What Happens When You Let Elementary Students PLAY in the Art Room

A couple of years ago, I recognized a growing trend in my fourth graders.  We had spent all their Lower School years learning the basics of art, and now it was time for them to experiment and be true artists!  I broke out the printmaking supplies, and after a brief demonstration, let them have at it to see what they could create.  The majority of the students would make one or two, and claim to be finished.  FINISHED?!  They hadn’t blended colors!  They hadn’t experimented with complementary and analogous colors!  They hadn’t tried to make textures on the surface of the plate!  THEY HADN’T BEGUN TO EVEN SCRATCH THE SURFACE! 

After a talk with our Head of Lower School Dr. Powell, and some time to think, I realized I’d been doing it all wrong.  These young artists need the chance to experiment and play as Kindergarteners.  They need to try out new methods of art-making before they begin to see limitations.  They need to cover their hands in paint to see how it feels (spoiler alert: it feels awesome).  They need to spend time cutting layers of paper to see what happens when you cut over a fold, versus a flat piece.  They need to find out what happens when they squeeze the glue bottle, versus a controlled squish of glue.  They need to PLAY!

I’ve adapted my teaching this year to make this happen for my youngest learners- and with that, a happy accident occurred.  This new version of art education snuck into my other classes as well!  Pre-Firsters were greeted with an art problem and had to solve it on their own.  First graders began to play with the painting process, rather than sitting down and painting the same paintings over and over.  Even my fourth graders miraculously started playing and experimenting with paint after completing their lesson- instead of moving over to the free time area!  Artists were beginning to take shape!  Creative problem solving began to be more apparent!  Authentic learning and ownership of understanding was now a constant- and the connections the students made from one class to the next were astounding.  I am excited to see what the kids create every day, and how they take their previous knowledge and build new things.  And so… let’s play on!

Camille Gammon-Hittelman

Camille Gammon-Hittelman

Camille Gammon-Hittelman, or “Ms.G-H”, as her students call her, is the Lower School Art Teacher. She began teaching at St. Paul’s in 2005, and started her teaching in Baltimore County two years before that. She can be reached at chittelman@stpaulsschool.org

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