Art and motion: moving toward STEM

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 Child drawing picture of two red peppers on a yellow plate.Children drawing a still life using crayonsbeginning 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.

Drawing of a dinosaur with footprints, to show it is in motion.

Dinosaur with footprints to show it is in motion.

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 Child pulling on the string to spin the salad spinnerforce to affect the motion of objects, and create art. Exploring Using shadow puppetry to explore light and shadow, and negotiate social relationships.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. 

An individual's painting using a technique of Jackson PollockA group introduction to Jackson Pollock's technique of paintingThe 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.

Child manipulating wire to create a sculptureThe 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. 

Exploring the motion of spinning topsGames 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.

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11 Comments

  1. Lisa
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful example of effectively integrating art and science. Several Natl Core Arts standards & NGSS can be addressed & assessed as students engage in these activities – as you point out, with a longer time frame much more can be done. Awesome to see your students “deepen their understanding of the properties of materials and the laws of physics that brought Calder’s circus to life”. Way to Go!

    • Peggy Ashbrook
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Lisa! One of the reasons I love teaching in the early childhood years is because the domains of learning overlap and intertwine so much.

  2. Emily
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Based upon the content and spirit of this article should you be “Moving toward STEAM?” Why STEM?

    • Lisa
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I had the same thought, Emily!

  3. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the question, Emily. For the “Art in Motion” camp session, the common thread every day was the motion involved in our artwork and centers play. SMET, STEM, STEAM, STREAM, STREAMS, STREAMSS… no area of learning should be left out when planning early childhood education curriculum but not all areas are addressed in any one lesson. As a science educator who loves art, makes art, and sometimes teaches art, I am sticking with STEM when I write in NSTA journals and blogs.

    • Lisa
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      I wondered about STEAM, too, but I understand the challenge!

  4. Marcy Seavey
    Posted August 13, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Awesome Peggy! What a great experience. I want to comment on the ideas in the first paragraph about how camp is not school and school is not camp. Another benefit of camp is the new interpersonal experience. Generally, campers begin not knowing anyone else or knowing only one other person in the group. All they know about each other is that they all signed up for the same experience. This allows kids an opportunity to practice reinventing themselves in less threatening environment. Everyone here is interested in something I am and no on has preconceived ideas about who I am, what I can do, how I act. I believe this is why camp experiences are so often connected to building leadership skills. When we go to camp, we don’t just get to play, we get to reinvent ourselves! Love hearing about your work!

    • Peggy Ashbrook
      Posted August 13, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Such a good point Marcy, and I think the children rose to the occasion! I hope I did too : )

  5. Marcy Doyle
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Peggy, amazing ideas for science and arts integration! I enjoyed reading about the inquiry experiences you built for your campers. I want to challenge one idea about camp and school. Isn’t creating a play-based inquiry classroom more like camp than a traditional classroom? I want to infuse your ideas inside my play-based/inquiry first grade classroom. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much Marcy! When comments make this blog a conversation it teaches me a lot.
    I agree that creating a play-based inquiry classroom is more like camp than a “traditional” classroom, if “traditional” means desks in rows and children using worksheets to do rote learning. But I hope that in early childhood (birth-grade 2 or 3) we are learning from the research that shows children learn more when they are actively involved manipulating the materials and discussing their ideas with the guidance of adults. See Chapter 7 in “Ready, Set, Science!” for more on adult support. The entire book is well worthwhile and free online: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11882/ready-set-science-putting-research-to-work-in-k-8

  7. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I agree that creating a play-based inquiry classroom is more like camp than a “traditional” classroom, if “traditional” means desks in rows and children using worksheets to do rote learning. But I hope that in early childhood (birth-grade 2 or 3) we are learning from the research that shows children learn more when they are actively involved manipulating the materials and discussing their ideas with the guidance of adults. See Chapter 7 in “Ready, Set, Science!” for more on adult support. The entire book is well worthwhile and free online: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11882/ready-set-science-putting-research-to-work-in-k-8

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