Category Archives: Art

Potatoes and Rhythm

“A lot of my work is like picking potatoes; you have to get into the rhythm of it. It is different than patience. It is not thinking.It is working with the rhythm.” —Andy Goldsworthy

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Aya and Seth are building a lake with clay. They build a solid base, then shallow walls, and then slowly add water. They carefully arrange trees in the centre. But the water finds small cracks and seeps out, sending a stream down the edge of the table onto the floor. Aya and Seth place a bowl to catch the stream, and furiously patch the cracks. The flow of conversation is much like to flow of water, continuous and purposeful, but rhythmic as well. The movement of their hands and bodies follows the same rhythm, moving between repairing cracks, checking the water flow, adding more clay.

Aya and Seth worked on their lake for an hour and here is what did not happen:

• no one told them to clean up the water on the floor

• no one commented on ‘the mess’

• no one chided them for using too much clay

• no one objected to their requests for more water

• no one told them they needed to let someone else have a turn


They were given the opportunity to work with the rhythm.





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Go to a Gallery!

I had the opportunity to visit Portland Oregon for a few days, and while there I visited the Portland Art Museum. And this is what hit me like a thunderbolt as  I wandered around:

Those of us who work with young children should be required to visit an art gallery once in a while. Why? Because it will open up our thinking.

 Now let me be straight. I am not an artist, have no art education and get nervous even doodling on a napkin in public. I don’t think like an artist, and I don’t see like an artist…. and that is exactly the point. Artists see materials differently than I do. They think with materials, they connect ideas and meanings to processes of art and art making, in creative, beautiful, unusual, disturbing and wacky ways.

 And so do children.

 If we see a child pouring water on to a paper and sponging off the excess do we think of art making?

Most likely not, but perhaps we should. Artists engage with materials deeply, investigating all their properties, all their nuances. They may take years to create a piece, or they may spend years creating variations on one theme or idea. And do you think anyone asked Monet “Don’t you think it’s time you painted something besides water lilies?” Did anyone say to Dali “I can see you’ve spent a long time working on this.”  Or nodded knowingly behind Picasso’s back assessing his fine motor skills?

 Walking through the art gallery I saw funny art, strange art, some art that I  liked, some that I didn’t. I thought about what the artist intended, what ideas they were thinking with, and I was challenged to wonder, to respond. I want to engage with children’s art the same way.

 Thinking beyond “Children’s Art” and moving to simply “Art” might create a shift in what and how we see.

Brendan's painting

Still Nothing

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.


Brendan, Francis and Asha were painting at the art table. They busily chatted about colour.


“Blue + Red + Purple =   “ Brendan asked

 “It means this colour. “ Asha said as she pointed to part of her painting that was a deep plum purple colour.

 “No it means this colour. “ Brendan said pointing to part of his painting.

“What is that colours name?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Brendan said.


I didn’t know what you would call the colour either, it was a greyish purple colour with hints of brown. The children continued to focus on their painting.


“Can you tell me about your painting?” I asked Asha.

 “It’s a rainbow sunset house.” She responded.

 “Is that why you used so many colours?” I asked

 “Yes.” She said

 “ Brendan can you tell me about your painting?”

 “It’s nothing, just nothing.” Brendan responded.

 “Oh, did you know that sometimes when art doesn’t look like something they call it Abstract art.” I said.



 We googled abstract art and I read him the definition. He listened and then looked at me. “It’s still nothing. Sometimes I paint something. This time I didn’t. It just didn’t feel like something.”

 We looked at images we found on Google of abstract art. After he saw other examples he continued with it still being nothing. I found  this discussion fascinating. Why was it nothing? Why sometimes does he paint something but not this time?  I found the painting beautiful. I admired the way he mixed the colour and the brush strokes he used to apply the paint to paper. Far to often though we adults want to label things for children, but for the children sometimes its just about the experience.

I had quickly jotted down some notes on the conversation between Asha and Brendan about colour. I also jotted down some notes about our conversation about abstract art. I had these notes on my clipboard the following week, when I brought it out. At the end of the day I went to jot down some notes. On my page of notes from the art interaction, I found a note from Brendan “Still Nothing”


Brendan’s painting




When my son was 4 he built a playground for caterpillars. He made it from cardboard and it was an enclosed space with a slide, some swings and some ramps for the caterpillars to crawl up and down. It took days to make, and many caterpillars were encouraged to play in it. Then one morning he discovered there were no caterpillars in the playground, only caterpillar fluff. Seems my 2 year old son had found the caterpillars and the scissors and……well, all that was left was the fluff.

 Cardboard continued to be an essential play item for my boys, from making a miniature city of ruined buildings for warhammer, (if you have preteen boys you likely know what that is) to a giant skate board park for finger boards (tiny skateboards).

 Parents and ECE’s have long recognized the value of cardboard: it’s free, accessible, and multi functional. Add materials from the recycling bin, some glue, tape and paint and the possibilities are limitless. But without two key elements all these great materials will never reach their potential: time and space. Kids need time to develop something out of cardboard, which means they need to work over a period of days or weeks. Which in turn means that the project needs a place to be stored.  ECE settings are notoriously short on space, and time is often chopped into small chunks for play, snack, outside time, nap etc. But look at what can be achieved when these barriers are overcome!

My good friend Sarah Hilliard at Lansdowne Preschool followed the children’s interest in robots……

boxes, egg cartons, fruit flats, paint….
and hours of collective work, became this….
a robot with a crown.

And the next year her kids were fascinated with castles so…..

became this!

 And if you still need more motivation check this:  an international cardboard challenge inspired by a 9 year old boy and his cardboard creation. 

Imagination, creativity, hands on learning, building community, sharing stories, inspiring wonder, possibility, and engagement……all this can be had with cardboard!

Share your cardboard stories with us!

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Everything is Better on the Beach: Part 2

Danielle is right, everything is better on the beach.

 This past weekend, my family and our closest friends went camping. We’ve been doing these trips annually for 27 years starting with the four of us and one baby. Now there are four adult kids plus partners, 12 of us in all. While the trips were wonderful when the kids were small, there is something even more amazing about camping with them now that they are in their mid 20’s. Watching these intelligent, talented and caring adults still enjoying each other’s company well, if you are the parents of adult children you know what I mean. So there we were with lots of great food, campfires, guitar and banjo music, maybe a bit of wine and beer(!!)…..and the beach.

 We set ourselves a challenge: make something from materials found on the beach. We brought along a few hand tools, some sandpaper, some string, some glue. We spent an entire day at it, no deadline, no expectations, no pressure. Some people started making something and never finished, others gathered materials and then just left them in a pile, and some didn’t do anything at all. Others made intricate and complex pieces.



The found materials didn’t demand perfection. They are beautifully odd, randomly curved, smooth and cracked, rough and silky. They allow a freedom in creation that commercial materials don’t offer. Perfection is not an option.


At the end of the day we all felt equally satisfied whether we made anything or not. There was joy and camaraderie in the making, mistakes and imperfections were embraced as part of the creative process.


No matter our age we all thrive in the freedom to play, to create, to embrace a project of our own choosing…..or make a pile of sticks and leave it be.


The spirit of the beach……that ‘s what I want all year.