Despite students absolutely loving the tactile nature of creating functional art, it’s not surprising to learn that it doesn’t always make it into an art teacher’s curriculum. Not only can functional art require many materials and steps, it often requires some specific skill sets that may extend beyond students’ (and even teachers’ immediate capabilities) simply because they aren’t practiced as frequently as others.
Have you ever ruled out functional art projects because you considered them too crafty?
Perhaps you selected projects more closely align with formal art techniques and standards?
There is something magical about watching a student make something that they not only think looks pleasing, but they can also actually use. It’s that connection between the object and the experience that so many artists find moving, regardless of age. The artwork becomes relevant in their everyday life.
Functional art lessons don’t always have to be complicated, overly messy or too-involved. In fact, you can actually take one project and make a few simple modifications to make it fit any grade level or every grade level.
Teaching summer camp classes with multi-age groups? Teach one lesson for all.
Really love a lesson but want to try it with a different grade level? Modify.
Here’s how to modify any project for different age levels:
Simplify/reduce MATERIALS– Think about ways that you can create similar effects with materials and use the materials accordingly. Consider the materials that each age group will be successful with and can easily control. For younger students, less can sometimes be more. As students gain more experience with materials, techniques and processes, introduce more materials and choice.
Simplify/reduce DETAILS– Think about the project in terms of steps and scaffold. Begin with the most basic steps and then build on them. Try not to assume that age correlates with experience. We all come to the table with different abilities and starting at the beginning not only introduces those students who are unfamiliar with the material or technique to the idea but also reinforces concepts for those that are, which can be great at lending a hand later if yours become literally and figuratively tied up.
Adjust the SIZE– Depending on the group and time limitations, it can be helpful to adjust the size of the project. In some scenarios, smaller hands might have an easier time working on a smaller piece of art but there are also scenarios when working bigger is more helpful. It’s ok if students’ projects turn out differently. That is one of the most endearing characteristics of functional art and it can help emphasize and encourage the handmade aspect.
Narrow the SCOPE of the lesson– As students become more familiar with materials and techniques, you can add in additional topics and concepts but in the beginning, keep it simple.
Remember the intention– Just because you are using the same project across different grade levels doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same, nor do you want it to. Yes, a first grader’s papier-mâché planter can look just as good as a sixth-grader’s but that is not the point. The intention is for the student to be met where they are at, emotionally and developmentally, and given the tools that they need to grow and flourish as both an artist and an individual.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to save time (and sanity!) with prep, transitions and instruction in your classroom.
To see some examples of projects that have been modified to be taught at every grade level or to pick a lesson for your students that puts the “fun” in functional art, make sure to check out the Functional Art Bundle in the Sparklers’ Club.
Not a member? Join the waitlist here.