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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Making Visible What a Tool Can Do

In an emergent curriculum teachers can sometimes forget or fall into a mindset they shouldn’t really get involved too much or “teach” children things. Although we have to be mindful that we are not interfering or interrupting the natural learning of children, it is ok to show children how to do something or tell them something you feel will help them. This is different from the traditional idea of subject lessons because your reason for doing this is not because the ‘curriculum’ says so but because you feel it will take their interests, skills and knowledge further which will enhance their ability to create and communicate meaning and understanding.

Mini Project:

Tape Art! Exploring Shades of Colours.

Many children love exploring paint. Some only like to use one colour. Most like to try all colours. When you give children access to every colour it will most likely end in a brownish greyish creation. Exploring all the paint colours together isn’t a bad thing and children should be able to see what happens when they use multiple colours, especially with their hands and other tools (not only a brush and apron). The ability to explore and see what happens allows children to learn about the world. We (educators) can also help children express themselves by “making visible what the tool can do.” (Sally Haughey, Fairy Dust Teaching).

With a small canvas I found in my art cupboard I decided to do a little test using tape. I put tape over the small canvas and invited students over one by one to paint one section any colour they wanted. Some children I asked said no but this invitation soon attracted a crowd and more children came to see what was happening. Some asked why I had tape on it and others wanted to just paint a section as they didn’t want to be left out.

Once all the sections were painted and dry I asked the class to gather on the carpet to show them what happens when the tape comes off. As the tape peeled off it made clean straight lines and a “wow beautiful” canvas appeared with all sorts of shapes and colours. I then asked the class if they wanted to make a "super big canvas". They all said yes!

The next day I decided to make visible what another tool can do. We learnt already what tape can do on a canvas with paint but now we were going to explore how we can change paint colours and shades. I asked the children if I could make the paint lighter or darker. They said no! I then added white to blue paint and children looked in amazement. There is a really beautiful moment when you just start mixing and the colours haven’t fully combined yet. There are streaks of each colour. This part of the process is where most children find the wonder. I then added a little black paint to the original blue and mixed. It went darker and the class were equally impressed.

I then invited students in small groups to paint a section of the canvas. We used four main colours (red, green, yellow, blue) based on the school’s house system.

Using white and black (also brown and orange) each student mixed different colours to make varying shades of light colours and dark colours. Once they were happy with the colour they made they painted a section of the canvas. They also had the option to paint more than one section so they could make more than one colour. Some children made three or four shades. Others only one.

Making visible what this tool can do (white and black paint mixed with other colours) took 10 minutes in a circle time. The children took 5 minutes out of their normal play (project time) to come and try this and only if they wanted. Some students wanted to watch others mix and make colours so they stayed longer to observe the process.

From this the children learnt two skills that could help them the next time they decide which paints to use. When it comes to what tools can do Sally says, "that's basic knowledge to us but children don't know it. So you are making visible what that tool can do."

Don't be afraid to show children what a tool can do. You can show all the children or even just one or two and let the wonder spread from child to child.

Useful Reminders:

  1. Showing what a tool can do is to help children develop the ways they can create and express themselves. It shouldn't take a long time or become an hour long lesson everyone has to participate in.

  2. Skills can often be discovered by children in play. So if you are going show children what a tool can do ask yourself why you want to do this.

  3. It is an invitation not a command. I had students who said they didn't want to do it. Later they changed their mind. Sometimes children have more important things to do. Don't only confine it to a certain time. Be flexible.

  4. Children need time and access to materials. If you a making visible what a tool can do you also need to make that tool available to them i.e don't put the paints in the cupboard. Instead put out a few colours including white and black.

  5. Projects don't have to be a certain length. They can last 10 minutes to months or even years.

Watch this video summary of the mini project...


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