This post and topic has been edited into a sort of "Art Workshop Manual." It draws heavily on posts originally made by members Neil MacQueen, Lisa Martin, Carol Hulbert, and comments collected from other posters on our previous website.
You are welcome to copy and use it with your teachers. Your additions and insights are welcome. Art Workshop project ideas and techniques can be found in the Workshop Design forum, as well as, in the many art lessons posted at this site.
An Exemplary Sunday School Art Workshop Lesson
In 2017, the Writing Team revised and posted a terrific Art Workshop lesson plan written by Carol Hulbert for our Psalm 8 "When I look at your heavens," lesson set. As we worked with it, we realized that it's one of the finest examples of how and why to teach a Bible story with real art.
The lesson demonstrates how art materials and artistic techniques can combine to REINFORCE key scriptures, concepts and life application. The Psalm 8 art project uses several familiar art mediums in unique and expressive ways. It is inexpensive, scalable, and broadly graded. It also produces a true work of art students will be proud to show off. It may just be the most perfect Sunday School art lesson ever posted at Rotation.org. As with all Writing Team lessons, it is only open to Supporting Members.
(Pictured above: The Psalm 8 art project uses a combination of "crayon resist" and watercolor. It examines the swirling/embracing style of Van Gogh's starry night as a clue to our own expression of the Psalmist's words.)
The Art Workshop in the Rotation Model
What is an art "workshop" doing in Sunday School?
The term "workshop" describes a space that's permanently set up to facilitate its medium, and isn't merely a box of crayons sitting on a shelf, or stack of costumes in the closet.
"Art Workshop" also describes a lesson staffed by a teacher who likes art, and isn't simply a volunteer looking to fill class time with a craft project. In the Rotation Model, that teacher teaches that art lesson to a new class each week. Because they use the same project each week with different groups of kids, they can afford to take the time to come up with real projects that require preparation. But because they repeat their art lesson each week for a different group of kids, they only have to prepare and collect the materials once, which saves prep time.
It was the Art Room of our elementary school memories that inspired the original creators of the Rotation Model to create an Art Workshop for Sunday School. Our art rooms were exotic places with exotic smells, messy tables, and shelves full of exciting materials and possibilities we couldn't wait to get into and get hands-on with. We wanted the same sense of anticipation and learning excitement in our Sunday School.
We not only wanted to bring back the excitement of a real art room atmosphere, we wanted a Sunday School that harnessed the power and inspiration of artistic expression as a medium for learning God's Word.
The problem was that our teachers and kids were captive of traditional curriculum's reliance on "coloring pictures," pre-printed handouts, and construction paper "quickie crafts."
But how? We had tried throwing more complex projects at our teachers, but always, we seemed to come back to "cut and paste." That's where the inspiration of our childhood experiences informed us: A dedicated art room, with dedicated "art" teachers! That idea of dedicating and decorating a room to a specific teaching approach, and dedicating a teacher, and rotating classes into it, was the inspiration and proof for the creation of the Workshop Rotation.
Converting classrooms into art 'workshops' was relatively easy.
And the idea of "rotating" classes into that workshop to be taught by the art teacher, who didn't rotate and repeated the lesson each week, was a tried and true idea.
Finding more artistic projects and lessons wasn't that hard either. Most churches have shelves of creative curriculum supplements collecting dust.
The hard part for us in Sunday School was switching our mindset from "craft" projects to art projects. The traditional model had given us a lot of bad habits and expectations. And even to this day in some Rotation lessons, we see art giving way to craft.
It this point about "art vs craft" where this article will focus most of its attention.
The Problem with "Arts and Craft" in Traditional Sunday School
1. In the traditional model, most teachers simply don't have the time to come up with higher concept or more complex art projects. When you change the story each week, you end up doing a lot of quickie "Cut Here, Glue This" crafts and marker drawings.
2. Most traditional lesson plans don't want to GIVE YOU THE TIME in the lesson plan to do art. They simply want an "activity" to appear "hands on" after all the talking. In the Art Workshop, the art project takes center stage.
3. Most volunteer teachers aren't particular artsy either. They had come to depend on what the printed curriculum gives them, and can easily be accomplished with a box of inexpensive craft supplies. Creative art projects require new materials. And when you change the story every week, you end up reaching for a lot of glue and construction paper.
4. Traditional lessons and the classrooms we were teaching them in were also "multi-purpose." There was no time in the lesson or space in the room to spread out and do "messy" painting projects. And clean up was always dreaded. In the Art Workshop, we expect to get paint on the floor, and don't worry about getting marker on the table.
Most Sunday School teachers have INTUITIVELY UNDERSTOOD that art is an awesome learning medium. The only question was "how to pull it off without killing ourselves." And that's where the idea was born to "rotate" into an Art Room where an Art Teacher stayed each week and taught... just like they used to do it in the public school. Once we figured out this model for Art, we simply applied it to every other medium, and the "Workshop Rotation Model" was born!
Here's how the Rotation Model elevates ART as a teaching medium in Sunday School:
1. After scripture, the central activity in the Art Workshop is the art activity. It doesn't have to compete with a game or quiz. It isn't a 10 minute cut and paste project.
The Art Workshop puts the art project at the center of the lesson, allowing for more complex projects and time to express and share. In the traditional model, your lesson plan simply didn't give you time to do real art, and it often stuck the craft at the END of the lesson to kill time (because we had bored the kids with the table talk? Probably!)
2. Teachers who like teaching with art are recruited for the Art Workshop. In the traditional model, the teachers were expected to be jacks-of-all-trade. This often meant that an "art challenged" teacher didn't do well even with the craft projects.
3. The Art Workshop room is designed to support and inspire the making of real art projects. In the traditional model, "art" is a modest set of craft supplies on a shelf. By contrast, the Art Workshop is designed to give students the space and quality materials to work with. No more scrambling around the facility to find materials: they are IN the Art Workshop! No more cotton balls glued to paper plates. The Art Workshop accumulates real art materials.
One VISIBLE EXAMPLE of how the Art Workshop is different is in the FURNITURE you see in many Rotation Art Workshops. Stools are popular, not only because students of various ages/heights can use them, but because they can be slid under tables when the project requires more space. Chairs tend to get in the way of kids working together.
Projects displayed on the walls become exciting reminders of past lessons. And nobody worries about the floor: it's an art workshop. It's supposed to be messy!
4. The Art Workshop makes the art teacher's preparation easier and their lesson better. Because essentially the same Art Workshop Lesson is taught for four to five weeks, preparation time moves to once a month rather than every week. The teachers' proficiency with both the lesson and working with the materials dramatically improves because they can tweak the lesson and project each week. In the traditional model, you got one shot at it.
The Difference between "Art" and "Craft"
In the early days of rotation.org, a bunch of us debated online the difference between "art" and "craft". It was more than an academic exercise. We were looking to stretch our teaching concepts and develop new art project ideas.
Definitions flew back and forth. Here is the result of that discussion:
Definition of a Sunday School ART project:
Individuals or groups selecting, manipulating, thinking about , arranging, displaying, and sharing physical materials in ways that tells, interprets, and/or reflects on the scripture and our understanding of it.
Now compare it to a definition of "craft" and you see the difference...
Definition of a Craft Project:
See this? Make yours look like this, and everybody else's.
Craft projects tend to focus on creating a "prop" from the story.
Sometimes the difference between Art and Craft is subtle, but has profound learning consequences.
Take for example the story of the Prodigal Son. A craft project might have the students cutting out the figure of the father and son and re-enacting the story using a script. An art project might have the students SCULPTING the figure of the father and son out of wire or foil, then bending the figurines to represent different attitudes at different points in the story in the story. Expressive, reflective.
Or take for example the Psalm 8 Art lesson we have trumpeted here as "exemplary." The technique of this lesson looks first at how Van Gogh captured the sense of "majesty," glory, and "surrounded-ness" of the nighttime sky, --which the Psalmist also speaks of. The lesson thus challenges the students to express those same ideas through their techniques. A craft project would simply have students coloring a bunch of stars, and not take the time to look at "Starry Night." That Psalm 8 lesson that does look at Starry Night, wants your kids to hear Psalm 8 every time they see Starry Night in the future!
Crafts tend to create "props" from the story. "Let's build Noah's Ark out of popsicle sticks" or construction paper.
Art tends to express meaning. "Build Noah's Ark and label the planks with promises God makes to you, and the names of people and things you can depend on. Add a scripture verse or two that you feel gives you comfort and strength."
The following photo demonstrates how a simple "rock craft" project was re-purposed into an art project with meaning and reflection, and then used to tell a story! A "craft" version of this project would have simply had the students creating their own individual rocks, and likely without the signs or story context.
(Click to enlarge)
The "State of Art" in Various Rotation.org Lessons
Not every art workshop at rotation.org has a higher standard of "art" over craft. As a sharing community, we have let people post what they think works, while at the same time trying to demonstrate a higher standard, ...one that moves beyond the quickie crafts you see elsewhere.
Many of the ideas for "art" projects listed in this forum and through the lesson forums here at rotation.org are familiar and "old-school." We have RECYCLED many great art project ideas found in creative curriculum throughout the years, and in many cases, tried to improve on them, ...make them more artistic.
Our Writing Team Lesson Sets, however, DO hold to a higher artistic standard, --each one demonstrating how to use materials and technique to express God's Word in a deeper more memorable way.
Art Doesn't Always Mean "Complex"
As you browse through the Art Workshop Lessons at our site, you'll see both simple and complex art projects. Even in Rotation there's a time to do something simple, and maybe even with some construction paper! But as you read through these ideas and the lessons across our forum, allow yourself to be challenged by a HIGHER VISION of using artistic forms of expression and more expressive ART materials to power your student's learning of God's Word. The Rotation Model gives you the permission and time!
Art = Wider Age Range
One of the great advantages of teaching with real art materials is that art materials ADJUST to a WIDER AGE RANGE than craft materials do. Older students will balk at crayons, but not paints, for example.
If you are using those printable crafts or craft kits from a published curriculum, they need to sell you a simpler one for the younger kids, and one that "looks older" for the older kids.
That picture above of the Cotton Ball Sheep illustrates the problem of crafts. No matter how many cotton balls you put on the table, it's still a simple craft that will not appeal to a 4th grader no matter how hard you try. And there's nothing "artistic" (expressive) or memorable about it.
You are welcome to add your thoughts to this thread.
The next post here by Lisa Martin has some great advice in it.