July 12, 2013

For Kids, Art is About Control

Art is about many things, but for my 7th grade art students, it’s about freedom and control.   Many of today’s kids are over scheduled (I know, shocker).   I can ask my students on Monday what they will be doing the following Wednesday at 4:15, or 5:30 or even 7:00PM and they will know.  Whether it is religious instruction, a soccer or piano lesson, or tutoring, much of the child’s day is preplanned, and in my opinion, over structured. 

That’s why kids love making art so much.  Students are astonished that they have so much freedom in my art class.  When they realize that they structure their work and have massive control over materials and design choices, their faces change.  I see a light in their eyes, and they sit up a little straighter.  I set guidelines for particular assignments, and I give demonstrations to show them the proper use of materials, but the path they take to solve the problem is up to them.  They know that the end result- whether it is to create a comic strip, make a painting in the style of the Hudson River School, or sculpt a ceramic bell, they are in control of what they make and how they make it.

Art doesn’t just happen.  There are hundreds of decisions that have to be made.  In an art classroom, the trick is to make it pleasurable and fun, where students have as much control, and choice as possible. We walk the line between freedom and structure.

On another post, I spoke about a Day of the Dead tribute calavera.  This Mexican holiday celebrates the life of someone who is deceased.  I’ll use that as an example of how to give choice and freedom to children when making art.  Theses are the areas where students have a choice:

  1. The person they will tribute
  2. What they say about that person
  3. The skull and designs that go into it
  4. The materials they wish to execute the image in
  5. The symbols inside and outside of the skull
  6. The decorative elements they add to the finished piece.


Planning Symbols in the Calavera
Planning Symbols in the Calavera
Michael Jackson Calavera
Michael Jackson Calavera
Princess Diana Calavera
Princess Diana Calavera







All students need to include an image of a skull, but how they do it and why are up to them. From the examples, you can see they both have a large skull and symbols from the person they are celebrating, but everything else is different.  Each child must make their own judgments and decisions.  Children need to be reflective about their thought process, as we need to get them to think about their thinking (Art Costa, Habits of Mind).  The best way to do this as a teacher is to relinquish control and give it back to them. They need to stand, be resourceful and make decisions.

It’s OK. They can handle it. As a matter of fact, they love it.

How do you give your students choice and control in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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