Play and Maker Family Challenges

I’ve written before about Maker Family Challenges. They’re on the weekends so that families (in the community I work in, it means actual dads and moms - during the week, there are a high percentage of hired caregivers) can attend and create something with their kids. The idea is I put out materials, issue a challenge, and let people go at it at their own pace (such as can you build a boat that floats, can you create a self-portrait, can you build a tiny home, can you create a structure that will keep an egg safe when it is dropped). This idea is not original. It does feel really important though. I see it often - the “I have to get it right” mentality, in both kids and their parents (and hear anecdotes about teachers saying the same thing) that this kind of activity hopes to discourage.

What I hear during these challenges is “What can we do to fix that?” and “How are we going to make that happen?” and lots of playful sharing about what exactly is going on in these creations (usually made out of trash I found in the recycling bin). It is especially wonderful to hear in light of a recent day-long conference I went to at Bank Street College called “The Building Blocks of Play” that covered everything from the psychological and historical importance of play to how children’s book authors play during the creation of their books.

Something that felt very applicable to my daily program planning was introduced during a presentation from Dr. Linda C. Mayes from the Yale Child Study Center: Piaget’s idea that “Play is the work of childhood”. In a community like Darien, and in New England, and in the USA, work is seen as the most valuable part of life. So showing how play can be occupational and vital to success (whatever that means) is a great tool, and shows career-addled parents how to let play into the schedule.

I was also really inspired by the idea of play as a space. Dr. Mayes discussed play as the place where children explore boundaries between themselves and others, inside and outside their bodies, real and not real, now and in the future, and now and in the past. Then, hearing artists and authors such as Nina Crews, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Paul O. Zelinsky, Robie Harris, and Peter H. Reynolds discuss how they enter that transitional space to get creative and the importance of play in their work. So obviously play is important for adults too.

That’s why it’s great to be able to offer family programs at the library. And storytimes where we sing and dance. And picture books that are silly and playful and ask readers to experience the world differently.

Bookworms: Bird and Diz Jazz art!

Bird and Diz written by Gary Goglio, illustrated by Ed Young Opening framework: Jazz is a type of music that is often improvisational. It is energetic, slow, or a lot of different things. Talked a little about the history of jazz and some famous jazz musicians. Artists to inspire: playing Salt Peanuts while reading. Hung up Matisse's Jazz series, and had a few other jazz-inspired art pieces printed out. Activity: Jazz art - Draw with construction paper crayons while listening to jazz music on long strips of construction paper (like the book), inspired by the music. Encouraged them to draw what they heard - maybe use different colors for different instruments.

The kids loved the long paper, which mimicked the book structure, and some of them got into drawing what they heard but others just ran wild with the big format. Either way, I felt it was successful. One young person said "My hand can't stop drawing!"

Bookworms wrapup!

Alas! My favorite class at the library has wrapped up. Bookworms, the drop-in storytime+art program for K-2nd graders is on break until August of next year. I’ve written about it before, but here are a couple more activities that we did.The format was always read a picture book, talk about an artist or medium/style, do an art program, and we would try to do a gallery walk – where we would hang the art and everyone would look at each others and people could talk about their work - as well (though kids got nervous sometimes that we would try to keep their work if we hung it up for a gallery walk)! I always printed out and hung up pictures of the artist or style so they could feel inspired.

caveart1 We started by reading The first drawing by Mordicai Gerstein I kept the lights down low the whole time for this program to mimic being in a cave. Opening framework: How long do you think people have been making art? We can’t really know! But some of the oldest art we’ve found is cave paintings, made on cave walls and ceilings, which date back to some 40,000 years ago in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known. Inspiring artists: slideshow of cave drawings - asking kids what do you see? What colors do you see? Why do you think artists used those colors? Activity: I crinkled up brown butcher paper and hung it on the walls. Using pastels in earth tones, we created cave style drawings. I let the kids draw what they wanted to draw, but they made a lot of really interesting cave-like drawings.

magritte-applemasks1 We started by reading Magritte's Marvelous Hat by DB Johnson Opening framework: Today we’re going to talk about surrealism! Surrealism is a style of modern art in which images are based on fantasy and the world of dreams. It flourished in Europe from the mid-1920's to well after the end of World War II (1939-45). Surrealist artists tried to liberate these buried thoughts and feelings and use them as subjects for their art. They loved dreams, silly things out of place, and pushing the boundaries in art. Inspiring art: Magritte! I printed out some pictures of the paintings referenced in the book. Activity: We created masks using watercolors and salt! The idea was that when you wear these masks, things might look a little different when you look out from behind it – maybe even a little surreal. I cut out apple masks and then had them paint with watercolors and experiment with salt resist.

cities3 Young Frank, Architect by Frank Viva Opening: We looked at city maps and talked about shapes we saw. Did anyone recognize the map of our town? What do we see in the maps? (lakes, streets, houses, trees, rivers, etc - write down on a big sheet) Inspiring Artists: we looked at printed out pictures of the different towns from above and maps Activity: With watercolor paper, we first did some taping with masking tape to make roads. Then we drew with oil pastels everything from trees to graveyards to houses. Then we painted over everything with liquid watercolors. Once the paintings were dry, we carefully peeled back the tape to reveal the white roads! When we did a gallery walk for this one everyone was very excited to talk about their towns.

We started by reading The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan Opening framework - Today we’re going to paint with scissors, inspired by the artist Matisse! I showed a slideshow of his artwork – mostly the paper cutouts. I then also talked about shapes. I showed a picture of a pigeon (mentioned in the book) and we talked about what shapes we saw in the bird, and what kinds of shapes there are in the world. Geometric shapes — shapes that are commonly found in geometry, such as squares, triangles and rectangles Organic shapes — shapes that are commonly found in nature, usually with curved, irregular lines Positive shape — the shape itself Negative shape — the area around a shape or in between shapes, where you can see the background behind a shape Repeating shapes — the same shape, repeated multiple times, often in a grouping or making a path across the paper Stylized — an image which is simplified to the point of being abstract, but still carries a resemblance of it’s original form Activity: Everyone got scissors, iridescent paper, and construction paper – and even some fabric scraps (Matisse loved fabric). I printed out pictures of birds and arranged them for maximum enjoyment. Then they went wild! Only a couple people made birds – there were also some monsters, rugs (?!), and portraits.

We started by reading Shadow by Suzy Lee Opening framework: Shadows can be used to create art as well! Have you ever looked around and seen an interesting shadow? This was a wordless picture book, so we talked a lot during the reading of the story so that they could tell the story themselves. Inspiring artists: Kumi Yamashita, Indonesian Shadow Puppets Activity: We made foil puppets and shapes. I set up the room so there was a dark corner with bright lights to create stark shadows, where I helped them trace the shadow. Using oil pastels, they turned those shadow drawings into something cool!