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Finding Freedom through Art

by Hanna Walker, 5th grade educator

For many people, art and other creative subjects can be plagued with fear and anxiety. No matter who you are, I wonder if you have sometimes experienced frustration when trying to create something.

I am a self-taught painter. I have been through many trials and errors while building my techniques, mixing colors and trying brush techniques until all that remained was a muddy canvas. I have even finished paintings and then painted right over them. Through these experiences, I’ve learned that I don't have to love every one of my creations, but I do have to see it through to the end. Sometimes I detest what I am working on, but I have learned that the more I add and trust the process, the more I love the final piece.

I started with abstract painting because it was freeing not to have a concrete or specific goal. The experience is more about playing with the paint, mixing it, layering it, and starting over if I am not satisfied. I don't get frustrated or down on my skills when I paint this way. I feel calm knowing there are no constraints, and I accomplish trusting myself and my artistic process.

At Sycamore, we strive to help children expand their growth mindsets. A growth mindset is a cherished skill that can be transferred to any area in life. It means you are willing to try things, even if you are afraid, to persevere when you fail, and to be open-minded. Everyone has an area where they struggle, or, in some cases, they feel unable to do it all together. Teaching children how to use a growth mindset helps them be adaptable and resilient, and it sets them up for success in many areas.

Our Kindergarten class reads books about reframing mistakes at the beginning of the year, including Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg and The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luykin. After reading, they practice creating art from a mistake. Art continues to be a catalyst for embracing mistakes throughout the Sycamore experience. It provides an environment that celebrates being unique and encourages experimentation.

In my 4th/5th grade class at Sycamore, I strive to provide my students with moments of productive struggle in art - experiences that give them freedom, allow for experimentation and decision making, and opportunities to show individuality. Art projects like this builds confidence and prepares students to trust themselves and their process when they engage in more structured art activities, such as portraits.

The Random Rice Shape Project - In a recent art project students were tasked with creating organic shapes using rice. One reason I enjoyed this project is that the resulting shapes are generated randomly. There is very little you can do to control where a grain of rice falls.

By randomly dropping the rice, it ensures that their final piece will be original, and it helps students let go of expectations that their art will appear a certain way when making their first mark.

During this project, students simply drew around the scattered rice, which limited the number of decisions they could make. It took precision and focus to trace these random, detailed shapes and served as a moment to practice mindfulness. This project also helped students practice fine motor movements and water coloring within their lines.

The Bubble Art project - 4th and 5th grade students also engaged in a fun activity using bubbles. Their only instruction was to create colorful designs using paint bubbles. These art pieces are another example of a project that came out unique to each student and did not require the students to make complicated decisions.

Although painting with bubbles is relatively simple in terms of technical skills, it allows many opportunities to experiment. What ratio of soap, water, and paint works best? How can tools help you get the desired effect? What happens when you mix certain colors? This project tends to be messy, which is a great sign that playfulness and fun is happening!

Introducing abstract art projects is a great way to allow for individuality and provides students a risk-free environment where they can explore and strengthen their growth mindset. Through art, they learn to find freedom and beauty in their creations, as well as to discover pride in themselves.


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