At Jack’s Reggio-inspired preschool I often see beautifully arranged and inviting activities for the children. Each item is carefully considered and placed in order to capture the children’s attention, their sense of wonder and their curiosity.
When you take a closer look you’ll also notice tiny cues for the children to subtly guide them in their exploration; suggest possibilities. How could you use these materials together?
If the children are familiar with the medium or materials (paint, clay, wire, glass beads, that sort of thing), often you’ll notice that without much instruction at all they will sit down and engage with the activity in a very focussed and thoughtful way.
I can’t help but think this has a lot to do with how beautifully and purposefully the activity is presented to the children. I think it communicates quite powerfully to the children that their work is important, valued and respected; that they are artists and inventors and scientists and explorers.
Setting up a Reggio-inspired activity isn’t difficult, I actually think it’s quite fun. I really enjoy arranging the materials and thinking about how each of my children will approach them. What will catch their attention? What will hold their focus? Where will they take the activity?
When I’m setting up an art activity I want to make sure I have everything Jack and Sarah will need for the activity to run smoothly. I don’t want to be rushing to find somewhere for them to wipe their hands, or put their finished paintings. So I have an area for each of them to paint, enough paper out and ready, drying rack out, wash cloths and water for the brushes. Then comes the fun part…
This activity was an observational art activity. Every Saturday morning Jack and I go to the farmers markets. After we get our produce we each choose a bunch of fresh flowers. These are the flowers Jack chose. Since he chose them, he has an interest in them, and that’s important when doing observational art; the focus of the activity has to be something which interests the child otherwise they’re not likely to want to paint it.
From there I try to think about the aesthetics of the set-up. Have I considered:
In this case:
- the flowers provide texture and pattern
- the mirror provides light as well as making the underside of the flowers visible
- the white ice cube tray highlights the colours of the paint – the different hues after they are mixed
- the clear water containers highlight the clarity of the water
- the brushes are lined up neatly
Now it’s ready. Time for Jack to make it his own.
Mixing paint is one of Jack’s favourite parts of painting. At first he was just amazed at the new colour he made but now he is learning how to make a colour for his painting. This is something I have learned from reading about and seeing Reggio in action; the process of respecting children as artists. Artists mix their paint colours and continue to experiment until they are happy with the colour.
It’s a process towards mastery. First starting with the senses, the sensory exploration of mixing colours, and then transitioning to using that skill to mix colours purposefully in order to create a specific colour.
Introducing the colour swatches has helped Jack with this process. Together we select swatches which match the flowers and then blend the paints using more or less white paint.
Then he starts to paint. This is Jack’s work, it can be as abstract or representational as he likes. He is the artist here.
And when he is finished, we display his paintings along with the flowers and the paint swatches to inspire him at another time.