On Friday morning, which also happened to be the last day of school before the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, I sent out this tweet.
Thanksgiving starts the blackline masters of holiday crafts.
- First there are turkey puppets.
- Then there are the Halloween pumpkins.
- Next comes the Santa Claus masks or reindeer ears.
- Following that are the heart cards and/or envelopes.
- After this comes the Easter baskets, bunny hats, or both.
- Sometimes there are groundhog hats or masks added in for Groundhog’s Day in February.
I know this because in the past, I’ve done all of these. A couple of years ago, I finally made the choice to throw out my many boxes of blackline masters, most of which included the photocopies for these crafts.
Why did I do these activities? Because I thought that they were fun, and I was sure that the students would enjoy them. Some did. Others did not.
- These students struggled with cutting on the lines.
- They couldn’t follow the pattern.
- There were too many steps.
- Their finished product didn’t look like those completed by others, which made them question their artistic abilities.
- Instead of receiving useful feedback, they received criticism about their work.
I still remember the reindeer craft from my third year of teaching kindergarten. One student decided to colour hers in blue and purple. She had pockets of colour and lines on everything. I made her start again. I even called in her mom to discuss the problem. I think of that experience now, and I feel terribly. How did I make this student feel about herself? What did I make her think of her abilities as an “artist?”
The thing is, these activities were (and are) not art. They’re crafts. They only allow for one way to meet with success. They do not allow for creativity or for students to really explore the elements of design. The students that can do these activities well, see themselves as “artists.” They want to use art to express themselves and share their learning. But those that can’t, often see themselves as “failures.” Many of them don’t want to draw, paint, cut, paste, and create. The blackline master limited what they could do, and the potential for further exploration and experimentation in visual arts are often lost. I know this because I did this. I heard students say that they were “bad at art.” Instead of students feeling inspired to create, I eventually had to force them to do so. In retrospect, this makes me feel incredibly sad!
Students can still explore these holidays through visual arts, but why limit them with a photocopied craft? Let the children use the materials in the classroom to share their interests and learning. Show them pictures of the Bruegel-Bosch Bus at the Hamilton Art Gallery, and let them see that there are multiple ways to express themselves artistically.
When I was teaching Grade 6, our Elementary Curriculum Consultant at the time (Kristi) and our Arts Consultant for the Board (Karen), said words that I often contemplate and repeat: “We can use the Arts as an instructional strategy.” Learning through the Arts does not need to be limited to a couple of periods a week or a specific activity. We are all artists! How do we help our students believe this? How do we provide the conditions for this to happen?