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Glass and Kids: Three things…more or less

I recently posted some images on Facebook of a factory tour that I led at Bullseye for a group of second and third graders. Then I casually commented that children’s tours helped me to understand “what it is about glass that most attracts kids.”

Kids and Glass: a magic – and sometimes maniacal - match.

I should know better. A friend immediately jumped in and asked me to list “the top 3 or 4 things” that make this material so attractive to kids.

It sucks when someone asks you to support opinion with facts. I don’t really have any. I am not qualified as an educator. I am an observer. But I’m happy to share the conclusions I’ve drawn from leading (or tagging along on) factory and museum tours for kids, attending projects and workshops.

It’s noisy on the hot shop floor, but not so loud that I didn’t hear the kid who hooted “I wanna work HERE!”

So here goes – “My Top Three Things”:

#1. Glass is a natural art medium. Kids get it instantly. Kids also get art instantly. The younger they are, the easier they seem to see. Their natural curiosity hasn’t been quashed by the pressure to have “the right answer”.  Art doesn’t have right answers. Art should be a perpetual question.  Art should provoke wonder. And questions. Glass asks similar questions: What’s going on here? What’s the story? Is this a solid or is it a liquid? How come it’s hard as a rock, but I can see through it? Every time we think we have a glass answer, we’re proven wrong. Wrong is the new right. I was comforted not long ago to read that the President of Harvard suggests all incoming freshmen read Being Wrong.

I always ask kids for a title for this Narcissus Quagliata piece that’s on the factory tour. This time I got “Faceless Man” …which is pretty close to the artist’s own “Portrait of an Unknown” but a bit far from an earlier: “Orange Spaghetti Dinner”

#2. Glass is dangerous (or so They say). Kids are constantly told not to touch it. That it breaks. That it’ll cut them. I’m convinced that today’s hyper-protective parenting has got to be making childhood pretty damned boring. OK, easy for me to say. I’ve never raised a child. But I’ve been one. And if all the metal corners in my playground had been padded, I doubt that I’d have learned to watch out for myself (nor felt so confident at 15 to run away from school and live on the street in London. OK, maybe not a good argument to make here).

Walking down aisles of blood-colored glass sheets whose dripping raw edges have to make a kid think of coagulating waterfalls, gets faces to light up and little boys to holler “Ewww, it’s like WAX!”

#3. Glass loves fire. So do kids. Heat transforms material. In ways that seem magic. And- again – dangerous. I am not encouraging arson. Heat is part of our lives. We use it everyday on our stove tops. Whether it’s watching glass ladled at 2000°F or bent over a tea light, the magic of the material re-shaped in fire captures the child’s imagination like little else.

Bending stringers over candles is consistently the most popular activity in kid-formed glass classes.

And THAT in the end is what glass does best: it captures the imagination. Once captured, a young mind can be aimed in all sorts of directions. To other subjects. To science. To math. To literacy. Learning should have the allure of the dangerous, the attraction of magic. That’s what glass can do.

“Glass is my second favorite thing!” a 4th grader confided to me once. The Spinosaurus that he made with confetti showed me what his first favorite thing was.

I’ve wanted for the longest time to have the Marketing Department make big signs for the front of our Resource Centers that would say “Give us your children. We want to put fire and sharp objects into their hands..”

For now I’ll be happy with a “Kid-formed Glass” sign.

Anyway. Those are my top 3 things.

If I have to name a 4th, it’s probably the hackneyed but true old adage: Glass is magic.

4 Responses to Glass and Kids: Three things…more or less

  1. Aviva says:

    My husband and I had the privilege of bringing glass into a Portland third-grade classroom last December to help the kids make a set of eight dessert plates that were auctioned off to raise money to pay for the school’s art program. (The art program is entirely paid for by the PTA’s fund raising and gets no money from the school district or state!)

    Most of the kids were entranced. After they finished their part of the dessert plates, we had them make magnets that they could take home after we fired them, and they were delighted that they’d get a souvenir of the experience that they could keep.

    I was struck by two things. The first was a boy who shows some classic signs of ADHD and is a challenge to keep focused on a single task. He also almost never stops talking. :) His part of the class project was probably the most artistically laid out of all the kids’ work. And his “MegaMan” magnet was brilliantly done. This is a kid who doesn’t normally shine in the more traditional art classes (painting, pastels, etc), and I was thrilled to see him really embrace the medium.

    On the other side of the spectrum was a boy who repeatedly asked if he could eat the colorful frit balls we’d brought along. I understand that they look like candy, but to ask more than two dozen times? He was also the kid who kept asking “Can I be done yet?” and seemed to have absolutely no interest in what the rest of the classroom was clearly enjoying.

    So I’m not sure if that second boy is the exception that proves the rule, or if the appeal of working with glass isn’t quite as universal as I’d thought it would be. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Lani says:

    Hi Aviva,

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    I love that, in addition to the auction items, you let the kids make the magnets to take home. That really seems to be a key thing in community (public art) or auction projects: that each child is allowed to keep a piece.

    I can also completely relate to your story of the ADHD child who was able to focus and to shine in ways he hadn’t previously. I’ve seen – and heard of – this so many times that it has hugely reinforced my conviction about the power of glass to change kids’ lives.

    Fortunately, I haven’t had a lot of experience with the sorts of behavior you’ve described from the other child, I’m hoping that someone else will jump in here with better suggestions than the one I’ve got: anticipate that at least one kid is going to finish early and/or demand more attention. Have a backup project or some secondary activity in the wings. It’s inevitable that someone’s going to be marching to a different drummer. Just hang on and be glad when he marches home ;-) !

    Bottom line, I think that glass can play a strong role in educating and empowering children. Will it work 100% of the time? I’d be shocked if it did.

    But, again, I suspect that there are many teachers out there with better strategies than mine for dealing with the small percentage of kids that aren’t “tamed” by our magic glass wand.

    - Lani

  3. Aviva says:

    Thanks, Lani! I definitely plan on asking for more advice in the kids-and-kilns Facebook group before we tackle next year’s auction project! We were lucky enough to have a couple volunteers from the Oregon Glass Guild come help us out, and that was a huge help. As a parent of a very artistic daughter, I’d brought additional art supplies for the kids to draw while they waited for their classmates to finish up. I’ll have to figure out something that appeals better to some of the kids who have a limited interest in art, without having so much appeal that they rush through the “work”.

  4. Deborah says:

    Really liked what you shared here and I also would like to incorporated the same in my school. Post some more ideas for kids like this one.

    Deborah Armstrong

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