Thursday, December 22, 2016

Snow Dough!

     Recently, my wonderful EES Kindergarten colleagues mentioned to me that they were going to make fake snow for their students to play with during choice time. What?! Snow that doesn't melt? I'm in.

   That afternoon I went directly to the store, where I picked up just two simple ingredients, for a grand total of $3.

   Now, I have made a lot of dough and slimes with kids. Flubber, diy bouncy balls, Ooblek, homemade play dough, and most recently, an attempt at kinetic sand. (Fail.) While all of those things have merit, none has had the wow factor of the snow dough.

   It's heavy, cold, packs like real snow, and crumbles back apart again. It has true heft- the two quarts I made weighted almost five pounds- it might even be heavier per volume than the real deal. And it really looks like snow.
I swear I didn't shovel this from the playground.
 Depending on what conditioner you use, it could be neutrally or strongly scented. It would be delightful to scent it with peppermint oil or balsam, but I am all about trying the two-ingredient method to start out. The 4lb. box of baking soda mixed easily in a large bowl with the conditioner. No doubt there are real recipes and proportions for this, but I winged it, and used all but an ounce or two of the conditioner, which I am saving in case it seems dry later. So that was it for the recipe- a 4lb box of baking soda and 13 ounces of conditioner.

Offer artists buttons, sticks, pipe cleaners, and little pine branches.
So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with art? Isn't this just free play, and how is it teaching anything?

Open-ended exploration of art materials leads to exactly the places I want kids to go- spontaneous creative places. Questions that students ask (such as, What can I make? How does this material work?) encourage social interactions around creative tasks, language skills, and fine motor skills.  Consider this question asked: Can we put cars in it? Do we have a snow plow?

 Creative ideas like acting out Katy and the Big Snow, shown above, connect to literacy and storytelling. Creativity becomes collaborative when students offer additional questions, like Who could we have Katy save? Let's get more cars!

This is not what art class always looks like. I teach many structured lessons, but art teachers have a few perpetual challenges for which I have developed a variety of answers over the years. What to do with early finishers? (Sketchbooks, stations, art jobs.) What to do with an extra class before a school vacation? (Don't begin something new with a group you aren't going to see again soon.) Give them, and yourself, a break. Do fun stations.

That. by the way, is the face of authentic surprise, joy, and disbelief in how the faux snow works and feels.
And that's what this is- a super fun station kids K-5 clamor to get their hands into. Put a fake fire on your projector screen, put on some instrumental sleigh-riding music, and relax with awesome art activities.  My biggest take-away from making this seasonal dough is to make more!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fantasy Fish

What happens when students watch nature documentaries in art class? They combine all of the design elements that they know to create some fantastic fishies.

Second graders spent time in art class observing tropical fish swimming around coral reefs, and virtually exploring the Great Barrier reef.

Students were asked to make observations about the shapes, patterns, colors, and forms that they noticed in the different fish species. On that first day, students shared the things they noticed about the commonalities and differences in different fish varieties, and made sketches combining these to make an original fish all their own.

The video footage was left running for students to observe the landscape as well. There were so many types of plants, corals, and urchins in endless forms and a rainbow of colors to inspire the habitats students created for their creatures.

Artists used several different materials for their projects, beginning with pencil sketches. The sketches were colored in with a thick waxy layer of crayon. 

The crayon acts not only to add bold color, but to resist the watercolors painted over it. I make liquid watercolors from old markers, which I soak in containers of water and combine in different ways to create lots of colors. These are stored in repurposed glass jars, which I label by dipping a strip of white paper in each paint and taping it to the jar so students can see the colors.

These act just like any other watercolor when painted over wax, and they interact beautifully with salt as well. 

When the watercolor is newly painted on and still damp, students sprinkle a little pinch of salt on top, and it absorbs water and color to create the little white "bubbles" in the picture above. When added to those white crayon swirls to show the water current, it makes a pretty convincing ocean!

 I am easily suckered by students who ask for extra materials to create a little more enchantment in their artwork, so when kids asked for glitter, I knew just the kind, and several artists chose to add some diamond dust glitter to their fish. Because, Mrs. Elliott, ocean water is sparkly, after all!