I belong to an online professional learning community of choice based art educators called TAB (teaching for artistic behavior). We share our successes and challenges. We share cool ways of doing things in the art studio like putting a sponge in a plastic tub with glue to facilitate gluing and not buying a zillion bottles of glue with tops that always clog! We share cool books, websites, and blogs. About a year ago Teacher Tom Hobson’s blog was suggested as a great teaching inspiration in our group. I started reading his daily posts and really enjoyed them. Tom Hobson is a coop preschool teacher and I used to teach coop preschool and prethree. He is an artist as well as a teacher and writer and I relate to the way he’s organized his classroom to support open ended learning experiences that include lots of process art activities and choice.
I believe however that the best things I’ve picked up from reading his blog posts have to do with how I handle problem situations between children and how I handle cleaning up the classroom. Today was the perfect example of this. I had set out a building toy called Straws and Connectors. Several boys were making light sabers and pretending to be Jedi. One boy almost whacked another’s face. I said, “Isaiah, I am really enjoying watching you and your friends’ imaginative play, but I’m worried that Daniel almost got hit. I’m wondering what we can do about this problem?” Isaiah then showed me how he could use slow motion with his light saber and stay a safer distance away from Daniel. Several other kids chimed in with possible solutions too and then began playing in those newer safer ways. A few minutes later one of the boys began whining. “I’m all by myself, I don’t have a team.” In the past I probably would have immediately jumped in and asked who would include this boy. On their own, several boys immediately offered to include him. Me observing, but allowing them to solve their problems really does work! (Of course I intervene if anything is truly unsafe!)
Later I announced it was five minutes until it would be time to clean up the art studio. All of the jedi swordsmen put down their light sabers and went to the tables where they could draw, collage, paint, etc…They became very productive artists. First of all….in the past I would have discouraged play which was not strictly building, especially play with sword fighting. Now of course I know how much imaginative play is such an important food source for artistic output. After four minutes I asked everyone to sign their names to their art and/or add a finishing touch to their pieces. When the five minutes was up I asked everyone to put down their markers, paintbrushes, etc…. and help clean up the classroom. In the past that would have meant me doing 70% of the clean up and a few helpful kids doing the rest while most of the kids milled around and talked to their friends as if they were being helpful, but did not clean up at all. Today other than handing out some wet paper towels for wiping down tables I did none of the clean up though I did offer some suggestions in terms of what needed to be taken care of. It took the kids 20 minutes to clean up. At first it was just those helpful kids. Then more and more joined in. I did have three hold outs. Two helped during the last minute of the time we cleaned and one who never did clean up anything. In fact they just kept on creating despite the fact that all of the materials were being removed from the tables and kids were wiping down tables, chairs, and some spilled water on the floor. When we got to removing the last marker from the table, the last boy working had a meltdown because his friends had removed all of the materials except for his drawing. I matter of factly restated that studio time was over and it was time to stop. He continued to pout, but no one paid him any attention. Everyone lined up (except for him) to go have a snack and went to wash their hands. He sat on the floor and missed snack time. But that was his choice. It wasn’t a punishment. It was a consequence of not being willing to make a transition. Perhaps next time he’ll help clean up, and even have a snack. It will be interesting to see.
The kids really enjoyed helping! They loved washing the tables and chairs. They enjoyed putting the drawers of markers, colored pencils, and scissors back in my rolling cart. They washed all of the brushes and dumped out the dirty paint water without being asked. They put all of the play dough in the plastic tubs and they put all of the playdough tools away too. Sadly…we didn’t get to have our gallery walk and sharing time because it took them 20 minutes. But maybe next time more will start helping sooner and we will get done more quickly. Or maybe I’ll just have to give the five minute warning 10 minutes sooner.
I was happier too! I didn’t feel as if I was having to do the majority of the clean up. I was excited to see the kids actually enjoying cleaning up. The regular classroom teacher came in and wanted to help with the clean up. I told her not to, because it’s the students’ responsibility. She said, “Yeah! I like that! I don’t mind not cleaning up their mess!”
And this new thinking about responsibility is also helping me out at home with my two teenaged sons and for that I’m definitely eternally grateful!
Thank you Teacher Tom!
Here are some links to the blog posts that really have transformed my teaching and parenting :