When I first started teaching I could not figure out why most of the paintings my students made looked something like this:
These paintings are actually a little more colorful and imaginative than most of the others I had back then. Every time I "let them" paint, this is what they made: brown pictures, or various shades of brownish- blackish green pictures, usually covered with paint coast to coast. Why? I could see in their drawing that they had miraculous figures and doodles, but why didn't they translate over to painting? On one hand, it was okay, because they liked painting and painting is a great art/ sensory/ motor activity. On the other hand, I couldn't help but feel something was wrong, especially when I saw other teachers had their class creating paintings something like this:
When I broke down and asked a teacher I knew why her children's pictures were different than mine she said that she made them not mix the colors on their paper. There was a voice in my head that said that this could not be right. Children needed to be able to experiment! They needed to have control over their own creative process. Still, I didn't know what I was doing wrong.
I started trying to use water colors; the results for some children seemed "better" but many of the children still ended up making pictures that looked like their other paintings, just watered down.
My revelation came on a day near a holiday when I had just four children there. I got out the paints and put them on the table with paper and let them paint; nothing was different... yet. They asked if they could paint another, and I let them, (still nothing different), but they continued to ask for more paper to paint more and I continued to let them paint. I let them paint as many pictures as they wanted.
Then, to my amazement, the figures from their drawings started to appear! They made interesting designs that I had never seen before and experimented with the paint in new ways! Paintings that probably looked something like this:
I am horribly embarrassed by not knowing this when I started teaching, and I wish often that I could go back to that class and LET THEM PAINT! But, I am sharing this because maybe someone else can learn from it, or maybe someone else made the same mistake.
Two paintings three times a week is not enough. Children learn through repetition and experimentation (which I knew, but didn't apply to art). Every time a child steps up to the art supplies they are experimenting. Every time a child uses a new art supply they have to learn as many possibilities for that art supply that they can. They can't decide NOT to paint their entire paper brown until they know that mixing all the colors together and rubbing them across the paper makes a brown, crunchy painting. They cannot create many possibilities until they have made others and eliminated other possibilities as being "undesirable" to themselves. Every time I put out a new supply, most children make a brown picture or a picture with a lot of mixed colors and a lot of paint. (In the words of Bev Bos "children need to use too much"). I see this over and over again. Not only do they learn about the texture of the paint and about color mixing, but they are teaching themselves self regulation. They are teaching themselves how much paint is "too much," that all the colors together make brown, and they don't like brown. Until they decide what they do not want to do, until they have eliminated that possibility, they cannot possibly do anything else... and how could I expect them to?
The way to teach them how to make purple is not to tell them and then show them, it is to give them the materials, walk away, and let them figure it out for themselves. Furthermore, telling them not to mix colors is cheating them from a learning experience, not teaching them SELF regulation (since the regulation is, after all, being done by the teacher), and I am certain that this can qualify as some sort of torture since we KNOW they are just dying to mix those paints.
Now that I know this, I do almost every art project at least two days in a row and we have painting or some other new art medium EVERYDAY. The children can make as many paintings or pictures as time allows for. I wish I had known this my first few months, so that the children had a FULL YEAR to paint and create like children ought to be able to. I cheated them, for months, I cheated them. In the end, however, it is them I have to thank, for teaching me how to be a better teacher.