Helping Children Problem Solve
As we wrap up a fun month of tissue paper collage in the studio, I'm reminded of an experience I had with J and B (brothers), couple of young guests, when we did tissue collages last November. The materials on the tables were: colored tissue papers, oil pastels, liquid starch, glue brushes, and scissors. Each guest also received two different size pieces of watercolor paper. Maybe you remember my post On Limitations explaining why we offer only certain materials or limit quantities for a given project?
I think it was B who first requested some tape. My repsponse was to ask him, "What is it you're trying to do?" Whenever someone in the studio asks for a material that's not being offered this question is usually my reply. I've found that it's a great way to find out whether they need my help in solving a problem or if they need a material for another purpose, like a temporary eyeglasses fix.
As we looked at his work, B explained that he wanted to put his tissue paper collage of a baby bird breaking through its shell on top of a larger piece of paper that he filled-in with oil pastel. I could easily have provided tape, but instead asked B, "Do you think there is anything here on the table you can use to connect your pictures?" Sometimes, just getting a child to re-notice what's in front of him sparks the idea he needs to continue. Sometimes he needs more questioning to help him see potential solutions. We talked about why tape works to connect things (it's sticky) and I asked him if any of the materials on the table were sticky. We talked about how the liquid starch glue is sticky, but also thin, so maybe not strong enough to hold two thick papers together on its own. I also pointed out that tape is basically just sticky paper. Now, I can't remember if he figured it out on his own, or I wondered aloud, "could we use the tissue paper and starch to make our own tape?," but it was something B was willing to try. He was excited to have worked out an aesthetically pleasing solution for his picture.
Later, when his brother J wanted to try it too, I asked B to explain to his brother how to use tissue paper like tape. Whenever possible, I try to get children to help each other problem solve. There's another level of learning added to an art-making experience when the creator verbally shares his/her process or idea.
Sometimes, children come up with artistic solutions and test them only to discover they don't work. Those are great moments of learning too! In those moments its important that I'm there to make non-judgmental observations encourage them to risk another solution. In those moments I learn too. Reciprocal learning is what making art with children is all about!