The transition from classroom activities to expressive arts is smoothly navigated via the Expressive Arts Train. Two benches and assorted small chairs line up near the entrance my room.

The idea for using Clippers, clothes pins as tickets to ride, came from a classroom teacher so that everyone would know ahead of time whom would be joining that day. We’re often very punny in San Francisco and calling the clothes pins Clippers, after our public transportation cards, added to the fun. Having the children clip them onto their clothes and unclip when the train is about to depart keeps the tickets from getting lost. Their visibility makes it easy to spot the children who will be participating.

Day after day, anticipation over whether the Expressive Arts Train will be in the station or not is expressed gleefully by the children. They rush to the window of my door to see and excitedly proclaim, "It’s here. It’s here! The Expressive Arts Train is in the station."

They climb aboard and ring the bells they recently created and added to the train. New additions emerge often from the children themselves.

In their own timing they shout, “We are here.” In response, I sing out the ritual greeting, “One, two, three go play!” Some children immediately hop off and begin exploring. They open the drawers and containers of materials looking for their favorites or seeking what is new. Others stay on the train driving it to other stops: Disneyland! Work! NY! Some will wander off to lie under the Dream Canopy to imagine what they’d like to make before beginning.

One or two may soothe themselves in the rocking chair. I sit beside them to see if they need help getting started, and ask how they are feeling or simply join them silently. I want them to know it’s all right to take their time; that it’s fine to not know what they want to make. To sit quietly, think and dream.

A child I’d been staying close to told me, “My brain doesn’t work so good.” I wondered why this bright and curious child would think that. As we gently explored her thoughts and feelings, it became apparent that the 4-year-old was noticing the other children’s process. She was comparing her own with their ability to immediately know exactly what they wanted to work with and create. We talked about how each of us was unique and some of us take more time to discover what we want to do.

Giving her permission to take her time was all she needed. Later, when I returned to check on her, she was happily engaged. Using bells and multicolored pipe cleaners, she had created a big heart.

Several others asked if she’d make one for them. She readily agreed and her big heart factory was in production. During her process she went from feeling separate to belonging to the group and having her uniqueness validated and embraced.

Teacher Guidelines:

Your train need not be elaborate or permanent depending on the space available in your classroom. A few chairs temporarily lined up around a small activity table will work.

Creating tickets helps to define the group. With tiny spaces, the tickets themselves can become your train helping to create a smoother transition.

Whether the transition is between classrooms, activities or accessing creativity, allowing as much time as possible is highly beneficial for the children.

For open-ended projects, allow additional time to accommodate those who may be slower in getting started. Not all children immediately know what they want to make or play with. Having a space where they know they can dream and think gives them confidence in their abilities to initiate and create.

Some children may need a little help with unstructured activities. Questions to ask:

  • What materials interest you
  • Let’s walk around and see what’s here.
  • How can you connect them? Tape? Wire? Glue? Do you have a new idea?

If nothing attracts them, encourage sitting or resting in a quiet space, such as the Dream Canopy, to see if anything arises from their thoughts and imagination.

Besides giving them more time, we can also offer children fewer transitions. That, too, is a gift. Less can be more when it comes to navigating the day. This may take some re-organizing but the benefits will be seen in less anxiety in some and greater creativity.