned from offering easel painting regularly.
1. The novelty wears off. At the beginning of the year, many kids want to paint. We keep a waiting list. When one child finishes painting, we call the next name; that child can choose to stop what he's doing to come and paint or to pass his turn. If we do not get through the list by the end of the session, we keep it and start with the next name on the next Sunday. But...after a few weeks...fewer kids want to paint. The waiting list is shorter (or not needed). Kids know that it will be an option again so they don't feel the "pressure" to paint. They can do it again in a couple of weeks if they choose.

2. The kids learn how to do it. After a few times, the kids get good at dabbing the paintbrush on the edge of the paint cup. They know to put on the smock before they start. They brush the paint carefully and return the brushes to the correct cups. I have to do little supervision - other than help with the smock, take off finished paintings, and put on clean paper.

3. The kids have an outlet when they feel creative. Sometimes the art activity I have planned does not appeal to some of the children. But, if a child wants to create, he can always paint at the easel. If he wants to do something solitary, the easel is a great activity to do alone. Easel painting can meet needs that may be missed with other activities.

4. When you have a large group of children, easel painting provides another "center" and another option. Keeping everyone busy is key to a large class (especially when you have lots of boys, like I did this year).

Some tips for providing easel painting:
  • Cover the easel with paper. Our easel has a washable surface. However, we found that we had to wash it after each painter. When covered, we don't have to clean the surface as much; we have less trouble with residual wet paint. We can remove a painting and add paper much faster; this is important when impatient painters are waiting. (We just use newspaper to cover our easel.)
  • Limit color choices with new painters. At the beginning of the year, we provide only one color. We use paint cups with lids, so at the end of the session we seal the paint and put it out again the next week. Sometimes we use the same color for several weeks before changing it. Later we use 2-3 colors of paint (but rarely more than this at one time).
  • Provide different shades and hues of the same color occasionally instead of different colors. Cindy will put the same color in three paint cups. To one paint cup, she'll add some white paint, making a lighter version of the color. To another cup, she'll add some black, brown, or blue, creating a darker version. Making different shades and hues encourages additional experimentation with color.
  • Plan a place for wet paintings to dry. We place paintings on a piece of newspaper under each wet painting to protect surfaces from edge-to-edge paintings.
  • Plan for a way to send wet paintings home. We fold the painting inside its newspaper base. That way no paint gets on car seats or parents' hands.
  • Tape a Bible verse or a teaching picture to the easel's edge. You can read the verse or talk about the picture as a child paints. Teaching continues even at the easel!
Try painting in your class. Maybe you want to use just watercolors or try it once a month or so. Think of ways you can encourage the creativity in your children and maximize your teaching opportunities.

Painting by Nicholas
Photo by R. Scott Wiley