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A fresh new twist on sidewalk chalk

Chalk isn't just a summer thing. We use chalks all year round: wet, dry, smashed, and scraped. Join us to see how to freshen up your chalk skills and think out of the box for some new, fun ways to use chalk.

Draw a picture of spring! That was the prompt and this was our collaborative effort on a bright, yet frigidly blustery day. By utilizing wet, dry, and partially wet children's sidewalk chalk and mixing in some ordinary, run of the mill chalk pastels, we were able to create a vibrant picture that is still there one week later. It didn't take us very long but it opened the doors to storytelling, cooperation, imagination, and so much more.

Expressing self and creating art outside

“I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else. " ~Pablo Picasso

It started with just one flower, and then a girl asked what I was making. "Can I help?" followed. Soon a boy joined and started creating. There was humming, times of quiet, soft singing, serious concentration, a squinty eye with a tongue stuck out of just the corner of a mouth—the times when creativity really seems to flow. Then in no time there was a drawing. What does Spring mean to you? What does Spring look like? Then the stories started to flow, "One day a little bumblebee flew over a garden of flowers... And then a team of ladybugs flew out of nearby trees and ate all the aphids... and the Easter bunny was so happy because now she could leave eggs under the leaves and petals without worrying about bugs..." It was one of those funny fill in the next part kind of stories. Where you want everyone to laugh or share a moment of fear only to realize the solution is coming up.

If you are over there thinking, "This is just regular chalk drawing—my kids aren't interested." Maybe it is time to try a new approach.


Using chalk to draw with purpose

There have been many times where we have a theme or something we want to talk about but we aren't sure where to start. So we start with an idea and take our chalk outside—okay, actually there is ALWAYS chalk already outside, always. Maybe we take a book or listen to a song and just start to draw. Then we talk about our theme a little more and the ideas start to flow.

It is really fun to stand and have someone trace your shadow. It is a good study if you can do this a few times a day and trace with different colors while indicating the time down by your feet. Students can see how the sun moves in the sky and how their shadows grow and stretch and walk across the ground. Weather is a great topic to use while outside. Of course, we can draw the sun and clouds but how about drawing wind, or drawing how certain weather makes you feel. Using different styles, line width, movements, and color intensity tells a lot about what a child perceives in a concept that can't always been seen. A great book to read with this activity could be, "What Color is the Wind" by Anne Herbauts. The Emmaus Arts Commission had a Covid-friendly "Chalk YOUR Walk" event in September during our community garage sale. Participants were encouraged to chalk their own walks, patios, and driveways to inspire Joy, Gratitude, and Hope. Using this theme many children and families drew rainbows, hearts, friends, flowers, and pictures of families holding hands. #emmausartiseverywhere #ChalkYourOwnEmmaus #BringyourOwnChalk


Using chalk as not chalk

What about using chalk as not chalk? What if chalk turns into carrots, potatoes, herbs, spices, onions, and turnips? With creative children around, who are used to creating in a mud kitchen and if they have plenty of chalk just laying around, chances are it may turn into ingredients for soups, potions, mixes, brews, blends, cakes, pies, or cookies. The possibilities are endless.

I mentioned the mud kitchen a few weeks ago on the blog. Our mud kitchen has a number of pots and pans, baking sheets, ice cube molds and trays with different shaped spaces. We have spoons, tweezers, small and large containers with pouring lids, and watering pitchers. There are also a few serving platters, cups, and bowls for collecting or gathering. While cleaning up one day I was looking everywhere for the chalk, what happened to all that chalk? I wondered. We had at least half sticks of the entire box? I just don't understand, and as I lifted the lid to a soup that was cooking on the fire [a pile of meticulously placed sticks] I smiled so big, I felt my stomach tighten when I let out a tiny laugh. Inside the soup pot was a colorful array of rocks and chalks. This time there was no water in the pot which was highly unusual, instead just all these dry ingredients and three sprigs of dried lavender from our garden. I pictured the story that may have played out while the children happily gathered their ingredients from the yard. Did each color represent a different vegetable? Was each size a different plant or flavor? Were all the pieces of chalk a group of chopped up food from the same plant family? My mind started creating amazing and colorful stories rich with detail, yet I had only been standing there over this pot for mere seconds. The children had been playing all day. Yes, children played make believe cooking and prepared food out of chalk and rocks for hours. If you're looking for a book that would be great to spark imagination and creativity in your child, Antoinette Portis has two great books "Not a Box" and "Not a Stick." Both books are very minimal in design and presentation but huge on impact and inspiring wonder.

This is my not a box.” ~Antoinette Portis


Process Art: using chalk as a medium

How do we allow our children to explore and express themselves without imposing our own views or expectations upon them and their work? How do we encourage children to freely flow and experience a medium without directing them or praising them when they do things we want them to do or expect from them? Who smashes chalk when they are frustrated or smears wet chalk all over the sidewalk and their feet creating a creamy, pigmented, painty substance that washes off in the shower? We do.

Wait, what? Yes, my children actually really do not like the feeling of dry chalk. I don't like how it sounds or flakes all over or makes dust while you're trying to draw and then if you blow it, half of it just blows up in your face. We do, however, love to dip chalk in water, leave chalk in water, wet the sidewalk, or all of the above and let the creamy substance slide easily over the rocky surface that we are working on. How do I just let my kids get so dirty and experiment with materials? Easy, they all wash off. Children wash off. These memories, they won't wash off, they don't blend into the daily routines, they don't get lost in the memory banks. They talk about this all the time. They also talk about running over the very wet, extremely creamy colorful sidewalk barefoot and slipping and falling, so remember: Let it dry or use walking feet. If you want to experience the sensation on bare feet hold a hand or tip toe. It does add an extra element of challenge to overcome and children love to try things that they think may be a little dangerous.

"It's good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way." ~Tim Burton

How to start

If your children have never done this before, you may start by placing some chalks along your work space. We always have water and buckets on hand. There are normally also spray bottles, cups of water, pipettes, hammers, large tweezers, mallets, or wooden spoons. Also your hands and feet work fine but if you have children with sensory needs having tools for them to use is a good idea. I start by dipping chalk in water first and just making some marks. Next, I'll drop a few pieces of chalk into a bucket and just leave it there and continue to work on my marks or shapes. Then I use my hands or fingers to spread and blend the creamy chalk. I always have a piece that is a little tricky so maybe a hammer or a stone can help smash it up a bit. It is important to do this in a way and model being focused and methodical because using simple tools is a great way to apply real life learning and problem solving into every day life. I just start adding color. It took about 4 minutes for my children to pick up and experiment. We have been doing this and playing with wet chalk for years. Now the fun part, maybe your children realize you have placed "stations" in various areas and they all start gravitating towards areas. By now their chalk is probably wet or maybe you poured water on part of the sidewalk, you have a bucket of water at another spot, and wet chalks laying out with spray bottles or wooden spoons or tools at another spot. The children will just naturally, experiment. They may look at your for modeling but just keep doing what you're doing. Try new things. Show them your actual sense of wonder when you learn new things or make new realizations. Blend colors, add more water, add more chalk. Say what you are thinking out loud, "I wonder what will happen if I add yellow and blue together?" If you happen to have a mortar and pestle that you have or let your children use for non-food things it would be so great to get it out. Grinding is so satisfying. Before you know it, shoes will be off, sleeves rolled up, hair pushed behind ears, faces of concentration heavily displayed on your children's faces. And it is just the beginning. We print plants we find, we put plants down and chalk around and on top of them and then pull up the plants to show a relief print. We talk about color theory and blending colors. This exercise is so calming and releases things that I didn't even realize were bothering me. Think of what it does for the kids. There is no end product it is just doing, process, learning, exploring, creating.

And it all washes off. Eventually. We have found that wet chalk will remain much longer than chalk that is applied dry. If you have a high traffic area this is best done not in that area. We don't wear our shoes inside so it is not a big deal for us but for people doing this at home or at schools, choose an area off to the side, a nice shady spot out of the way, something not in a high traffic area so that children are not walking on it and then walking into buildings because it does leave chalk residue on the bottoms of shoes sometimes. If you remove the issue though by moving the art space to a space that won't be walked on, no worries. Dive in and have fun! Remember, if there is a considerable amount of wet, goopy chalk, it can be a little slippery.


Process art: Revamp. Differentiating for older children

Is it even possible to be more fun, experiment further? Of course! This is currently our preferred spin on our favorite thing to do. We started blending colors and thinking, "Well, chalk is just a collection of this powder right? What if we blend it, wet it, paint with it on the walk and when it dries...we scrape it off with old popsicle sticks on their sides and reuse it?" Genius. We are always talking about reusing, reducing, recycling, refurbishing, recreating. We talk about the 5 R's, not just three. So we went from painting and blending and smashing and bashing to meticulously blending and wetting and drying and wetting and blending and scraping and collecting and drying and wetting. Then applying with old (cleaned) toothbrushes. Why would I buy paintbrushes to use outside on the sidewalk? Old toothbrushes never break down. They will be in a landfill forever, and yet, every time we go to the dentist, we even tell them we don't want them and they slip those little brightly colored plastic toothbrushes in our bags. So we use them, and we use them, and we clean them, and we use them again. And we'll use them for the rest of our life until someone finds a way to reduce them.

Here a child is scraping and blending wet chalk on the sidewalk, using popsicle sticks to scrape the chalk powder then crumbling the powder in his hands and sprinkling it on a canvas. He's using old recycled paintbrushes and toothbrushes to apply the chalks to the sidewalk for just the right color. He has been meticulously blending for 20 minutes to make the perfect color. It needs more blue. A picture with some of the recreated colors shows a rainbow and some butterflies. A girl moves her own color around on a canvas with an old toothbrush, the bristles leave unusual patterns and textures. Everything thought and choice is clearly visible on the canvas as she moves with intention. If you are looking for more ways to encourage children to experiment with drawing or coloring, check out Susan Striker's "Coloring Outside the Lines" and "Young at Art." I had the pleasure of meeting her during a talk that she presented at the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, NJ 2016. #youngAtArt #Coloroutsidethelines

Get Inspired

There are so many ways to use every day items in new ways. Sometimes you just need to give yourself the time and space to create, think, explore, investigate, and awaken your sense of wonder. Thank you for joining us this week as we incorporate a regular piece of chalk, some water, and easily accessible tools to express ourselves through art in nature. For more ideas for art in nature, authentic childhood, and gardening with children take a look at our Instagram page at @thefindingplaceLV

Thanks for exploring with us today. Get outside, grow, learn, and love.


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