Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Early Elementary STEAM: Vegetable (& Fruit) Prints

We have two-month program cycles at my library, and during each cycle, we aim to have formal, registered STEAM program opportunities for each of the age ranges in my purview as Youth & Family Program Coordinator--that is, preschool, early elementary (K-2nd), and older elementary (3rd-5th). When we can, the other youth programming staff and I like to tie in the themes and concepts in these age-specific programs to align with the theme in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space. The following program activity aligned with our recent Textiles rotation, where folks of all ages explore sewing, weaving, prints, dying, knitting, batik, and more.

Vegetable Prints

Target age: kindergarten through second grade (our room fits about 16 comfortably)
Key concepts: print-making; visual thinking; shapes of fruits and vegetables from different perspectives
  • tempera (or other washable--trust me, this gets messy) paint, in an assortment of colors
  • vegetables and fruits of different types, sizes, and shapes (for the best result, cut them into halves/pieces at least 6 hours in advance of the program to allow the exposed edges to harden a bit)
  • heavy paper (like construction or watercolor paper) and/or fabric squares
  • trays to hold the paint
  • paintbrushes
  • cups with water to rinse brushes
  • paper toweling for blotting wet brushes

Once kids were settled into our craft room for the program, I encouraged kids to put on painting smocks in anticipation of the mess. Then I prompted them to look at the materials on the tables. What did they see? Could they identify the different fruits and vegetables? Could they make any guesses at what we'd be doing with the materials in front of them?

After kids were clear that we'd be exploring print-making with paint and natural materials, we talked for a few minutes about what different shapes, patterns, and prints the different fruits and veg would make if painted and applied to the paper/fabric in different ways. I encouraged kids to pick up the veg pieces to look at them from different perspectives, trying to imagine the prints each side would make.

Then it was time to make some prints! We started off with everyone applying paint to their chosen fruits and veg using the paintbrushes, but after a while most kids defaulted to dipping their natural materials straight into the paint. (Told you it would get messy!)

We did this as a 45-minute program, and an integral part of using that full time frame was having multiple surfaces on which the kids could make prints. Everyone started off with a small sheet of paper to get a hang of the technique, then after maybe 10-15 minutes they each got a larger sheet of paper to plan out a larger, more intricate print (if they wanted). We talked about patterns and repetition, color choices, and other factors that print-makers consider at this point. Then, the final 15-20 minutes were spent with kids diligently creating a final print on a piece of muslin fabric. The idea was for the dried fabric to serve as a wall or door hanging, so we attached dowels with string to the top of each child's fabric so that the finished print could be displayed more easily.

It was so interesting to me to see how different kids really connected with different aspects of this activity. Some were totally into color mixing, while others favored a consistent palate. Some wanted to get the full effect of a single veg or two from every angle (a sort of natural cubism), while others wanted to explore every single shape and texture available. By the end, one or two kids even started repurposing the veg as paintbrushes, using them to draw and write on their final prints. Simple activity, so many possibilities!

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