Tar Beach is, in my opinion, both simple and profound. it is easy to understand and yet filled with illustrations and ideas that inspire both wonder and discussion. It is an excellent platform from which to explore a female artist/author, and to integrate arts and creativity into the curriculum.
We did an interactive read aloud of the book – actually reading it two or three times at different points along the process of the project. We watched videos of Faith talking about her writing and art – especially her story quilts. We examined pictures of the quilts and noticed that the stories were told in word and illustration. We inquired about, reflected on, and discussed many things.
Why is the book called Tar Beach? What is the tar beach? Have you ever been to a tar beach? Do you think it would be fun? Why or why not? Can someone really fly over the city like Cassie? Do stars come lift you up so you can fly? What could Faith Ringgold possibly mean? Why does Cassie fly where she flies in the story? Have you ever wanted to belong to a club but couldn’t? Have you ever wanted to do something to help others feel better? Have you ever wanted to do something to help your parents feel better? What are your dreams? Where would you go if you could go anywhere?
The discussion was rich, and continued as the girls worked on the art/literacy project.
I combined ideas I found on the web (see resources) with my own ideas to create a project that involved drawing and a certain sense of mapping – choosing and implementing the body position of their flying person, as well as placement of their person on the paper, color mixing, painting, small motor skills (cutting, gluing), sewing, imagining and writing.
The project was not simple. It took a bit of prep on my part and a good bit of stamina and work by the girls. We worked together on this project for several days.
- I measured the paper and cut many sheets of paper. We needed a background, a piece for the sky, a piece for them to draw themselves flying, a piece for them to write their dreams, and squares to glue around the edge for the quilted part.
- The girls brainstormed how they might look if they were flying. Once the had an idea they liked, they set to creating it in pencil. Happy with their work, they went over the lines with sharpie markers. (There is something striking about children’s work in black sharpie.) Finally they added color to their person.
- They pasted the square pieces – in the fashion of a quilt – along the edges of a 12 x 18 sheet of paper. By the way, it takes a LOT longer than you might imagine. I was impressed with the girls perseverance.
- They created a night sky using various shades of blue and purple and filled the sky with glitter stars.
- Once their sky painting dried they decided how they would fly and glued their person onto the sky.
- They were very careful and deliberate with all their work!
- Finally, after thinking deeply about where they would want to fly and why, they used their best spelling, and writing, to transcribe their thoughts onto the project.
At first I thought that would be the end of the project – glue all the things onto the background and display them. However, it seemed unfinished, and somehow disrespectful of the strength and capabilities of the girls, to have quilt pieces devoid of any sewing.
I was reminded of a quote by Jerome Bruner. After visiting some Reggio Emilia schools (they are early education classrooms, by the way), Jerome commented on the level of respect afforded the children by the educators. “It is like a seminar at the graduate department of the university, with the same kind of respect, of exchange in talking about what you have just said, and about your former thinking” (Rindaldi, p. 58). While the quote comments on thinking, I believe it can be expanded to include respect for the students’ work as well as their thinking.
I decided I would bring in my sewing machine and have the girls sew their art pieces with my machine. We talked about the fact that I, and many of the adults in their lives, sew on a machine. I explained the way the machine worked – in all its glory as well as it’s potential for harm. (No one wants a needle sewn through their finger!) I told the girls that I was confident in their ability (with my help) to use the machine and generate beautiful things. Then, we got to work.
I sat behind them as they sewed. We had a dialogue regarding where and how they should sew. We talked about going fast or slow. We discussed hand positioning. We agreed that if I said “stop” they would immediately remove their foot from the pedal. They were fantastic! For a five year olds, there was quite a bit of sewing – and it was all straight lines so they had to work on keeping the paper at the proper guide. After a bit of time coaching each girl, I was pretty much a watchful spectator.
When we were all finished, I created a used their pieces to create a quilt on the hall bulletin board. It was awesome to notice all the older girls and teachers who stopped to examine, and marvel at, our words and artwork.
Inspiration for art project:
- Making the quilt – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794M-mcOJY4
- Writing Tar Beach – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPxHvGB1Xo
Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. London: Routledge.