The Humble Foam Peanut as an Unstoppable Creative Force!

When this bag of foam peanuts was donated to the art room I had no idea of the powerful force of creativity it would be… really!

As I mentioned back in this post opening my cupboards at the beginning of the year to make the art materials highly visible and easily accessible for all learners has made a huge difference to choice in my room. When I prepared our “construction area” I filled a little container with foam peanuts… wow, I did not know at the time their value, seriously, these are gold! Check this out:

These students have used foam peanuts to create soft cushions around their teepee… why the teepee? Here’s an excerpt straight from their artist statement: “We created this because we wanted to design a little real-life world of our own where no one could bother us. The teepee represents as the safe shelter for us.

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Yesterday this student told me this morning that the foam peanuts are the protective cushioning bags for the spaceship as it lands on a flat landing field:

This student has used the foam peanuts for the exterior texture of her architectural model home:

These foam peanuts are placed inside the belly of a sea turtle (amongst other things) to show the effect of plastic pollution in the oceans:

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This student has used foam peanuts in her sketchbook as a part of her planning process for the interactive wall installation she has created for her exhibition:

These foam peanuts are the flood lights on a soccer field:

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These foam peanuts come from a trio of artists/historians working on a World War I battlefield titled “No Man’s Land”, the foam peanuts standing up are the sole survivors and the ones lying down are died in battle:

There are foam peanuts inside these pokemon sculptures creating the structure for the arms that then had foil and pipe cleaner wrapped around them:

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And just this morning my wonderful teaching assistant used foam peanuts as she worked alongside students who were experimenting with watercolor effects – she did not know I was writing about foam peanuts!

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In many ways, I think the foam peanut is my symbol for the year so far. My year of opening up the physical space, opening briefs wide-open and letting students drive… I’ve handed over, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and have been blown away by the happenings…

Students are artists and they are using everyday, throw away objects that do not fit into traditional “art tool and material” categories. Just like all the found object artists that came before them like Marcel Duchamp and Louise Nevelson or the artists still working with found objects today like the delightful Judy Darragh. 

I will never forget the humble foam peanut and all that was created with it, the stories, the plans, the designs, the imagination, the function and purpose, the CREATIVITY!

Next time you get a delivery, save the foam peanuts, open them in your class and see what happens, they are irresistibly playful and imaginative, all hail the foam peanut! (excuse my quick photoshop job on the graphic below haha!)

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Opening cupboards, opening minds

Starting the second year in your new school is like touring an old neighborhood you used to live in – ah yes, here is where I get these items, this is where I found comfort, this is where we had fun etc. Or the opposite feelings too; like my feelings about these grey cupboards. Ah grey cupboards, my old friends – so many secrets, so many hidden treasures, so difficult to access!

IMG_3700In my pursuit of open-ended-what-on-earth-is-this-going-to-look-like-units (I am sure there is a fancier name for this). I did not know what materials my students needed, they didn’t know either. As the briefs opened up, students designed individual, very different and very exciting plans for their artworks. This started happening:

“Ms Anna do you have?” – Ah, maybe… let me check, I have this size and this size… not big enough huh? Let me check this cupboard…

“Ms Anna where is?” – I think its on the left top shelf under the… no the other side, no the other way, actually its in the other cupboard, wait a moment I’ll come and look…

Multiply these questions by about 160 students – arghhhhhh! These cupboards were hindering the creative process.

Students need free access to materials, they need to touch and feel the properties of the materials and their possibilities, they need to mix and match, test and make mistakes, create the unknown… the materials themselves are invitations to play (by the way, Early Years teachers, you know more than all of us!) and experiment. Enter in our “stations”.

These have only been up and running for four weeks now and I have already seen a dramatic increase in ownership, the art sketchbook as a tool to document process, sharing of ideas amongst students (I’m learning new ones too!), curiosity and delight. I love watching students dart across the room mixing and matching materials. Painters are blending wet materials in ways they never had before, constructors are working with three dimensional materials in a new ways I have not seen either. Flip it around, those students who cannot let go of their love of markers are freely exploring other materials with a low-stakes, see what happens environment. My students are artists and they are working the art studio like an artist does. They come in and pick up right off where they left and its so rewarding to watch! For all parties involved, even my wonderful assistant said “Ms Anna I was a bit worried about putting all these materials out, I thought they would go to crazy but its really nice”.