Art Experiences

Posts Tagged ‘open ended questions

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!


A great way to expand creative thinking is to ask questions. When I teach, I ask the kids a lot of open ended questions in order to get their brains moving and their creative gears going. When we are painting the desert I ask the children, “What would you bring with you if you were in this hot, dry desert? What would you wear? How do you feel?” When we are sculpting animals with clay I ask, “How does his clay feel? What is your favorite animal? What do you like about your animal?” These types of questions do not have a right or wrong answer so children do not need to be afraid of being wrong. Whatever a child thinks, is the right answer.

One question every child gets asked is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m not even sure what I want to be, so I don’t think too many preschoolers have a grasp of this! However, their answers are often cute and sometimes reveal interesting things.

I listened to a class discuss this very question one day at preschool. As expected, many girls said they wanted to be ballerinas and many boys wanted to be firefighters. I think most of us wanted to be one of those a long time ago too. The one answer that struck me was from a boy, let’s call him Justin, who said he wanted to be a mommy. The teacher, who I think highly of, said, “Justin, you can’t grow up to be a mommy because you are a boy.” I cringed at her answer. Yes, logically, this boy could never give birth. And the chances of Justin having a sex change and adopting a child in the future are pretty small. But we are only looking at this boy’s answer through adult, logical eyes.

Justin is not saying he wants to give birth to a child or become a woman. He is saying he wants to be like a mommy, his mommy. He wants to have the qualities his mommy has. He wants to love unconditionally like his mommy loves him. He wants to be fun and nurturing, safe and happy. He wants to know it all and do it all. And you know what Justin, you can be all those things. Go forth, grow up and be a mommy.

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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