Isn’t nature breathtaking?
The colour palette of nature, the shapes, the textures, the patterns. How do you interact with the landscape when you’re outdoors? Do you gather shells and driftwood at the beach or collect colourful leaves in the bush? Perhaps you’ve made a rock cairn to mark your passage through an area.
Children are naturally comfortable outdoors, collecting, designing, rearranging and creating with the natural elements around them. Why not build on this interest by introducing them to the concept of land art.
Land art – what is it?
We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” – Andy Goldsworthy
Land art (also called earth art) is made by sculpting directly onto the landscape – the earth becomes the canvas. Natural materials found in the landscape – such as rocks, twigs and leaves – are used as the basis of the artwork. The weather plays a part in the artistic process too, because often the sculpture is left to be eroded by the elements.
A well-known piece of land art is Spiral Jetty, constructed in the 1970s by American sculptor Robert Smithson. Jutting out from the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, it is made entirely from natural materials – mud, salt, crystals and water. While creating a piece of land art of the scale of “Spiral Jetty” might be a little ambitious for your children, the work is inspiring, nonetheless!
Andy Goldsworthy is another land artist who is often used as a source of inspiration in Early Childhood classrooms. This British artist, sculptor and photographer produces astounding art in natural and urban spaces, and his work is the perfect starting point if you’re wanting delve into the world of land art with your preschoolers.
Begin a land art learning adventure with your children
Begin by introducing the children in your class to some of Andy Goldsworthy’s artworks. You could display photos of his artworks in the classroom, Google some information about the artist, or watch a video, such as this short film about Andy sculpting in Scotland.
So the intention with work like this is I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s about looking and learning and seeing and responding to the day, the materials, and trying to understand a little bit of that day, that material, that place, that moment.
- Andy Goldsworthy
While you’re researching and learning together, have discussions with the children about what materials Andy is using. Provoke their thinking by cuing the children into the fact that he doesn’t use ‘conventional’ art supplies, or materials to join the natural materials together. There are no staples, glue or sticky-tape in Andy’s work! As you’re talking, listen and look for clues as to what the children are most interested in about Andy’s work, and let this guide where you take the journey of learning next.
Get out in nature and start making
Head outside with your budding artists on a land art adventure!
It could be the playground, the backyard, the park, the bush or a forest. Visiting these places during different seasons will provide a different canvas for the children’s art too. Remember to take a camera (one that you’re comfortable with the children using so they can document their work). Baskets for collecting materials – small materials such as pebbles, twigs, leaves and pinecones can come in handy too. And don’t let the children have all the fun, get involved and make your own piece of art!
As a follow-up, you could revisit the landscape on another day to see how the artworks have been affected by the weather.
Bringing it back to the classroom
Once the children are back inside, it doesn’t mean their land art investigations need to end. Have some natural materials such as river stones, pinecones, twigs and feathers available for the children to investigate and use in their play. Display them with photos of the children’s land art, or some of Andy Goldsworthy’s.
Talk about artists, and use the language of art with the children. Explore what they do, what they’re inspired by, and most importantly, remind the children that they’re artists too! It’s incredibly empowering for children when they realize that their art is just as important as the art they see in galleries.
This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).