Teaching public art and collaboration - with kids!

 Getting started with our backgrounds

Getting started with our backgrounds

This past Sunday I worked with a great group of 5th and 6th graders at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Haverhill (UUCH) to complete a youth public art project. The idea was to make a public art project that would convey what they thought was important about UUCH and the Religious Education program, while also making something that included all youth in the process. Of course, any sort of group art project can have challenges. A few challenges we aimed to prevent included, youth not wanting other youth to make marks on their work (a struggle at any age!), youth working at different speeds, too many color choices leading to muddy results, and general mess making. We also wanted each youth to feel they had a hand in the choices they made for their finished piece. This project really solved a lot of those issues with a great end result! I originally saw this on Pinterest here. My Pinterest boards here and here also have other great collaborative projects if you are looking for more ideas.

Back to class.. Prior to this class meeting, their classroom teacher had worked with them to identify words that they wanted to paint. They decided on five, four letter words: UUCH, LOVE, LIVE, HELP, HOPE. This square grouping will make the final display appealing and provide for a patchwork effect. Michael's has great 10 packs of 8x10" canvases that were perfect for the project.

 Step by step instructions, clear for everyone to see

Step by step instructions, clear for everyone to see

The day of the class, I wrote a short list of steps we would follow on the chalkboard in the classroom. With the chosen words, I made a chart to tally how many of each letter we needed. Youth could pick the letter that they wanted to paint and mark a tally mark in the chart next to that letter. This came in very handy to be sure we were working on the last few letters when we had just a few blank canvases left!

When providing instruction, I encouraged the students to use either a lighter or darker color scheme for the background, not to apply the paint too heavily, and then to give it some time to dry before adding the letter. I offered a snack during that drying time, but the kids were really into the activity, so we moved ahead to a fresh canvas and each student was able to paint a 2-3 canvases. Once the first layer was dry enough, we used a light - almost dry brushing - of the colors they chose for the letter. Some added patterns and different methods of pattern on the background, there was room for personalization that this age group really likes.

 Finished projects drying

Finished projects drying

As you can see, everyone was very creative! The students were proud of their work and we discussed having a mini-exhibit with parents or even a time to share with the rest of the church during an upcoming service. I was really pleased with the results!