Toothpicks and String

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Recently, the school age children explored a process based art invitation using rectangular shaped Styrofoam, toothpicks, and embroidery string to create three dimensional string compositions.

In addition to the children choosing their own work, we offer process-based art projects a few times per week. Process art invites the children to explore new materials and new techniques they can use in their future creative pursuits. 

Six children were immediately interesting in exploring this work. To begin the process, children inserted round toothpicks into Styrofoam in a pattern of their own choosing. Some children employed a few toothpicks, other children used more, and one child placed over fifty toothpicks into their rectangular piece of foam.

One drawback of educators creating projects is some projects that appear interesting to us are overly challenging for the children to execute. It turned out the toothpicks were very difficult for the younger children to push through the Styrofoam without poking their hand. When the children create their own work, the challenges are more in balance with their current age, physical skill, and thinking process.

The second step of the work, invited children to choose one colorful embroidery string. After choosing and cutting a length of string, the children tied one end to a toothpick. To finish, the children moved and wrapped the colorful string around different toothpicks in a pattern of their choosing.

The second step was more difficult for the children than initially placing the toothpicks. In our excitement to introduce the project, there was no consideration that the youngest children may not be able to tie knots. The wait to get help from an educator built up frustration in the children and affected the experience. 

When wrapping the string around the toothpicks, some children moved in a linear pattern and other children moved in a crisscross and diagonal pattern. Some children used one color of string and other children chose to employ different colors of string, creating a rainbow effect to their work.

The end result of the collaborative work looked great. The children said they enjoyed the result overall, but found the process of placing the toothpicks and tying the string in knots difficult and frustrating. 

Often we document the success stories in our work with children. Some of the work we do is not as successful. Usually this occurs when we move away from the principals we believe in for the sake of convenience. I love that we tried and learned so much from this experience, one that will make our future practice more thoughtful and enjoyable for our learning community.

What projects did you think would be fantastic from your adult eyes but the children did not have the experience you envisioned?