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Play Based Learning
working in the studioLearning happens in different ways. At the Berkeley Child Art Studio learning happened through interaction and play. The classes were structured; in other words there was a routine during the hour and a half class requiring that the children draw, paint and work with three dimensional materials. All classes began with a notebook that was kept at the Studio. Each child’s notebook was dated by the teacher at the conclusion of the class. This was done in order to trace graphic development over the two months or more the child attended classes. Drawing curriculum was chosen from popular themes. Animals, such as elephants, whales, cats, dogs, birds, and zoo animals were favored, and shelters such as houses, cabins, castles and caves were also popular. Vehicles of every type including cars, trains, bicycles, airplanes, ambulances, fire trucks, skate boards and rockets were enthusiastically sketched.

Children also enjoyed inventing monsters, and sometimes drew nightmares. One five year old once commented, “a nightmare is a shadow your mind is afraid of.” The older students painted self portraits, and all of the children liked making designs. The teacher presented the subject and interacted with the students by asking questions, suggesting drawing techniques and offering materials, fulfilling her role as a resource for the young artist. She did not tell them how to draw a subject as the varying ages in each class meant that each child had different drawing systems worked out according to his or her visual development.

The drawing materials varied with the subject. For a subject that was of underwater treasures or for whales, the materials were oil pastels finished with a bright blue wash that did not disturb the pictures of marine life drawn in oil pastels, as the pastels resist the wash. The children were encouraged to experiment, or “play” with the materials to learn different effects they might get by making a line that was “walking” or “hopping” around the page, or to scribble in order to loosen up. Here the point was that not all drawings had to be pictorial. Much could be learned from exploring the page with line and color as those are the two basic elements of any drawing. Drawings could then be decorated using a toothbrush to splash subtle sprinkles with diluted tempera paint, or “wash”. If the subject was circuses, the drawing materials were bright colored marking pens, and possibly chalk to get different kinds of lines, and intensity of color. In order to add “fun” and texture to the drawings children were offered confetti and tissue paper to collage onto their art work.

painting The routine of each class required that the young student then go to the painting area to do a painting. The area was readied before the class began. Large white sheets of paper, 22 1/2” X 28” were tacked to the wall at the proper height. Some of the sheets were horizontal, some vertical. The children were encouraged to place the palms of their hands on the paper they had chosen and feel it before they began painting. In the painting activity at the Berkeley Child Art Studio children could choose their own subject.

The activity of painting is often an infrequent one for children. Handling paint with confidence, learning to manipulate brushes and control color application is an experience requiring more hands-on learning time than drawing to which children are more frequently exposed. Teachers here can assist the young artist by playing games, such as mixing “weird” colors, or inventing new colors, or encouraging different strokes on the page by “wiggling” or “hopping” or “shaking” the brush, giving different textures as a result. So, often the paintings were abstract experiments with color and brushes. While the child painted he or she was offered different tools by the teacher to apply the paint with for playful interaction. There were thin #8 or thicker #12 watercolor brushes, there were wide 1” brushes, there were sponges, and rollers that could also be used to apply many different colors of paint at once, making rainbow designs. There were mixing cups that the teacher poured two colors into handing it to the child to stir to make new colors.

Games played at the painting bench were interactions between the teacher and the child, or children. This reenforced communal learning experience. One child would ask a question, “How do you make purple?” and all the children would watch as the teacher offered the child the red pot of paint and the blue pot of paint for her to dip her two index fingers into. They all watched as she mixed them together discovering purple. Some times one child would ask his classmate, “How did you get that green” and a conversation would ensue regarding the mixing of blue and yellow.

Because children learn through their senses one of the popular games was the “magic hand” game. For this the child extended his hand with his eyes closed. The teacher then painted his fingers different “surprise” colors. His eyes once again open, the child made designs on his paper using his hand to print with, thereby satisfying the need to be tactually involved with the materials. Printing with his hand was pleasing because of the physical symmetry visible in the hand print.

Other games played to encourage experimentation and different textures were done by “hopping” the brush or sponge around the page, or “dripping” by squeezing the sponge to make drips run on the painting. There was also the game of inventing names for the newly mixed colors, like, “teddy bear brown” or “strawberry peach” and one of the favorite games had to do with teaching pastel colors by mixing drops of color into white cups of paint to make “ice cream flavors”.


9 and 10 year old class painting on 22 1/2”x 28” paper, Berkeley Child Art Studio.