In the Studio: Self-Portraits

And just like that, another school year begins! I can’t believe we are already in week three of the new year. I tend not to work on too many “projects” so early in the year, preferring to give the children time to get comfortable in our space, explore, and make connections with classmates and staff. However, the one project I will dedicate time to is self portraits. I always find the children exhibit a high level of interest in drawing and painting at this time of the year and portrait work excites them. Additionally, portrait work requires slowing down, looking closely, and noticing details: all skills I want to emphasize and encourage in the first term. At the start of the year, we are also looking to develop a rapport and make connections with our students, so small group work like this often leads to relationship building.

“When we invite children to create self-portraits, we offer them mirrors and encourage long, sustained study of their faces from [an] unfamiliar perspective. Then we ask them to re-create themselves on paper, weaving together the image that they see in the mirror with the person they experience themselves to be. Their portraits are eloquent statements of self.”  (Ann Pelo, The Language of Art (2007))

If you are new to self-portraits, I highly recommend reading Ann Pelo’s book, The Language of Art, to get an idea of the process. Ann so clearly lays out this project from beginning to end, including how to set up the studio, what prompts to use, cleanup, and ways to build on the experience.

This year I decided to take a new approach to our self-portrait work. Rather than limit the children’s experiences to the Art Studio, we would take some time before drawing our portraits to look more closely at faces and facial features. We began by reading Faces by David Goodman. In this story, the author shows us how we can spot “faces” everywhere in our environment and how we can construct faces out of loose parts. After reading the story, we set up a simple provocation with loose parts and mats/cork boards:

These mats can be downloaded for free from Picklebums at https://picklebums.com/people-play-dough-mats/

Our next step was to move beyond loose parts into a drawing/sketching phase. From what I had seen of the children’s drawings so far, I knew that most children were using simple mark making (dots, lines, etc.) in their pictures. We decided to take some time to look more closely at our facial features and break down how to draw them with increased attention to detail. Each week, we take time in our schedule for a focused art and drawing lesson (if you want to read more about Art and Fine Motor Instruction, click here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.blog/2014/01/16/art-and-fine-motor-instruction-snowflakes/). In our first lesson of the year, we decided to focus on faces. Now, I know that giving a large class of somewhat-new-to-school 3-5 year-olds whiteboards, erasers, and dry erase markers seems daunting in the first few weeks of school. In fact, I almost bailed on the lesson myself out of fear. In the end, I decided to have confidence that I could capably walk the children through the process of listening and following instructions, managing their materials, and successfully drawing themselves. And wow! Were we impressed! At the start of the lesson, each child gets a 9×12 whiteboard, a tissue or sponge (for erasing), and a whiteboard marker. I absolutely love using whiteboards for this kind of lesson because they are totally “risk-free” for the children. If they make a mistake or are unhappy with what they’ve drawn, they simply and easily erase it and try again. Even the most reluctant of artists are willing to give drawing a go on a whiteboard, in my experience.

During the lesson, I modeled looking in a mirror, talking the children through what I noticed, one facial feature at a time. I had extra mirrors on hand for the children to look in too. The children felt extremely successful with their finished works and we photographed them to share with our parents at home. I really believe that walking them through this process together helped to increase their interest and confidence in drawing their portraits at the Art Studio.

A few days later, we opened the studio for portrait work. This year, we decided to use sharpies on acetate (overhead paper) so that we could paint them afterwards and not lose any details of the children’s sketches. Once again, we had mirrors on hand for the children to look in.

This student was clearly very proud of his amazing dimples!

This student was so excited about his work, exclaiming, “My first nose! Ms McDonell, I did it! I drew a perfect nose!”

Honestly, the black and white portraits were beautiful enough, but we decided to carry on with the painting portion of the project. When everyone had completed their sketches, we read Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. I absolutely love this book as it talks about all the wonderful colours of skin we see in the world. As a follow up, we set up a selection of “skin tone” coloured tempera paints (we used a collection created by Crayola) at the art studio. The trick with this technique is to flip the transparency over and paint on the back. When the paint is dry, you flip the transparency back over and all marker sketching that was covered by the paint is visible from the other side. It makes for a bit of a “surprise” when the children see all their work revealed to them in complete, detailed form. It is very important when painting on acetate to mix the tempera paint with a bit of white glue. Otherwise, when the paint dries, it will flake off the plastic sheeting.

And voila! Our first art project of the year is complete! I love how each portrait is unique and special and I can see the children’s personalities and characteristics so clearly represented in their work. This is the first time I have scaffolded the children’s portrait work in this way, and it just reminded me of how truly capable children are when given the tools and support they need. If you haven’t given portraits a try, I hope this post will inspire you to do so!

 

 

 

In the Art Studio: Plasticine Art Inspired by Barbara Reid

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This month we have been inspired by renowned Canadian author and illustrator Barbara Reid. Barbara Reid has worked on some of my class’s favourite read-alouds: Picture a Tree, Perfect Snow, and Subway Mouse. When reading, we often discuss how an artist may have created their illustrations. My students were very interested in how Barbara was able to achieve such realistic and detailed pictures using Plasticine.

Lucky for us, Barbara Reid has created a series of tutorial videos which you can find on YouTube (links below). In her videos, Barbara talks about how she goes about creating her artworks: from the planning stage (researching, sketching a picture), to creating a background, to adding fine details and textures to her work.

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 1

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 2

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 3

For this project, I cut our Plasticine into very small pieces so it would be easy for the children to manipulate (and because a little goes a long way!). I arranged the pieces in small containers by colour. I also included some of Barbara Reid’s books and a non-fiction book about Barbara Reid herself. We also had dry cloths for wiping our hands (as Barbara suggested) and some tools for adding texture. For the planning process, the children had pieces of cardstock and pencils for sketching. We made our Plasticine pictures on small canvas boards I found at the dollar store. The children were extremely excited to do their work with “real artist materials.” For me, it is very important to give the children beautiful and authentic art materials to use and work with. Their art is more than deserving of quality materials and in my experience, they seem to take their art more seriously when they perceive materials to be “special.”  For this project, the strength of the canvas boards was an added advantage, as it made it easier for the children to spread the Plasticine.

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During the planning process, I really didn’t meddle too much in what the children were sketching or wanting to create, thinking the children would figure out on their own what was going to work and what wasn’t. For example, the first group of children who visited the studio realized that creating people with Plasticine was a big challenge, and advised their classmates accordingly during reflection time. Spreading the Plasticine was also a challenge for some (and a great fine motor muscle workout!). Some children took a few sessions to complete their backgrounds, pausing and coming back later to give their fingers a rest. Other children wanted to persevere and complete their backgrounds so they could get to adding their flowers or bugs or animals. If you’re wondering how long it took the children to complete their pictures, it varied between one session (about half an hour) to a few days, depending on each child.

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Y.A.: “I want to make a picture of a cat.” 

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A.J. spreads the Plasticine to make a sky. “I’m mixing the colours. A little bit of dark blue and a little bit of light blue.”

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Y.A.: “I’m making my grass like Barbara Reid. I’m rolling snakes and making them flat like grass. I’m doing a pattern: light green, dark green, light green, dark green…”

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R.A.: “I’m making a little mousey like Barbara Reid. It’s just like The Subway Mouse.”

Here are some of the children’s completed art works. I have them displayed on a low chalkboard ledge in our classroom and the children can often be found admiring them!

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S.C. “I made a rainbow and a little girl is camping in the tent.”

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Honestly, the children were SO proud of their completed art works. They loved showing them off during reflection time and talking about the process they used to make them. During one reflection session, we started talking about how Barbara Reid gets her Plasticine pictures in the pages of her books. One student remembered that Barbara’s husband photographs her art for her so the pictures can be used as illustrations. One student suggested that we take photographs of our work and use the pictures to make a book by writing our own stories. I loved that the children were inspired to create their own stories, so we set up a story-writing invitation.

At the writing table, I gave the children some mini easels to place their art on. I put out plain paper and some black pens. The children could choose to write about their own work or a classmate’s work that inspired them. This proved to be a popular invitation! Some children returned each day to write a new story! We loved listening to each other’s stories during reflection time – some children’s stories were so popular, the class asked them to read it aloud more than once.

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E.H. “Once there was a little ladybug. She wanted to rest on a flower. The red flower was wet but the purple flower was just right. The End.”

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“I went out on a stormy day.”

We are still in the midst of our story writing. I was interested to see the emergence of a narrative voice in the children’s work and am curious about exploring this further with the class. Stay tuned!

Winter Expressions: Exploring Winter Experiences Through Art

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“This is a snowman and me. I drew snowflakes and wind and trees. My mom threw carrots everywhere; even on the tree – for the animals!” (J.A.T.)

After finally getting a proper dusting of snow, the children were extremely interested in talking about all things winter. Our morning circle time was dominated by stories about snowy walks to school, wet mittens, and plans for play in the snow later in the day. However, I still have quite a few children who are hesitant to share their thinking during our large group conversations or reflections, so I wanted to find a way to provide all my students with an opportunity to talk about their experiences with winter. I have often found that some children are more willing to open up when they are engaged in some sort of activity – be it building, drawing, or even cleaning up. I remembered a beautiful blog post I came across last winter when I was at home on maternity leave that documented the winter conversations children were able to share while creating art about winter in their atelier (you can find my inspiration here: Conversations About Winter, Solstice, and the Changing Light). I decided that art was definitely the way to go.

This exploration was done on acetate sheets (I placed a white sheet of paper underneath each acrylic sheet for better visibility) with permanent markers, tempera paint, and glitter paint. Tempera paint will peel/flake off the acrylic paper when dry, so you must use the glitter paint (mine was a washable tempera glitter paint, but dried like plastic) with the tempera together if you don’t want the paintings to fall apart when they are done. I didn’t try using acrylic paint, but that would likely work as well. Perhaps even finger paint….but I suggest you test your materials before you try it with the children.

First, the children drew their pictures with the permanent markers. As they drew, many children looked out the window for inspiration. Most of the children talked openly about what they were drawing. For the children who are more hesitant to talk, I tried to guide the conversation by asking open-ended questions about the weather, winter activities, and family life.

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“That’s me and my snowman. I see wind out our window so I’m adding swirly wind. And here are the trees with no leaves. The sun is shining on my snowman so I put something special on it so it won’t melt.” (R.A.)

When the children were done sketching, they used the paints to add colour and extra details to their work. When I introduced this centre, we talked about why we were using tiny brushes in the paint – specifically, how the small brushes allow us to add fine details to our work. This idea recently came up in another painting project we had done and the children are beginning to understand how material choices can affect what they are able to accomplish. By highlighting that small brushes make for finer details I find that the children go into the project with the mindset of adding special details to their work.

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I noticed that when children are engaged in detailed work they really “lean in” to the project. You can tell by this student’s body language that he is extremely focused and engaged in his work.

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“This is me and my dad and my brother. I like shoveling the snow. This is my shovel.” (C. P.)

Each day we took some time during reflection time to share some of the children’s finished art pieces. Either I read my notes about what the children said while they worked (their “stories”) or the children presented it in their own words, or both. It was definitely a celebration of learning!

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“I was outside playing in the snow. The wind was almost coming! I see the sun up in the sky. I think the sun is shining on the snow. I wonder if the snow is going to melt?” (F.M.)

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“I like that it’s snowing in winter – that you can catch snowflakes with your tongue. We are playing outside. We’re going to [the school] to slide down the big hill.” (J.T.)

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“I like snowflakes because I get them on my tongue! I made LOTS of snowflakes. Look at my snow! I’m outside with my hat. I have snow on my head but it’s okay.” (C.G.)

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“I’m in the snow. I like that it snows in the winter. I love it to be snowing. So sparkly!” (E. H.)

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New Year, New School, New Classroom for Inspiring CURIOSITY…

As you may know from reading my About section, last year I was at home on maternity leave after the birth of my second child. This year I’m returning to the classroom at a new school (closer to home, yay!) with a ton of ideas I’ve collected from the books I’ve recently read and the conversations I’ve been able to participate in online via Twitter. If you aren’t on Twitter, I highly recommend joining if you are interested in connecting with other like-minded educators. There is a strong PLN network online which you can access by searching #kinderchat and #ReggioPLC.

In preparation for set up, I spent some time making a list of the centres I wanted to have in my classroom. I then set about drawing some floor plans to give myself an idea of how the room might flow and to figure out what made sense based on where preexisting elements (sink, windows, doors, outlets, etc.) were located. Then I started moving furniture around. I went through a few placements before settling on what I have now. I anticipate making some changes as the furniture that has been ordered for my class begins to arrive (sometime in September) and I am able to observe how the children view/use the space.

Here is how things look at the moment:

House Centre/dramatic play.

House Centre/dramatic play

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers - one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers – one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Playdough centre/multi-use table.

Playdough centre/multi-use table

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make due with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make do with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large Rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for "tea parties" and "soup" - excited to see what the children do with them!

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for “tea parties” and “soup” – I am excited to see what the children do with them!

Art Studio

Art Studio

Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach ("What do you notice?"). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach (“What do you notice?”). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm ("Rainbow Stacker") and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, there is also a basket of playskils (not visible).

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm (“Rainbow Stacker”) and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, and there is also a basket of play silks (not visible).

"Teacher Centre"  A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

“Teacher” Centre.
A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

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Math Centre: This is an area I see getting rearranged in the near future (the platform will likely be moved to a new location for small building). However, in the meantime I’m sure some children will enjoy having a raised surface on which to explore some of the materials I have laid out. The white cube in the corner is a light cube. It creates a soothing and cozy glow when illuminated.

Math Centre materials

Math Centre materials

Writing Centre

Writing Centre

Writing Centre materials.

Writing Centre materials

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet...). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for children to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time, a great place to curl up with a book, and has been a comforting spot to sit amongst the pillows when students are feeling out of sorts.

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet…). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for students to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time. Many students also enjoy curling up here with a book. Since I don’t have a “teacher desk” I find myself sitting here when the day is done to reflect on what I saw and heard during the day.

So this is what I have set up for now. I’ll keep you posted on any changes/developments as they unfold. I am SO excited to meet my new students and begin our learning journey next week!

The Colours of Fall Inquiry

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In October we went on our first nature walk of the school year. In the weeks leading up to our walk, many children had begun to notice the changes that were happening outside. Leaves were being brought in to school, the children were wearing warmer jackets, and our special Maple tree out front had started to turn red.

Before our walk, the children were given a job to do. They were asked to look for evidence of the colours of fall. While we were outside we took pictures and collected samples of the children’s discoveries. The next day, we put all our leaves, pine needles, maple seeds, and pine cones in the middle of the carpet and talked about the colours we noticed. We decided to sort our items by colour to make it easier to see what we had found. The children identified the colour piles we would need and we placed coloured construction paper mats in brown, red, green, orange, and yellow down on the floor. Then we sorted! Each student was given an opportunity to sort some leaves. It was quite interesting to see how the leaves were debated amongst the group. Here is a conversation that arose during the process:

S: “I’m not sure about this leaf. Is it red?”


[some children say no, others say yes]


J: “Put it on the red mat and see.”


S: “It doesn’t look like the other red leaves”


Ms McD: “What does it mean when we say something is red? Is there one kind of red?”


[the class thinks there is one kind of red]


J: “Turn it over. The back is red. The front is just dark. It’s still red.”


[some children are satisfied with this]


W: Yes, there is more than one kind of red. There’s red and dark red.


E: And light red too.

The children were debating each leaf and from those debates were emerging concepts about colour and categorization. We decided to save our sorted colour piles by gluing our artifacts in place and pursue the children’s thinking further by creating a colour provocation at the Art Studio. Here is what our colour provocation looked like:

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At this centre we placed our colour-sorted leaves, photos from our nature walk, paint chips from the hardware store, and paint for mixing. The children were encouraged to look at the objects on the table and create their own special fall colour. After mixing, the children were asked about their process: What colour did you make? What name might you give your colour? How did you make it? Where might you see this colour outside?

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When it came to naming their colour creations, the children were quite inspired by the variety of names we read off the hardware store paint chips – names like “brilliant sun,” and “orange fiesta.” These descriptions helped the children come up with their own unique names such as, “swamp green” (J.M.), “Dark, dark, orange corn” (J.K.), “twirly brown” (W.W.), “dark super purple” (A.F.) and “jewel pink” (A.A). An important part of this project was documenting it. We decided to place the children’s paint samples (which they painted on small canvasses) along with their colour names and descriptions on the wall ‘gallery style’. We included in our documentation all of the artifacts and photographs that gave us inspiration for the project. The children love to look at the work they created. They particularly enjoy seeing the beautiful range of colours their classmates created. We can definitely feel that the idea of colour will be something we will likely revisit throughout the year.

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Has your class embarked on a colour inquiry? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

In the Art Studio: Still Life Portraits

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This experience is another gem that comes from Ann Pelo, author of The Language of Art: Inquiry Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings.

Here is what Ann has to say about still-life portraits:

“In creating still-life portraits, children form an intimate relationship with their subject. They spend time looking closely, aligning themselves with the subject of their work. Then they translate their understanding of the subject to paper, first sketching with black pen and then adding colour.”

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In my classroom, I refer to still-life portrait experiences such as these as “dainty painting.” ‘Dainty’ refers to the fact that the children use fine tipped markers and fine brushes to create their artwork. I have never understood why Kindergarten children are always given large, fat brushes to paint with. Large brushes are incredibly difficult to manipulate with small hands, hold more paint than is often needed, and are not useful for adding small details. In the pictures below, you’ll notice that we use only the smallest of brushes for this activity. If the goal is for the children to notice the finest of details in their subject, we need to give them the proper tools for them to recreate what they see.

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Before painting, the teacher spends time with the children looking closely at the gourds. The children are encouraged to talk about what they notice about each gourd’s size, texture, shape, and colour. Interesting markings or designs are also noted. When the children have had time to get acquainted with their subject, they are given fine black markers to sketch what they see. At this point the teacher may offer suggestions on how the children can add more details to their work. Finally, the children use watercolour paints to add colour to their sketches.

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J: I got a beautiful gourd. I notice it’s green on the bottom and yellow on top. It is a beautiful gourd. It has lots of bumps on it too.

E: I made lots of bumps because it is bumpy. My gourd is orange and yellow. It looks like a pear. The stem is green – actually, it’s a really dark green.

G: There are lines on the pumpkin so I drew them. The lines help me keep my painting neat.

W: This one is hard because it has two colours. I can’t make it the right colour. When I added more green it turned the yellow green too and I can’t fix it.

Y: It’s a fluffy one. It’s green, yellow, and orange. It has so many bumps. It looks like a melon.

K: The stem is kinda wiggly!

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Dainty painting is an art experience that we revisit often throughout the year. Over time, the children become expert at using their senses, describing what they notice, and using their art skills to recreate what they see on the page.