By Lori Beavis, Art Educator
From my perspective as an Art Educator, the four days we interacted with graduate students and campers at the various venues was invaluable. We learned much from each of the experiences.
The graduate students were welcoming and open to our presence in their classroom, at least almost completely, we were involved with the action of rolling newspapers when they arrived – they were invited to do something/ anything within the classroom space with a piece of string that had been cut to various lengths and then asked to begin rolling the newspaper. Instructions were minimal and given incrementally, for example roll at least ten rolls and then join up with a small group near by. The onus was on the group to see what they could construct with the paper and masking tape. They were told they could work on or from any surface in the room. The next instruction, as each group finished was that all the constructions needed to meet and become a single work.
These tasks were easily accomplished and there were only a little dissention as some students really felt that they needed/ wanted more instructions to be more comfortable in our expectations of them – we did not budge from letting them see how it would all unfold on their own.
Before we sat to debrief about the morning – we turned off the lights and using their cellphone as a lamp the students explored the newspaper environment. They carefully maneuvered their way through and find a place to sit. In the end we left the lights off as we asked people about their experience of the morning. Generally it was positive, as they were inspired and open to the materials, the process and the incremental instructions. One person spoke of her unease while another discussed his individual method of working; other discussed the value of working in a small group at an early stage of the intensive summer course.
As art educators we were surprised at the way the project came together given the fact it was a very large group (36 students). We watched the dynamics as people forged groups or stayed separated on their own. It is always of interest to see how dexterous (or not) people are with such simple tasks and materials. We were very interested to see how people would use the classroom space and we found that students used the doorway, shelving, the floor and the ceiling.
The idea for this project comes from The Anti-bias Curriculum (Derman Sparks, 1989) and the intention is that students will be empowered when they can freely explore their spaces and access the materials such as ladders, benches, and chairs to get to the spaces that they want to use.
We arrived early and spread out a wide variety of materials that we had been collecting over the past few months – these ranged from fabrics, to long bare branches, cardboard boxes of all shapes and descriptions, gardening materials, rope, string and ribbon etc as well as paints, brushes, glue, and tape.
As the students arrived we asked them to look at and through the materials and to choose one object that they would use in the art project. Once everyone had arrived we had them number of into six groups of roughly six people. We asked them to use a template to construct a myth based on notion of revenge and then to make “character props”. Again there was little instruction and the method of delivery was incremental. They had roughly 75 minutes to construct a story/ script and make the “props”. The students worked, on the whole, much quicker than we had anticipated.
We gave the groups ten minutes to practice their skit and then perform this to the entire group. The scripts were inventive, funny and often very dramatically acted.
The thing that surprised us the most was that instead of making 3d puppets people almost immediately began dressing themselves and their cast mates in costumes that they constructed out of the materials – they did an inventive job using large paper bags for shirts, elaborate headdresses and breast plates as well as staffs. They also used the classroom furniture to construct the environment in which the play was set. One group used a number of pressed paper packing corners to make puppets on sticks. Another group used pipe cleaners and garden stakes to make thin but tall puppet figures. Our intention had been to throw in a Wild card and ask the students to leave their work and enter into the workspace of a new group. In the end we decided that due to time and the commitment level that we wouldn’t do this; however we did ask the students in the debriefing how they would have felt about this idea.
Our intention with this project was to ask the students to think about how we illustrate and validate our experiences and our identity. We also wanted them to think about how they could construct an example of a transformative experience. We found the students did bring their own experiences to different degrees to the project. Most groups went quite deeply into myth/ fairy tales while one group stayed very firmly within the present day and worked very hard to tie the project to their classroom experiences – as teachers or as child. This may perhaps have been too literal an interpretation of a mythic experience.
We wanted the objects constructed to be re-used/ re-purposed/ re-invented by the children at the Brila Philosophy Day Camp. We gathered up all the unused materials as well as most of the “character props” and transported them to Philosophy Camp.
At Brila in the morning we worked with the 5-7year age group (2hours) and in the afternoon we were with the 8-12 year olds for roughly 3 hours.
The morning began by using a call and answer story-telling method to have the children tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk but we introduced a less well-known version than the one commonly told – this set up the theme of revenge.
We had each group with a facilitator (ourselves, McGill prof and students) and had them encourage the campers to use the template to write a mythic tale of revenge. Generally the children made their own “props” and did not really make use of the graduate students works.
We did not have the children present their stories as plays – in hindsight we believe they should have been given the opportunity to do this. The morning was very fast paced. We left the materials that each group had constructed with the intention that they would have ample opportunity to re-engage with these and continue working on them.
The afternoon session began outside – we were able to give a longer introduction to the concept and then as we went into the studio space they got down to work on using the template to write a story.
The children quickly fanned out and began to put together costumes and props. Within about 60 to 65 minutes they had their materials ready, they had a practice run and each group then presented their tale.
With this group we also left many of the materials for them to continue to use either for these props or more generally.
We were asked to attend a day camp at the MacKay Centre. This camp is for children with special needs aged 5 years to 19years. Rather than presenting an art activity that was mostly a hand-over-hand action we decided to present a purely sensory activity that we hoped the children would be able to manipulate on their own.
We sent up three horizontal bars strung from the ceiling – to these we attached terra cotta flowerpots that hung open-side down – we accumulated a wide variety of objects that could be used to hit the pots to make different sounds. The pots were hung at a level so the children were at eye level or slightly below. The children were able to different degrees to hit the pot – their interest level ranged from 5-10 minutes to one child staying in the space for the entire two hours that we were there. This same child was stimulated by the pots and began spinning them in a way that we hadn’t anticipated. Other children stayed in the space for less time but we found that we could interact with them in a variety of ways – physically entering their space, blowing bubbles, or through music and movement. One child was also given the spare materials and she did a variety of pattern making exercises using the nuts and bolts that helped string the pots.
For this group one of the bars with pots was later placed in the classroom were they could re-enter into the stimulation and play with the pots and their sounds.