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~ The Building Blocks of the Arts ~

Arts Elements Growing Artists by Joan Bouza Koster

The elements of the arts are like the ingredients in a recipe. The artist, the musician, the storyteller, the creative dancer picks and chooses from the arts cupboard and then arranges them this and that to create something entirely new and wonderful.

Here is a list of the basic elements for each of the four arts areas.

Which ones will you choose to use?

Arts Elements growing Artists by Joan Bouza Koster



eye in cloud

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to provide a shared sensory experience on which to build deep learning. [Note: I presented this activity at the 2013 National Convention of the NAEYC.]

Suitability: This activity is adaptable to many levels. It works well with preschoolers through adults and is particularly suited for mixed ages or parent/child workshops. With small changes, it can be used one-on-one with an infant and adult or an adult with a two or three toddlers.

Integrated Learning: This plan is based on the Multi-Sensory Planner. Click here for a copy of the Cloud Planner.  Cloud Unit Multi-Sensory Planner

Objectives: Children will develop…

  • Socially by working with others.
  • Physically by using gross and fine motor skills and by positioning objects and their bodies in space.
  • Emotionally by identifying their own feelings.
  • Intellectually by working with size, distance, counting, and exploring cause and effect.
  • Linguistically by talking, reading, singing, and writing about their experiences.
  • Creatively by making their own choices of how to express what they are learning.
  • Perceptually by making meaning of sensory stimuli.
  • Artistically by using the elements of and applying the skills of visual art, music, dance, and drama.

WOW The Sensory Experience 

  • Provide the stimulus: On a cloudy day take the children outside and look up at the clouds. If possible, lie down on your backs. But standing up is fine too. Hold an infant in your arms and point up at the sky. The important thing is to be outside and look long distances to develop distance vision.
  • Attract attention and encourage active participation: Point to various clouds and use enthusiastic language and open-ended questions. “Look!” “I see a big cloud, small cloud, dark cloud, pink cloud, floating cloud, etc. What do you see?”  “Are they moving? Are they changing?”
  • Imitate their actions: When they point to something, mirror them.
  • Give feedback: Point to it and draw others attention to it. Be quiet and let the children share the experience of the clouds. Take plenty of time to allow children to sustain their focus. If children become distracted, draw them back with a question.
  • Add deep meaning: Follow up the experience to enrich it: Go out at different times of day and check for TheCloudBookchanges. Go out on a foggy day or a fine drizzle, and talk about how you are inside a cloud. Ask: “How does it feel on your skin?” “How does it smell?” “How does it taste?” “What can you see?” “What can you hear?”  Read The Cloud Book by Tommie de Paola and  Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker. Make a list of words that describe clouds. Use the list to create a simple poem as illustrated.
Cloud DanceOur Clouds
High Up
Dancing clouds

Deepening the Experience and the Learning

1. Cloud sounds  Go outside on a windy day. “If clouds are moving fast across the sky what sounds do we hear?” Make wind sounds. Establish hand signals for louder and softer, faster and slower, higher and lower. Conduct the group in making wind music. Let children take turns conducting the group. Extend this activity byadding rhythm instruments and making paper cloud stick puppets as follows and moving them to the music.

2. Tissue paper “clouds”  Provide small squares of tissue paper about 8″ by 8.” For older children provide straws for blowing. Encourage children to explore the tissue using sensory questions: “How does it feel, smell, sound, move, look?” “How does it change if you crumble it up?” “What happens if you blow it?”  “How is the same as a cloud?” “How is it different?” As you ask your questions point to the tissue balls to focus attention. Extension:  Have children make more balls and put them in the sensory bin or encourage children to build from blocks or to draw (upper levels) mazes and using straws try to blow the “cloud” through the maze.

3. Cloud stick puppets/dancing props Attach the tissue ball to the top of a straw using scotch tape. Have children explore how their cloud will move. Holding their cloud puppet as a prop have them dance like clouds to “cloud” music of your choice. Music that relates well to cloud dancing are selections from The Grand Canyon Suite. Extension: Take the puppets outside and explore the shadows they make. Look for cloud shadows and try to stand in them. Inside provide flashlights and make cloud shadows and shadow puppet shows for each other.

4. Cloud songs  Select a familiar tune and make up words. Extend this activity by using cloud stick puppets to act out the actions of the cloud song. Here is an example based on Mary Has a Little Lamb.

I have a little cloud, little cloud, little cloud. I have a little cloud  ___________________ [Have children complete the words i.e. floating to and fro or dancing up and down, and it’s white and cold, etc.

5. Cloud Flip Mural Read Eric Carle’s Little Cloud. Go outside and see if you can see different things in the clouds. The Little CloudDiscuss how clouds can be all kinds of shapes. Give out two sheets of paper one small and one large. These can be white or cloud colors of your choice. Have children compare the sizes. Then have them cut out a cloud shape from each. Challenge older children by having them tear out the shapes. Ask: “Is one cloud bigger?” “Why or why not?” “Could you make other sizes from the left over pieces?” Add more math by having them put their clouds in size order, and count how many clouds the class made using multiples in the upper grades. Have children take turns gluing their larger clouds to a long sheet of paper – this can be white, painted in sky colors by the children, or be a long piece of tracing paper. The translucence of tracing paper creates a glowing sky effect. Attach a string to the smaller clouds using scotch tape. Tape these to the mural.  NOW: Take the two ends and flip it over. The clouds on strings will hang down. Suspend it between two tables by taping each end to the edge. Put fluffy pillows underneath and create a place for children to curl up with a book and dream or count clouds.

6. Under a Cloud. Use a paper or tissue cloud attached to a string. It could be the one made for the mural before it is attached or a separate one created just for this activity. Have children think about how their cloud feels. Share ideas. Ask: “How would your cloud move if it were happy or sad or tired?”  Read the book The Cloud  by Hannah Cumming. Talk about why the illustrator made a cloud scribble over the girls’ head. Ask: “What other ways could her friend have helped her?”The Cloud


7. Cloud Stories Invent stories about clouds. A good example is The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool in which a little boy spins cloth from the clouds.

Cloud Flip Mural made by participants in the NAEYC conference workshop

Cloud Flip Mural made by participants in the NAEYC conference workshop

What other cloud activities can you think of to deepen the learning?

sun through the clouds

Sensory Perception is the Basis of All the Arts.

Imagine music without the sounds of the instruments or the pitch of the voices.

Imagine drama without voices of the actors or the expressions on their faces.

Imagine dancing without the touch of you feet on the floor or without hearing the rhythm of the music.

Imagining painting without the smell of the paint, the pressure of the brush on the canvas, or the splash of color on the canvas.

What is sensory perception?

Sensation is the absorption of information from a stimulus through our sense organs and the delivery of that information to our brain.

Perception is the processing of that information by our brain which attempts to organize it and give it meaning so that action can be taken.

We are born to be sensory creatures. Newborns come into the world already smelling, tasting, touching, hearing and seeing. The unborn child can smell and taste amniotic fluid in the womb. It can feel the warmth and movement of its mother. At 24 weeks the fetus can hear and at 33 weeks it can  detect light.

But the world to the newborn is a swirling multi-colored mosaic of sensations – noises, lights, textures, tastes, and smells. They need to learn to control and make meaning of these sensations. They have to learn selective attention.

The process of selective attention involves the following steps.

  • A stimulus is noticed
  • Distractions are filtered out
  • A choice is made to focus on that stimulus
  • Focus is maintained over time
  • Meaning or emotion is given to the stimulus
  • A plan of action is made
  • The action is taken
  • The stimulus and its meaning is added to memory

For example, you see a glowing light. You stop and look at it. You ignore the sound of your feet on the gravel, the rub of your clothes against your body, the smell of your sneakers, and the taste of the gum in your mouth. You study it for several flameminutes and notice it flickers, changing colors from red to orange to yellow. It moves slightly in a draft of air. You can feel it giving off heat. You can smell something charred and notice a bitter taste on your lips.  It reminds you of a flame you once touched that burned you. It is coming from a stick. You decide to move away and not touch it. You will remember that sticks can burn.

If we cannot sustain attention, if we are always distracted and losing focus, our senses overwhelm us and we feel stress and anxiety. A recent Nation article “In the Tank” by Neima Jahromi describes a new fad – sensory deprivation tanks. People who go in these tanks say they are escaping the bombardment of their senses by modern digital life and find the tanks calming. However, research by Mason & Brady 2009 has found that as little as 15 minutes of total sensory deprivation can lead to loss of reality and hallucinations and longer times can lead to coma. In addition, after being in a sensory deprivation tank, people report that their senses are heightened which would seem to be the opposite of calming the senses.

Therefore, developing sustained attention seems to be a better choice for dealing with overwhelming sensory input. Teaching children to focus is a wonderful and essential gift we can give our children and the arts provide a perfect forum for doing so.

Research has shown that children who can focus for sustained periods have better behavior control, fewer learning difficulties, higher academic performance, and understand that other people think differently from them. (Chasiotis, A., Kiessling, F., Winter, V., & Haber, J. 2006).  Instead of superficial memories, deep meaning and understand develops through intense focus. Children identified as gifted are often characterized by the ability to sustain attention on some activity for long periods of time. (Caine, R. N. & Caine, G. 1998).

  1. Sustained attention can be taught through intentional teaching starting in infancy and extending through adulthood.
  2. Carefully select a sensory experience to focus on – A WOW! See here for guidelines in selecting this experience.
  3.  Draw attention by pointing to the object. From birth infants are drawn to follow a pointing hand.
  4. Invite active participation with the experience using the senses. Active handling of objects correlates with increased verb use and recognition of objects (James, K. I. & Swain, S. N. 2011).
  5. Imitate their positive actions.
  6. Give enthusiastic non-verbal and verbal feedback using rich descriptive language and open-ended questions.
  7. Add deep meaning by extending the experience and revisiting it over time.

In this blog I will be looking at ways to use the arts to develop sustained attention in children of all ages and sharing activities I have done with children over 45 years of teaching. Please follow me to learn more. Comments and sharing of your ideas is welcome.

Do you feel sensory overload?

Have you ever considered trying a sensory deprivation tank?

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