Category Archives: Fifth/Sixth Grade

Wishing for a Do-Over

At the end of the year, my school third through sixth graders made pendants to give a mom or grandmom. I showed examples of pendants. We talked about the variety of shapes pendants come in, and designs that would be pleasing to moms. Then I took them in to their ball of clay and let them create a pendant.

Some of my younger students invested thought and creativity, and got some cool results. Most of my older students did, too. Some of my photos didn’t turn out so well, unfortunately.

amanda in third grade

third grader julia (the camera glare keeps the detail and the texture of the flower from showing, unfortunately)

a fourth grade girl’s, but I didn’t mark which one.

sixth grade erica’s

fifth grader dresden

fifth grade carter’s leaf

These were the good ones. The rest pretty much had words scratched into them. If it hadn’t been so late in the year, I could have sent them back for a do-over right then, but we had a deadline to make: Mother’s Day Tea. So if I do this lesson again, I won’t leave it so open-ended. These creative offerings don’t quite make up for the others. I would probably require a flower, show some techniques that could be used in creating a flower, and then let them form their pendant within those parameters. Sometimes kids NEED more structure to help them rise to the level of their capability, and this was apparently one of those occasions.


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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

Teaching as an Avenue for Continuing Education

I don’t know about other art teachers, but sometimes, I am learning something new right along with my students. Lino printing (most printing, really) qualifies as new for me. I always try to warn my students when we are learning something new together, but rarely do I get through a new lesson feeling like I need a lot more work on that. Feeling like, “Hey, can I get a do-over?” Not that our lessons always turn out spectacularly, because I am often surprised in the midst of a lesson, or take note of something I will do differently with the next group, or the next time I teach this lesson. But I don’t often feel unsatisfied myself, feeling like I am missing some things about this. Printing does that to me, though. Yet, I felt like printing was the best, coolest introduction to Japanese art that I could offer my older students.

So I will call these our first passes at lino printing. And I probably won’t try this in a class that includes third graders again.

a turtle, by a 5th grade student

this sixth grade student learned there is no erasing a lino cut, but awesome cross

a flying heart by a fourth grader

a fourth graders tulip in honor of tulip days

a third grader's baseball

a third grader inspired by Mount Fuji

I definitely see me spending more time working on this over the summer. Until it’s easy for me, it can’t become easy for my students.

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

How to Really Freak Out Your Art Students

and truly, I did not anticipate the reaction our gyotaku would get from the fifth and sixth graders. I started out reminding them that in Japanese culture almost EVERYthing can be an art. And printing in Japan was a long-established art, as we had already experience with our lino block prints. Japan is surrounded by ocean, so it has a serious fisherman tradition also. So is it surprising that something that began as a way to record your great catch long before the Kodak became a beautiful fine art? I thought not.

So when I pulled out our whole semi-frozen tilapia, why were the kids shocked? Did they think I would practice fish printing with potatoes? (And let me add that the difficulty of acquiring that fish in the midst of the heartland of America was a surprise to me). We watched a video of someone printing a fish, and they were totally grossed out. Ewwwww!

Excuse me?! I picked this art because this class 80% male! Do you not fish, boy students? What do boys do nowadays?!

When we daubed ink over our fish, pulling out the fins, the female part of the class was cool as cucumbers. A couple of boys weren’t touching my fish. It was certainly memorable!! This was my first time printing a fish, and I would have loved more time and paper to perfect our technique. Our prints show just gloppy ink in places, and we seriously should have had a Qtip to clean the eye of ink, rather than tissue. Sometimes making do doesn’t work. We will go over our fish prints with Sharpie to make a live eye before I mount these for the art show, but I wanted to to share now.

fish print by 6th grade girl


fish print by 6th grade boy


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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching

The Age of Brain Fog

True confessions: I am so glad my art classes stop at 6th grade now. Something just happens around 12 or 13 to kids that appears to others around them as if huge segments of their neural networks have been posted “road closed.” Sometimes there are detours that leave bystanders scratching their heads in wonder and confusion, and sometimes it seems as if traffic has shut down altogether.

My youngest son is, well, over 12 and a half. He isn’t much for sticking to the well-worn path when his neural network is a beehive of smoothly operating roads. But now… let’s just say he isn’t always tracking with me. And guess what? He is one of my art students! He has created a number of fun art pieces for me, mostly as my student, and often only loosely guided by the project goals. (Some kids are just scouts, you know?) One of them is currently in the Gathering of the Talents in Nebraska, waiting to see if the judges there are as excited by it as they were the one I sent for him last year. But sometimes his unique spin on a project is more the result of working while “road closed.”

Remember the student brush art roosters? From a reference photo? My son was zoned for the description of brush art capturing the idea of the subject, lines suggesting wings and tail feathers. He seemed to pay attention as we walked through an observation of our subject together, yet he ended up asking me and his neighbors, “What am I supposed to do? I don’t get it. What am I painting?” He didn’t even follow what his fellow students tried to tell him. And this is his brush art rooster:

Essence of Rooster

Honestly, I love this rooster. I love how he blends color into color, yet maintains control of his overall figure. He still has no idea what we are looking for in a sample of this era of brush art, but he has so little fear of any medium. He rarely likes his own artwork, and I rarely see anything to dislike. I wish I could get more out of him.

His fellow 6th grader:

Definitely strutting his stuff.

Two views, one chicken.

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching

Brushing up on Chinese Brush Art

All grades but Kindergarten spent the month of March learning to watercolor with Asian tools and methods. Well, not really…. There is far too much involved; but they have been introduced to the bamboo brush and its very different, rollable fingertip hold, as you saw in some of their bamboo paintings. After gaining a little familiarity with some of the brush strokes, and practicing with bamboo and Chinese characters, the third through sixth grades gave a little attempt at one certain Chinese style popular for a short time among the academics. I chose this not only for its goal of capturing simplicity and essence, but also for the strong influence this one school of Chinese painting had on our NEXT country, Japan.

A few brush art pandas:

This third grader's drips actually enhanced the subject.

Note the chops the students signed with; these were REALLY challenging for them!

This and the previous panda were fourth graders. This one seems to be standing, with hands on hips. Adorable!

We also had some colored roosters:

This fifth grader's rooster was painted from a reference photo of a very colorful bird.

this fifth grader's rooster seems very fierce to me.

We are finally through China, and after some free art this week, we’ll look at Japan. I am especially interested in how our first ever lino prints turn out!

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

Ninja Craftsmanship

My school students recently completed a unit focusing on craftsmanship, in preparation for taking on art inspired by China and Japan. In trying to understand what I was describing as craftsmanship, one boy mentioned ninjas as craftsmen. Well, hey! I can work with that! Ninjas are, indeed, well known for the excellence of what they do. I called my students to be ninja artists, the best at using their tools and media.

Our first practice project was with drawing tools, and I didn’t want them comparing drawing SKILL, but care in use of the TOOL. So we created an abstract marker drawing which had to have at least two straight lines utilizing a ruler. I LOVED these. I am even taking two of them to our art competition in Nebraska.

The Best on Display

Then we worked on using our paints and brushes with good craftsmanship, while practicing changes in value. A Coke commercial inspired me to go polar, so third through sixth put a polar bear in theirs, and first and second grade put collaged penguins (more accessible to them). This was definitely more challenging for them, but I really enjoyed the results.

Polar values

I hope to see the benefits of focusing specifically on craftsmanship as my ninja artists move into Asian art and its emphasis on excellence.

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, First/Second Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

Finding Brain-space

I haven’t written a blog post in three weeks. It’s not because I am no longer teaching art. It’s not because I’m not living a life I feel like commenting on. I’m just crazy busy. I stayed on at the department store I wrapped for during the holidays, selling women’s clothing. All told, it’s as if I’m working full-time now, plus doing the Mom and Wife thing, plus serving in my church. And oddly enough, I find that I need empty space in my schedule for writing. I’m calling it “Brain-space.” It’s that quiet time that is left AFTER you have used up the planning time and the to-do list and the needed conversations, when your brain can be quiet for a bit and dream up new things. Apparently my own art uses that same “Brain-space” as well.

But, here I have a strangely sleepless night, having tossed and turned a couple of hours, and I’ve finally reached my Brain-space. So I thought I would use this time to show you a little of our Mexican wrap-up. My focus on Mexican art was its folk-art, and especially its bright colors and patterns. Third through sixth grades tackled form in the medium of paper mache, inspired by Oaxican alebrijas. Paper mache is NOT something I am skilled at, and apparently even less at teaching it. However, it was an introduction to something new, and the students who were willing to be patient and careful were quite successful, I think.

A 4th grader's alligator.

A 5th grader's cameleon.

6th grade butterfly

Kindergarten practiced a guided observation of a Mexican toucan, followed by a guided drawing. These were fun!

a homeschool kinder toucan with a grape

another homeschool kinder

I’ll add a school kinder toucan as soon as I find where I put those photos!

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Kindergarten, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

More Student Batik

I’ve gotten more student batiks washed out, and some of these illustrate why I regret offering so many color choices. I definitely want to do some work with them on color theory and schemes next semester. I do think, however, that several of these have just beautiful composition and design. Gel glue is a challenging new medium for any artist, and the students rose to the challenge.

third grade peacock

third grade elephant

third grade elephant, had several like this

fifth grade peacock

fifth grade elephant. If I had had more time, I would have encouraged him to do the 2nd layer of black over the whole background.

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

Indian Batik, the Kid-friendly Way

Third through sixth grades have been creating art on fabric, in the Indian style. I’m not a fan of hot wax around children, though, and dye has no washability with student messes, so we did our batik the kid-friendly way. We used Elmer’s blue gel glue and acrylic paint. I first saw this technique on That Artist Woman’s blog, here. Some adjustments I made for my students are drawing their design on the wax paper with sharpie, then tracing that pattern on the fabric set over the wax paper using the glue; and for my older students, we added more glue design over the acrylic paint once it dried, and then added a second layer of paint over that in the background. I encouraged light colors for the underpainting for them, and we allowed the second layer of acrylic to only MOSTLY dry, so that some washed away as we washed away the glue. This created a much more batik-y look.

a third grade peacock

a fourth grade peacock

another fourth grade peacock

a sixth grade elephant

a sixth grade monkey

I think these turned out very well. The medium of glue was very new to the students, who couldn’t really forsee the results after it all washed out, and kept trying to paint the dried glue as if the lines would stay this painted color. The washing out step was a revelation to many! I also offered a much larger palette than I usually do, and some of the kids just went crazy with color, in spite of my warnings to select a few to work with. Those are a little harder to discern, but I’ll post a couple of those later. The water to wash out the glue really does need to be hot, so we only did a preliminary wash at school, and I took them home to really wash them completely and press.

I plan to finish these squares by mounting them to foamboard backing. Maybe. We’ll see how it goes!


Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade

A Riot of Color

This past week or two all my classes have been doing projects to help them experience and develop their color mixing. Our artroom has exploded with bright colors, from our African works to now. Kindergarten made ginormous color mixed caterpillars. First/second grades are behind, but are about to start a color wheel hot air balloon. Third/Fourth mixed oil pastel umbrellas (that one worked better with the homeschool class, I think), and fifth/sixth did the abstract study. This is my board with some samples (I could really use a bigger bulletin board).

color board

an explosion of color!


Every once in a while a sudent project surprises me: I, rather than the students, get really engaged in it. I mean, I usually enjoy the student projects. Gee, if I don’t have fun, how can I expect the kids to? But occasionally, one draws me in even more than the kids. The fifth/sixth grade abstract tertiary color study has been one of those.

My fifth/sixth grade showed a good understanding of mixing tertiary colors; I was pleased with that. They had trouble with the conceptual part of assembling a balanced, cohesive composition. Not bad, though. I, however, have felt strangely compelled by mine. I sat it up on the mantle and ponder it, often. I wonder if I should extend the colors to the edges of the paper. Would it look better if it were black beyond the edges, like the grid lines? This was strangely fun. I would enjoy doing it over several different ways. I’d enjoy doing it again, on a canvas, with acrylic. I don’t think this artwork is done with me yet!

abstract tertiary color model

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Filed under Art, Fifth/Sixth Grade, Kindergarten, Teaching, Third/Fourth Grade