Spray Paint And Stencils: An Exercise In Stress?

Yesterday, I started my day as I usually do by reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. His regular Sunday Whatever Happened To post had readers looking at how Valentine’s Day has changed this year. Doug inspired me to leave a couple of comments, the first of which was quite a long one. It was actually Doug’s reply to my second comment that inspired this blog post.


Strangely enough, it was the very thought about making Valentine’s Day special, which had my teaching partner, Paula, and I trying something that we never do: a quasi-craft. Readers of our daily blog posts will know that we often support artistic inquiries in class, and even our young learners know a lot about various artists and techniques. Art is seen as one way that students communicate their thinking and learning, but as supported by Ontario’s Kindergarten Program Document, crafts tend to vary from this type of art.

On Tuesday morning, before school started, I stumbled upon this Instagram post by Darla Myers.

While there was a crafty element to this activity, when I shared this post with Paula, we wondered if this could be a way for students to explore colour mixing more, meet some sensory needs, and provide a little bit of special on a Valentine’s Day where there could be few special options.

Unsure of exactly what Darla did, we thought that if we had students create their own stencils for this art option, it would be more open-ended and hopefully lean more to artistic exploration versus a craft. Thank goodness for Amazon’s one day delivery: these two Valentine’s Day Grinches were ready to go with a special holiday option. πŸ™‚

On Thursday morning, I excitedly got the spray paint bottles ready. I even tested all of them out to ensure that they worked. I was actually surprised with how calming this squeezing was for me, and I couldn’t wait to see how kids responded.

I think that our reflection at the end of the day on stress, sums up how many of our students felt.

While this is only a snippet of the conversation, most children reflected on how frustrating they found it when,

  • the spray bottles wouldn’t work,
  • the paint was hard to get out of the spray bottles,
  • and the paper ripped.

Our students are usually incredibly independent, but on Thursday, Paula and I heard many requests for “Crockett” and/or “Dunsiger.” In fact, we were so busy supporting children in cutting out stencils and fixing spray bottle issues that we hardly documented any of the learning. This is not like us.

The interesting thing about this experience is that the special came when students moved past the frustration and into open-ended options that worked for them. This didn’t mean that the struggling stopped. Learning how to deal with stress is important learning, even for young kids, and a few students made some incredible discoveries despite some earlier frustrations.

Like Doug, Paula and I still think that “special” might be more important than ever before, but we wonder if it’s finding that balance between special and independence that might be key. Maybe this is where we need to return again to knowing our kids, and in our attempt to do something exciting for Valentine’s Day, we forgot to reflect on prior experience and tool difficulties. Learn more. Do better. If it wasn’t during the time of COVID, and kids could work together around a small table space, maybe we could better support a smaller group of students, or they could better support each other. But COVID, once again, changes things, and somehow spray paint and stencils led to frustration and tears. Not our intended Valentine’s Day plans. Is this a case where we should have stuck with routine? Or do we just need to support special with some more open-ended options? For now, I’m grateful that one holiday is over, and maybe we can wait a little while until the next one begins. What about you?


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