Friday, March 7, 2014

Paper, Light, Clay: Open Studios Thus Far

So far this year, I have offered four Open Studios (one with paper, two with light, and one with clay), inviting families into the Studio to play with and explore these materials with curious minds and eager hands alongside their children. This has been the most successful series of Open Studios I have hosted in my time as atelierista, which leads me to examine my own hopes for these precious afternoons I spend with families and what has made them so special this year.

The Open Studio for families is a great tradition that was begun by my predecessor, Viki, as a way of offering parents (and grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.) an opportunity to share an experience in the Studio with their child. As Kendra has discussed before, our philosophy hinges on families as partners in our teaching and important members of our school's community; the Open Studios that I host every other month or so are one way in which I strive to welcome families into the Studio.  They give families a chance to learn a bit more about this space, some of the materials we explore here, and what their child in particular will do in this space, with this set up.

Last year, I wrote this post about our first Open Studio as part of our clay exploration. I was wondering how I could use these special afternoons as a way of also inviting parents into our pedagogical practice and encouraging them to consider some of the same questions we ask while working with young children. My solution to this question for this year has been to ask the families who come to the Open Studios to first read these pieces about exploring art materials alongside infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. I also try to have short versions of these available as handouts and to have poster versions up (although I admit I ran out of time to prepare these things for the latest one). In addition, I post questions to guide our thinking around the room, along with sticky notes and pens for adults and children to record their answers. Here are a few of the questions and answers from each Studio:

"How can you change paper using just your hands?"
"Wrinkling, ripping, waving, scrunching."
"Twisting, tearing, zig-zag, throw in the air."

"What did you learn about paper?"
"It makes a good wrestling mat."
"It makes big noises when you kick it and hit it."
"You can pick up REALLY big pieces." 

"(How) can you alter light?"
"'Blue on it, now black on it... green there!' Simon noticed changing light most when he was moving cellophane and drawing on the light table."
"Shadow is formed when light is blocked. There is heat, too when light is produced."

"What did you learn about light?"
"Light comes down down on it, like this." 
"K. learned that light comes in different shapes." 
"You can mix colors even without paint."

"What makes clay special?"
"You can change it many times."
"You can use it over and over again."
"You can play with it and use it for fun."
"I love the way it feels when I squash it in my hands."
"It involves all the ancient elements: earth, air, fire, metal, water."

Some of these answers came from adults, some were children's answers, and a few were a combination of the two. In every case, it seemed as though answering the questions helped to put some of our own learning and the learning we were witnessing in others into words.

In addition to these questions that I posed, I heard the parents themselves asking more questions of their children as they worked, and many of them were open-ended and inviting: What does this paper sound like? Where is that light coming from? How did you make that with the clay? Parents also asked me about the materials they encountered, questions that seemed to suggest an interest in potentially extending these experiences into their homes:  How do you get these ideas for provocations? What kind of lights are these? What type of clay is this? Where can I get some? 

I also noticed parents asking open-ended questions using their actions, rather than their words. A father turned and quietly watched what another child's work, inviting his daughter to look at the discoveries of this child.  A mother with her infant child gently brought some rope lights to her lap, running her hands over them as she held them within reach of her son. A father rolled a simple ball of clay, offering it to his daughter to see what she would do with it.

These meetings in the Studio together have also offered parents from multiple classrooms the opportunity to meet and converse with one another about subjects other than just the material. By the end of each Open Studio, many of the adults in the room have met someone new and shared a conversation with them about their children, their experiences in Cambridge and at PTCC, or their interests outside of here. I remember one of the sessions with light occurred right before Thanskgiving; as the children and parents spread and scooped sand into trays on the light table, the discussion shifted to the subject of the holiday, the traditions of the different families, and the many ways of cooking turkey. You often hear that art can bring people together in unexpected ways, and I think this is an instance of one of them.

Throughout these evenings, I was struck by the care and attention that parents were paying to their children, and the attention that adults and children alike were paying to the materials set out before them. One parent observed that the questions I asked were much more focused on the "how" ("How are you using it?" "How did you do that?" "How did it change?") of the material rather than the concrete question of "What are you making?"; I felt that the people present at the Open Studio were also embracing these "hows" rather than the "whats." I was also amazed at the attention they were paying to each other, the negotiations that happened within this shared space, and collaborations that sometimes grew out of this. I am so grateful to work in a community full of people of all ages who are invested in the work we do and are willing to learn more about it through the "hands-on" setting of these Open Studios.

Looking forward to the next Open Studio (most likely in April), I am wondering:

- What else might I offer parents to give further insight into our work as a center and my work as an atelierista?

- What should we explore together next?

1 comment:

  1. Katie, This is wonderful. I haven't been able to make it to Open Studio this year with Phineas but I'm so happy that attendance has been good and that there is so much learning and sharing happening. It is such a great way for our community to connect. It's playful and accessible and creative! I love that we are learning together how to ask better questions in order to allow the answer to be more complicated and layered. Thank you for offering Open Studios to our community. They are so valuable.

    Debbie Tomsho