Camp is not school. Like school, camp is play and camp is a learning environment, but the time together may not be long enough to build a community that effectively investigates together. In a half-day, five-day camp program with 15 minutes for snack and 30 minutes for recess, my class of eight children (grades K-2) had about 2 hours to work together each day and we made the most of it. Our theme was “Art in Motion” and my goal was to enjoyably expose the children to the work of a few artists and have them experience several kinds of motion, some while making art. I did not expect to spend much time in group discussion and reflection. Instead we had many individual conversations as children were working during activities and centers. If this was school we would have had many more hours to consider how to make, affect, and represent, the motion of objects. We could have scientifically inquired into the specifics of balls on ramps or balance of hanging objects but our time was limited so we had just a prelude to science inquiry involving aesthetics and objects in motion.
Each day I read a book or two aloud to focus on a topic. Our beginning topic was Cezanne’s still life paintings, the opposite of art in motion although still full of life. Drawing the simple arrangement of two vegetables was a challenging task for some children but they persisted. They had an easier time making a drawing of an imagined object in motion. Working with paper, crayons, and liquid watercolors, children noticed the way the wax crayons repelled the paint and how the paint was absorbed by the paper.
With centers of marble painting and “spin art” (painting on small paper plates using a salad spinner to exert force), children manipulated the materials and the force to affect the motion of objects, and create art. Exploring light and shadow through shadow puppetry involved scientific discoveries and social negotiations as children learned which materials can block light and how to work with another person to tell a story.
The week would not be complete if we didn’t paint in the style of Jackson Pollock, putting the paper base on the floor and dripping and pouring paint to express our feelings. A group experience introduced the process and individual works followed. With a longer time frame the children could have tried more kinds of paint and implements to move it, exploring how the density of a liquid effects how it moves and what kind of tool we need to control it.
The work of Alexander Calder, another art innovator, inspired us to try creating some figures using wire, and think about using balance and air movement as elements in our art. Watching the video of his presentation of his “Le Grande Cirque Calder” circus showed that adults like to play too. We saw how Calder combined materials and made characters that moved. I hope that this taste of making art that has motion will motivate the children to deepen their understanding of the properties of materials and the laws of physics that brought Calder’s circus to life.
Games with an aspect of motion were part of the centers in between art making. It surprised me that none of the children had heard of Pick Up Sticks! It was a popular game. Children enjoyed the challenge of removing a stick without jostling the others. Ramps and pathways materials—tracks, blocks, and objects—introduced motion on inclined tracks and structure design. Spinning tops allowed children to vary the force they applied to an object to vary the motion and they considered what variables make a top spin longest. Sharing materials encouraged negotiation and supported developing social skills. It is satisfying to see children exploring motion and trying to work out how to make the materials do what they want them to. This engagement is the beginning of a science inquiry.