One of the things I love about my work at Mairtown kindergarten is the fact that nature plays an integral part of our curriculum. Yes, we run a nature programme, but we also utilise nature in our kindergarten environment as much as we possibly can.
Ephemeral art is a wonderful opportunity for the children at Mairtown, and myself, to get really close to nature, to study its beauty, its patterns, its colours, its texture and smells in minute detail whist also creating stunning art works.
So what is ephemeral art? Basically it is art that only lasts for a short amount of time and is often used to describe creativity based in and from nature. The Tate art gallery tells us ‘There are many forms of ephemeral art, from sculpture to performance, but the term is usually used to describe a work of art that only occurs once, like a happening, and cannot be embodied in any lasting objects’.
From my perspective as a teacher, ephemeral art is an unstructured and free form of art which invites the artists to engage with Papatuanuku, as they utilise materials created in and by nature. What I really enjoy witnessing is children fully exploring, with all their senses, the materials laid out for them – be it shells from a local beach, pine cones from a nearby park, flowers from a garden, leaves from deciduous tress etc. I feel it is in this process that many children, and also myself, learn about our New Zealand identity, our culture, our place and our community.
From my experience children seem to be intrinsically drawn to ephemeral art, they often collaborate together on pieces, looking for just the right shade of leaf, or shape of stick to finish off a creation. Personally I encourage the unhurried approach to this aspect of art. Much is discovered in the making of these natural art pieces, there is a richness to the learning that cannot be rushed. Working with nature is enchanting, each leaf or petal is different from the one before, it is fascinating to sit back and observe the children as they express wonder and ponder over each observed detail.
We noticed that teachers who facilitate ephemeral art create a banquet for the senses and give children the freedom to touch, get dirty and messy, smell, listen, observe and think (Napier kindergarten Association).
And although, so far I have discussed ephemeral art in relation to being inside at kindergarten, this isn’t the only place where ephemeral art occurs for us. In fact, one of the most special places has to be outside as nature intended, hence on our nature programme this is something the children often choose to engage in. They take time out of the busyness of their morning to collect fallen items, to sit, relax, sort and create. We also love to return a week a later, sometimes more, and notice how the rain, wind and sun has altered our original creations, often creating something we can further add to.
Another aspect of ephemeral art that is perhaps even more important is that of ecological literacy. This is a term I heard for the first time when I attended some professional learning with Ann Pelo (author and master teacher). Ann talked about how if we want the next generation to save the world, we first need to teach them how to love the world. By introducing ephemeral art, children learn more about the world around them in a scientific manner and also from a literacy perspective as we name acorns, compare colours of moss, talk about different tree species and their leaves, and examine stones and shells.
Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it. People are unlikely to value what they cannot name (Elaine Brooks)
Art helps us build our vocabulary by participation, by helping us see emotionally, relationally, and imaginatively. It invites us into being in the world (Ann Pelo).