The value of learning through art in the classroom is not new. Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten, believed that young children should be involved in both making their own art and enjoying the art of others. To Froebel, art activities were important, not because they allowed teachers to recognize children with unusual abilities, but because they encouraged each child's "full and all-sided development" (Froebel, 1826).
Here I will outline the process we took in candle making and some of the learning involved in each step.
We started discussing havdala candles after Yitzy made a play-dough one.
First we explored a varied of havdala candles. We compared color, size, texture, and shape. Taking time to compare and contrast verbally works on skills of assessment and understanding of our world.
This led to a discussion about the difference between wax and beeswax. Drawing on previously acquired knowledge, the students marveled that the little hexagons were made by the bees we learned about before Rosh Hashana. Drawing from and building on previously acquired knowledge is the foundation for all learning.
As we discussed wax, the children were intrigued by its smell and texture (five sense and learning). "It is like a crayon," they remarked (again, the drawing on and building). "Yah, like a crayon!" came a chorus of agreements. I explained how right they were and decided we would make candles from crayons. Until this point I was tentatively planning for us to roll beeswax candles, but emergent curriculum means the experiences in the class reflect the interest and expressions of the students.
Step one: Preparing the crayons.
I searched the school for the "yucky" crayons and found a good stash along with thousands of new crayons. During free play, one of the optional activities was pulling the paper off of crayons. The students were pretty excited about this because 'making crayons naked' is usually discouraged. Pulling the paper off is a great fine motor development activity and many students enthusiastically took part.
The activity was rewarding for many, but very time consuming. The next day I put the crayons in warm water first. "The crayons had a bath! And now I can take off their clothes!" laughed Ariela.
Step 2: Sort crayons
The crayons needed to be grouped by color so that the candles didn't all turn brown. Students each a chose a different color and got to work finding theirs. This actions of comparing colors led to many interesting discussions of learning, like is teal blue or green and how peach isn't really anyone's skin color (at least in our class). To connect back to our senses, I asked how we can check the colors. "Without eyes." they chorused. "Right, try closing your eyes and sorting," I suggested. They giggled at their fruitless attempts.
Step 3: Wicks
Racheli found a stash of wicks in the supply room and prepared two wicks for each child. I explained the difference between a crayon, a Shabbat candle, and a Havdala candle was just wicks. Crayons don't have one, Shabbat candles only have one, and Havdala candles have two or more. The students seemed fascinated by this newly acquired information (there is value in good old frontal teaching too- although I explained it in an impromptu puppet show).
Step 4: Filling the molds
We are using coffee cups as molds. Each child was instructed to choose a color from the sorted crayons and get 10. This directive tested two skills we are focusing on in class. 1)following directions 2) counting with focus on one-to-one correspondence. Numeracy has been a focus over the last few weeks, with many activities to reinforce early numeracy. see here The students who are good at one seemed to lack in the other, but with some assistance and redirecting, everyone got their crayons.
Step 5: Adding the heat
The students, one at a time, placed their cup on a hot plate. They were warned of the heat and acted with appropriate caution (why the lesson on following instructions is always important). They socialized on this over lunch, shared their knowledge of safety around heat sources and stories of mishaps.
"What do you think will happen to the crayons?" I asked. (Encouraging hypothesizing and scientific contemplation).
"They will turn into candles," Chaya said gleefully.
"The hot will make them change their shape," Yochanan accurately predicted. I sent them one at a time to observe and marvel at the chemical reaction of wax and heat.