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Not these kind of sponges.

Not these kind of sponges.

Today, I resumed my monthly duties as art project helper in Ruby’s class.  I don’t know her first grade English teacher (Mrs. D.) that well but she seems pretty nice.  Ruby likes her.  Ruby was actually on the Spanish side today with a substitute – Mr. O. – so we didn’t start the art project with her class.

Our objective today was sponge painting on brown paper bags.  We had large paper Fred Meyer bags and red, white, blue and green tempera paint squeezed onto plates.  We also had assorted sponge sizes, all pretty rectangular.  A Mrs. Fosse, an older lady who works with IEP and reading groups, and I set it all up.

We took the kids in groups of four.  I didn’t know but a couple of kid in the class, and that’s because they were in Ruby’s kindergarten class last year.  We wrote their names on the unprinted, bottom of the bag and talked through the project.  It is a bag to wrap a present for their parents.  I didn’t give too much direction because I wanted to see what they came up with on their own.  Mrs. Fosse, however, had other ideas.

“You need to finish up, Lilly”, she intoned.  “We have to let the other kids come and paint, too.”  I felt a little bad about hurrying kids along, but having done this before, I know it can take some kids a very long time to complete their vision.

“We’re stamping with the sponge, not painting.  We aren’t making flowers and people.  We’re printing, like we did with the apple prints”, referencing an unknown art project every kid seemed to remember well.  I didn’t like giving this direction either.  Yet if they continued painting with enormous, globular smudges, they would take forever to dry.  Or they would drip, God forbid.

We took the bags one by one as they completed them and hung them on clothespins dangling strategically around Mrs. D.’s room.  Well, I shouldn’t say “we” because I could only reach one of them.  Mrs. F. had the same problem.  Mrs. D. hung them and the rest we shunted onto a low table.

The kids painted quietly, intent on their work. I was amazed at their ability to concentrate. Ruby was in the middle of the order of kids.  She heard the directions and started stamping.  She did it perfectly.  No surprise, since her super hero name is Art Girl.  Some of the kids pursued their own ideas, however, earning a bit of consternation from Mrs. F.

“I said no pictures.  You’re done now, Eduardo.  Go wash your hands.”  The kid would obediently slink to the sink and scrub his mitts, dry them and return to class.

The object, it seems, was to complete a bag inside of 2-3 minutes.

Mrs. F. is not a villain.  I should point that out.  She knew we had a time deadline and a lot of kids.  She was realistic but firm, and the kids responded to her authority.  As I watched the kids paint, I hoped that they were having a good time.  I chatted them up a little.  We talked about how I’m Ruby’s mom; one girl said Ruby looked like me.  Another girl told me she’s leaving for Disneyland on Thursday.  She was very shy but excited, too, anticipation all over her sweet face.  It was great fun to work with the kids again, doing something to break up the first grade monotony of chanting numbers, writing the letter K over and over again and learning about Spot.  These kids were not unlike the sponges they painted with, soaking up every bit of adult attention and affirmation.  I know several of them slightly. Most come from loving families.  Some do not.  I prayed that they would soak up the joy in creating and making something with their own hands, something they could be proud of, and remember there is great mystery and joy out in the world just waiting to be discovered.

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