Art Experiences

Archive for the ‘art supplies’ Category

This being our last week of school, there are lots of items being sent home. Papers, projects, anything that has been tacked up around the classroom, anything in a locker or cubby will be going into a big paper shopping bag to be sent home on that fateful last day of school.

I don’t want to add to that pile so for the last week of art class, I will be giving the children experiences. Truth be told I sprinkle these experiential classes throughout the year because I think it is important that children expand their definition of art. I had an interesting discussion with a class about this one day. I put some blocks on a table and asked one child to build something with them. He moved a few blocks around and called it done. I asked the class, “Is this a sculpture?” No, it was just some toy blocks on a table. I asked them, “Is this art?” No, art is when you paint a picture and take it home.

Then I talked for a minute about how a sculpture is anything three dimensional, anything that is not flat. We talked about “regular” sculptures – statues of horses, sculptures of heads in museums, a metal piece of art in the mall. I stretched their thoughts even further proposing that many things around us could be sculptures – trees, buildings, blocks on a table.

I don’t expect that the kids will have an “aha moment”, but if they are exposed to this creative thought process all year long, new brain connections will be made and innovative ways of thinking will emerge. It may happen tomorrow or when they are twelve. You never know. But I do know that early childhood experiences have a real impact on how children develop ideas about our world.

Anytime children play with interesting materials, pouring or stacking or squishing, they are learning how the world works, how things feel, how to make substances do what you want them to, how to balance objects. They are engaging their imaginative, intuitive, big picture, spatially oriented, anything-is-possible right brain functions to experiment and explore and create.

So, what are some of these experiences? And are they “art”? This last question has been a topic of much societal discussion for centuries and continues to this day. I feel that anytime you create from your intuition, your passion, even if you can’t take it home, it is art. Creating a great project at work, an exciting event or a wonderful dinner is art.  You will know when it is art because you will be engaged and absorbed. Time will feel like it is standing still but is really flying by.

Below are a few of the experiences I provide my classes. Most of the time I give each child their own individual tray to work on. This makes the experience theirs and eliminates conflicts. Older children will benefit from group experiences such as building a sculpture together.

  • sand on trays with cups and spoons
  • dirt with a small cup of water and popsicle sticks
  • a lump of clay with large beads, shells, forks and anything that makes an impression
  • packing peanuts with a handful of toothpicks
  • tape the letters of the alphabet down to the table and give out Q-tips
  • sand, flat rocks and a stick
  • a bin with a few inches of water, a plastic cup and a funnel
  • pieces of aluminum foil
  • pieces of plastic coated wire (I like Twisteez brand)
  • a tray of recyclables, scissors and a roll of tape

Try a few of these things at home with your children or when you need some down time in your classroom. You will be amazed at how long they want to work on this. Ask them a few open ended questions about what they are making and write down the answers. You can practically see the gears spinning in their heads!

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I am pretty gung-ho about recycling, conserving resources and generally saving the planet. I am also a passionate artist and educator. Sometimes I find these ideals in conflict with each other. I utilize natural elements such as sticks, rocks and sand in creating art projects. I find ways to make art out of recyclables and items that people give away or throw away such as fabric scraps and packing peanuts. However, in order to embrace all that art has to offer, I need to buy things. Often things that are not environmentally conscientious, like paint, foam sheets and wood. And I need to throw things away, sometimes lots of things – paper that has paint on it, various tough to clean containers, unusable or broken supplies. I feel a bit guilty about generating more trash at my job than at my house.

However, it is all in the name of learning. Especially when you are creating with young children, there is a lot of waste. They are not adept at conserving and we should not limit their resources. We need to provide our children a large variety and quantity of materials to give them the freedom they need to experiment and therefore learn.

We have emphasized Earth Day issues with our preschoolers all week, and many of us do this all year long. Today being Earth Day, we put together a fun set of activities to celebrate.

Nature Bugs – the children had a handful of clay to use as the basis for their bug. On the table were items from nature such as rocks, sticks, acorns, a variety of colored beans, various types of seed pods and spent flowers. There were no googly eyes, pipe cleaners or plastic beads. The kids had a blast! Did their creations look like bugs? Many did not, but the point is that they created using only natural materials that were also very interesting to work with.

I Love Earth tee shirts – I have some reservations about painting a t-shirt in celebration of Earth Day because first, consumerism is not much of a way to celebrate anything, and second, by purchasing t-shirts we are consuming cotton, the second-most pesticide sprayed crop in the world (the first being corn).  However, it turned out that creating our t-shirts was a great way to promote awareness. I placed foam letters that spelled “I <heart> Earth” on the shirt and had the kids place wood shapes of flowers and butterflies around it. Then together we sprayed on fabric paint diluted with water. The children took the stencils off and loved the resulting white shapes! They were really proud of their creations and enjoyed wearing them all day.

Shoe Garden – Parents brought in shoes that were worn out or too small and the children put soil in them, planted seeds and watered them. A great lesson in recycling and reusing items in new ways. The shoes looked very inviting placed in a circle around a large tree on the playground and hopefully soon they will start sprouting.

The personal lesson I took away from today is that the best we can do is much more than doing nothing at all. I help teach a new generation important lessons about our environment all year long. I give children opportunities to create with natural materials. I am not going to be fanatical about recycling every glue container. I am not going to limit my students to one piece of paper each in the name of conservation. When I step back and look at the big picture, I feel great about the efforts I am making to raise awareness and connect with our Earth. What are you doing?

It’s that time of year when everyone is cleaning. Yard sales abound. There’s a lot more stuff out for bulk trash week. When Spring arrives, we just want to declutter. Even I (kind of) want to do it!

I’ve never been very good at cleaning, organizing, filing or getting rid of stuff. A creative mind often doesn’t want to focus on left brain activities. However I do really like to be able to find things when I need them, not have things spill out at me when I open a closet and live in a reasonably sanitary environment. I try to keep these likes in mind while attempting to create order in my life, home and studio.

For a few months now I have been reading about the trend towards minimalism. Most people who are attracted to this lifestyle concept want to have less stuff to store and clean. They want to lead a simpler, less stressed life by engaging in calming, uncluttered surroundings. I personally like the idea of simplifying my life; who couldn’t use a bit of space, both in our cabinets and in our consciousness? One of the most well known minimalist bloggers, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame, defines minimalism as eliminating the unnecessary to make room for the important. In theory this sounds great. Get rid of stuff you don’t love. Live with stuff you really love or really need. Get rid of commitments you don’t want to do. Say yes when it matters.

I LOVE art supplies. And I have a lot of them. I love shopping for art supplies, even though I hate shopping. I keep a lot of stuff just in case I need it. But this appears to go against all that minimalism espouses. How can I gain all the advantages of peace, harmony and organizational bliss while keeping all my stuff? Can artists be minimalists? Is there even a way to apply the principles of minimalism to art supplies?

I am going through all my supplies and evaluating how often I use them, which I think will give me an idea how important that item is. I have found a lot of things other people may not even consider art supplies, but when you teach creativity, everything is game! We make prints from bubble wrap and rope, we paint with hair combs and cotton balls and we make sculptures from toilet paper rolls and old machine parts. It’s going to be tough for me to throw out anything I think I could ever possibly use.

So far I haven’t had much trouble getting rid of several bags of clothes, bikes my kids outgrew years ago and dozens of extra cups cluttering up the kitchen cabinets. So I am on a roll of sorts. But art supplies seem sacred to me, I feel like I need them all. They’re art. They’re creative potential just waiting to be shaped. I just know a project will come along where I will want all those styrofoam balls. None of my art supplies seem unnecessary.

Maybe I will just organize it all into pretty containers. Maybe I will just get rid of a few really old things. Maybe I will scale back and get rid of half of the toilet paper rolls, glitter containers and paper scraps. It’s a conundrum, and something I will continue to consider.


Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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