Upper Elementary Guided Sketchbooks

So, earlier this year I mentioned that I was going to do guided sketchbooks with my upper elementary students (3-5).  So far I LOVE it!  The goal of the sketchbooks was to review skills, introduce skills, and even have some fun.  I wanted the sketchbooks to be an activity we did to warm up the creative sides of their brains - much like warming up your voice in music, warming up your body in dance or P.E.  I am not sure if it actually warms up the creative side of their brain - but I have noticed it totally focuses the kids.

For the first 4 minutes of every art class the students sit at their seats with low lighting, a sketchbook page and no talking.  I decided to have this silent to help their brain switch over, but also to help them focus on doing one task for only a few moments.

When the time is up students attached their newest page to their sketchbook and prepare for instructions.

While some kids love it and some tolerate it - I have found that these simple four minutes do A LOT for the kids and for me that I never intended.  For many students that four minutes helps to reset their day/mood.  On more than one occasion I have had a student come in hot-to-trot or in tears - whether from a rough day or moment -- those four minutes in low light without talking and doing something creative will often calm them down.  It also seems to focus the class as a whole when it is time to work on the current project - they are still themselves, but not quite as revved.

These small four minutes at the beginning of class also provides me with some time to breathe.  My classes are back to back - no 5 minutes between classes here, so when one class leaves, another is at my door.  While I do my best to prep for the day - sometimes it just doesn't get done, or it can't sit out all day.... blah blah blah.  So these few minutes provide me with a second to finish prepping paint, switch out the board with class objectives, or simply take a deep breath.

The sketchbooks have also been great on limiting the amount of free draw paper my students consume!  They may freedraw on the backs of the sketchbook pages, or work on old pages.

OH! Also, having this 4 minutes at the beginning of class is great for kids who NEVER finish their projects.  Instead of having them do a sketchbook page, they work on their project for those 4 minutes without talking! It is amazing how much they accomplish.

So, how does this all work?  Well I started gathering ideas on Pinterest this summer.  Then the tough part - how I am going to have time to do all of this?!?! I went back and forth on a few ideas that ranged from pre-done books to index cards -- nothing was going to be fast and cheep.  Then from somewhere in the universe the idea came to me.  Use normal paper and cut it in half!  I wanted to make sure the students had enough room to draw on the same side as the instructions so I cut each paper in half the long way.  In word I turned my paper landscape, copy and pasted images from my sketchbook idea page, turned them sideways, and put two on each page.  This way I could easily print them from either school.  I print what I need for the week, use the automatic 3 hole paper puncher in the lounge (that way the holes always line up), cut in half -DONE.  I did have to spend a few dollars at each school buying enough one inch binder rings to hold the whole thing together -- but it seems to work fine.

"You're a fun activity once a week"

Did the title of this post make you cringe?  It certainly took me off guard when a co-worker said this to me.

I was in her office talking about something - venting most likely about something ridiculous that was happening, but I can't remember what exactly.  All I remember was talking to her and saying something about how what I do is important too and she agreed by saying "you're a fun activity once a week".


I am certain she meant it as a compliment.  I am certain she has no idea how much it felt like a sucker punch.

I NEVER know how to respond to comments like these, especially when I don't see them coming, especially when they come from people who I thought understood what I really do.  I just don't know how to respond.

Over the next few days this comment rolled around in my brain from time to time.  What really bothered me about this comment?  Did it bother me because it was partly true? Did it bother me because I feel I am so much more than a "fun activity"?  And the answer is yes, yes to both.

Art is once a week and it is fun - so yes, art is a fun activity once a week.  Maybe this isn't such a bad thing after all.  I mean, when you think about things that are 'fun' what do they have in common generally -- laughter, good feelings, people, communication, engagement, the confidence to try something new and more.  I am happy to say that often the art room is all these things.

I think the part about the comment that bothered me was that while art IS fun, its not the purpose of art.  The purpose isn't to be fun, fun is a byproduct of doing something creative.  Being creative is naturally fun - it's engaging, it's interesting, it often provides natural problem solving and critical thinking, and even natural communication points.  I never plan a lesson to be 'fun' - it just happens when lessons are full of engagement and opportunities to make creative choices.

So, yes, while art is a fun activity once a week - that is not the purpose of art.  The purpose is to provide young minds with another way to think, a space to take risks and not even know it, to grow problem solving and critical thinking skills, and to become more themselves. 

In the meantime, I will try and come up with a variety of retorts to comments such as these that will help to educate those who think art is just 'fun' while honoring and owning the positives in such comments.


2nd Grade: Wild Things

For years I have been doing a project based on "Where the Wild Things Are".  We talk about texture - real and applied.  Some years I have the kids use chalk, other times colored pencils and while I always repeated the project, I was never really happy with it.  I always felt that it was more flat than I wanted.

Well, problem solved.  I am not sure how or when the idea came to me, but BAM there it was.  The students would make their "wild things" on  aluminum and create their habitat on a background paper with bright colors and ideas!

So here we go - first off we watched this fabulous and slightly corny video I found through Pinterest  -- careful it's catchy and will get stuck in your head for the ENTIRE day:

Next, we read "Where the Wild Things Are", the beloved classic.  After we read the book we went back and took a long hard look at the Wild Things.  We discussed their implied textures and how it looked like it felt a certain way.  There is always ONE kid in every class that shares how each wild thing is made up of different animals which is a great segway into the project.
"It's a cat and a fish - get it? It's a catfish" - Aiden

As I send students back to their seats I ask them to think of an animal and raise their hand.  Next, students help me build an original wild thing using four or more animals.  The kids tend to get real excited and a bit rowdy at this point - who can blame them when there is a tiger, turtle, wolf, snail, dragon on the board!?!?

Next, the kids draw their own wild things using their own idea on a piece of paper.  They need to make sure to draw their implied textures!  When they are done I tape their papers onto a piece of aluminum, hand them a magazine and tell them to trace their wild thing really hard on top of the magazine.  I don't tell them why, I want them to discover it themselves.  Sure enough, about two seconds into tracing they figure it out - one by one and its a beautiful sight.  The students realize that as they are tracing their pictures, it is transferring to the metal and you can ACTUALLY feel it - their implied texture is now actual texture. 

After their wild things are traced I show them how to tool their metal by pushing parts with either their pencil or a capped marker.  We discuss how you have to visualize what you want and then think it through - for example: "If I want my tiger stripes to pop out on the front I need to push them in from the back" or "If I want my scales to sink into my animal, I need to push them in from the front".  There is some serious visualized and planning during this step.  You can almost see the gears in their brain moving as they increase their spacial thinking.

After they are tooled to the students liking they color accordingly with permanent markers, which is a treat within itself.  Then, once they are colored, students cut them out - CAREFULLY.  I told them to cut off extra if it got in their way and to be careful because the metal can be sharp.

LASTLY, students created an original habitat for their wild thing to live.  Their habitat could be based on a real place: forest, jungle, volcano - or could be made up: candy land, new planet, an island made of cookies.  The goal for their habitat was to use their drawing and coloring skills to communicate to the audience what/where the habitat was.  So, if they did make candy land, then they would need to figure out what kind of shapes and colors they would use to communicate that to a viewer.

After they drew their habitats with a black oil pastel, they colored it in with chalk pastel.  I ask the students to channel "Goldilocks" from the three bears when they color.  This comment gets a variety of gut reactions from the kids that range from giggles to pure confusion.  Quickly I ask them about the porridge - too hot, too cold and just right.  The beds - too hard, too soft, just right.  I explain that they need to color not too hard, not too light, but just right.  Then they understand.

In their final class students blend their habitats starting at the lightest color to the darkest.  Students bring me their habitat and wild things and show me where to hot glue their wild thing.

I absolutely LOVE this project.  Students get to be as original as possible while also learning some great technique and skills.  For most of my classes this whole thing from start to end took about three 50 minute sessions. (Day one: intro and transferring wild thing to metal.  Day two: start habitat. Day three: finish habitat, finish wild thing)

Forgive the pictures - the pictures no where near capture the awesomeness of this project - metal is really hard to photograph!