RE:Thinking Drawings

Quick follow-up to last week’s post about the thinking drawings of young children.

Cora and I flew home from visiting family this morning. It was raining as we took off and climbed through the clouds and we talked about what that might look like – a plane flying over a cloud filled sky with rain falling down below. I told her I thought it would be a great thing to draw. Her response, “But mommy, I don’t know how to draw a plane.”

I reached into the seat back in front of us and pulled out the safety card. Together, we looked at the photo of a plane on the cover and the diagrams inside. The conversation dissolved into a discussion of the pictographs used to tell passengers what to do in an emergency. I love to deconstruct international symbol systems so I as happy to follow the tangent.

After a few hours of screen time – I graded papers while she played with nearly every app loaded on our iPad – it was landing time. She asked for some paper and markers and started scribbling. After a quick self-portrait, she asked for help drawing a plane. I suggested she start with a large oval – like a hot dog and she was off.

She drew one end rounded and other ended up pointed to which she said, “Oops,” and looked up at me. I told her I thought it looked great that way since the nose of a plane is usually rounded and the tail pointed. Satisfied, she added a few tail fins, then wings, windows, and finally a logo on the wing. And just like that, she made one of her greatest thinking drawing yet. Right in front of me. I was mesmerized.

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At one point she pulled the safety card out again to check some details, but quickly put it back down and drew the parts as she imagined them in her mind’s eye: from her time looking out airport windows in the past, from her Playmobil toy plane, and from our earlier discussion and study of the illustrations.

If you’re as amazed by this process as I am, and you are interested in helping children improve their observational drawing skills by talking about the world they see around them, I recommend Observation Drawing with Children by Nancy Smith and the Drawing Study Group (1997, Teachers College Press). I think I’ve mentioned it before. I’m sure I’ll mention it again.

Being Online, Honestly

I hate posts by bloggers apologizing for not blogging. What could be more boring. My friend Amy always told me not to apologize (so much).

I just find it kind of ironic that while I’m teaching a course this term that requires LOTS of social media work, I haven’t been posting much here. Over the past two-plus years, blogging has become my medium of choice for what might, surprisingly, be seen as long-form writing by Internet standards. Nowhere approaching the academic guidelines I was trained to follow, my musings are generally around 500-800 words. While they might not be developed enough for a peer-reviewed journal, neither are they fit for the 140 character tweet. But tweeting is just what I’ve been doing. And pinning, and scooping, and hashtagging all over the Interwebs. Along with my students. They are the reason I’m giving it all so much of my time.

Art educators have more ways than ever to connect with one another (all the world around), with the families of the children we work with everyday, and the communities we serve. We haven’t had this much public exposure for our work since. . . probably ever. We have the tools for our own ever more important advocacy literally at our fingertips. And inherent in those tools are reasons why art education is important.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why isn’t every art teacher on Instagram? A blog for every artroom ought to be our goal for 2020.

The truth is, there are lot of busy teachers working “in the trenches” who don’t know enough about Web2.0 to see how it can serve them. And they don’t have time to find out either. Some fear the risks they might expose themselves to  by being online, connecting with their students. They haven’t had a chance to consider how they might leverage these tools to engage their students. How being online with other art educators might invigorate their practice and inspire new content and methods for instruction in their studios-in-the schools.

So I’m happy to have this time with them, to be exploring some sites lots of folks take for granted. As we navigate and explore, we are sharing our observations about what’s working, what could work better, how we ought to be and with whom we ought to connect in this place or that. It’s sort of simple stuff, but stuff that takes time to sort out and could have important ramifications for their work, and our work as a profession, moving forward.

With that, I leave you with a question. How are you using social media to share your teaching, and your students’ work, with the world? Where do you find the best opportunities for exchange with colleagues? And how do you use the Internet to stay fresh?

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 14

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This subject of this issue of Picturebooks on the Potty – Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – is one part book, one part educational toy, and one part girl power battle cry. The book tells the story of a girl named Goldie who builds a machine to spin her toys modeled after the ballerina in her music box. The goal: Get more girls to see science, technology, engineering, and math as arenas for creative play, exploration, and potential careers.

To be honest, The Spinning Machine wouldn’t have made this column as a stand alone picturebook. The story just isn’t that captivating. (You can find some of my recommendations for picturebooks about kids who build stuff here and here.) What Goldie Blox does that these other books don’t, however, is provide materials for readers to build alongside Goldie. This is good news for parents as well as kids. No pressure to gather supplies and mine Pinterest for DIY project ideas. Our kids, boys included, can start tinkering immediately.

But girls are the primary audience for Goldie Blox. Combining their love of storytelling with all kids’ tendency to come up with new ways to play with their toys, the makers hope to reach millions of girls who are would-be engineers but, “just might not know it yet.” After only one reading, Crafty Cora has spent hours playing independently with the peg board, washers, axels, spools, blox, and snap-on figurines that came with the book. She has set the parts up in various configurations and made up scenarios for each scene.

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Cora wasn’t the only girl around here excited about Goldie Blox. Her older sister, grandmother, aunt, and I have all spent time messing around with the kit. In this way it’s been a cross-generational activity, one which each participant approaches a bit differently, thus demonstrating that there’s more than one way to spin a sloth.

As far as I’m concerned, Goldie Blox has already earned her keep. Still, I’m eager to see what else she might inspire.

Farewell, Mr. Maynard.

DSC_0130George played trumpet with his high school marching band tonight at the state finals. Dan, Cora, and I made it into the stadium just in time to catch the set. (Seriously. If we had been 30 seconds later we would have been shut out by the “no entry during performance” rule.) I haven’t made it to many of George’s band events this year and I’m glad I didn’t let the cold, wet weather keep me home. I’m generally not so brave.

The show was smooth and, as always, brought tears to my eyes. It’s amazing to see all that work come together. Mostly I just drive the minivan and get the 3-5 word report on how things are going, but tonight I got to see what George has been up to every afternoon and weekend since August.

Cora and I did intentionally showed up early for pick-up one day this week and got to watch a practice. Sitting in the stands, I watched and listened to the band directors critique – through their on-field microphone and amongst themselves. Training a group of 160 kids to perform a musical arrangement is so far removed from any teaching experience I’ve ever known. I could feel the pressure to make all the parts flow together.

Tonight, halfway through the performance, Dan poked me and told me to check out the band director, Mr. Maynard, rocking out on the sideline just in front of us. He didn’t just sway back and forth on his heels. He strutted around, proud as a peacock.

Maynard is retiring at the end of the year so this was, in effect, his curtain call. Tonight he was off-duty. His role as a teacher was over and the kids were on their own, on the field. There was nothing left for him to do but sit back and enjoy the show. It was an honor to witness.

Parenting Perk of the Day: Making Halloween Costumes with/for Your Kids

As I wrote this time last year, Halloween is a serious affair at Rosa’s elementary school. This is her final year there and she wants to go out with a bang. It’s amazing to see how far her thinking on the subject of creative costuming has become. This year’s idea was pretty meta.

For the past two years, Rosa and Cora have worn related costumes. Three years ago, Rosa wanted to be something BIG, so she and her mom cooked up a giant jack-o-lantern for her to wear. Since I hadn’t had any brilliant ideas yet, and the costume looked nice and warm, I used some of the extra orange felt from Rosa’s costume and a piece of foam I had lying around to make something similar for Cora. In homage to Rosa’s obsession with mustaches, I gave Cora’s gourd a furry upper lip.

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Last year, I was inspired by this tutorial for the most gorgeous DIY wings I’ve ever seen. Again, looking at fabric hanging around in my stash, I decided to make two sets of wings, one for me and one for Cora. I also made some masks and we were transformed into owls. I attached the wings to sweatshirts to make them easy to get on and off and to keep us warm (notice the trend here?). A week before Halloween, Rosa hadn’t decided what to be. She tried on my wings and begged to wear them. How could I say no? I was honored they would be part of her school’s annual costume parade.

DSC_0178Rosa wanted to continue the tradition of dressing up with Cora. Like most little girls I know, Cora has an interest in dressing up like a princess. Fortunately, this hasn’t developed into a full-blown obsession. I don’t think I could handle that. (See: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein) Watching her sister play dress-up with her friends transported Rosa back in time. She and her girlfriends mastered the art when they were in preschool and kindergarten. They couldn’t last 5 minutes together without disrobing and cloaking themselves in new identities. My favorite was when they would just trade for one anothers’ street clothes. This year, Rosa declared, she and Cora would be princesses for Halloween. “It would be so funny because noone dresses up like a princess in 6th grade.”

So, we headed to the thrift store, where she found and fell in love with a gorgeous Betsey Johnson dress with the tags still on. Price = $89.95. Rosa was floored. “How could they charge so much? It’s the thrift store!” So, we talked about non-profit organizations and their need to make money and the fact that while this seemed expensive for Volunteers of America, really the dress was a bargain. If she were 5 years older and headed to the prom, I would have snatched that thing up in a heartbeat. But, it was Halloween, so I suggested we examine the dress, think about what made her like it so much and a) look for something similar but less expensive, or b) try to recreate it ourselves.

Of course this didn’t go over well because what Rosa wanted to hear at that moment was that she could have the dress. And if I were made of money, I would have said yes. Like I said it was a beautiful dress the purchase of which would surely have won me some stepmom of the year award. But I’m not made of money and I recognized this as a teaching moment.

I reminded her of the fashion camp she attended this summer and asked, “What would Jen Gillette do?” Jen was Rosa’s instructor for Fashion Blasters – a tall blonde who greeted the kids on the first day with her hair teased out and up like a runway model, wearing an outfit she’d made of found materials held up by super high platform shoes she’d bedazzled from top to bottom. She’s gone to study theater design and production at Tulane, but her spirit lives on in Columbus through the folks she inspired during her time as a Creative Consultant at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity. Including me.

We put our heads down and went back to the racks. I found a hot pink cotton tube dress the top of which was a lot like the Betsey Johnson design. Rosa found some curtains that were made of a similar material as its skirt. At home we talked about how to put them together. I’ve always been hesitant to sew clothes – I’m not precise enough to make things fit –  so I was proud of myself for figuring out the sewing aspect. But I was sad that Rosa didn’t feel confident enough to help me. I powered through on my own. And then I realized, While Rosa wasn’t doing the sewing, this experience gave her an opportunity to spiral back to creative thinking and problem solving skills she learned this summer. And, as I reminded her to do so, I was practicing those skills too – setting a challenge and figuring out a way to address it.

Are your Halloween preparations presenting any creative challenges to you and your kids? I’d love to hear about them. You’ll see ours in a week. Sorry, no peaking.

A Task, But Not a Chore

Sometimes I feel like I have been living under a rock the past few years. Under a couple of kids is more like it, but the fact is that this weekend I encountered two cultural phenomenon that made the rounds over the past few years without crossing my field of vision, even as shadows: “Caine’s Arcade” and Oliver Herring’s TASK. Once again, I’m grateful to the super cool folks at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity for bringing me up to speed.

“Caine’s Arcade” is a short film about 9-year old Caine and the arcade he built primarily out of boxes he found at his dad’s auto parts shop. The film has been viewed nearly 4 million times on YouTube alone. Yesterday, in conjunction with the Imagination Foundation (read about it, it’s really cool), the CMA hosted a cardboard challenge to celebrate that group’s Global Day of Play. Dan, Rosa, Cora, and I rolled through asking people about their projects, but we saved our energy for TASK which had been highly recommended during the previous day’s discussion of Play=Art.

Herring has been hosting TASK events and parties around the world for over ten years. (Turns out I can’t completely blame the kids for missing this one.) This is how it works: Herring writes a few directions on scraps of paper and puts them in a bin. Participants retrieve tasks, complete them, and they write new tasks to add to the pool. It’s kind of like DaDa meets participatory performance art. This sampling demonstrates the wide ranging nature of the tasks we encountered:

“Make a string web.”
“Host a talent show.”
“Write 5 tasks.”
“Everyone play dead.”
“Lead a conga line.”
“Ask a child about what they are making.”
“Imitate someone for 5 minutes.”
“Make sushi and give it to a dad.”
“You are a fish.”
“Cut the web.”

Most definitions for the word task include some level of discomfort, a chore one is assigned to complete. I’m sure Herring understood this when he chose that word as the name for his project. For while TASK can be a fun-filled venture that invites moments of play, Herring doesn’t believe play must always be pleasurable. Conversely, he suggests play can be an opportunity to break free of routine, to push one’s boundaries. I like this idea. It resonates with my growing sense that disruption can be a powerful catalyst for play and creativity.

It’s been nearly a year since Dan and I brought George to the CMA to participate in Dispatchwork. That had been such a great experience for our family I really wanted to try another round; this time with Rosa as our focal point. But while we started out collaborating on a task, she wanted to do the next one on her own. And the one after that. And the one after that. Dan and Cora also got involved in their own projects as I fell into a participant-observer role and chatted with some of the other educator-researchers in the room.

Our family has been working hard on home projects lately and this was a welcome break from our regular routine. Dan was reluctant to give up time for his works in progress, but ultimately said he was glad he went, that he took the time out. Rosa has had a few good experiences at the CMA recently, and was less difficult to convince. This came as a bit of a surprise since she is a teenager who values her weekends as time to do, pretty much, nothing. When I asked her how TASK was different from art class at school she told me, “Here you have something to do, but you decide how to do it. At school you have to follow the teacher’s instructions.” For us all, this activity was a task, but not a chore.

(Final note: I’m interested in learning how educators have integrated both of these activities into their work. I think the dynamic of TASK must be much different with a finite and more homogeneous group. I’m still processing. Have you got anything to share? I struggle with activities that expend excess amounts of material with ephemeral results. But that’s a big part of process art which I fully support. For now, I think the Makedo reusable cardboard challenge kit is going to be my new “go to” birthday gift.)

Art and Play: The Center of Creativity

photo 1Anyone who works as a contractor from home knows it is often a blessing, sometimes a curse. I enjoy working on my own, but at times I long for others with whom I can casually bat around ideas on a professional level, without one of the kids asking something of me. Facebook is a nice substitute, but sometimes I long for flesh and blood and voices excitedly exchanging ideas back and forth, cutting one another off as we make connections in real time.

Last night I got that thanks to my colleagues at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity. Cindy Foley and her team put together a rich and spirited conversation on play, art, and learning with guest panelists Flossie Chau (Harvard’s Project Zero), Jessica Hamlin (Art21), Oliver Herring (artist). They filled a room full of early childhood and classroom teachers, university faculty, parents, non-profit arts leaders, museum staff and board members, and policy makers. I could hardly think of a better way to begin the weekend. Until a few of us went for cocktails and dinner afterwards…

Some of the questions we began to explore during our Conversation with ART21: Play=Art included:
What does it mean for art to play a role in teaching for 21st century skills?
How do we know when play is happening? What do we see? hear? feel?
How does play begin?
What is the relationship between play/process/object?
What is one thing you could do tomorrow to promote play in education?

So much of what I heard resonated with what I have been working through with students in my courses and in my experiences as a parent of a toddler and teen-aged children. Here are a few key phrases I took away from the conversation.

“Play is a state of mind.”

“Play requires some catalyst to get it going.” There must be some parameters. “It can’t be infinite or my head would explode.”

“Play is purposeful.”

“Play can be really loud or really quiet.” “Play can be individual or collective activity.”

“Play feels: addicting, releasing, competitive, energized, uncertain, promising, fully engaged…”

“Go back in your mind to when you were a kid. What did you do with materials when there were no expectations?”

“Play is real, school is not.”

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation, finding new ways to define the role and importance of play in education, and seeing how play manifests itself in classrooms, museums, and home learning spaces.