Monday, December 17, 2012

self portraits

Parker, age 4
All of us, no matter whether we are three years old or one hundred and three, are asking directly or peripherally "Who am I?"  The answer to this question continues to evolve with each passing year and rarely approximates the experience of being alive that we all share.  Watching the children explore this question in the studio has been interesting and thus far I would say it has been the dominant thread of these past months.  Whether the children share with me what they like or where they live or how many people are in their family, they are really exploring the evidence of a "self" visible in a subjective world.
Annika, age 3
Observational drawing is such a great tool to get beyond our ideas and concepts and really just explore what is directly in front of us.  Watching the children strain to see the shape of their nose or the curve of a lip, perhaps for the first time, fills me with a sense of wonder.  Their carefully drawn lines communicate what they have seen on a white sheet of paper while their eyes dart from paper to mirror and back again.  I can not express how tender these self portraits are in my eyes.  I hope that you can glimpse this beauty from the few examples offered here. 
Zoe, age 5
Harry, age 4
Oliver, age 5

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stone Soup and Grandparent's Day

On Tuesday November 20th we celebrated Grandparent's Day at our school.  We spent several weeks prior to the big day talking about Stone Soup.  I told the story of Stone Soup to each of the primary classes and we sent out a sign up sheet asking for our families to bring in a variety of things to add to the soup to reenact the story as a community and to remind each of us that sharing and opening our hearts and cupboards in the joy of giving is what really makes stone soup delicious.

 The children spent several days carefully cutting vegetables into small pieces for the soup.
On Monday evening, we place all the ingredients (plus stones) into two crock pots and left them to cook over night.
By the time we had returned on Tuesday morning the school was filled with the aroma of SOUP.  Grandparent's arrived throughout the day and when they visited the studio they shared a bowl of soup and some amazing soda biscuits made by Mary Untermeyer (THANK YOU MIMM!!).
 As an activity, I had prepared birds and stars in tag board to receive our blessings and gratitude's. 

The grandparents worked with their grand child to write down and illustrate the things for which they feel particularly blessed and then hang their star or bird from the waiting blessing trees.
 It was a lovely day and a wonderful celebration of family and community.

self portraits

Our local art museum is featuring the art of Vincent Van Gogh and many of the teachers have been talking about his life and work in the classrooms and the children have been introduced to a variety of his paintings.  The museum has used Van Gogh's self portrait with a straw hat to publicize the show.  In the studio we began exploring self portraits at the easel.  Self portraits are a wonderful excercise in observational drawing and a great opportunity for me to model and scaffold the process of looking.
When a child self selects this work, he is first introduced to a series of reproductions of portraits by Van Gogh, including a few self portraits and then we spend some time looking at the face in the mirror.  There is only a 6B pencil and a piece of heavy weight paper available initially.  We spend a lot of time looking at the face.  It's shape, where the eyes are, their shape, the number of circles in them, how many lips we have, how many ears, where our nose is and what shape it is. The child draws each part as it is fully seen.  Then we add hair and really notice where our hair is and what it looks like.  Is it only on the top of the head of does it fall across the forehead?  Can you see your ears or does your hair cover them.  Next, we look at the neck, where it is and how we might represent it on our drawing.  Where are the shoulders? etc.  Until all the details are in place.  Then I give them the paint.  The paint is a mixture of shaving cream and liquid water color.  It is applied using a modified palette knife to imitate Van Gogh's impasto technique.  All of this may take up to thirty minutes and the results have been beautiful.
Amy has piggy backed on this exploration and is asking the children if they can express themselves differently through the media of clay.  Her table, covered with a drop cloth, is prepared with several mirrors.  The children are first asked to do a detailed observational drawing of their face and then to interpret what they have seen in clay.
The process is both intriguing and inspiring.  It will be interesting to see where we go from here.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Amy discovered this incredible corn plant growing from a wad of clay made by one of older students and kept moist for future use.  Our student had employed an ear of indian corn to make impressions in the earthy mound.  Some of the kernals obviously found their way into the creation and this beatiful gift was the unexpected result.  When we first saw it we both knelt in front of it, awed by the determination of life.  The children have enjoyed viewing this plant as it stretches toward the light.  A few of them intentionally added some kernals to their own clay and now we have a series of similar miracles growing on a shelf in the studio beneath a propped up plastic bag.  A breathtaking reminder of life's tenacity.

Friday, November 9, 2012

rotting pumpkins

What happens when a jack-o-lantern is left in the studio over a long weekend?  It CHANGES.  These changes provided such a wonderful opportunity to investigate and explore the process of decay up close.  I am always surprised by how reticent children have become to getting messy.  So in the pursuit of science, I put out rubber gloves and we spent a day examining a rather mushy pumpkin.
Not only was it slimy and juicy and odoriferous, it was growing a fabulous layer of mold.  The children and I photographed and drew our observations and some theories emerged.  A few are represented here:
"What happened to this pumpkin?"
" got really squished...Maybe a rabbit jumped on it...Someone stomped it." 
We compared two pumpkins, both purchased at the same time but the squishy one was cut into a jack-o-lantern and the other left as a whole pumpkin.  We laid on the whole pumpkin and sat on it...even I (huge as I am) couldn't squash the pumpkin with my we decided the rabbit theory was a no go. 
Someone suggested "Maybe it's rotten!!...Maybe someone hit it with a hammer...I think it's rotting."
I asked, "Why is it rotting?"  A child replied, "because Halloween is over!" as if that explained everything and then a confident five year old girl stepped up to the pumpkin and announced, "It rotted after you carved it.  They always rot after you carve them", and that was the end of that.

studio catch up

What has been happening in the studio?  A LOT!  And I must apologize for my negligence in sharing these creative wonders with you.  Personally, I have been busy moving into a new home and  let blogging fall by the wayside in the wake of paintbrushes, hammers, brooms and moving trucks.  I have returned to my posting duties with an olive branch of photos to share.
In the wake of Halloween, several children used their ingenuity to create impromptu costumes and paraded around the studio flaunting previously undiscovered elements of their personalities.
A group of boys repurposed some of my moving boxes into an innovative boat, which promptly became a pirate ship with crew captains, mates, cooks and elaborate maps to uncharted territories.  This boat remained a source of creative inspiration for several weeks.  After some group discussion, we decided it was time to move onto other pursuits and so the boat took its maiden voyage to the captain's, Oliver, place of residence.  Oliver is quoted as having replied to the question of where his boat was going to take him with the retort, "It IS a cardboard boat and NOT a real boat".  Alas, moving boxes can take you only so far.

Painting continues to be a popular activity, with water color and tempera being our materials of the moment.

The shadow box has prompted several students to cut black paper into scenes and characters for simple shadow plays and performances.  I have several wonderful video clips but in my efforts to upload them onto the blog I ran into the unfortunate problem of a frozen blog page...if anyone knows how to resolve this issue, please let me know.
Keep checking back I have much more to share.

Friday, October 12, 2012


The pumpkin study continues with another autumn still life. The children have been talking about fall and translating what they have observed onto paper and into stories.

The toddler class began their studio exploration of pumpkins by carefully removing the seeds from quartered sections of baking pumpkins.  These seeds were placed in nearby cups while the more gooey innards were deposited into a large bowl.  The children were eager to help and many of them talked about pumpkins: "They come from gardens", "They live at Halloween", "Eat them!".  
While we were emptying the pumpkins, one of the toddler teachers brought out a large pumpkin for hammering.  The children were fascinated by the simple activity of hammering tees into the orange surface.
While I roasted the seeds the children drew with markers on large paper.  There were several people drawing pumpkins, one tomato, a fire truck, a flower and other creations unspoken but equally enthusiastic.
When we were finished we all enjoyed sampling our roasted pumpkin seeds.  Next week we will turn our pumkins into soup and pies and maybe even bread.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


While this child was in the studio he noticed a spider scurry across the edge of the table.  Fortunately, we had a bug viewer nearby and quickly scooped up the eight legged arachnid for observation.  A lively discussion followed as did several observational drawings.  These everyday investigations help all of us remember that learning is continuously occurring and following a child’s interest can be more exciting than a planned activity.

Monday, October 8, 2012

shadow exploration

 While we were outside picking the last of our vegetables and eating the few remaining pears some of the children noticed lengthened shadows on the sidewalk.  We had a conversation about it and they offered lots of observations: "Look my shadow is really big", "Is it bigger than me?"  "My shadow can move", "How big is your shadow?", etc.  After more discussion, we decided to explore some of our questions by outlining the shadows in white chalk on the surface of the sidewalk.
 After we had outlined a few shadows, one student measured himself by laying on his shadow outline and we discovered that his shadow was TWICE as big as he was.  More questions emerged, including, "Are shadows always that big?" 
 A few other children decided to measure more shadows.
In the studio, some of the parents and I created a shadow theater to capture children's silhouettes for our upcoming auction.  It will be interesting to see if this interest in shadows continues to captivate the children's interests.

Pumpkin investigations

 In the classrooms, teachers have put out a number of pumpkin related works including parts of the pumpkin, dissecting pumpkins, hammering pegs into pumpkins, scrubbing pumpkins and more.
 In the studio we took some time to investigate the pumpkins and communicate our learning through a few of the languages of expression.  One child even composed a pumpkin song that he sang while performing a subtle dance.
 Several children chose to draw the pumpkins and fall inspirations, using black sharpie outlines and water soluble pastels.  Water soluble pastels are of interest to the children because colors can be easily blended.
Several of the children told me what they knew about pumpkins.  Here are a few examples:

Ilsa B.
You can make pumpkin pie and you can eat the seeds and you can make jack o lanterns with them and you can put them out for Halloween.  They are a fruit.  They have seeds inside them.
Lila B
You can bake the seeds to make something good for you and you can make jack o lanterns and you can make pumpkin pie with them.  Pumpkins are orange and grey and a lot of colors.  I think maybe it's a fruit.
Emma W.
We can make pumpkin pie and scary faces and pumpkins light up.  Pumpkins come from trees.  I have one in my yard.
Duncan P.
Pumpkins have super icky guts inside.  They have a really prickly stem sometimes.  The vine is really big.  Sometimes you can eat pumpkin pie.  Actually, I have never made pumpkin pie.  We can make it after we do a pumpkin drawing.  Jack o Lanterns are pumpkin faces.  Last year we made two of them but they get squishy when you cut holes in them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Montessori and Reggio

I am both an artist and a Montessori teacher.  I received my first Montessori training ten years ago and have been teaching ever since.  As a Reggio inspired studio art teacher in a Montessori school, I certainly don't ignore all that I have learned over the years as a Montessorian.  My studio philosophy follows the Reggio Emilia approach and the corresponding theories of social constructivism amidst an emergent curriculum.  I begin each year with questions and curiosity.  These questions determine the studio set up and my Montessori roots ground my approach.  I give attention to detail and believe strongly in the importance of a fully prepared environment and the role of a teacher as a conduit for experience and a model of behavior.
Consistent with the Montessori classrooms, I begin the year with a few shelf works that encourage independent activity.
Every child begins their studio experience with a daily drawing, this serves two purposes: 1) It provides a gentle transition between classroom activity and studio explorations and 2) It is a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with each child and gauge how their day is going.  Once drawings are complete, we spend some time talking about what was drawn and often touching on one or two of the basic elements of art.
At this time of the year, much of the activities are basic and I spend the bulk of my time observing children at work, giving grace and courtesy lessons (these are the simple rules that help our community operate smoothly: like putting on an apron, pushing in a chair, using an art mat, asking for help, etc.), chronicling the number of children choosing each activity to gauge interest and listening to children's dialog and conversations.  There are also several areas for children to relax, reflect and observe.  I find these important all year long but particularly at the start of the year when children are getting used to so many new things and schedules.
I have included a number of sensorial activities.  We talk about how artists "see" through all of the senses.  We use our sense of smell and taste to explore herbs at a sensory table.
 And our tactile sense to investigate a variety of textural surfaces.
We have a shelf devoted to interesting natural objects,
 A fountain that flows water over blue/green river stones,
And a natural wood tree house on a table with a number of provocative materials including: moss, stones, branch building blocks, bamboo "rocks", and several little people.
This activity affords opportunities for dramatic play and is a rich resource as I observe the children, their interests and interactions.  As the year continues the studio will become a place to explore ideas, questions and theories in collaboration with others, more and more.
Overall it has been a very interesting week.