THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS TRAIN and TRANSITIONS:

"All aboard! The Expressive Arts Train is leaving the station!" I announced upon picking up the children from their classrooms. Transitioning children into the next activity can be challenging when they are still engaged with their current one. "I'm not finished" is often the legitimate lament from many of the children. We want them to expand their focus and concentration, yet a schedule often has them stopping right in the midst of their play.

I was curious as to what would make the transition easier, particularly for the youngest children. Many had just arrived at school and were enjoying being in their classroom. It was in a staff development workshop that the idea for a fun transition came to me: the Expressive Arts Train.

When I told the teacher for the 3-4 year olds about my intention, she told me of hers. She had planned to use clothes pins as "tickets" to prepare the children for expressive arts. We saw the connection and put our heads together. Simultaneously, we thought to call the clothes pins "clippers," for in San Francisco we can purchase Clipper Cards to ride our public transportation. Be they tickets or clothes pins, children love knowing when it will be their turn.

The journey out of the classroom involved collecting their "clippers," which were pinned to their shirts, pants, dresses, shoes and other creative places. Then we made the journey through the yarn and up the stairs until we reached the doorway of Expressive Arts. Inside, chairs were lined up like a train awaiting them for next part of their journey. They rushed to their seats.

I put on the lights and the children began making train sounds and off we went. They often pass out tubes from the recycled supplies and pretend to watch animals as the train passes through different environments.

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When they "arrive," I am standing there waving a welcoming. If I have new directions for the children, the train helps to contain them while instructions are given. Sitting for a moment on the train offers a gentle emotional transition from room to room.

Then come the words they've been waiting for. "1-2-3 Go Play!!" Off the train they pile to play and create until it's again time to ride the train back to their classroom.

Once chairs were used for something other than simply sitting on at a table, they became loose parts in the children's eyes; additional open-ended materials. Starting with forming trains of their own, the chairs also became fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles.

From there it was an easy jump to connecting materials to the chairs. Yarn and string were most often chosen by all of the children, from 2-1/2 to 6 years.

"Let's make a web. Let's make a trap," the children called out to each other. Groups of children gathered around the ideas and began their collaboration. One 4-year-old began wrapping yarn around a chair, then connecting it to other chairs.

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Pulling on one of the threads, he noticed it moved through the air and chairs. "It's a sewing machine," he shouted. "Let's make Elyse a wooly scarf." His enthusiastic peers joined him.

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The oldest class created a web that they could climb under or over. They tested their balance as well as their ability to keep themselves from getting entangled.

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This wasn't as easy for the younger children, but was just as much fun!! They loved being rescued and having a friend help cut away the yarn that was trapping them.

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RULES OF PLAY AND LIMIT SETTING: Establish guidelines so that creations do not take over the room. Your individual classroom rules will originate from individual and group needs. In collaboration, what one person contributes to the project affects the whole group. For example, rules may be needed to determine whether yarn can be cut down without the consent of all. Here are some general rules to branch out from.

  • Determine the number of chairs that can be used
  • Establish which part of the room can be utilized for a project
  • Establish what additional materials can be used. While the children love to use the colored masking tape, we had an abundance of yarn that had been both bought and donated. I suggested using this instead and saving the tape for smaller projects.
  • Determine a procedure for ending the activity. Can the project be saved for the next day, or does the yarn need to be cut down and chair put away? Keep in mind who else might be using the room later, and if the custodians will be able to clean it.

SAVING:

  • Move the chairs into a small cluster that will not take up as much space and can allow the custodians to clean around them.
  • Have the children create a "SAVE" sign to prevent the project from being mistakenly taken down."I'll make the sign," said one enthusiastic child who had not previously been involved. "How do you make an S?" he asked. Two children came over to the table to help him.

TAKING DOWN:

  • If it's necessary or decided upon to cut down the yarn, make the process as much fun as putting it up was. Clean up can become a time that children become mysteriously "too tired" to help. How could we cut down and gather all this yarn? A plan was hatched by the children for collecting the yarn in small bags from the dramatic play area. Soon the children were organizing their own yarn removal, handing out bags and gathering the scraps of wool. Not one child lamented how tired they were (therefore declaring themselves unable to help clean) after viewing the amount of yarn and the task ahead. I continue to be amazed and appreciative at witnessing the yarn-free floor and the fun they have cleaning up.
  • We gave some of the cuttings to a local organization who works with families experiencing divorce and separation. They use the yarn for hair in a puppet-making activity in their curriculum.

Once the room was in order, the call was again heard. "Expressive Arts Train leaving for your classroom. All Aboard!!" The children then climbed aboard for the smooth return journey back to their classroom.

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES:

  • In classrooms, children can "ride the train" in between activities within the classroom itself. For example, they might ride the train between lunch and nap time.
  • This also works well at home with families. Riding the train may become an incentive for children to stay focused on getting ready for school or cleaning up their room.

I once heard a dad shout from his car window as the family passed me walking to school, "Hellooooo! We got ready early so we could catch the first train to Expressive Arts!" Love that community connection! Such fun!

And after having rushed for the first train, how could I resist their 4 year old's request to use a table, as well as the chairs! I love to watch the children's joyful faces as they create and play inside their creations.

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