Last week, the 4th graders were in the midst of their third week of studio work. They have been inspired to try some new things. A few found old knitting needles and lots of colorful yarn, so they have been sitting together chatting and knitting, happy to be in each other’s company. Another group was fascinated by a paper-mâché sphere I created using a balloon as the base. As they worked, it was apparent that this was the first time they ever used paper-mâché. I stopped assuming they knew how to apply the newspaper and sat down with them to demonstrate the technique. They quickly caught on and sat contently applying layer after layer of newspaper. Patting down air bubbles and smoothing the surface of their spheres. I asked them what they were going to do with them, once they were done and each child responded the same, “I don’t know. I’m thinking.” So I left them to their thoughts and gooey application.
As I stopped to survey their work from my perch on the stairs, I noticed that we were teetering on the brink of capacity. The rest of the wonder crew were using balsa wood, cardboard, and hot glue to make various structures, signs, tine abodes for rock people, jewelry storage stands, and other imaginative gadgets. Every square inch of this small space was occupied. One student, who has been intent on making a large wooden box was busily gluing on the floor in my adjacent office. From this height, I also noticed what a great mess they were creating: balls of yarn rolled across the floor, bits of balsa wood scraps scattered over the rug, a trail of red paint crossed the room from table to garbage can. It was a good thing I bought two dozen craft aprons so at least the students could remain relatively clean. The paper-mâché crew were up to their elbows in white goo as they patted their stick spheres. I realized that this mess-making was making everyone happy. It created a calming atmosphere. Children need these sensory experiences. Curious, I asked the group, “How many of you have a place at home to make art and get messy?” Not one child raised her hand. I was not surprised, but it saddened me. It made me doubly aware of how much the children need this time and space to create and get messy. This realization made me more patient with spills and splatters. Learning is a messy process. Children need lots of practice getting messy, trying, failing, and trying again. So when Leah suddenly called out, and I see the glue solution has spilled all over her apron and down her legs, I smile, and I say, “It’s okay, go to the sink. It washes right out.”
When Libby has spread out a large, taped-together piece of paper and arranged little paint pots set in a semi-circle, I am so glad because her body has finally relaxed. Her shoulders aren’t up to her ears anymore. Her body flows, moving with her paint brush. I take a quick photo and send it to her mom with the subject title: “This Girl is an Artist.” So often, we are quick to label the natural trials and tribulations of childhood as a pathology of one type or another. We want to name every human quirk and eccentricity. Instead, maybe we just need more art. I know from personal experience the power art has to heal.
Finally, as I cajole the girls to clean up after our short time together. Callie dawdles. She is having trouble gettering her jacket on. “My arms are sticking inside my sleeves,” she declares. I touch her arms, “Callie, didn’t you wash your arms?” I exclaim. She assures me that she did. I guide her back to the sink to show her how to wash off the glue. She had just stuck her arms under the water the first time. Now, I show her how to rub the glue off with water, soap, and paper towel. Simple things, but not so evident to children. I laugh and help her dry off.
This messiness is all part of the charm of childhood. It is part of play, learning, and being together with one another. This messy space I manage is crucially important. Even though it’s just a small crowded hallway to most people, it is a special and magical messy space to the children and me.
One thought on “Inside the Wonder Studio: Marvelous Mess”
Thanks Joanne, I so enjoy reading your blogs!!!! Karen
On Mon, May 1, 2023 at 2:06 PM Word Dancer: Literature, the Arts, & Educati
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