Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What is a Dollar?

Most days in the studio are very busy.  I can often be found at the head of a long line of children, each eager to share a story, or to have something attached with hot glue, or to procure a newly threaded needle, or to plan their latest creative endeavor.  Today was no different.  As I worked and listened and assisted, I glanced around the room and noticed a fair haired boy seated at a remote table.  He colored and glued in peaceful solitude.  Satisfied, I returned to the line of eager children. 
At the end of the day, I glanced up to see the fair haired child waiting patiently and proudly to share his art with me.  I approached him and he handed his piece of art up to me with a gesture of confidence. 
I responded too quickly and without reflection.  I responded with the unquestioned bias of a "grown up".  I looked at his collage and the crisp dollar bill glued to the front.  I inwardly gasped.  I calmly explained why we couldn't use money on our art pieces and carefully began to remove the dollar bill.  His eyes welled up with tears and I stopped myself.
I took a deep breath.
I crouched low and with great care, I apologized. 
I explained that I was worried that I might get into trouble for allowing a child to use money in this way but I wanted to understand his art. 
His face cleared and he slowly explained how he had made this picture for the art show. 
I smiled and asked him if he would tell me more about the dollar he had used and he said:
"A dollar is something that you earn for doing something. 
It's made out of paper, but it's just paper. 
I use paper to make art.
I got this dollar from a person. 
They gave it to me, just because, and now it's a picture."
I told him that I would be proud to hang it in the art show and he smiled broadly at me before returning to his class. 
I stared after him, amazed and humbled by the beauty and wisdom of children.
A dollar IS paper after all and it is hardly worth the price of a child's belief in himself as an artist with a right to express and be heard.

Friday, April 5, 2013

collaboration and scaffolding

This week Amy and I collaborated in the studio.  We worked with our extended primary children to further explore ideas, interests and questions that have evolved during the year.  We identified several topics of interest: volcanos, animals, people, planes and toys.  Each child joined one of these groups based on observed engagement over the year.  The groups met with both of us to implement their ideas both individually and collaboratively.  As the week progressed, it was clear that scaffolding is a vital part of what we do.  Scaffolding refers to a practice of providing the necessary support and guidance to help a child progress from one level of competence to another level.  For instance, children can conceive of great heights and grand ideas but their capacity to implement those ideas is often limited by present abilities and experience.  One of the roles of the teacher is to build the necessary framework for each child to climb his or her mountain, no matter how high. 
Volcanos have been erupting in the studio for weeks and as a grand finale, the volcano team created a paper mache' gorgeous volcano and made several smaller volcano maquettes in clay to be fired and used on another day with red food coloring, baking soda and vinegar.  Stay tuned for more explosions to come.
A few children explored transferring a drawing on paper to a clay surface and then personalizing it using a additive and subtractive method of sculpting, creating a relief tile.
With one-on-one assistance and lots of conversation and exploration the children realized their vision in style.
Some children explored translating a drawn image into a three-dimensional form. 
The child who did this drawing has been exploring self portraits throughout the year and he chose to make another one in clay.
As we worked we explored joining techniques and how to make various three dimensional forms and patterns.
When it was complete, he beamed one of his signature smiles at me and said, "I MADE ME IN CLAY!!"
Amy did a similar process with this child who chose to make a leopard-chaun and a pot-of-gold.
With every child we witnessed a few things: first, at some point nearly every child hit their threshold and became somewhat overwhelmed by the many steps involved in actualizing their vision, next, with our continued support and occasional help they were able to move through that frustration and when finished, every child without exception was extremely proud of his or her work.  Now, their eyes light up whenever they see us and yell reminders like "HI! remember my plane I made?", or "I can't wait to see the volcano again!" or just a warm hello and hug.  Scaffolding is important to the process of creating AND it also deepens our relationship with the children, reminding them just how much we value and honor their voices and ideas.