Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Painting Together

Since Cohorts 10 + 12 combined in the back room of the Infant House in June, one of our favorite activities has been painting.  
No matter what type of paint, combinations of colors, kind of brush or paper we offer, the children are always excited to see paint available.  One of the ways the two groups of toddlers have connected and seen each other is through making art together: both collaborating on big, messy painting projects, and sitting close while working on individual, smaller pieces.  
The children are skillful observers; they love to notice a friend doing something they haven't seen before and give it a try, and also to encourage others to try something new that they have discovered.
This week I offered a simple provocation: a square of white paper, a small bowl of black tempera paint, and fine paint brushes.  I was curious to see what the children would focus on when there was only one color available.  This set up seemed to invite quiet and reflective work - the table was nearly silent as children painted.  

I noticed lots of interest in brush technique: what happens if I dot my brush lightly on the paper?  What changes if I press down hard?  What if I use only the side of my brush?
As these inquiries were quietly made by each child, often a neighbor at the table would watching closely, observing what their friend was up to, sometimes quietly trying out the same technique, and sometimes simply returning to their own work.

Later in the week we returned to painting.  This time I offered each child a sturdy rectangle of watercolor paper, a wider paintbrush, and a palette with five colors of liquid watercolor, diluted with a little water.  Immediately, the atmosphere around the table was social - each child wanted to name their colors and was eager to talk about their plans for their painting: "I'm gonna mix the colors up,"  "I'm using yellow paint!" "Purple! Purple!"

Again, I noticed lots of close observation by each child of their friends' work.  This time, there were many more comments.  I was struck by the children's ability to comment on specific and objective qualities of the work around them: what colors were being used, the pressure with which a brush was being held, whether lines were straight or "curvy."

As an adult facilitating appreciating children's work with art, it can be hard not to revert to phrases like "It's beautiful!" or even "I love it!" (because, of course, these things are true!) and listening to the children comment on one another's work was a great reminder of the types of comments that are more meaningful to children: not offering judgement of the work but noticing details and technique, and inviting kids to join us in looking closely.

Painting is just one type of art activity we offer at Tumbleweed, and it's been amazing to see it become so important to the group, both in moments of quiet, focused work, and more social and high energy exploration of materials.  As the children continue to build their skills, including fine-motor control, planning, and observation, I'm eager to see where their work at the painting table leads them next!

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