Being an Atelierista: King of Stuff

notes for the studio

costume for teaching dogs to avoid skunks

A big part of this job is managing stuff. I often come in to the studio in the morning to find a couple of bags of donated items left on my chair or desk. People's Grandmothers clean out their attics/basements/sewing rooms and give me boxes of materials. Parents hand me coffee cans in car pool. My neighbor Pat leaves a nice bag of recycled bits on my porch every now and then. It is nice; this is what we need, but it is a lot of stuff.
Materials are a crucial part of the dance between the children and the school.

I try to keep up with the investigations happening in the classrooms, mapping out things that could happen and the materials that might come in handy. Then, I look for these things, and try to have them ready. This is a delicate matter. When the children are thinking about birds, it is easy to think that a basket of multi-colored feathers might be useful, but what do these things really connote? In the Rainbow room, the bird exploration is a lot about balance of form, while in the Meadow room, communication and stewardship seem to be the most important concepts. 
What materials scaffold these big ideas, and what will provoke further thought and experimentation?

The studio is a place for projects, and also for the exploration of materials (what Malaguzzi called 'messing about'). Other than clay, light, and cloth, I rarely set out an array of materials for children to try, like the teachers in preschool classrooms do. Over the years I have stopped being interested in having big trays of things to glue on paper, or other activities that have children using gobs of stuff to make...anything. I know that the preschool teachers provide thoughtful introductions to glue and paper and other basic media. With so much material available in the studio, and an intention to be as environmentally responsible as possible, I am very watchful for aimless activity.

Instead, I ask the children to use materials toward thinking through some idea. The idea can be anything, as you see from the notes, above. By asking children to start with an idea, and then select materials with which to explore it, I hope that they learn techniques such as cutting, gluing and sewing as well as the affordances of materials. I hope that they also learn to respect materials, to use just enough but not too much. Children experiment with media, maybe, fail and try again, but hopefully avoid duct-taping 50 beads to a piece of origami paper.

a tree

Every day, children come in to make things, or to get something to bring back to their classroom, and I rarely have to say 'no, we don't have anything like that.' That is a hidden part of being an Atelierista that makes me proud. Whether it is a robot brain, some foil for a hat, a waterproof base for someone's tsunami experiment, or material for a Powhatan Cheif's costume, we can usually find it in the studio. 

Sometimes grown-ups tell me they get overwhelmed if the studio looks cluttered. I tend to like the sparkle and shine of it all, but notice if the photos of children making things in the studio have big piles of things in the background.
Really, art studios are supposed to be cluttered, right?  I have to find places for everything, but I also have to know where things are right away if a teacher runs in for blue paper or fishing line right before the children arrive. It is a big job. It's funny that there are a couple of things I can never find, like a big bag of stickers that I've had for years. It's one thing I usually can't grab quickly, but have to dig around for a while to find... those stickers elude me, every time.

The part I love about all the stuff is what can happen in the studio because of it.
a submarine bird

sculpting a character from a story for a reader's response
happy friends in the studio (photo by Miles)


  1. The balance between artistic expression and wastefulness is something that's often on my mind, so it's interesting to know that it's also on yours!

    I love that your magic studio always seems to have just the right material. While Star Parenting a few days ago, I noticed that many of the Garden Room children wanted to visit the studio, often because they were sure that you had the exact materials they were looking for. Their trust and this post remind me of the time when I wanted to create a certain photo prop and I somehow knew that you would have just the things I needed...and you did! Far from cluttered, I think of it as a well-stocked studio.

  2. When I walk into your studio a feeling of unlimited possibilities washes over me. I wonder if that same sense of wonder greets the children when they come in.... Seeing available materials will be important to the creative work of very visual children.... while the more conceptual minds can look for what they need after formulating a plan. In the case of a studio, I think a lot of stuff is just right.

  3. I love the idea of being King of Stuff! That is exactly how I feel.


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