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When I introduce a new art experience, I always make sure that each child has the tools to experiment and experience the materials. I also give verbal and visual helps to help them feel confident to throw themselves into the creativity of it.
In today’s art activity, we were painting watercolor spring trees. I wanted to make it really simple. My group is multi-age and so as I am giving instructions about what we are doing, there are a few children who will just apply paint to paper randomly. For them, this is enough of an experience. To the other children, I gave a mini-lesson.
I always have an idea in my head of what it could look like but I anticipate the directions that the children might take this project. I gave each child a small piece of watercolor paper (rectangular in shape) and two daubs of black and green watercolor paint. I showed them how to get the green paint into a puddle with a wet brush. When it was wet enough they dipped their brush into the color and began to make drops of green on their paper. I encouraged them to fill up the top of their paper with dots.
The dots dry quickly and so we start to puddle the black paint right away for the next part of our painting. When we have finished mixing our paint we are ready to draw in the trunk and branches. I ask the children what a Y looks like. They explain that it has two stems (arms) going up and one going down. We use our own bodies to make this shape (arms raised up and to the side and our body being the tail of the Y. This is the shape we are going to paint.
As the children dip their brushes and apply the paint to the paper, I see different things in different children. One child will confidently begin to form a tree. Her tree looks like this:
My independent child triumphantly declares that she is making a swing. Look at how bold her strokes are.
A cautious child watches the work of others. He decides to also make a swing and to put a tree over it, covering all bases.
A cautious child needs reassurance that his efforts have value and to be given the freedom to enjoy engaging in the art for the experience itself. So we talk about what it feels like to glide the brush over the paper and how the colors look when we press harder or lightly skim over the surface. I point out a unique aspect of his painting. I personally love the spikey shapes of his leaves. He beams because he does too.
Each child tells me when they are finished and are pleased to see their picture displayed for their parents to view.
I like to offer this kind of art instruction as an alternative to open-ended art. It addresses listening skills and the ability to follow instructions. It allows children to see the differences in their approach to art and to appreciate these differences. It also gives children a framework for expressing what is real with symbolic strokes of crayon or brush. Everyone can see the tree in these paintings as well as the child in the work. It is why we love art with children. It is so honest and simple.