Learning Through Play and Art Helps Free My Students

Play and learning go hand in hand in my classroom. I like to present topics as opportunities for exploration, the essence of which is enticingly undeterminable. It’s the equivalent of looking up an online word and choosing “explore” over “define” and yielding infinitely more interesting and fruitful results. Play is, therefore, as self-satisfying as it is self-directive and intuitive. So much of life is not that way.

For this reason I welcome the Picasso Head Unit I teach every year with first graders around this time of year. The idea of ‘self’ is a central point of discovery, especially in the world of a 5 year old. For starters, you are an automatic resident expert on YOU! This approach helps cultivate a more edit free zone meaning that you draw a self-portrait of how you see yourself, not as how others see you. This is empowering for a child.

I start by using BrainPop Jr.’s Picasso themed movie. After the developmentally appropriate educational animated video starring Annie and Moby https://jr.brainpop.com/ (a duo made up of an early elementary aged girl and a non-verbal beep only and affectionate robot) and then explore the related resources. Students then move on to explore the Picasso Head maker http://www.picassohead.com/

At first, students are first tasked with playing with the website’s tools in order to see how they work. Asking questions, such as, what happens if I do this? Tweak that? Add this? Take away that? Cause and effect become the guiding principle. At this stage my job is to have students practice making a face by exploring all the ‘options’ or tools available to them. When expectations are low and the goals for learning are high it is a win/win for both student and teacher. In the the subsequent lesson, students create their final Picasso Head ‘for real’ in what is generally a stress-free experience, filled with spontaneity and humor.

Art, like life, is a by product more about unplanned results versus planned. When students are are relaxed and creating something without preconceived expectations they are in the moment, they are present. Who thought abstract art could be so accessible?

 Student Sampling of Picasso Inspired Self-Portraits.

Student Sampling of Picasso Inspired Self-Portraits.