Friday, March 16, 2012

Teaching Art to a Herd of Cats

This week, I performed my civic duty and volunteered in M’s class.  Once a month, I swoop in, direct them in an art project, and then swoop back out.  The program (Art Masters) is performed by the parents, because, well, if we don’t do it, nobody else will (thanks State of CA…who needs art anyway).  So every month, I bite the bullet and teach both M and L’s classes.

L is in 4th grade, and his projects, while technically harder for me to demonstrate, are easier to teach, because the kids are more mature.  It’s the kindergarteners that give me the monthly aneurisms.  You ever hear of the expression “herding cats”?  This is the perfect way to describe how these lessons play out.  Every 15 minutes, a group of 5 kids is rotated into my area to follow my directions and complete the project.  While this is going on, the rest of the class is rotating in and out of other task tables.

I should note:  some of the boys in M’s class (M included) are especially excitable (gross understatement).

All of these factors combine to create a crazy, amped up energy in the class that closely resembles chaos.  No joke, when I’m done with these 60 minutes of sensory overload, I need to sit quietly in my car and reflect pensively.

But I’m ok with it.  I relish that M is so happy to see me, and I know that his public displays of affection will be in short supply very soon.  If all that adoration comes with the stress of herding cats, then I’ll gladly teach art to his class every day month.

This month’s lesson, however, had me on the verge of losing my mind.  The artist of the month was Winslow Homer.  He’s a personal fave of mine, and I was happy to hear we would be creating a work of art around his popular sailboat theme. 

The problem I had was with the project itself.  Here’s an example of what I created when I was shown the lesson, months earlier.

Before we continue, let me be the first to say it:  I’m no artiste.  I do my best to create something akin to the example provided by the program.  If it comes out with some resemblance to the original, I consider it a win.  So avert your judgemental eyes away from my sailboat, if you’re feeling judgy today.

Back to the art project.  Take a look back at the picture above and guess what the project is supposed to be emphasizing.  Yes, shading.  Here’s where I take pause for it to sink in.  If you’ve ever been around kindergarteners (or have ever been one yourself), you know that most 5 year olds apply the same amount of tactile pressure to drawing, coloring, and writing alike.  And teaching them to gradually color from dark to light results in two shades on the page:  top half dark, bottom half light.  This project not only required these kids to shade from dark to light for the ocean, it required them to do it a second time for the sky, only this time starting with a lighter shade of gray, before moving on to nearly white.  AND THEN, as if that wasn’t enough, it required the kids to switch orientations and shade the boat and sail from right to left!  All in 15 minutes.  This feels like an enormous disaster in the making, when you stop to consider that the most common shading technique employed at this age is scribble scrabble.

Alright.  So I know some of you may say that your 5 year old has been shading since pre-school.   And I believe you, really I do.  But I’ve been teaching this stuff to enough K-4th graders to know that your child is in the minority.  This is some seriously challenging stuff for the average kindergartener.

Fortunately, I totally blew off prepping for this session until the morning of, otherwise I would’ve been seriously wound tight over it.  When I stumbled through the first rotation with the kids, it was pretty obvious that the shading was leaving them frustrated.  That was not going to fly with me.  At five years old, art…must…be…fun.  Leave the frustration to math.

So I made the rebel-decision to stray from the program; I loosened up on the shading instruction and prepared myself for what might be some ca-razy works of art.

Turns out this was one of their best projects.  Take a look for yourself.

Can I tell you how pleased I am with how these turned out?  Prodigies, all of them!


You're Lucky I Don't Have a Gun... said...

Hey! I'M impressed. I was definitely expecting much worse.

NumberWhisperer said...

I was too. I always tell the kids, "look at it from far looks much better that way." Next project is Van Gogh. I'm expecting some crazy stuff from that one.

Lauren Piper said...

Congratulations! I have not been in the trenched in a long time. The parents are a bit easier...

NumberWhisperer said...

Lauren, the parents may be easier, but they're not as fun!