I have been fooling around with the idea of centers for a long time now, trying to figure out the best way to make the same magic that happens in an early childhood classroom, happen inside our art studio. The solution hasn’t been all that easy. You see, the studio is designed to serve students ages 3 to 11. There are high tables, wobbly stools, and a host of other exciting materials scattered about that make it a challenge to adapt the space for total exploration and ownership for our youngest artists.
This week, however, with the help of 6 new centers, we began getting in the groove of traveling throughout our “grown up” space safely, collaborating with our classmates, and experimenting with new art media through guided discovery.
I began by introducing the classic Birthday game, Musical Chairs. We watched a video of kids at a party, playing the popular game, and then commented on what we observed. “There was music playing,” said one student. “Everyone sat in a chair when the music was over,” said another.
It was our turn to practice. We learned how to move our bodies through space to the sound of the music and to sit as soon as we heard the music stop. Fortunately, the observation was made that in art class, all kids are winners and when the music stops, no one is left out.
Next, we practiced traveling throughout the studio as a class, on a journey to navigate the space like hikers, following our trail blazes (or orange arrows) to lead us to our next destination, or center.
Then I introduced the 6 different forms of dry media we would encounter in our centers; colored pencils, crayons, markers, oil pastels, chalk pastels, and paint sticks.
Once we felt (sort of) comfortable navigating the space, students were divided into groups of 2-4, and began at a designated center. As soon as the music started, students were welcome to begin creating. They were challenged to collaborated with their classmates to discover all the neat ways their material could be used. Overlapping, blending, rubbing, and even carving into the thick application of the paint sticks were creative uses of our tools.
Notice how the kids above used toothpicks to remove thick pigment, creating a subtractive method when using this media!
At the messy chalk pastel center, students used cotton balls to blend the pigments together.
I love how comfortable students are with one another so early on in the year. Observing their behaviors in centers proves that learning through play and social interaction is ideal for student development. They are able to problem solve with one another, use their imaginations, and gain responsibility for materials and our studio space.
At the end of class, we held our very first critique, where students analyzed their 6 collaborative pieces and discussed which media was their favorite (and why), which would be best for creating more detailed drawings (and why), which was messiest, and which was best for creating bold, expressive pieces.
Seeing their work side by side, gave students a sense of pride. They were pleased with their work and eager to dive back in again next week to get a second chance at using a material in a different way after seeing what their peers had discovered.