Friday, January 26, 2018

Monster Mash-up Mania

If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd end up teaching children with multiple complex needs how to design monsters, I wouldn't have believed you. Yet here I am, and  I'm loving it! A normal art teacher at a normal elementary school might model how to think through each part of "building" a monster before opening the gate to let students run wild with their imagination. They might make 20 arms, or eyes on elbows, or create fuzzy tentacles.  But I have a couple dozen art students who aren't able to function on that level. All of them are legally blind, some are in wheel chairs, and many of them are non-verbal.

Inviting participation is a matter of giving them choices, often only two choices.  So in our make-a-monster assignment I walk these students through each step by asking questions.
"Do you want your monster to be on a yellow or blue piece of paper?"
"Do you want your monster to be tall or short?" (vertical or horizontal paper orientation)
"Do you want the body to be soft or rough?" (felt or upholstery fabric or burlap)
"Do you want the body to be purple or green?"
"Do you want the body to be a circle or a square?"
Questions continue about head, hair, arms, legs, feet, eyes, mouth, etc. until the entire figure is completed.

When I have a student with echoalia (who always repeats the second choice back to me), I ask the question a couple times changing the order.  For a nonverbal child with no sight, I move their hand from one option to the other, and then have them touch their choice. One of my students carries a communication device with preprogramed buttons, so I ask only yes or no questions.  "We have ribbons and tape. Do you want to use ribbons for legs?" If she pushes the "no" audio button, then I ask, "Do you want to use tape for legs?"

Every student is expected to help me squeeze the glue, position and pat down every collage piece. The most important thing to me is that each student takes ownership in the finished piece and does as much work as they can possibly do on their own. Progress is very slow, but when I see one of these students use a pair of scissors, or learn the word, "collage" I feel like I'm Anne Sullivan, living a scene from "The Miracle Worker"!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Muppet Inspired Hand Puppets!

I believe that genius is being able to turn your mother's green coat into a world famous frog, which is why the genius of Jim Henson was the springboard for last week's art project, starting with a slide show discussion and this documentary that shows behind the scenes at The Muppet Show.

The making of the muppet show 1982 - YouTube

My high school students, then got busy creating a character for their very own hand puppet. They researched, sketched, cut and glued. Some puppets were as simple as a couple of pieces of craft felt stitched together and turned inside out before embellishing.

Others were more elaborate puppets with mouths that opened and closed. A variety of materials are important for creative detail work: pompoms, puffy paint, lace, upholstery fabric, glitter, foam, wiggly eyes,  doll hair, and ribbon.
I have planned a field trip to see Muppets up close at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum, and we'll catch "The Wizard of Oz" performed with marionettes while we're there. By the end of the week, it was clear that puppetry arts are a happy marriage between performing and visual arts!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tactile Graphics

Crayon pictures are great for kids with sight, but for the blind, tactile pictures make more sense. My elementary students recently used cardboard and Popsicle sticks to create a bus, a swimming pool, houses, dragon flies, a swing set, and more.
Teachers can help students with visual impairments find their way to the cafeteria by making them of the school with hot glue. Elephants, squids, and planets can be made into tactile graphics so that the students can get an idea of the shape of things that they can't see (even on TV or in magazines) or feel in real life.
Having students make their own images helps me to know what they understand and what they don't. And if there's some one on one time, it's an even better learning experience. "Did you know that houses often have peaked roofs?" or "Cars have four wheels, but there are two on each side, so how many wheels should we have on a side view of our car?"

These are also an excellent way for students to tell stories or to illustrate stories. They might talk about things that happened in their neighborhood, or an afternoon at an amusement park, complete with tactile roller coaster. And of course, the option of creating non-objective art should always be an option. There is something joyful about just putting shapes together.