Worlds Collide: Art Education at OEFFA

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“What are we going to do with this?!”   “Look at all this yarn.”

“This is fun.”        “This is taking so long.”       “Can I take some yarn with me?”

A few weeks ago, I was invited to lead a 60-minute art activity for 30 kids ages 6-12 during the 37th annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. I was really excited to be asked. Since I started my adventures in urban agriculture a few years ago (see Outside the Lines Goes Over the Fence) I’ve been interested in checking out this multi-day meeting of growers and consumers interested in organic and sustainable practices in farming. I’m not sure I would have made it there without the specific invitation (and offer of free admission for the day) just given how hectic life can be. But now that I’ve been, I plan to make it a point to get back.

Figuring out what to do in one hour with a big group of kids covering a wide age range (a few teens even came and hung out unexpectedly) is not the sort of thing I’m used to doing. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around these kinds of make-and-take sessions. On the one hand they seem antithetical to the meaningful and authentic art education experiences I hope to promote through my teaching. But, on the other hand, they are so common it seems we ought to find ways to make them the best they can be.

My former student and friend Hilary Frambes recommended me for the gig after she had to drop out at the last minute. (I don’t think I’ve a chance to say thanks yet, Hilary!) I was invited to plan any type of art project I’d like to lead the kids in – but with some type of environmental bent. I had to decide quickly whether I was interested and what I would do. The program for the conference was being finalized the next day.

I did a little searching around Pinterest and found a few weaving ideas I thought might work in the name of creating harvesting vessels. I offered to collect containers, yarn, and ribbons through my neighborhood Freecycle group and did so over the course of the next few weeks.

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Other than that, I didn’t think too much more about the workshop until a few days before the event. (This wasn’t procrastination, this was part of my ongoing attempts to schedule my work so I don’t expect myself to tackle my entire to-do list in a single day.) At any rate, I let it go a little too far and didn’t get to really test my ideas until the night before the big day. At that point, I realized that it was harder and took longer than I imagined. I started to worry about how the kids, with their little hands, would handle it and whether they’d get too frustrated to make it work.

In my early days of teaching I would have panicked. But this time I went to sleep, assuming I’d be able to think more clearly in the morning. I woke up thinking about some fairy wands I’d made with the kids at home – wrapping yarn (and feathers and such) around the ends of sticks from the yard.When I got to the conference site, the thermometer on the car read 6 degrees. I walked away form the building and across the street into the woods. I gathered about twenty 18-30 inch sticks and hurried inside to find the room where I’d been working, dropped off my supplies, and found my way to my first (adult) workshop session.

After lunch I got my supplies set up as seen above. I devoted one large table to yarn the other to the supports we’d be wrapping. As the kids filed in we gathered around the table with the yarn. They immediately started pawing the colors, then paused to ask if that was okay. “Of course,” I told them. And in that moment I clearly understood my goal in our limited time together was not to teach them anything major or manage their behavior any more than was necessary to keep everyone positive and productive as we played with yarn and sticks.

I introduced myself and asked them what they knew about weaving. I showed them a few ideas for working with the materials I brought and invited them to play* with them with me.  And that’s what we did. Some kids got frustrated. Some kids seemed to work as fast as they could and then just sat and watched the others. But noone complained, they all tried something new, and in the end they made some pretty cool looking objects.

 

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Acts of LOVING Kindness

I was out of the house today attending a conference. When I got home, I found these on the kitchen counter.

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Since Cora and I started making Valentine’s last week, I’ve left the materials out on the counter in the hope that the other kids might get inspired. I didn’t expect to Dan to get in on the action. But I probably should have. He’s always loved making little love notes – for birthdays, lunch boxes, for my suitcase on business meetings.

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He told me Cora gave him some directions for his making, including on the card he made for her. Above, you can see she gave him permission to use as many gems as he wanted on her card.

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After dinner the rest of the family spontaneously accepted my Valentine invitation. As always, Cora was mesmerized by her older siblings and stayed up way past her bedtime cutting, gluing, drawing, writing, and singing along to cheesy love songs.

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Rosa got so far into the flow that she didn’t stop working for 2 1/2 hours.  She finished 14 unique cards and is looking forward to sharing them with family and friends.

I believe that actions speak louder than words, greeting cards, and even chocolate. Probably another one of those things that goes back to my Jewish upbringing where we are taught that gemilut hasadim, acts done for others out of love and compassion which tie us together as human beings, are as important as giving charitable contributions of work. We show one another our love through acts of empathy and generosity – from putting the dishes in the dishwasher to taking a moment from our busy lives to knock on a neighbor’s door and see how they’ve been. We show love through our communion.

Having my family in the kitchen all together and crafting tonight was the best Valentine I could have asked for.

Promoting Creativity – A Welcomed Invitation

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on Making Creativity Visible at the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s part of a grant project spearheaded by the museum’s Center for Creativity which I will report on at a later time. As a warm-up to the discussion, the educators and docents in the room were asked to think of ways we model, promote, and assess creativity in our work. While I’d like to think through these prompts again with my university students in mind, in the moment I thought of my own children and our home studio experiences.

In the section on promoting creativity, I wrote: “I let things get messy.” And just below that, I wrote, “I clean things up.” I firmly believe that being creative requires space and time to put lots of materials out on the table but it also requires clear space to think and see one’s options and imagine new possibilities. This all reminded me of something that happened at home this past weekend.

As regular readers know, I’ve been working with the concept of “invitations” for creative activity around the house. This weekend, the invitations I’ve been sending came back to me, wrapped up with a big red ribbon.

This was the scene of the action.

Cora's easel positioned in a new location, with supplies she hasn't used in awhile, and a fresh sheet of drawing paper.

Cora’s easel, which for the past month had been moving around the living room mostly just collecting dust, caught her attention the moment she rounded the corner into the kitchen. In addition to moving it into a new space, I had rolled out a fresh sheet of paper and set out some triangular crayons she’d been neglecting in favor of markers.

“Thanks for settting this up for me mom!” she cheered, and my eyes immediately welled up.

Cora picked up some crayons and started drawing, big bold strokes of color. She was drawing with her whole body, in motion, and singing songs from the Sesame Street alphabet album which we listened to that morning. She was exuding positive energy and intensely making fields of color.

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For the past while Cora’s been making up a stories when she draws. Talking through her process, but still not drawing much recognizable imagery. So I asked her to tell me about what she was doing.

“This is a spiral drawing,” she declared and then she paused . . . . . “Do you know why I am doing this, Mom?”

“No. Why?”

“Because… I have to.”

I’m not really sure what Cora meant by this statement but I am sure it relates to issues of discipline, persistence, and drive to make things mentioned by the panelists at the museum. I’m sure I’m going to keep thinking about it. And I hope reading my documentation of this creative happening in my kitchen prompts some of you to set up a clean slate for your students and children to embark on a new creative adventure. If not today, then perhaps in the new year.

Need inspiration: Check out Tinkerlab and Playful Learning.

Doing Food Coloring

I’m not sure how many kids ask their parents, “Can I do food coloring?” Perhaps more than I can imagine. Cora has been doing food coloring since she was one. That’s when we started taking a set of translucent tupperware containers (red, yellow, and blue + one clear) into the bath to transfer colored water from one to another and watch the magic.

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Last year for her birthday, we filled squirt guns with colors and she and her “friends” made some collaborative paintings (see Paint by Squirt Gun).

This summer, after our freezer was accidentally defrosted and refrozen by our very well meaning dog sitters, we harvested a giant clump of ice and got busy pouring with salt food colored water on it. Thanks again Tinkerlab for a great invitation!
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These were all exciting experiences that provided us both “permission to play.” But the fun really began for me this weekend when Cora asked for food coloring and made her own choices about what to do with it. Her actions echoed those from the past, but she was the master of ceremonies, determining the tools she needed and the order of events. Here’s a quick recap.

I was busy for hours on end making sauces and pressure canning them so Cora was getting into just about every nook and cranny of the kitchen trying to keep herself occupied. She eventually stumbled on a stack of tiny blue plastic cups we have used for grape juice in our hippie hebrew school program. She stacked them and counted them and stacked them again. Then she made her request,

“Mom, can I do food coloring?”

While Cora was ready to line up 50 cups to play with, she settled on 5, which turned into 6 once we realized we needed another to complete a rainbow of colors.

DSC_0110After that, she asked for a plate to put them on. I gave her two; one dark blue, one white. She moved the cups from one plate to the other talking about how they looked different one each. Then came the request for “a block of cheese.” It took awhile, but I finally realized she meant a block of ice. So, we filled a square tupperware about a 3/4 of an inch with water and found some other things to do while it froze.

Later that afternoon, she asked for the ice. We popped it out of it’s mold and Cora got busy. DSC_0130DSC_0133

 

 

Once the ice was significantly melted, she poked at it with a spoon which then turned into a scooper. DSC_0157

Once she had some cups filled up, she asked for a bowl to dump them into.

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Then she refilled the cups and carried them over to the sink for one final dump.DSC_0174DSC_0180

Game over. It was a VERY busy day, with lots and lots of dirty dishes to be done.

“An Invitation” to Keep Quiet While Mommy’s on the Phone For Work

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Got a call from my chair yesterday that he wanted to try to have a late afternoon meeting on Skype with another (new) colleague. Anyone who lives with a pre-schooler knows that is just about the witching hour when you can’t be sure if you’ll be in the company of Dr. Jekyl or Mr. Hyde. Some quick planning was in order.

I took a cue from TinkerLab and set up an “invitation” for Crafty Cora to try to engage her in some quiet and creative play while I was in my meeting. It worked like a charm. She came into the room, took one look at the table I set up, and got busy. The next time you need your little one to keep herself occupied while you are otherwise engaged, consider taking a few minutes to “set the table” for her to occupy herself.

Ironically, my meeting was delayed so I got to shoot a few pictures. And by the time we got to talking, she was on to something new…

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Scenes from an Artful Day

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“Mom! Let’s see what happens if we do this…” This one gave me chills. Curiosity is the mother of invention.

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We picked a bouquet of different flowers noting their names, variations of color, shape, and size. Hitting all those good ole’ elements and principles of art without even trying. Cora says she earned, and wants, a “badge” so we’re talking about making one and then starting our own version of girl scouts. Then she pulled all the petals and practiced tossing them in anticipation of her aunt’s wedding next month where she’ll be a flower girl.

Lots and lots of independent play with lots and lots of narration. Better than any reality TV show I've ever heard of.

Lots and lots of independent play with lots and lots of narration. I bet you never knew HotWheels could be princesses learning to go potty…

Some days just click. Today was one of those. We moved effortlessly through errands, chores, and playful learning. I wish they could all be like this.