I teach 5 year olds right now and they have trouble collaborating and sharing. They understand that it can be a good thing to do but most of them aren’t yet at the point where they are open to it. I have tried many things to figure out how to get around this. I’ve tried teaching an exquisite corpse lesson but it was a bit too complicated for their age. There were too many directions and then half of them got teary and fussy because someone else drew on their picture.
I taught a lesson on Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo and the Hope Outdoor Gallery here in Austin as a way to illustrate people making art together but they had trouble applying these concepts to their own works of art. Then I discovered musical chairs drawing which turns collaboration into a game. It also seems to be wired to work with their goldfish-like attention spans.
As Mary Poppins says: In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game (Sometimes I feel like Mary Poppins. I mentioned this in a recent interview and ended up getting hired)
Traditional Musical Chairs
Musical chairs is a game where a number of chairs, one less than the number of players, are arranged in a circle. Music is played and the players walk around the chairs. When the music stops, each player attempts to sit down in one of the chairs. The player who is left without a chair is eliminated from the game. One chair is then removed so there will always be one fewer chair than players. The music resumes and the cycle repeats until there is only one player left in the game.
Musical Chairs Drawing
In musical chairs drawing there are enough chairs for everyone and no one gets eliminated. When I did this with my class I pushed the tables together, put all the markers out, and gave one piece of paper to each student and told them to draw whatever they wanted with one exception: no scribbling. I told them that when they hear the music start they will get up, leave their paper where it is, push their chair in, and walk around the table until they hear the music stop. At which time, they will sit down in the chair that is closest to them even if it’s not where their artwork is. They will then add on to the new art work. Again, no scribbling. You can’t color over and cross out someone else’s work, you have to add on to it in a way that you can still see what the other person did. The kids were extremely engaged, in fact for one of my classes we did this game for the full hour and a half that they were in my class (and they came in the next day asking if we could play it again).
I did this activity with 4 different groups last week and by the end of the day I had worked out all the bugs. I kept an eye on the students to see when they started getting bored or complacent and starting to not pay attention to what they were making. This was generally 3-6 minutes. I would let them color for that long and then play the music for about 50 seconds. I’d make sure to stop the music when a majority of kids were near a different artwork from what they had just been working on. I couldn’t get all the kids to a different point on the table because they don’t walk uniformly but they rotated drawings frequently enough that I was able to focus on groups of kids getting to different places at different rotations.
The first big obstacle came when I told them “that was the last time the music will play. The work in front of you now is your work and it’s what you will be taking home with you so make it look how you want it to look.” They still have that sense of ownership over the piece they started. I was hoping that by forcing them to take home a random work that they took part in they’d really get the idea of community art. But it didn’t work so by the end of the day I let them go back to their original piece when the last song played.
Dancing and Music
They started calling out what dance move to do next and which direction to go when the music started playing. I told them to do the robot and they asked if I had robot music which I did. They also went backwards, sideways, turned in a circle at each corner of the table (which was a mistake, kids get dizzy easily), were kitties in peanut butter, and were swimming through honey.
Here are the songs I played for them:
Sherry- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Lady Bug Picnic- The Palmetto Bug Stompers
I Wanna be Like You- Louis Prima
Girls Just Want to Have Fun- Cyndi Lauper
Exterminate Annihilate Destroy- Rottersand (this was my “robot music”)
Working Together is a Skill
I think this idea works so well it can be applied to situations other than drawing. I would like to try this concept with collage, painting, and sculpture too.
This works really well within the framework of my day because I get my morning class twice; once in the morning and then again at the end of the day. Instead of making different art in each class that I have them, one of the classes is for collaboration in which they make murals together and play with art supplies, just exploring the media.