On Friday I had my final interview at Children’s Community School, where I’ll be working come August (hooray!), and as part of the interview they asked me to do an activity with some of the kids. It’d be for the 2½–4’s class; a circle-time thing that leads into some kind of table activity, they wanted. What kind of activity should I do, I wondered?
First of all, it’s unusual to plan an activity for kids you’ve never met before. It can be a challenge to create an activity that’s flexible enough to meet the various needs of children when you already know their needs; but not knowing the children adds a little twist of unpredictability. Also, I wanted the table activity to be (at least partially) an art project, and while on a normal class day I might sometimes just put out materials and have the kids explore, for a job interview I wanted to plan something with a little direction to it. At the same time, both the school and I value open-ended self-expression in art—who wants art projects that all look the same?—so I wanted my activity to have a lot of room for the kids to make it their own. A hard needle to thread, especially, again, with kids I don’t know.
So let’s start with the circle time, I thought, which might be a more productive way to think about it. The circle time should include music and movement, because all circle times should. We’ll start with a song that’s easy for everyone to participate in, “Who Can Do What I Can Do?”, which gives everyone a chance to show off a move for everyone to copy, and incidentally allows me to ask everyone’s names without putting them on the spot too much. It’s a good attention-getting song that I’ve used successfully with 2-year-olds and with college students, so I figured it’d be a dependable way to kick things off.
But then what? My first thought was to read Caps for Sale and have the kids act it out, because it’s the best book to act out EVER. And then maybe have the kids do some sort of hat-making art project? Paper plate hats? But Caps for Sale is a fairly long book, and it can take 10+ minutes to act it out even if the kids already know the story. And paper plate hats? Idunno… I could imagine them coloring on paper plates with markers, but that’s kind of boring, and I didn’t want the chance of anyone getting glue or paint in their hair while I’m on a job interview (though normally that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me).
But I liked the idea of using a book to inspire an art activity. I looked through my book collection, and it came to me: Blue Hat, Green Hat, by Sandra Boynton. It’s a straightforward book about clothes—different colors of clothes, how to wear them, how not to wear them—with simple language and humor. The structure is so understandable that even some 2½-year-olds can “read it” aloud after hearing it just once. Awesome. I’d read it to the kids, they’d laugh (there’d be potential for a “why is this funny?” conversation, if the mood seemed right), and then they’d read it to me. And then we’d move to the tables and do an art project imitating the book. It even offers a natural opportunity for a “who’s wearing what colors” kind of song! We’d do “Green Green is the Color I See,” (here’s a sideways child singing it) which gives everyone a chance to dance, as well as think about the colors of their clothing. Awesome.
So how to do the art activity? “Making our own version” of the book seemed natural—it’d be pretty easy for each kid to make people wearing clothes in normal or silly ways, and for us to put the pages together into a book for them to keep in the classroom. But… how exactly to set up the art activity? For a class of 2-year-olds I might set it up as a collage project—have xeroxed pages with little people on them (and don’t start with me about the evils of coloring books and xeroxing—I’m way ahead of you) with pre-cut-out clothes-shaped bits of paper that the kids could glue on however they wanted. For 3-year-olds I might do it as a drawing activity, since their representational art skills are starting to grow—ask them to draw people (or even use xeroxed people) and draw clothes on them. For 4’s I might make it a collage activity again, but have THEM cut out clothes to glue on—it’d be a stretch, but for the right group of kids it’d work. But how to cover the whole age range in this lesson?
I decided to put out markers AND collage materials, and let the kids choose for themselves. For some groups of kids lots of choice can be freeing; for other groups, too much choice means no one ever really delves into anything. I asked the director what she thought, and she said it could go either way with this particular group, so I decided to err on the side of more freedom for the kids. And the people… what to do there? I could xerox pages of people, but I didn’t know how my prospective employers felt about activities that look like coloring books… I could just ask the kids to draw people, but that might be too much, especially for the younger ones. Ultimately I decided to cut out a bunch of people-shapes myself from different colored paper, and have some glue around. If everything went to plan, the kids would glue people down and then either color or collage clothes onto them. But even if it didn’t go to plan, it would still probably be a pretty neat collage activity. The worst outcome would be a disastrous combination of markers and glue, but I would risk it.
- Sing “Who Can Do What I Can Do?” to warm up and get everyone’s attention.
- Sing “Green Green is the Color I See” to do a little more moving and introduce the topic of clothing.
- Read them “Blue Hat Green Hat,” and maybe talk about why it’s funny.
- Ask them to read “Blue Hat Green Hat” to me.
- Ask them if they’d like to make their own version of the book.
- Lead them to the table where I’d have pre-set paper, people, glue, collage materials, scissors, and markers. Make art.
It went way better than I expected. Or at least, I thought it’d go well, but I was prepping myself to adapt on the fly, re-focus their attention some of the time, wing it a little bit, and none of that turned out to be necessary. They loved the first song. They loved the second song. They got a little rowdy with the dancing, but brought their attention back to me the first time I asked. They liked the book. They read me the book mostly successfully (a couple of the older kids were out in front there). They were excited to make their own art.
And oh, the art they made! I wish I had photos. No two children’s work looked anything alike. I really can’t describe the variation the kids made with the simple materials, but it was fabulous. They took my idea and ran with it. The pages won’t make a book—many kids transcended the bounds of the edges of the paper, or the bounds of 2-dimensional space. But they’ll look AMAZING up on the wall.
And that’s how I made an activity.