Self Portraits, Sundaes, and Silly Games

Another week of camp has passed, and I’m getting ready for my final, glorious week of teaching before I depart for the UK, and a month of rest and relaxation. I would really like to write a lengthy and descriptive post, like I did last week, but to be honest I’m tired. Knackered – to be more specific (and English). So I’m going to give you the (very) abbreviated version…

Portraits, self portraits. Playing  silly games about character traits and interests that made us giggle. Drawing symbolic self portraits with markers. Looking at the Mona Lisa veeery closely. Discussing work by Frida Kahlo, Chuck Close, and Janine Antoni. Discussing the purpose of portraits through history. Drawing our faces on film stuck to mirrors, while squinting. Regaining our focus slowly. Walking to the park at break times. Playing baseball, tennis, cricket, frisbee, and tag – sometimes all at the same time. Pulling faces for black and white photos. Looking at the principles of graphic design and typography. Learning about Barbara Kruger. Giving pictures new contexts, making up quotes for them. Trying to make paper mache masks, failing, making them again, and painting them. Cleaning up huge messes again, and again. Looking at Pablo Picasso’s life and work, and finding the former very amusing. Making portraits of each other using collage techniques. Incorporating everyday objects into drawings, and taking photos of them. Painting sidewalks with big brushes dipped in water. Using bikes, scooters, and our feet to make patterns on concrete with water. Eating icecream sundaes. Organizing a water balloon fight to help work off the sugar rush. Cleaning up…again.

Did you get all of that? Good.

All in all, it was a great week. Here is some photographic evidence:

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The Value of Playtime

This week’s camp was all about the five senses, so the kids spent a lot of time being hungry (taste, and smell seem to be the all round favorite senses, hands down, no big surprise!).



We looked at Wayne Thiebaud’s heavily textured paintings of cakes and other desserts, and used palette knives to ‘frost’ our own paintings. We learned about Synesthesia, and discussed how artist, Wassily Kandinsky visualized sounds. The kids produced drawings of music, and sat bent over  paper furiously scribbling to The White Stripes, Bob Marley, Tchaikovsky, and hot jazz. We learned about color theory and color symbolism. We drew objects, while feeling them, and not looking at them. We gawped at pictures of scarification, and body art, and made a horrible mess working with clay. We made a lot of horrible messes.

The campers loved ‘Lick and Lather’ – Janine Antoni’s chocolate and soap sculptures, and had some amazing insights about her work, which led to a need for an ice cream party (any excuse!).  On Friday, we sniffed and identified different scents, and made little scent jars to take home and experiment with.

Yup, a lot happened, and that’s just the art. But, if you ask me, some of the most important learning happened during break times.



On Monday, after a morning of working  indoors, I told my students to go out and play in the sunshine – “But, what should we play?” they asked me, “I don’t know, whatever you want to!”  I said, “But, we don’t know what to play! they retorted, “This is boring, can you make up a game for us?”.

I refused flatly, and mercilessly threw them out into the wild jungle that is North American suburbia. What happened? Well it wasn’t pretty, there was awkwardness, sulking, whining and a few fights at first, but by the end of the week, the kids were begging for more play time. They made up complex games, hashing out the rules in long, drawn out negotiations, and bonded beautifully. They even organized an end of week performance, made posters by themselves, and practiced relentlessly for it the whole of Friday afternoon.

I think free playtime is really important for kids. Sure, teacher organized play activities have their merits – I often organize games and activities for my students, but I also often step away a lot during break times, and that’s when the good stuff happens.

Who needs a teacher looking over your shoulder all the time? Alone, kids learn to solve problems and counsel one another. Free play fosters the building of skills such as negotiation, team work, conflict resolution, imagination, creativity, and problem posing and solving. My classroom is almost always a better place after a long break. I remember devising so many new games during my long recesses at school, so let’s let our kids get a bit bored this summer, and see where it leads them!

If you are so inclined, check out Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato, & Ha Ha Ha,  the wonderful book I have photographed below; it is a great starting point for encouraging kids to just get out and do their thing! Also, There is a photo of a  fabulous novel for kids, A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, that teaches you about Synesthesia (I think that merits a post of it’s own!).

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The Anticamp

You know, and I know, and those other people over there know, that I have spoken and written at length about the ups and downs of running a tiny one woman business. Well talk about ups and downs – last week certainly had it’s share of both!

To start off with, I ran the smallest, most minuscule, pea sized camp that I have ever agreed to run.
I generally have between six and ten kids in a camp. However, enrollment was really low for my first week of camp this year- only four children were signed up. So I called a meeting (with myself), decided that four was the absolute minimum amount that I could run a camp with, and happily continued with my planning.

The downs…

On Monday morning, a parent called to cancel – her child was not art-inclined, it seems. Oh dear – suddenly, I was running something that was very un-camplike. It was the Anticamp.

Three kids.
Any teacher, or parent worth their salt knows that three is definitely not the magic number. Two kids is fun, camaraderie, and hours of secret swapping. Four kids is a close-knit unit, an exercise in team building.  Three kids is backstabbing, bloodshed and tears. The problem with three, is that no matter what, one child is always left out. I could see hours of conflict resolution unfolding before me….

…then, to my horror, I discovered that my four year old was running a fever, ack! It will suffice to say, I choked back a tear or two.

Luckily, I have a very supportive husband.

Now for the ups…

I was actually pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was hard work at times keeping the three kids motivated, and cooperative, but we actually got some great work done, and had a lot of fun along the way. We got to do things that we would not have done with a bigger group. We spent longer on projects, and improvised more with our work. Every afternoon we drove to a local playground, and at the end of each day we had a water fight. The kids actually got on pretty well.

What did I learn?

Well, I learnt a lot about all the different ways in which insects can kill, maim, and be killed.  I learnt more about Pokemon than I wish to know. I learnt that elementary school kids cheat when playing board games with adults, they call it “leveling the playing field” – hmph. I learnt that a good game of Piggy in the Middle is the best bonding exercise for three kids, and finally, I learnt to always expect for the best.

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The Eve of the Camp

Routine is the Enemy – I read that  on a woman’s shirt while busting a move at my local Zumba class. “Hey!” I thought, in between wheezing breaths, “I should be wearing that shirt! That’s ME!”

It’s true -I thrive on change, which is why I’m very much looking forward to the next couple of months. As we move into Summer, my focus shifts from making things, to teaching things, or rather, teaching kids. The Noctiluna summer camps start next week, and will run for a very messy, noisy, action packed four weeks, before I scoop up my bags and children and fly off to London for another kind of action packed month.

I haven’t blogged for a while because May and June are always the busiest months on my calendar (the second busiest are November and December – just so you know. I don’t want you to worry unnecessarily).

This post will be short compared to my usual lengthy rambles, because I am shattered from cleaning my house, hiding breakables, organizing art materials and so on… and I need my beauty sleep for the kids tomorrow. However, I do promise a weekly update after each camp, along with pictures of the genius and mayhem that always takes place.

Watch this space…