Category Archives: art classes/workshops

Action Word Art

Yesterday, I started teaching a winter-break class at the AGNS for 4-5s called “On the Move”.  As the Canada Winter Games are taking place in Halifax, we were asked to tie the theme of our class to the games, or more broadly, “movement”.

I had various things planned yesterday, one of which was a moving valentine, but I think one of the most successful was an activity I came up with as a “filler”. (These kids can get through a lot of things in 3 hours, since in general 30 minutes is the limit, at least for some.) I originally thought we would use paint for this, but since we had just been doing some painting for another activity, I turned to pastels and resist. (Oh resist, how I love you. You make EVERYTHING amazing.)

The children were each given a large sheet of water-colour paper and a box of pastels was placed on the table. Before starting we talked a bit about “action words” and I asked them to come up with some examples. Then I told them to each pick a pastel, and that when I said an action word, they were to make the pastel respond. I actually phrased it a few different ways, both making the pastel do the action, or making the line to the action. I gave them a few second with each word before asking them to stop, pick another pastel, and respond to another word. Here are some of the words I used: bounce, slither, zap, plop, ooze, fly, skip, ripple, run, zoom….

They were remarkably focused. I liked seeing how they approached negotiating the words. Some responded in a kinesthetic way, using violent scribbling for “zoom”, while others tried to show the action visually, with clean lines racing from one side of the page to the other.

When we were done (the pages had started to fill up!) I invited them to add some more colour to their work with water-colour paint. (did I mention how much I love resist?)

I plan to display these at the end of the class show, along with a list of the action words we used. If we have time we may revisit these later in the week, and see if we can spot the various actions hidden in the work.

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Back in the Saddle with Autism Arts

This Saturday was our second class for Autism Arts this season.  We have some new children and some who have been in the program for a while, so it is a nice mix. We are still, as always, learning, but the way of working we have developed seems to be paying off. From my point of view, the art side of things, that means coming up with three activities, a mix of familiar and new, for the class. Yesterday we did drawing with pastels, print making and marble painting, and I’m pleased to say most children had a go at each activity. The marble painting proved the most popular.


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I was using chalk with a young friend this morning when we came to body tracing, that old favourite. It reminded me of a very simple activity I’ve done a few times with my classes, and when I checked back in my photo archives I found a good example. First we read I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont, in which a boy paints every part of his body in. Then we use large paper and do tracings of each child’s body with pastel. The paper is not large enough for the whole body so the kids just pick which part they want to do – the head and shoulders, arms or legs. Then, we decorate. Sometimes the children look back at the book to get ideas for how they might want to proceed. This is really where reading the book pays off, because otherwise there is a tendency to just colour the body all one colour, or draw clothing, but when they take inspiration from the book the designs take off!

I generally do this activity starting with pastel, so they can do some more intricate designs and then pass out the paint for that large-scale, messy feeling that is in the book! Of course, the pastel resist the paint so in the end the artwork is quite stunning.

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Gary came to play his trumpet for my “Colour of Music” art class last week. There was much excitement over the “special guest” and I loved seeing them discover the instrument.  After the visit we made our own trumpets out of foam-core. As they drew we revisited what we had learned about the different parts of the trumpet, and how many valves it had and how it is essentially a long tube that has been curled up, and you can really see this in their drawings.

Gary’s trumpet is silver but I didn’t have any silver so we went with yellow (we had a book with a yellow trumpet in it, so they thought that was ok). After drawing the trumpets we made “fanfare flags” just to extend the activity a little. The trumpets were very popular and the kids spontaneously  began marching about the room “playing” their trumpets. (And they would have kept going if I hadn’t had to stop them after a while!)

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Colourful Music

I have been a bit absent this week and have yet to post anything about my class, The Colour of Music. Here is a little activity I did  that is very simple but pleasing, in so many ways.

I filled some jars with water and arranged them from high to low. (If you had the right space and plenty of time it would also be interesting to let the kids experience how more or less water changes the sound but this has the potential to be messy. ) To add colour to the water I used watercolour, for reasons that will become clear. Then I played the jars with a wooden spoon. After some initial exploration I told the kids I was going to “write a song”. I used a long, narrow piece of watercolour paper on which I drew a line with permanent marker from one side to the other. Then I made “notes” – circles – all along the line. I used a palette of watercolour paints, the exact same colours as the water,  to fill in the circles. The song could then be played by starting at one side and playing the colours or notes in order. And then it was their turn!

Even my youngest friends (3) were able to do this.

And of course we named the songs:”The Happy”, “A Rainbow Ignition” and “Tweet” being just a few. The kids loved this and to my surprise showed a remarkable ability to understand the idea.  They had a great time playing their songs on the jars. I almost didn’t do this activity because I just wasn’t sure but I’m so glad I gave it a go!


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Accordion Flag Books

Today we finished our last project – accordion flag books. I think these look beautiful. This book structure is really meant to sit open, on display. The pages were monoprints we did the day before. A little hiccup there as some of the prints were pretty heavy on ink and we didn’t have enough dry ones to make up all the pages. To solve that the children drew on a few pages using pastels (I wish I had stuck with just black!). The covers were simple black and white pastel resist. Colour is nice but to be honest I think the books look much more sticking in just black and white and if we had printed the pages earlier in the week, or been more controlling about ink use, I think they would have looked fantastic with just the monoprints. Still, sometimes you have to go with the flow.

This is a wonderful way to display work – I’ll definitely be doing this one again.

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“S” is for Scroll

Today in class we made scrolls. This was yet another project designed to incorporate several different techniques and activities.

To make the decorative paper top and bottom of the scrolls we started with some texture rubbing using pastels. The kids were interested to see what textures would create interesting marks and I provided lots of scrap paper for exploration before offering them their pieces for the scroll. We then returned to the rubbings and painted over them with, causing the pastel to act as a resist.

For the middle of the scroll the children created foam collograph printing blocks of their initials. I have done these many times before but this is the first time I’ve encouraged them to build a frame abound the edge of the block, which helps the printing process. Also, I find that they understand compositionally that they are working within the confines of the block but after we print things sometimes tend to look “floaty”, because you don’t see the square, so the frame idea worked out well. The subject (first initial) is also particularly developmentally appropriate since at that age kids are very keen on spelling their names (“I start with L!!!”) and we had a lot of discussion about that.

After everything was dry (or nearly!) we glued the top and bottom papers around dowels and to the letter print in the middle. It was an enjoyable class and seemed like a nice mix of activities.

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