Teaching Peace with Elyse: Connecting to Each Other through Art

Two children worked on large individual projects. They worked side by side. In the time it took for me to turn away and back again, they had spontaneously connected their works into a larger, quite integrated project.

Soon the two boys were collaborating, making decisions on their different ideas. I watched their senses of joy and fun as they solved problems creatively. When unable to reach the top of their growing sculpture, they found an enjoyable solution by climbing onto a bench.

On the rug below this tall sculpture, an ongoing group project was in progress. Having begun two months ago as a sled for one of the children, it has captivated the interest of a core group of five children. Like the tall structure of the two boys, it began with individual projects; but this project was intentional rather than spontaneous. It was to be a gift of friendship for one of the children.

Enthusiasm was high, as was the number of different, sometimes conflicting, ideas. They became adept at naming the emotions they felt while attempting to have their ideas heard and chosen by the group. The growing project could not move forward until they managed their emotions and discussed their ideas. A project manager was one solution. At first, the position changed hands as the gift grew. On their own, the children began discussing their ideas with the boy who was to be gifted with the sled. Soon, he was in charge. While he had strong and creative ideas, he also listened to those of the other children. The children seemed satisfied with this solution.

In the process of sled-making, they needed to literally and figuratively put their heads together.

Figuring out how to attach the individual pieces so that the sled wouldn’t fall apart from session to session was a challenge. They also learned how to fold and store the flat, many-pieced sled. They assumed a relaxed attitude about the pieces that would fall off while lifting it on and off a high shelf. They, quite literally, used their heads to balance the sled while they lifted. The sled often fell, causing them to laugh rather than grow frustrated. It became a game, commenting that someone had pushed the "Explode Button." I was surprised at how they were always willing to do the repair work. Their passion was inspiring.

The other day they planned their first ride—to the sun. I watched with interest as a large group climbed onto the sled. There was a control panel that would launch the sled into outer space, but not before they packed food for the trip. As the children prepared for the journey, I overheard, "Are you allergic to peanuts? We’ll be taking organic, gluten-free popcorn." I am always fascinated at how play is influenced by the culture of a school and their families.

Preparation complete, off they went to the sun. Laughing gleefully, they quickly walked around their destination, got back on the sled and returned home—just in time for lunch.

Teacher Suggestions:

As teachers, we do whatever we can do to further children’s social and emotional intelligence. Learning to collaborate on art projects can contribute to both of these areas.

While these projects emerged from the children, we teachers can encourage collaborative art-making. Each of you likely has many strategies for having children work together. Here’s another for your tool box.

  1. Each child uses a square piece of cardboard. On it they create a collage, frame a drawing or connect to it whatever loose parts* they choose.
  2. The children sit in a circle holding their art and leaving a large space in the center. One at a time, each child places their art in the center next to another piece until everyone has had a turn. The process is similar to putting a puzzle together, something children love to do.
  3. Have the children stand up and look at the completed piece. Do they like it as is? Is there anything they would change? Once the final whole is created, it’s time to connect the pieces.
  4.  Have a taping committee carefully connect each piece to the adjoining one. You can use colorful masking tape to give a quilt-like effect, or you might want to use clear packing tape to uphold the integrity of each piece.
  5. Upon completion you might want to comment on what you’ve noticed. After the first launch of the sled, I brought an observation to the children: "I’ve noticed that both your sled and the tall structure began with individual art that you then connected. Your individual ideas became even bigger when you connected them. Something new and wonderful was created." For a moment they were quiet. Soon heads began nodding in agreement.

What a child-sized concrete metaphor for the power of children working together!

*For more on the theory of loose parts, please see blogs of May 3, 2013 and February 7, 2014