When Carrie, the school secretary, poked her head into my classroom one day during the second week of school to hand me the lunch slips, I was very near tears. Hundreds of tiny scraps of construction paper were littered across the floor like abandoned confetti, cap-less markers lay scattered over every surface and waved perilously through the air on all sides, and I’m pretty sure I had a big glop of Elmer’s white school glue in my hair.
At least I hope that’s what it was.
Through all of my education classes in college, no one ever taught me how to conduct an arts and crafts lesson for five year olds. Sure, I had all the pretty books full of craft ideas–tissue paper “stained glass windows”, soup can pencil holders, plaster of Paris hand prints–but no idea of what it takes to create such wonders within the real world confines of a room full of five year olds.
Now, after nearly three months of weekly craft projects, I have learned a few things about the fine art of scissor wrangling and glue management in the kindergarten classroom. Allow me to share them with you:
Practical Tips for the Aspiring Arts and Crafts Teacher
1. Allow adequate time. Just because you whipped up the sample craft in four minutes doesn’t mean that your students will do it anywhere near that fast. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to plan ten minutes of class time for every one minute you spent making the prototype. This allows for all the time-sucking student activities that accompany every art project: yelling that they can’t find their glue, asking for help opening their glue, tattling on so-and-so for using too much glue, and eating glue, for example.
For my first art lesson, I had allotted thirty minutes in my tidy little lesson plans. Our math time ran over that day, leaving me only about fifteen. Silly me, I still thought I could squeeze it in. Forty-five minutes later, I shooed the kids off (late) to their Bible lesson with the craft half done and the room completely trashed, then spent what was left of my “free” period finishing the projects myself and restoring order to the chaos.
2. Think before you ink. What kind of fool would allow a five year old to handle a permanent marker? Well, I’ll tell you: this one. Sharpies are great for decorating a poster, adding details to a construction paper leaf, and making phonics flash cards–but, to a kindergartner, they are also perfect for giving yourself a crooked tattoo of Hello Kitty on your arm that won’t fade for over a week. There’s a reason school supply lists specify washable markers. Hear and beware.
3. Over-explain the instructions. You may think that the direction “trace the outline of your hand and then decorate it with paints” couldn’t be clearer. But tell that to the kid with dripping red and orange tempera paint stripes across his knuckles. Never, ever underestimate the ability of a child to misunderstand your instructions. That’s why you need the sample craft, and preferably an extra set of materials to demonstrate the process as you go along. Seeing is much more useful than simply hearing, especially if you only have five years of experience with the English language as a reference.
4. When it comes to glue, less is more. “What happened?” I asked, goggling at the soupy mess on Ashley’s desk. “I think I used a little too much glue,” she said sheepishly. No kidding! The tissue paper we had been adhering to the plastic cup with a “thin layer of glue” had slid right off onto the table, surfing on a large, slow-motion wave of Elmer’s. The dye from the liquefied paper had come off and was swirling in sticky eddies as the wave inched ever closer to the edge of the table’s surface. And the bottle of glue that was supposed to see Ashley through nine months of craft projects was half-empty.
“Dot, dot, not a lot–you only need a tiny spot.” That’s the word on glue in my classroom. Every craft lesson includes a reminder of the rule and a demonstration of exactly how much glue constitutes a “dot”. Even so, there are always the glue surfers. Expect it. And keep the wet paper towels handy.
5. Keep your sense of humor. In the end, it doesn’t really matter that Oscar’s hand print turkey looks more like a malformed octopus in labor than a Thanksgiving mascot, or that Andrea used up all of her watercolor paints at once playing “chemistry set” in her rinsing cup. The important thing is that the kids are exploring their artistic selves and enjoying the freedom to create something that is meaningful to them.
Even if that something requires a mop and some industrial strenth solvent to clean it up.