Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Teach A Child To Paint Continued: How to Return a Tray To The Shelf

(Note: A better name for the post would be "Tray Management...")

Lessons on cleaning the art materials need to be broken down into smaller, more specific steps for each individual tray and those specific tools associated to that tray's use. Cleaning a paintbrush is one act in regards to caring for an entire tray such as a watercolor tray. Other requirements of caring for a watercolor tray include: cleaning the paint tray, rinsing and squeezing out the small sponge, rinsing and drying the small pitcher used for water, washing and drying the tray itself, setting each of the objects back on the tray as when the tray was on the shelf before being engaged.

However, returning a tray to the shelf as it was before use does not always happen. It is my experience that trays that have several items on them are frequently returned to the shelf disorganized. It may not always be that the child has not tried to put it back correctly, but that half way through they simply wanted to escape the task as they really couldn't remember where everything went. So they did what they thought was most important - returning it to its correct place on the shelf. This is often what is done by both the youngest and the oldest students in the class.

Photo Below: Imagine your a four year old who has just painted a personal masterpiece. You are engaging the material with passion and then the bell rings announcing that it is time to clean up as the day is coming to an end. Do you paint those final strokes and then place your name tag on your work in an attempt to convey your desire to clean-up tomorrow, please? Or do you hang your masterpiece up to dry, gather all that you see and pile it on a tray, place the tray on the shelf and hope that while you wash your hands no one will notice?

Photo Below: Or maybe, if you were given earlier notice, you spend the time carefully cleaning the tray. You even take the time to wipe away the excess paint from the rim of the paint pots with a cotton ball exactly like the lesson you were recently given.


In my training, there was a wonderful lesson presented on helping a child remember the order of objects placed on a tray. Many trays have several items on them and it can be challenging for a young child to recall were it is all supposed to be placed.

The lesson is for a child who has repeated a work many times but has been observed returning the tray to the shelf somewhat messy. You invite the child to get the work out with you. But, you intervene before he starts to remove the items from the tray and place them on his/her table. You say to the child, "Today, we are going to do something different with this tray. Are you ready?"

You ask the child to carefully study the tray and the placement of the items on it. Then you ask the child, "Would you carefully remove each of the items and place them on the table to the left of the tray." Once this is done you continue, "Now, I have a wonderful challenge for you. I want you to put all of the items back on the tray. But you need to put them back just as they were before you took them off." The child will most likely look at you and say, "Oh, that is easy."

They might be able to do it or not. If they have difficulty you may intervene and assist. Once they are able to place all of the items back on the tray successfully you invite them for a new challenge. "You did that very well. It looks like you know where everything goes. I would like you to try doing it again, only this time with a blindfold on. Ask the child to go and get a blindfold from the Sensorial area or you might bring one with you and not reveal you have it until this moment. (Always remember to place a folded tissue between the blindfold and a child's eyes so that you prevent the spread of infection).

When the child returns with the blindfold ask them to take everything back off the tray and place the items to the left again. Look at them for a moment, smile and say, "Now put on your blindfold. Don't forget the tissue. Are you ready? Okay, start putting the items back on the tray." (Hint: If there are any fragile pieces, such as a glass pitcher, make sure that you are working with the child at a large enough table as to limit the possibility of the pieces falling and breaking while the child tries to reach for them blindfolded. Or suggest as they take the items off the tray to place fragile pieces closest to the tray and farthest from the edge of the table.)

This is a wonderful activity to watch. Trust me when I say that you will not be the only person watching. When the child says he/she is finished, have them take off the blindfold and see how they have done. Some children set everything back perfect. Other children place things on top of one another and ask to try again.

Before you move on to another child's needs, invite the child to do this work without you using other trays that they are familiar with. It is really lovely to see a child take a tray from the shelf, get a blindfold and simply practice placing the items on the tray.


Years ago, when I watched on the big screen the movie "Girl With A Pearl Earring" about the painter Vermeer and his personal housekeeper (played by Scarlet Johansson), I thought about the above work. In an amazing scene, she trains her hand how to lift, dust and return each item exactly to their original spot in the artist's studio. This purposeful and focused movement was amazing to watch. There is a stillness that envelops an individual engaged in such careful and controlled movement. It is the same for the observer. I remember becoming ever so still in my velour covered movie seat as I watched her hands move. I have had that same feeling watching students completely captivated by their work.

Yes, I know, Montessorians see the method or the lack of the method everywhere...


Paul and Ines said...

What a great lesson! And wonderfully written out. I must admit that I, too, have watched that movie recently & was capitivated by the very parts of her cleaning. And being very meticulous. Do you feel that when you have painting lessons that include the parts of the brush?..returning work to the tray??..etc. that children respect painting on a different level? Or do you also have the child that still does the quick strokes & gives you the words to a masterpiece:)?

Susan Y. Dyer said...

There are always a variety of responses to each lesson. Some children watch the lesson, be the first to take it from the shelf, sit down, look as if they are already to start and then say, "Miss Dyer, how do you do this work?".

There are also those students that I am not sure are really watching the lesson and then blow me away when they do the work because they do every detail of the work.

So I give the lessons but it is the child's personality that determines their response.

Also, I really believe adults assume knowledge - that when we tell a child to clean up we assume they know how.

I remember years ago seeing a child crying at their table. They had been doing carrot work and the table was covered with peels and water spills. I asked the child why they were crying. They said, "Miss ---- told me to clean up and then she walked away." (Miss --- was an assistant of mine long ago) I answered softly by asking again, "Why are you crying?" The child looked at me with pink eyes and a runny nose and said, "But I don't know how to clean up."

So, each lesson is one more step on a stairway of acquired skills. The parts of a paintbrush is a step, returning a tray to the shelf is another, wiping the edge of a paint pot with a cotton ball is another, etc.

I do love a beautifully carved staircase...