Saturday, February 28, 2009

How To Teach A Child To Paint - Conclusion

Over the past several months I have given a variety of lessons on how to paint. I presented a lesson on drawing an outline or a quick sketch. I gave one on using a singular brush to create thick and thin brush strokes. For this lesson I used the brown stair. I gave a few lessons on shading. One of the lessons was given with the metal insets and another with color box III. I also presented a lesson on self-portraits which was extended to portraitures by the students themselves.

Many of these were re-presentations of lessons given last year, so some of the students were familiar with them and were using them in their art work already. The re-presentations reinforced these skills and perhaps allowed those students to focus on specific details that they may have forgotten.

I have put together a Flicker slide shows of individual works by four students. The ages of the children are 6, 5 and 4 1/2. They were each reproducing or painting a study of a famous work of art. They were provided several art postcards to choose from and from those they selected one which they wanted to copy (three of them chose Georgia O'Keefe's Shell painting - so watch carefully to see the change from one student to another). Their finished paintings are nothing less than superb.

At the end of the slide show are single slides of an additional painting and a sketch done by two of my students. I remain in awe of their enormous talent.

At the flickr site you may view a slide show of their work. Go to the right of the first large individual photo. There will be a smaller image of the same picture. Near that there is a slide show icon. Click the icon and view the show.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Brown Stair - Using a Single Paintbrush to Make Thick and Thin Lines

I was googling for hours how to teach a child to use a paintbrush to make various strokes. As I looked at all of the images included with the articles, I suddenly thought of the brown (or broad) stair.

Here was a material already in my room that visually demonstrated thick and thin. I was so excited. I immediately made a sketch in my journal. I read all the articles on how to use a paintbrush and then figured out how to add the brown stair to the lesson. This is a link to the articles I found best served my needs.

I know this might sound as if I am a little off my rocker, but I really get jazzed when I discover new ways of using the Montessori materials, specifically ways that reinforce the initial presentation. I ultimately then spend hours contemplating whether or not my "new ways" where in fact part of her initial presentation or reasoning behind designing the materials.

Before describing this lesson, it is important to state that part of this work is moving the child away from the single brush included in a watercolor paintbox. I have several types of paintbrushes available in my classroom. The child needs to think about what they want to paint and what type of brush or brushes would serve them best. This selection process is both a mental exercise in that it requires a student to consider the tools he needs to complete a work and a math exercise. It is like measuring a stem of a flower against the height of a vase before cutting it. The child has to mentally judge width. This is specifically connected to the use of the brown stair and to the arrangement of furniture in the room - visual orientation is a mental and mathematical act. After this lesson, the child chooses a paintbrush from a container holding several, each with different widths and design.

At circle time, I laid out a working rug and placed a chowki at one end. I asked one child to bring me the thickest prism of the brown stair. I asked another to bring me the thinnest. I had the two children place them on the rug, vertically, with much space between them.

I put on my apron, placed a place mat on the chowki and took out the watercolor materials. I told the class that I was going to demonstrate how to use one paintbrush to make several types of brush strokes.

One of the watercolor trays:

The set up for the whole class presentation:

Using a wide, flat, watercolor paintbrush, I dipped the hairs into the water and paint and then, with the hairs of the brush flat against the paper, made a single wide stroke. Then, I turned the brush so that I was only placing the tip, the thin edge of the brush hairs, on the paper and made a single thin stroke. I asked a child to come up and point to the thin stroke and to the thick stroke.

I also demonstrated that by using a rounded, pointed tipped brush that I could make thick and thin brush marks by pressing down on the brush hairs (thick stroke marks) and by pressing lightly on the tip only (thin stroke marks).

I then had two children bring me the other brown stair prisms and lay them out, with space between, to complete the brown stair pattern of thick to thin. I returned to my paper and attempted to duplicate the image with thick to thin strokes. My results visually echoed the brown stair. The last brush line is the thick and thin technique repeated.

My final brush stroke technique was wrist flicks. This made short slash marks on the page. They look like they could be used for leaves or grass.

When I thought the presentation was concluded, one of my second year, four year olds came up to me with his own discovery. He had been working with the spindle boxes most of the morning. I had been impressed by his newly acquired tying abilities.

I made cloth ties for the spindle boxes last year - I followed Montessori by Hand's tutorial for the ties.

"Miss Dyer, the ties are thick and thin too, see," Sam said as he showed me how the twisted fabric did appear like the brush stroke. As you can see in the photo below, they do. Also, Sam has his coat on because it was time for him to go home. Yet, telling me about his find was so important to him that he had to tell me before he left.

I love this kind of leap of knowledge, of speculation and formulated thought by a young child. Too me, we lead teachers need to do that too. Looking for other ways a material may be presented so as to fully see its purpose.

Here is a second year, four year old doing the work:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How To Teach A Child To Paint - Shading with Color

Shading is such an important skill to acquire when learning to paint. Fortunately, we Montessorians have Color Box III. Each set of tablets range from dark to light in its particular color. It is a beautiful material and it is often under used.

We also have the touch boards which are designed to teach lightness of touch, spacing and to present the contrast between rough and smooth. I remember my trainer telling me that if a student is seen regularly breaking off the tip of his pencil when he writes to have him review the touch boards. From this work he should learn the contrast between hard/rough touching and light/soft touching and apply it to his pencil usage. It is a perfect material to pair with the Color box III

I recently gave a very basic painting lesson on shading. I do give a much earlier lesson on shading using the metal insets and the color tablets.

My goal for the lesson I presented today was to illustrate the full spectrum of a color, from dark to light, via one brush stroke. I repeatedly demonstrated the significance of force as applied to the brush, the positioning of the hairs on the paper and the effects of a single stroke so the children could really see each step.

I was so pleased by the results. It was almost a Zen-like act. Cristina (who had a turn at doing the lesson) said she felt the work was very relaxing.

The next day, Emma, one of my kindergarteners, was doing carrot work. She said, "Miss Dyer, the brush stroke lesson you gave yesterday, going from pushing down to lifting up, is just like peeling a carrot. You push down at the top and then swoosh down lifting up just as you finishing peeling."

I smiled and said, "That sounds just about right, Emma."


Later, that morning, I returned to the presentation and demonstrated how adding a little black or the color opposite of a color on the color wheel can add shadow or definition to a color. I used the gray color tablet set and the touch boards to again demonstrate the contrast between a firm stroke and a soft stroke of the brush. The set of gray tablets helped demonstrate that adding a darker gray or even black to a color darkened it and that adding white or light gray to a color lightened the color.

As adults we take so much of this for granted. A child needs the steps broken down and demonstrated. Every child asked if they could try making a single stroke of color and then washing over it with black or white.

My final presentation on shading, given a few days later, demonstrated pencil shading. I showed the constrast between firmly made strokes and light strokes. Again the touch boards aided my presentation. I did a sketch or outline of the same object used in my earlier lesson on simple sketching only I shaded in areas and then smudged it with my finger - a shading technique. The children seemed to be mostly interested in the smudging and asked several times to see the tips of my fingers. I gladly showed them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Catapulting in the Classroom???

Last December, I spied Meaghan placing one red rod on top of another. She lifted her leg and was about to step hard on one of the rods when I stopped her or, better stated, interrupted her. "Are you trying to see how force is measured or maybe to see if applying force creates a reaction?" I asked in somewhat of an exaggerated academic way. (I was trying to plug into her energy not deflate it). "Yeah, something like that," was her answer. I asked her to put away the red rods as they were not the best materials for her exercise. She immediately complied.

I had just attended a one-night science workshop for teachers. There was a handout in their packet on how to make a catapult. This seemed a great moment to put the directions to use. Also, and I am so grateful, all attending teachers were given a brown bag of simple supplies for science experiments. There were two, small, wooden boards in the bag which I had put in my storage closet. I asked Meaghan to get out a working rug while I retrieved the bag of science materials.

I pulled out the two boards and before I could say anything she said, "Those are exactly what I need, Miss Dyer." She positioned the boards several ways before determining which way was best. I gathered other supplies she would need to finish her construction.

Before she began hammering, she attempted to catapult some small, sponges - a preliminary exercise or two.

With goggles on for protection, she hammered two nails at the top of one of the boards and across from each other.

She stretched a single rubber-band between the two nails. This was not a quick assemblage. Meaghan spent 3 or 4 entire work periods constructing her catapult.

Next, she had to decide what to sling and where. Her first attempts revealed a need to lift the top board higher. She made the needed adjustments and tried to sling another object. Soon, she discovered that heavier things traveled shorter distances and that lighter things could be flung across the entire room. A small audience of her classmates gathered to witness her experiments.

After flinging several items and letting them remain where they had fallen, she independently asked me if she could measure their various distances from the catapult. She went to the math shelf and retrieved a basket filled with small, glass pebbles. She counted out pebbles to measure the distances.

Again, she concluded that lighter objects were catapulted greater distances. Of course, as an educator, I am aware that force was also a key factor in her experiment. I decided that asking Meaghan to determine the output of force via her hand pulling the rubber band and releasing it was not necessary. Instead, I enjoyed her smile as she pulled back the rubber band and let it go.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Miss Dyer, I have a lesson I want to present."

I heard the above captioned phrase twice last week. The first was as a result of not being able to fulfill a request. Zoe asked for a handout sheet for the number nine long chain. When I told her that I did not have one, I suggested that she make one herself. As we discussed how to make the appropriate sized dots for the beads, we ended up talking about the colored bead stair - triangle.

For me, it has been an ongoing debate with myself regarding whether or not I should keep the copies of the colored bead stair for illustrating on the shelf or not. Again and again, I have observed children carefully coloring in the first few rows of beads and then simply drawing a singular, or multiple, line of the correct color across the outline of the beads without careful attention to their work. The work has often looked very sloppy. Granted, some children did a wonderful job completing the entire work.

When Zoe and I were discussing replacing pencil illustration for this above mentioned work with colored hole-punched dots, I got excited. After our discussion, Zoe sat quietly for a few minutes thinking about how to go forward. I cautioned her to slow her thoughts down and to think of each step, including the materials she would need for the tray she would have to assemble.

She got to work and stayed silently with the work for most of the morning. She made a control card for the tray, filled a tin with colored pieces of construction paper, found a glue stick and asked me if she could use some of the blank sheets already on the shelf. She also asked for a tray.

When the music box was turned on, signaling the end of the morning, she laid out a rug in front of her, got a chowki and placed her tray on it. As soon as the children settled, she began her presentation.

She spoke slowly and carefully displayed each step for the other students.

When it came to the seven bead she told the class, "This is the color that is the most challenging. Even though it is white you need to punch out white holes to glue on the seven spaces. Don't forget to do this or else you may lose your place."

When she was done presenting the children and I applauded. "Who do you think will be the first person to do my work, Miss Dyer?" she asked excitedly a few minutes after circle time ended.

She re-presented the work to the afternoon kindergarten class. It has been used frequently in my room. Below is the completed work of one of the four year olds:

She has volunteered to assist younger children struggling to use the hole puncher. She stole my heart and Mrs. Ryan's too.


The next day, Dylan told me he had a lesson he wanted to present. At circle time, he demonstrated how to use the square metal inset to make a hexagon. Although he moved quickly through his short presentation, he captivated his brief audience.

He continued his presentation later on larger paper:

I believe fellow students are truly captivated by their peers giving a lesson. It allows them to honor their classmates knowledge and abilities, while simultaneously inviting them to think of lessons that they may someday present.