SEEC Shares: Tiny Sculptures

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At SEEC, one of our core teaching philosophies is using the museums to enhance our lessons and foster curiosity. Upon hearing about a school inside the Smithsonian, many people are excited and want to know more about our practices. Other people react differently, thinking “that’s great, but I will never be able to recreate that in my classroom or at home”. We actively disagree with this assumption and argue that teachers, caregivers, and parents can bring their children out into the community to engage in object based learning. we understand that for some these community visits are not always easy to implement. For this reason, we decided that we should offer ways for parents, caregivers, and teachers to create SEEC-like spaces and activities that do not involve leaving your classroom or house. Our new blog series “SEEC Shares” aims to be a place that anyone working with young children can visit and be inspired to take ideas to mold them to fit their own needs.

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This week’s “SEEC Shares” highlights a class that taught toddlers about sculptures. This particular class was one of our recent Toddler Trailblazers Family Workshops. On the weekends we open our doors to families who come into our classrooms for play-based exploration before heading out on a museum visit with the class. For this Tiny Sculptures lesson, we transformed the classroom to allow for a wide variety of sculpture-based play and then visited Untitled (1976) by Alexander Calder and then Circle I, Circle II, and Circle III by David Smith at the National Gallery of Art. Below you will see some of the many ways that we created experiences to allow the toddler class to explore and create their own sculptures. Hopefully you will find these ideas inspiring.

Classroom & Activities Setup

Straw Sculptures on a Light Table

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For this activity, we put a colander upside down on a light table. The light table helped highlight the holes through which the children could stick the pipe cleaners and straws. As an added feature to the sculpture, we found felt flowers that we had previously made using a die cutting machine and felt.

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Since this was a standing activity, children could freely enter and leave the activity without having to seat themselves in a chair. The freedom of standing can help children tap into their creative side. Additionally, putting the pipe cleaners and straws through the colander holes was challenging and provided children with the opportunity to work on their fine motor skills.

Playdough Creations

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For our playdough station, we used assorted colors of homemade playdough. Often when we first introduce playdough to young children, we do not give them any tools to use. This encourages the children to practice pinching and molding the clay with their fingers, which is crucial to development. For this project, we chose to give the children tools that sculptors would use when working with clay.

Wooden Blocks, Magna-Tiles, and Tegu

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We created a block station that was tucked away in a corner. Children were able to create their own block sculptures without fear of someone knocking it over. Mixing the different types of blocks, including wooden and magna-tiles, allowed the children to create in new and unexpected ways.

 Loose Parts

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At the center of the room was a large station that was composed of loose parts. Before the lesson we gathered blocks of different shapes and sizes. Since blocks that link with one and another are not technically loose parts, we were careful to make sure that none of the blocks in the loose part area connected with one another either through magnets or through linking mechanisms like legos. We also cut up pool noodles, found cardboard tubes of various sizes, and added scarves to our loose part collection.

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To make our loose part area interesting and to hopefully spark creativity, we added materials that we thought the children would never have had a chance to experience before. We filled nylon socks with rice to make a unique form of bean bags and put out a large, white, stretchy tube to manipulate and explore. We also tried to display the loose parts in a way that showed that we valued these pieces without defining what they were or how they should be used.

Found Object Art

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To finish up the classroom part of the class, the toddlers were encouraged to create their own art using colored popsicle sticks, rocks and pebbles, and feathers. This activity allowed the toddlers and parents to reflect on what art is and what defines a sculpture. For this project, no directions were given. Children were able to be inspired purely by the materials and create truly process-based art.

We hope that you found this “SEEC Shares” inspirational and are equipped to create your own tiny sculptures activity. For more ideas check out our Pinterest Boards on Toddler and Twos Classroom, Activities from SEEC, Environments, and Learning as a Family.