The 100 Languages of Children: The Language of Paint

Each summer, PSA chooses a summer intention, as a way to connect our many classrooms and to deepen our practice. Over the 2022 summer, our school-wide intention was the hundred languages of children, inspired by the famous Loris Malaguzzi poem.

What do we really mean by learning a language? For all of the various languages that children are learning and speaking in the early years, we can use the stages of verbal language development as a metaphor.

Stages of Learning a Language

  • Stage 1: Pre-Production – listening to new words, gaining understanding of the language
  • Stage 2: Early Production – starting to practice pronouncing words, using new words to speak in short phrases
  • Stage 3: Speech Emergence – expanding vocabulary, speaking in longer phrases and questions, asking questions
  • Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency – starting to think and form responses in the new language
  • Stage 5: Advance Fluency – continuing to improve upon and expand vocabulary and abilities

With this philosophy in mind, our Art Studio has shifted their practice. Rather than using various medias and projects with each classroom, our entire school has begun focusing on one language at a time. With each language, the Art Studio is completely transformed to better explore the current language, and children are introduced to the material with the stages of language development in mind.

The first language that we explored as a school was the language of paint.

We began with black and white, two contrasting hues, as a way to highlight the process of painting rather than the full spectrum of information that color provides. We practiced mindfully approaching our work by slowing down and examining the parts of the brush, steps of painting (dip, wipe, paint) and the ways to gently “tip-toe” the bristles to make a clean line and take care of the brushes.

The children were invited to “take their brush for a walk” on large painted boards in order to “tell a story with a line”. We discussed how to add to the lines already created by “finding the spaces in between”, connecting lines and by not obscuring the work of others. 

To explore painting in a more dynamic way, the children used step stools and long-handled brushes to make large gestural marks. These provided variations in size, perspective, and showed a different kind of movement in the painted strokes.

We asked the children to think differently about the lines they were painting and not create any one particular thing or object. Rather, we challenged them to use their lines to explore form, shape, and contrast. We observed evidence of this in their work throughout the studio.

They also had explorations with partners on a translucent easel, explored paint on a sensory table, and experienced different line quality with brushes and water on Buddha boards.

The older children were invited to explore the Japanese marbling technique of Suminagashi, which means floating ink. Alternating between adding a whisper of ink and a brush dipped in soapy water to a pan of water, this way of painting takes steady hands and a lot of focus.

After our experiences with black and white painting, the children had an opportunity to explore the wide world of painting with color. We talked about color families (warm and cool), the color wheel and favorite colors before jumping into painting with watercolor paint and experimenting with non-traditional painting tools.

The children worked on growing their skills in watercolor painting- highlighting the special watercolor paper, different types of brushes used in watercolor painting and the way to wash the bristles between colors to keep the paint hues strong. 

Each group was invited to explore different watercolor painting techniques. They discovered what happened when salt or rubbing alcohol interacts with the paint, and how to use masking shapes, wet on wet washes, and pointillism. The end results were compiled into a technique guide for classrooms. 

We also talked about what tools besides brushes we could use to paint. We explored painting with spray bottles, plungers, flyswatters and paint markers to add color to our black and white collaborative pieces.

At the end of each visit to the studio, children are responsible for helping with clean up. This is an essential part of the creative process and it is important that we model respect and proper care of materials.

“When children are speaking the language of art, they are producers rather than consumers of knowledge, a generativity that allows children their full dignity. “ – Ann Pelo

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