I’m very excited to teach another summer camp this year at the school where I retired two years ago. Last year, we took the students on a science and poetry journey, using the observational tools we honed in the school’s forest to inspire a variety of poems. That was a blast!
This year, I wanted to tailor campers’ experiences to the wider age range – because to be honest, though we had a great time, poetry was a tough thing to focus on for 5 days straight for the youngest kiddos, who really wanted to play all day in the gorgeous weather.
It’s nature art camp this year, and I’m pumped. My campers range from 1st to 5th grade, so I want to challenge those kids the best way possible, and there’s lots of opportunity for fun, sharing and exploration.
But here’s what I’ve learned about art and personal expression. What I’m about to share is true for writing, too, but there is an in-your-face thing that happens with visual arts in particular, and it’s called being afraid to fail. With writing, I can produce a cruddy draft and craft the heck out of it before I show it to anyone.
Visual art is really fun, and it’s messy, and sometimes, we really do have to accept that it’s more about the process than the product. That’s fine when you’re in your own studio, but in a group setting, a visual product is out there for everyone to see from the moment creation begins, and sometimes it’s hard to own the uncertainty of the process.
This means I have to be prepared for disappointment, and I have to help kids of all levels be prepared for mistakes and to help them figure out how to be okay with that.
My goal in our five days together is to expose the campers to several art experiences, and to give them a safe space to explore personal expression. We’ll play with watercolors and go to the splash park. We’ll do some rubbings and sun prints from pieces of nature we find in the woods. We’ll read SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color (Julia Denos), about a girl who loves all the colors and wants to collect them, then play with colors and maybe adopt some for ourselves. We’ll make hand-felted flowers inspired by the school gardens, while we explore textures of natural fibers in the natural world with our eyes and hands.
On the last day, we’ll work together to create a piece of Andy Goldsworthy -inspired art as a gift to those who come to the next week’s camp. Here is a link to a kid-friendly Andy Goldsworthy-type project, and here is one from the Eric Carle Musem, with a great lesson plan and information about the artist.
Every day of camp we’ll start with a read aloud – because where else can we spark imagination better than between the pages of a book? Here are some titles I’ve found that seem to launch a feeling of safety and support in personal exploration for kids (or adults!) of any age. I enjoy re-visiting these myself when I begin to worry too much about the product and forget about the process.
Beautiful Oops!, by Barney Saltzberg
This is a board book even the grownups want to play with: torn pages, folded corners, crumpled bits of paper – what if we made even more art from our mistakes?
The Dot and Ish, both by Peter H. Reynolds
I once read The Dot to my art and design classmates when we were deep in the very stressful process of preparing for an important exhibition – there was a ton of self-doubt making its way around the room, and we were all exhausted. Then we were all freed by my reading of this book, with its advice to “make a mark.”. Ish is another simple picture book created by Peter H. Reynolds, and I have helped students work through difficult feelings of perfectionism by sharing this one as well.
The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires
This book is all about trying, and failing, to make the thing that is in your mind, but embracing the importance of walking away so that you can return to try again with a new perspective.
For all my campers, a feeling of purpose can spark inspiration, as well. I’ll also be sharing Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael Lopez as we begin creating our community piece at the end of our week together.
Have you ever thought of reading picture books to give your imagination some spark, or some creative support? I highly recommend it for any age!
In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press http://www.homeostasispress.com/index.php, and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People https://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/