Every fall and spring my dining room becomes an art room for elementary homeschool students. Last semester I had 22 students between the ages of 5 and 12.
This year I wanted to challenge my 4th-6th graders with a multi-stage project that would be exciting for all students, and use materials (like plaster casting) they wouldn't normally use at home.
I found the Recycled Robots project in the May 2014 edition of Arts and Activities magazine. I knew this would be a great project that we could do over the course of two weeks.
At the beginning of the semester I asked the students to begin collecting cracker boxes and paper towel rolls, and things they thought might make our robots interesting. The criteria for the assignment was that it had to show thoughtful craftsmanship and their robots had to stand on their own.
On the first week they built the bodies by taping the boxes together and making sure they were balanced when standing in an upright position. Then they used plaster casting (hint: find a medical supply store, walk-in or online, and buy plaster bandage rolls used for casting. These were half the price of the same product found in art supply stores.) We found cutting the long strips into 2-4 inch pieces made them easier to handle and gave the kids more control over placement and finishing. This process took the entire 90-minute class period for both classes. One student was finished in an hour. The rest of the students stayed after class for another 15-30 minutes to finish up.
One thing I didn't think about when I was planning the class was storage. I had a combined total of 9 students in these classes, and each robot was at least a foot tall and just as wide (if not more). The work table in my studio was very full for several weeks! It was a lesson learned for me... next time I'll be a little more strategic about storage space.
The second week we used sliver acrylic (left over from another project) to paint the robots. Once the paint dried the artists were able to take other recycled items such as bottle lids, floppy disks, wire, rope and leftover art supplies from my studio to give their robots character.
I was really proud of the efforts my students showed during the whole process. Initially everyone was very excited about the project. They all jumped in with gusto, but as the construction carried on, a few began to get discouraged. Getting your hands to create what your mind is thinking is a challenge, but it was a great lesson in learning to persevere; to not quit when the going gets tough. I did my best to encourage those whose excitement got buried under the weight of whatever was holding them back, and in the end they all had amazing pieces that they proudly displayed in the spring art show.
There was a lesson in it for me as well. There are many things I put my hand to, in the studio or in my home, that come easy to me. This is a gift and I am thankful, but when I encounter things I cannot do (or that seem too hard to figure out) instead of choosing perseverance, I often choose to quit. What a shame giving up is! Perseverance, in life and art, holds a gift that cannot be purchased any other way. The outcome might not be what we envisioned... but it might just be better.