Mr. Zip

Playdough construction with beads, pipe cleaners, and plastic figures.

Playdough construction with beads, pipe cleaners, and plastic figures.

This summer I’ve had three classes that I meet with once a week on Thursdays. The preschool art group has been the class that I’ve enjoyed the most and that I really look forward to.  I’ve had a core group of two five year old boys, and one six year old boy.


I set up four choices, but we generally start with block building because students don’t all arrive at the same time, and it’s easy for the late comers to join in. The three boys really enjoy block building and imaginative play. I really have fun knocking down towers with them, and listening to their descriptions of how the toy animals are protecting the castles, or why all of the  orange blocks now represent cannons. They absolutely love it when I take dictation of their descriptions and stories  about what they have created.

Two weeks ago we had a fourth boy join in the class as a drop in. He wasn’t interested in the least in the wooden dominos I had brought that day as our block building opener. In fact after cycling through three choices in about five minutes, he finally found an activity that piqued his interest. The problem was that as he hurried through choices the other boys who usually will spend 15-25 minutes per choice were zipping along with him.  They weren’t settling in and really exploring the activities as they usually do.

Mr. Zip's collage project.

Mr. Zip’s collage project.

Being that I am adaptable and flexible I made the best of the situation, and we still had a great class though for me I felt like an octopus with a hand in each station and managing several activities simultaneously. We weren’t playfully exploring and having the productive discussions about the art process that had been occurring other class meetings. We were bouncing into and out of the activities until the boy I’ll call Mr. Zip discovered the die press that I had set up for creating textured paper, that would most likely  be used  to make collages. Even then Mr . Zip finished  his collage first, and thankfully I had a picture book to read aloud about Timothy Wicks, a boy with a wonderful imagination. While I read the story to Mr. Zip the other three boys were happy to use the die press and stay at the collage center, while also listening to the story.

I was relieved the next week when Mr. Zip did not drop in. Everything was harmonious and relaxed and back to the pace at which discoveries were being made, and stories created.

Another wonderfrul building session that produced a fantastic world guarded by kittens!

Another wonderfrul building session that produced a fantastic world guarded by kittens!

This week Mr. Zip dropped in again. He was the second to arrive and technically was early. He did not want to build with blocks. As I figured the other students would arrive within  three or four minutes I had him sit at a table. He sat there quietly as the other boys came in and settled into the blocks. I asked him if he wanted to draw, which he did. I offered him markers, colored pencils, or graphite pencil. He chose the graphite pencil and began to draw a bird.

The three boys initially were building separate structures but then decided to connect their structures and really were cooperating and sharing both the blocks and the plastic animals. Rather than recording three individual stories I wrote down their dialogue which showed how their interactions fueled more ideas. (I was able to make photocopies for the boys to take home at the end of class so the parents could see the dialogue too.)

collaborative block construction

My three dedicated and very collaborative block builders started with three separate creations which they joined together.

Meanwhile Mr. Zip was engaged in drawing for the entire half an hour that the block building was going on. I was really amazed. And his drawing was really wonderful. I asked him if he wanted me to write down something about his picture, but he said, “No thanks.” I showed him a special  Lyra graphite crayon I have which allows you to fill in large areas easily and has a slightly different texture than a graphite pencil. He said he wasn’t interested, but later I noticed that he did test it out.

bird on a branch

bird on a branch

I had also set up colored masking tape, cardboard tubes, small cardboard pieces for bases, old playing cards, and scissors for a sculpture station. I demonstrated a couple of attachment techniques and the kids started creating sculptures. One boy asked for markers, and soon the boys were also decorating their sculptures with colorful lines, pathways, etc…. One boy was really struggling with cutting the masking tape. He kept trying, and by the time he finished his sculpture, was excited that he could cut the tape easily without help.  After about twenty minutes two of the boys moved onto the playdough station. Soon it was time to clean up and go with parents, but Mr. Zip was still totally engrossed in making a marble run. His mother was a few doors down in another shop, and I said I’d bring him down. While I put materials away in preparation for my next class, Mr. Zip continued to work on his marble run for another twenty five minutes and talked to me about what he was doing with enthusiasm. His grandma popped in to take him to lunch and he left very proud as he showed her his two creations.


P1080352What I love about teaching is I’m always learning. Mr. Zip was a reminder to me that first impressions about a student can be very inaccurate. Perhaps Mr. Zip wasn’t feeling quite comfortable dropping in with a new teacher, in a new situation. Perhaps the activities I had just weren’t activities that appealed much to him.  After Mr. Zip left I reflected that I had been awfully quick to leap to the conclusion that Mr. Zip didn’t have a very long attention span. Mr. Zip did have a long attention span, but he had to have something to engage him that was meaningful to him. He has a lot to contribute to our group and I hope he drops in for our last session next week!

P1080351With the school year approaching, I will have new students. I will not have the luxury of teaching three or four at a time as I have this summer, but the lesson I learned will be a reminder to keep me open minded about the new students I am going to encounter.

I also have exciting news about the upcoming school year! I was offered a full time teaching position in the program that I’ve taught kindegarten art enrichment in one day a week for four years. I  will truly miss my homeschool students, but I will not miss juggling several part time jobs and schlepping my art stuff all over the county. I look forward to many wonderful adventures this school year! ( And I do get a one week trip to Lake Tahoe before it’s back to the trenches!)


Mr. Zip’s marble run. He spent a focused hour creating this.


About francifularts

I am an independent art educator. I had my first experience teaching ceramics when I was 24 and worked in the University for Youth program at the University of Denver. As an elementary school teacher I always found myself integrating the arts across the curriculum, which led to me working as an artist in the schools. In May of 2008 I began a master's program with Lesley University in their Creative Arts in Learning Program. It was a truly transformative and incredible experience which led me to decide to devote the rest of my teaching career to teaching art, and through the arts. About the same time that I completed my master's degree in January of 2011 I was hired to teach art in two different programs. I have never been happier in my work as a teacher, and I really appreciate the wonderful professors and cohort of fellow teachers I studied with at Lesley University. I also want to thank all of the wonderful arts educators that I have met online through the TAB/choice list serv for their thoughtful posts and insightful suggestions for teaching art!
Aside | This entry was posted in art education, early childhood art education, play, reflections on teaching and learning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mr. Zip

  1. Beth says:

    Congratulations! You are doing so great! I have so much I can learn from you. I’m thinking of doing more open-ended stuff and fewer “projects” this year for my after school classes. I also need to figure out how to work in a temporary space, where I won’t have time to set up, the materials are stored elsewhere, and where we can’t mess anything up because it is a home room classroom. It’s going to be a challenge! Sadly, I don’t think I will have room to store heaps of cardboard building materials for assemblage projects, one of our favorite things to do…..

    I’m going to look here for ideas!


  2. Beth, it is definitely a bit more challenging to be hauling boxes of supplies from place to place. I’ve done it, because it’s the reality of piecing together work as an elementary art educator in the community I live in. Hauling boxes is definitely not my favorite aspect of the job, but when I see the results of what students create, it makes it easier to motivate myself!

    In the book Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice Based Art Education in the Classroom by Diane Jaquith and Kathy Douglas they have some great suggestions for art on a cart style teaching. I highly recommend the book if you haven’t read it.

    Perhaps you could have your students save cardboard tubes and small boxes in one box that is stored in their classroom. Generally I only bring one box of boxes and tubes. I save mac and cheese boxes, tea boxes, and other small food container boxes. I also cut corrugated cardboard up into pieces that are usually about 9 X 12. (I don’t measure this is a rough estimate, but they are about the size of a piece of paper. Students often use them as a base for assemblages.)

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