One of the problems with being a leader is trying to find activities and projects for the kids to do. Craft magazines typically label projects as “easy” or “beginner” but these labels aren’t always clear enough for a leader to use. “Easy” can mean anything between Kindergarten and fifth grade. There’s a big difference in motor skill development during those years.
That’s one of the things I’m trying to do with this column, because I know how frustrating it was when I was a new leader in scouts, a new teacher trying to find lesson plans, and a new Assistant Program Director trying to plan activities for an after school care program. I try to include a grade level in my projects so that other leaders will have an easier time trying to find projects that meet their needs.
Using information from the Catholic school’s art curriculum, text books from UWF and Cub Scout leader training, here are some of the skills children have in different classes. These skills can be used as a clue to help a leader decide if the project is right for the children being served.
Craft projects should be within the child’s ability, or just a little bit out of their reach. Asking them to stretch their skills just a little will encourage them to try harder. If the project is so far out of their reach it is frustrating, it will encourage them to quit and believe that they “can’t do anything right.” If the project is too easy, they will become bored, and will be encouraged to mess around, get silly or disrupt the meeting. When choosing a project for a group that has several ages in it, try to find something that will be easy for the average age, but still within reach of the youngest age.
Kindergarten: Look for projects that teach them how to use a tool, such as scissors, by cutting on a preprinted line. Glue sticks work better than white glue because they don’t have fine motor skills developed enough to squeeze lightly.
First Grade: Step up the skills from Kindergarten one notch, such as cutting a curved line. Introduce new materials, such as white glue, by first demonstrating how to use it as a tool. For example, before using markers, show them how the cap can be put on the other end while it is in use, and how the cap should snap shut when it is put back. Teach rules about cleaning up and taking care of the tools. Teach how to use a tool safely.
Second Grade: When the students begin to write neatly and demonstrate control of a pencil, it is time to introduce projects that use small finger motions such as using glitter or making sand drawings. Girls develop their finger muscles first, while boys develop their arm and leg muscles first. Both can be taught how to use a paint brush, but boys will need something that is painted all one color while girls will be able to paint a smaller area.
Third Grade: This is a crossroads age level. Third grade is the time when some students decide that they just aren’t good at art, and give up trying. It’s because they are comparing themselves to the professional masters like Michelangelo. Use artists that are within their reach such as Picasso. Use step by step drawing books where they can compare their art to the one in the book. Use examples of other students’ work that are found in a magazine or saved from the previous year. Let them compare themselves to you by showing them something you made when you were that age. Ask the boys if they can play baseball as well as the St. Louis Cardinals can, and if that means they “aren’t any good” at baseball.
Fourth and Fifth Grade: By this age, boys and girls have both developed fine motor skills and are able to do projects that have more detail. Craft projects can include tying a knot, weaving, or using basic hand tools such as pliers, hammer or a saw.
At this age level, students want to express themselves. Look for art projects that allow them to tell the world who they are such as a collage of their favorite things, or drawing a picture of what job they want when they grow up.
Middle School: At this age, students want a practical use for what they are learning. Cover the Principles of Design, but apply the knowledge to a concern they have in their own life. For example, understanding the use of balance can help them arrange pictures on their bedroom wall. Color theory can be used in choosing an outfit to wear. An understanding of human proportions can help them choose clothing that will accent the body they have and make their legs look longer or their shoulders broader.
Also discuss how an artist faced frustration but didn’t give up, or how they solved a problem in their life. Explain the purpose of the movement or what an artist was trying to do or say with art so that they can see how people set and achieve a goal. Include problem solving in the assignment by allowing for self expression, but meeting a requirement.
For example, a sculpture can be of any subject they choose, but it must be engineered enough that it doesn’t fall over. There are several ways to solve that problem; making the sculpture short and wide, using more than one base and splitting the weight between two supports, or tapering the design so that the bottom of it is heavier than the top. As long as the answer meets the requirement, it is correct, even if it is not the same answer than another student came up with. Asking them to meet a requirement that has more than one solution will encourage critical thinking, dealing with peer pressure, and making choices.
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