Even though many of our lessons throughout the year incorporate different lessons on color theory, we have to start somewhere with our youngest students.
Some of the best times I can remember in the art room with my youngest students were during our first color lessons. Seeing the fun experimentation and pure enjoyment as they discover how colors mix has to put a smile on your face. It wasn't uncommon during these classes that I would look up and see the classroom teacher at the door because we lost track of time.
I like using hands-on ways of introducing the concept of Primary colors and how they mix to make new colors. One of the ways I have done this in the past handfuls of years is with an activity I call Color Handshakes.
The next class we continued the color explorations.
Students were given the three primary colors of tempera paint and a short demonstration on how to use the paint and paintbrush properly. They were left to mix and explore all they wanted. A big 12x18 paper provided lots of room for exploration. A smaller brush (regular watercolor set size) allowed for time to be focused on smaller areas instead of a big mess of washes of color.
As students were working, I would periodically ask what colors they were seeing. It was fun to observe their conversations. One student would look over and ask another how they got a certain color. They were always excited to share what they did to get that color.
Zentangles - a fun, creative way to use Line in artworks!
I'm sure that you have all heard about Zentangles. These doodles on steroids have been an increasing craze over the past few years. Today at the bookstore in our mall I even saw adult coloring books with Zentangle-like designs to color. If you want to learn more about the origins of the Zentangle have a gander at https://www.zentangle.com/ .
I will admit that I don't necessarily follow the "rules" of the Zentangle that the website above instructs. I am more inspired by the idea of the Zentangle and go from there. I will tell you that if you get your students started on this art form expect to have them engrossed and on-task for a good amount of time.
Have you tried to incorporate Zentangles in your classroom?
Different ways I've incorporated Zentangles into my classes -
Vincent Van Gogh is a popular artist for art teachers to connect to. Personally, he's one of my favorites. I can get lost in his paintings. The thick brushstrokes are perfect for having students review line quality. I targeted third grade for a Van Gogh connection. I've done it many different ways with different media. I've used crayon, watercolor, oil pastel, tempera, collage, and even clay to help students see the different lines he created with the brushstrokes in his paintings.
If I had access to a Smartboard in my classroom I had students come up and draw over all the different lines they could find. In one room, my projector displayed onto my whiteboard so students used dry erase makers.
Many elementary art teachers like to incorporate seasonal content into the art lessons. Though I never let a season control my curriculum, I did love the change of seasons and often used them in the projects if they fit the learning standard I was working with. This project in one that I found fits in well and the students love to get to paint early in the school year. I had my students painting a lot. I enjoy it and I knew they would too. It's something that most students don't get to do at home, so why not let them do it as much as possible at school. Last year I was placed at a couple new schools. It made me smile when the students were thanking me when we painted. When students enjoy what they are doing they are far more engaged in learning.
This lesson was a line review lesson. One of the learning standards I had for 2nd-grade students was for them to be able to distinguish between horizontal, vertical, and oblique (diagonal) lines. We began the lesson by learning the directional lines. We practiced these by using our arms going in the directions of the lines. I would put mine in a horizontal position outstretched and they would copy and say, "horizontal". The same would go for vertical and diagonal. We would then play a game where I would put my arms in a certain direction and they would shout out horizontal, diagonal, or vertical. I would vary my speed as I changed from one to another. They would laugh when I went too fast. It was a fun way to get them moving and engaged in remembering the lines.
As they drew their pumpkins, I explained that we would paint the pumkin with lines that would go the different directions along with as many different kinds of lines they could think of. They brainstormed with their group different lines they might paint onto the pumpkins. I only asked that the horizontal lines stayed in the background and the vertical and diagonal lines go on the pumpkin. This gave us a chance to discuss background and foreground as well.
I didn't spend too much time discussing color, but mentioned that warmer colors reminded me more of Fall. They painted the pumkins using tempera cakes and liquid tempera.
Technology Extension -
When time allowed, in the last few years I have had a technology extension with this project. We used the iPad app Percolator to abstract our pumpkin paintings. This was a great introduction to creating with the iPads and to Abstract art.
There are many fun ways to engage the younger student as they learn about different lines. Encouraging the young artist to recognize and draw different types of lines will help them see things differently and be able to convey what they see. It will also help boost their vocabulary as they learn to describe different lines they see.
One of my favorite lessons classes that I have with a new group of Kindergarten students is introducing them to Line. Most lesson intros have been changed up over the course of my 21 years, however, the way I start this particular lesson has remained the same. After students are settled I told them we would be learning about lines in the next few classes. I then ask them, "Does anyone know what a line is?" 90% of the time I see a hand go up and the following response comes out of the cute little one brave enough to offer an answer up during one of our first classes, "It's an animal that goes roar!"
We all have a laugh together when I explain that I'm not saying, "Lion". I then proceed to draw some different lines as they make their own marks on a paper with crayons. This loosens them up and they are ready to explore lines even more.
Here are some different projects that are great to help Kindergarten students learn and explore the Element of Line.
Monoprints with tempera
Monoprints are great ways for students to explore creating different kinds of lines. Any slick surface can be used. I have used plastic trays, laminated cardstock, and aluminum foil. You can even use plastic ziplock bags. For my Kindergarten students, I squirt some paint on the surface and let them spread it around with a brush or roller. They use cotton swabs or the back sides of paintbrushes to create a design. We put a piece of paper on the top and they rub it around and then pull it off.
This is a great project for these young students because they naturally work quickly.
Paper Line Sculptures
With just a few demonstrations of different folds or curls, the students are ready to create their sculptures. I usually have some glue poured into a paper plate for them to dip the paper into instead of dealing with glue bottles. Before the class is over we take a walk around all the sulptures and I give each student a chance to tell us about it. Some students talk about their favorite part and others go into an explanation of what their sculpture is. It's fun to hear them describe the sculpture as a park, maze, roller coster, house for a creature, and other creative ideas.
What are some of your favorite lessons to introduce the Element of Line?
Children need to learn the alphabet in order to learn to read. I feel the same thing about the Elements of Art and Principles of Design
when it comes to learning to create art.
As an elementary art teacher, I saw it as my duty to give students these building blocks so that they would have the knowledge to break out and be creative on their own. I also saw it as my duty to give them the opportunities to explore on their own and have choice in the artwork they were creating. Finding that balance is important but difficult in the elementary classroom. Sometimes the time was there to have students break out on their own right after a lesson in those building blocks and other times I resigned to acknowledge they would have a chance to explore this concept further later on their own or with another lesson. As any elementary art teacher knows - time is very precious in our classrooms. My hope is that all of my students came out of my classes with a general base knowledge of these important building blocks that they continued to build on as time went along.
I'm going to spend some time going through different Elements of Art and Principles of design and share different ways we can teach these to students and give them chances to explore them further. Since I'm starting a fresh start with this blog, I felt this is a great place to begin and build on.
The first concept I started the year with was LINE. I see it as the fundamental element that all art has. There are so many creative and fun ways to teach, review, and practice line quality with your students.
Here's a sneak peek into some projects I will begin to share in my next post.
The beginning of the school year can be a chaotic one in an elementary school. Often schedules are not completely set. Often as late registrations happen classes fluctuate for the first week or so. In my school district after the 6th day of classes, things were set for good. Splits were made and teachers moved to schools were numbers were higher. The first couple of weeks can be a challenge for art teachers because the classes are not set. You don't want to get started with something and then have a different group of students the next class. Because of this I have done different projects at the start of the school year that involved all students or students grouped by grade. Collaborative projects are a good way of starting the school year because it gives everyone time to get to know each other and gives you time to begin to build a relationship with students.
There are many different collaborative projects that can be done. One of my favorites is a version of Circle Painting. It is a great way of reviewing line quality with the older students and introducing it to the younger ones.
After a brief introduction, the students go to it. Students paint for a large portion of the class moving from one table to another and then we pause to go over a few classroom rules or procedures as things are cleaned up for the next class. The finished paintings look great hanging up in the hallways for open houses and until other lessons provide projects to hang.
I remember walking down the hallway from my classroom after a very stressful day. Scheduling at the elementary level in some districts can be very tough. Specialists tend to be thought of last when decisions are being made. I was dealing with an overcrowded room because of combined classes, students being pushed into classes where they find it hard to be successful, lack of prep time to get things ready for students meant they missed out on valuable on task time, and little to no time for lunch or time to connect with the other staff members in the building. I was not happy. Health issues aggravated by the stress and physical strain of the job had me in constant pain. By the time I returned to my classroom after that walk down the hallway I had made a decision. It was as clear as glass for me. This would be my last year in the classroom. Things in the school district had changed much over the years, as it has for districts all over the country. It was no longer fun. Don't get me wrong, my time with the students was still great, but it was tainted by all the other stuff. I didn't feel I was able to give them my all anymore. Out of the three "jobs" I was doing, the ones that made me the most happy and stress-free was working with other art teachers through The Art of Education and working in our ArtsyBug Studio. So, it was decided. I went home and told my husband that it was time. Though I could have left after January of that year (that would be my 20yr mark) I knew I would finish the school year. It would be tough, but I would continue to do my best all while preparing to move on. It was a challenge with lots of pain, hidden tears, and fears about the future. I didn't share the decision until after the first of the year though I had hinted several times. A PE teacher friend chatted to me about what we would be facing next school year during a staff meeting. I quietly told her that I won't be here - that I was going to take an early retirement. She laughed at me as she said, "Yeah, right!".
As Spring rolled around, it was time to begin to tackle the task of going through 20 years worth of stuff in three different buildings. In that many years you acquire many things that were personally purchased. What would I take? What would I gift to other art teachers? What would I pitch and what would I just leave for the next person? Many, many boxes packed up and labeled for this person or that. I ended up taking home very little which is what I wanted.
My favorite part of the whole process was going through all the tubs of project examples. You get just a glimpse of this in the image above. That green tub is actually one of the largest ones you can buy stuffed full of examples used in 1st-6th grades. There was a separate container just for Kindergarten. And...this was just at one school. It took me a couple weeks in between classes and sometimes while students worked to pull out and digitize all the examples I wanted to save. I kept some examples to gift away and a few that I wanted to save, but most ended up going in the recycle bin after taking pictures of them. As I pulled out each one, memories flowed. I remember the fun classes that the students and I had as we worked on the lessons. I found some old favorites and wondered why I had stopped doing some projects. Others sparked new ideas for lessons expanding on them.
Though I won't be teaching these lessons to new classes of students, those works will be the inspiration for many of my future blog posts. I've always loved sharing ideas with other art teachers through blogging, but in recent years there has been little time. I look forward to posting even more now.
Though I've left the classroom, I don't feel that I've left the field of Art Education. It is still and will always be a very big part of my life...just different. I'm teaching artists of all ages at our studio and feel like I'm reaching even more students by helping teachers in my grad classes.
Change is good!
Theresa Gillespie spent over 20 years teaching Art in the Moline School District in Illinois. She has a BA degree in Art Education and a MEd degree in Education & Technology. She also is a graduate level instructor for The Art of Education