Teaching Peace with Elyse: The Art of Holidays and Celebrations!

The holiday season is in full swing. Beginning with Halloween celebrations, art activities take on lives of their own. Pacific Primary’s 40th anniversary block party preceded Halloween. One of San Francisco’s art museums offered an activity to help engage the children who attended. They brought a prefab house constructed with cardboard and colorful duct tape. The children made drawings on 6" x 6" paper which were taped to the roof. Upon completion, the roof appeared tiled with the individual drawings of the children who had participated.

It was beautifully designed with a very adult vision. When the party was over, the house appeared in the expressive arts room. While many materials happily make their way here for the children’s enjoyment, they are usually open-ended*. This allows the needs and imagination of each child to take precedent. The house was a very adult project in both its conception and directed execution. While there is always room for both project-oriented and open-ended creativity in the lives of preschoolers, expressive arts leans heavily towards the latter. I felt torn between recycling its cardboard and paper parts and leaving it whole for the children to repurpose.

As Halloween was fast approaching, I thought it might be a place for the young children to channel both their excitement and their fears. I kept it intact, tucking it into a corner of the room with the intention of seeing whether it would be utilized. The youngest children, immediately noticing it upon entering the room, piled inside. I observed as the house and the children tipped sideways. Laughter burst forth and repetition followed.

Stabilizing the house became the first renovation project. It took days and the efforts of many of the children of different ages to make it stable. In doing so, the beautifully constructed and very adult house began to take on the look of the children.

"Can we make it scary?" they asked. My nod and smile gave approval to the second of many changes the children would initiate.

Along with renovation projects came learning in many forms:

  • Stabilizing a structure
  • Setting rules of physical and emotional safety
  • Negotiating around the children’s different needs and ideas for how the house would be used
  • Waiting in turn
  • Repairing: While waiting, the children repaired any damage to the structure of the house
  • Decorating: Making the house beautiful, as well as scary, became an enjoyable task for those who waited. It soon became an activity that many children preferred over going inside

While our house was often a container of raucous fun, it also became a quiet place. Two children could sit inside and talk softly with each other. Other children preferred doing some interior decorating. They would draw while sitting inside and then hang their work with colorful tape.

When the ghost house of the three- and four-year-olds was contributed by their classroom teacher, it became an opportunity to extend the original house. At first it was repurposed as a little stage for the finger puppets. Perhaps due to its size, it was used mainly for individual play. Sporadically, another child would observe.


Soon the idea emerged from the children to connect the ghost house to the Halloween house.

Once the two houses were connected, it was a quick leap to gathering chairs and having a puppet show that more of the children could experience and enjoy.

New ideas continue to emerge as class after class becomes inspired. While my preference is leaning towards recycling the house, seeing the pleasure it gives the children, I haven’t the heart.

Suggestions for Teachers:

As the excitement of the holidays builds, you may find that unbridled glee is in need of channeling.  Consider using the children’s work to inspire a house of your own. You could begin with duct tape and large cardboard pieces or start with a very large appliance box in which you cut a door. Then bring out the art supplies of your choice and let them have at it! With a few simple rules, it can create hours of happiness for the children and those of us who observe their delight.

Happy holidays.



Product Suggestions from Discount School Supply:

Duck Tape® - Set of 10 Solid Colors

Duck Tape® - Set of 16 Solid and Patterned Colors

*For additional information on loose parts and open-ended materials, see blogs of 2/7/14 and 5/3/13.