MaryAnn Kohl qualifies as a national treasure in my mind. For the past 25 years she has been writing books (23 of them!) to share children's arts and crafts ideas and encourage parents and teachers to value art and creativity. Here she talks about her new book, Art with Anything, as well as how art has changed in the schools since she started teaching in the '70s, and even what she would do if she could change our education system.
***Note: Readers will have a chance to win a copy of MaryAnn’s new book, Art with Anything: 52 Weeks of Fun Using Everyday Stuff at the end of this interview.***
JEAN: I’ve really enjoyed your new book, Art with Anything, and especially appreciate the idea that you can make art with everyday items people have around their houses, including address labels, yarn, tin foil, and salt. What gave you the idea for this book?
MARYANN: I had two reasons for writing this book: 1.) One is that we all have so many interesting materials already at our disposal, and I wanted to focus on using things that we have or could easily collect without buying materials. 2.) The other idea was that I thought, "What if we do art five days in a row focused on ONE material and all it can do? Wouldn't children learn more and develop their skills more if we did this? And what if the first day was an introductory exploratory project, and each day built on the first until the fifth day, which would be the 'fancy day'?" I thought this would be a unique approach to skill building through art and really good for kids. By the time they get to the 5th day, they are ready for a really challenging exciting art project.
JEAN: The format – five days of projects of increasing complexity with a single material – is new for your books. What made you use this format?
MARYANN: See #1.
Another thing I tried to do was
repeat some common techniques throughout the book like making collages or
constructing mobiles. This is a purposeful strategy that builds a child's
skill, understanding, and creativity. To create collages with different
materials will help the child learn new ways to use materials and face the
variety of challenges those materials present. For example, a collage with
tissue paper will be completely different than a collage with buttons, and a
mobile with heavy objects like nuts and bolts will have completely different
challenges than one with cotton balls. All of this combines to help the child
learn through exploring and creating.
JEAN: What are your favorite everyday art materials and projects from Art with Anything?
MARYANN: You could ask me this question on any day, and I'm sure my answer would change depending on what the kids I most recently worked with had created. But today, I will say that I love love love the Week 4 - Bubble Wrap. Who doesn't love bubble wrap for the obvious popping fun? The five days of art with bubble wrap are very exciting and have great outcomes. For example, Day 1 is an introductory crayon rubbing, Day 2 has numerous painting ideas, Day 3 is a translucent collage, Day 4 offers a fun way to make fish prints, and Day 5 is the all exciting Bubble Wrap Mural. I should mention that though Bubble Wrap comes at Week 4, you don't have to follow the weeks in order. You can do these projects in any order you wish. They are in alphabetical order in the book just to make it easy for you, but feel free to choose any week you like any time during the year. The book has 52 weeks so that you have a year's worth of choices.
A few other favorites are:
Week 8: CDs
Week 10: Coffee Filters
Week 23: Hole Punch Dots
and Week 35: Plastic Wrap
Oops, can't leave out Week 36: Leaves. I love the leaves
MARYANN: Art is easy to provide if you tell yourself it doesn't have to be a big deal. And it doesn't! Not everyone has to be a fabulous artful parent (read: messy)! If you are willing to provide blank paper and crayons and markers, you're on the road to providing wonderful creative opportunities for kids. [Did you know that research shows that children who are allowed to draw daily without adult interference do better in all academic areas than children who do not draw? There you have it.] Okay, now add some tape, scissors, and a stapler. Now add a bottle of glue or a gluestick. Next add some collage materials in a shoe box. Provide all of this on a shelf or somewhere the child has free and easy access to its use. As you are more comfortable, add more materials for the child's use. On special days, bring out the paints and supplies that need a little more supervision. Cover your table or floor or art area well, provide a damp sponge for wiping messy fingers, a trash can for responsible child clean-up, and jump in! I think I would suggest that art be a combination of free and easy art days (nothing planned) mixed with planned art days that have more involved materials and art ideas.
To really prioritize, set aside a time of the day that is good for art, like right after lunch, or when the kids get home from school and have had a snack and time to unwind. Every family will be different, but all kids need to feel that art is respected and important for it to be a priority. That said, let's get the kids outside and playing hard too. Talk about priorities!
MARYANN: When I began in the 70s, everything in art had to have a planned outcome. In fact, I think a priority of the projects were that they should be "cute" or be a craft that followed definite steps and had a definite outcome. I don't think we even began to imagine anything else was possible. I remember the day we discovered folding tissue and dipping it into colorful dye. My mind exploded! The outcomes were entirely unique to each child, and they were mesmerized, as was I. That one project changed everything for me. Many preschools still operate with the idea that cute little crafts are "art". This is not true, but times are changing. Since my first book came out in 1985, the pendulum began to swing towards "independent creativity" where the outcome of a child's art was unknown to anyone but the child. I am very proud to have had played a part in changing the face of art for young children. As a child, I never explored art as an open creative possibility. I think I've grown in my own creativity and my relaxation about how my art has to look. We've come a long way and it's so much more fun too!
JEAN: What changes would you like to see in schools and their art curriculums? Let’s say (just for fun) that you have the power and the budget to make any changes you’d like to our education system. What changes would you make?
MARYANN: Many schools do not have art curriculums at all, and if any art is to happen, individual teachers must take this on themselves. Some do, and some are scared to death and just leave it out because they have no idea what to do. Some schools have art specialists, and then the teachers in their own classrooms do no art. So there is a wide gap in art education for our children. Some get lots of wonderful art; some get zero. If I had the power you have just given me, thank you!, I would bring art into every classroom as part of the curriculum where kids are encouraged to explore, discover, and create without an adult sample or model to copy. The art would be process, not product, oriented, and each child's work would be an individual expression with the materials on hand. No two artworks would look alike. Just like snowflakes, our children are each unique, and so are their artworks.
In addition, I would provide help or training for teachers so that they could understand how easy it is to allow for art as well as music, drama, creative writing, and in fact, all of the arts. I think if they had training and permission to enjoy the arts, they would. Right now, many teachers are completely at a loss for how to allow for the arts, and because their districts do not encourage art education, they ignore it all together. They are faced with more and more requirements for high test scores, and think that art will interfere with the challenge. I wish they understood that allowing kids to have art would actually help them do better on tests.
JEAN: Anything else you’d like to add?
MARYANN: We each have a whole brain made of two hemispheres. The entire right half of the brain works on things that are creative, intuitive, and subjective. This is where the arts fit. Schools should work to provide education that addresses the whole brain, not just half. As parents, we must allow our kids the time and the materials to stimulate the right side of the brain through visual arts, which includes drawing, painting, and sculpture. And there's a bonus: Doing art with our kids is fun, and a wonderful way to spend time together. There is no better blog on the internet today to help this happen than The Artful Parent for inspiration and great ideas.
Please visit my blog and my website for art ideas from all my books. I will look forward to it!
My website: http://www.brightring.com
JEAN: Thank you, MaryAnn! So much of the art that we do in our home is from your books! We are so fortunate to have you sharing your ideas with all of us!
Readers who leave a comment to this interview by Thursday, July 1st at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of MaryAnn F. Kohl’s new book, Art with Anything: 52 Weeks of Fun Using Everyday Stuff.
The random number generator picked #1 this time (first time it's happened with me!), so Rebecca wins the copy of Art with Anything. Congrats Rebecca!
like a great book. Jean, thank you for helping us to focus on being