When is a Paintbrush more than just a Paintbrush?

In the Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) program, Teaching Artists coach classroom teachers in District 75 in our innovative arts curriculum. As an Assistant Teaching Artist in EASE Level I classrooms at Public School [email protected] in the Bronx this fall and winter, I have had the opportunity to share these valuable activities and techniques with some great teachers and students. One of the core concepts that the EASE program emphasizes is to notice and use every learning opportunity.

As teachers and teaching artists, when we plan a special activity or lesson, it is probably second nature for many of us to pass out supplies to students in a hurry so that we can make the most of our class time. However, in the EASE methodology, we slow this process down, incorporating these types of preparatory steps into the curriculum itself – to great effect.

As we prepare to engage students in an activity entitled “Painting with Water,” we do not begin by passing out paintbrushes, paper, and cups for water to each student. Instead, we begin with one single paintbrush.

Working closely with the classroom teacher in order to mindfully target each child’s abilities, we first make sure that every student has a chance to look at the brush.  But we don’t just look; we proceed to explore all aspects of this magical tool:

What color is the handle? What color is the brush?

Let’s explore the textures: one side is soft, and one side is smooth and hard.

How does the brush feel on your hand? Let’s all have a turn feeling the brush on the top of our hand. Now, on the inside of our arm!

Does it make a sound if we tap it on the desk? Let’s try it! Can we clap along? Let’s tap the brush ten times – count with me!

All of this exploration (and more!) is possible before we even pass out a brush to each student.

The beauty of this approach is that it has the ability to incorporate so many different types of classroom goals – including socialization and communication, while also building important skills like identifying colors/numbers/textures.

When we, as Teaching Artists and teachers, notice and use every learning opportunity, we also notice a multitude of results; among them are increased student engagement, willingness to try new things, fine and gross motor skill development, and last but not least, a lot of big smiles.

–  Alena Kastin