Snowflake Collage Villages and Bringing Joy into the Art Room

My darling sixth graders are just bereft that there are no holiday-themed projects in middle school Art. They are still young enough that, to them, this time of year means tons of holiday-themed craft making at school. . .Only, that is no longer their truth.
And, isn’t that kind of sad?  We spend so much time as adults trying to get back to the childish enthusiasm that often accompanies this time of year. . . Heck, I’m chasing childish enthusiasm pretty much all the time. Who wouldn’t want to live with that kind of inherent joy?
Apparently, we do. We (us troll-like-adults)  spend a great deal of time telling kids in both words and actions that part of growing up is letting go of things like childlike joy, enthusiasm, and silly holiday crafts.
But, y’all, my Facebook and Instagram feeds are just chock-full of holiday decorations and crafts made by artist and non-artist adults alike. Whether we are young adults or in the twilight of our lives, this time of year is forever fun-crafting time for us. Or, at least that is what most of us want.
In graduate school, one of my art education textbooks talked about the incidence of “bats” projects.  Basically, around Halloween, many Art teachers make some form of bat project with their students. These projects, according to the text book, aren’t usually very art-minded and serve littler purpose other than cute-crafting time; the text calls these project “bats” projects. And, I get their point; making bats just to have cute decorations is pretty lame. But, I see so many of you –especially elementary Art teachers- teaching units that incorporate necessary and challenging Art-related skills, standards, and cultures right alongside the cute-crafting, holiday-themed, part of a project.   
And, the results are awesome, art-minded, and obviously very emotionally fulfilling for our students.
I’m all about bringing back the joy.  I’m also all about making Art relevant and engaging for my students; which is why I designed this wee little winter-themed project for my sixth graders. It is heavily influenced by the amazing collage works and teaching styles of “ThatArtist Woman” and “Painted Paper in the Art Room” (seriously; love their blogs!).
My sixth graders are L-O-V-I-N-G this project. They are so enthusiastic about it! Gotta love their simple and uncomplicated enjoyment of “making stuff.”  
*1. Students collaged magazine images onto 12” x 14” white paper.  Initially, I told them to focus on patterns, but the ones who didn’t follow directions still had amazing results. I don’t think it matters what they glue down. It really is just adding a cool texture.
*2. Students glazed their collages with a mix of blue tempera paint and clear glossy acrylic medium. They loved this part. One told me, “Ms. Z. THIS is the kind of paint we should use ALL the time.”
*3. Students splattered-painted with white paint onto their collages to create a snow storm. In order to keep the mess –and destruction at bay- I called students over to the sink in pairs. The collage was put into a dry sink, the student dipped the brush in water-diluted white paint and shook the brush SIDEWAYS (not up-and-down) to make a “snowstorm.” You can image that they especially loved this part. They were transfixed by splatter painting and were offering friend tips on getting the “best storm” as I called them to the sink. Also, a few students held their paper and allowed the splattered drop to run down the paper. The students who did this told me that this made it look more like a snow storm. Also, while splattering painting in the sink one kid asked me, “Wow! Ms. Z. This is so much fun! How do you come up with this stuff?”
*4.  During the drying time for glaze and snowstorms (and for the early finishers who completed all of the set tasks during a class period) students drew patterns on brightly colored paper. We linked this to a recent project we did wherein we made zentangles. I made each student make four 9” x 11” zentangle designs for a community pattern paper box.
*5. Students learned how to make paper snowflakes. Only one of my seventy sixth grade students claimed to have ever made a paper snowflake before; that’s just sad, y’all. They were SO PROUD of their snowflakes. I swear, they had to show me each and every one and wait for me to ooh and ahh over it (which I did). We made pretty simple snowflakes, but if you want to be accurate (and hook in a bit more math), you should check out Phyl’s instructions for making proper snowflakesover on “There’s A Dragon in My Art Room.
*6.  Using the patterned, zentangle papers, students cut at least 5 rectangles and 5 triangles to make the houses in their villages; they glued these down.  Some students asked to deviate and make long houses and/or differently shaped houses. OF  COURSE they were allowed to do this, but many students needed the structure of “5 rectangles; 5 triangles.”
*7. We discussed how JUST having the rectangles and triangles was cool, but not especially awesome. We talked about what might make the collage awesome, and we decided on details. I encouraged students to add white square windows, lintels, chimneys, trees, etc. etc. Students were allowed to use colored sharpies on top of their cut paper. Some chose to add in Santa’s and/or Christmas trees; this was also allowed.
*8. We focused on adding MORE details. So many details. More details than you ever could imagine! ALL THE DETAILS.
*9. Students outlined their houses with a fat, black, permanent marker. I think a black oil pastel would work well, too. This helped their houses to stand-out a bit more against the busy background.
*10. Students splattered painted more snow because, hey, we needed snow ON the houses too. In retrospect, we could’ve just splattered painted once, but this was waaay more fun.
*11. Students could choose to add another paper snowflake to their composition.
 My students are still wrapping up this project; we are having a ton of fun. My sixth grade Art periods are full of the happy sounds of excited and jubilant artists. It is uplifting for me and empowering for them; truly, it is a win-win situation. Additionally, I was able to hook all the various parts of this project into our standards (collage, use of color, contrast, line, shape, form, etc. etc. etc.).
Joy is important. And, so is preserving the enthusiasm of young artists. Sometimes, you have to find ways to hook into the joy and scaffold in the important learning parts of a unit. One of my sixth graders told me (while covered in blue glaze and happily cutting out white snowflakes), “Ms. Z., this is the BEST project in Art I’ve done, EVER.”

I wouldn’t trade being able to give that kiddo THAT EXPERIENCE for the world. 

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