I spent my week at a moonlit oasis in an orgy of glitter and glue. I managed not to break into song while we made oasis dioramas in the elementary classes, and the preschoolers painted their "rainbow" genie lamps. An Arabian Nights camp can't help but go a bit overboard on the gold and sparkles.
All this special effects excess reminded me of a major rule of teaching and parenting and adult self-discipline: Structure Before Freedom.
SBF is essential at any age. With a structure in place humans are safe to explore free choices. When freedom dominates a classroom before a structure is established, there is a constant salvage operation against the ravages of chaos: Unsuccessful way to make art. Ineffective way to manage a classroom. Lifelong damage for a child. Horrible personal finance approach.
I did not give my all-girl class of 7-9 year olds enough structure before diving into the construction of our desert oasis dioramas. Not enough guidance about building a shelter from the boxes and cardboard tubes. Not enough background information about deserts, caravans, oases, and architecture. Instead of relying on my lesson plans, I saw the project as an opportunity to use up an oversupply of materials. Clearly, I demonstrated a lack of SBF myself. I gave the girls the boxes and turned them loose. When they opened the boxes they found the packing foam I forgot to remove ahead of time, and started planning mattresses for their tiny desert sleepovers. It just got worse from there. The paper towel tube towers were topped with halves of plastic Easter eggs, just because I had an oversupply of tubes and eggs. I had an oversupply of plaster of Paris and play sand, too, and with some brown paint thrown in to coat the projects with "sandstone and stucco" we quickly had a dreadful mess of mattresses and phallic symbols. Not an art project we want little girls to take home! The rest of the week was spent trying to salvage the project, and I had no one to blame but myself.
In my next group with 5-6 year olds, I managed to avert this crisis. I gave a better explanation about shelters, towers, arches, and mosaics. We practiced specific folding and cutting skills. We considered our dioramas as tiny stage sets for a desert drama. Our tiny clothespin people became actors in the roles of sheiks, carpet merchants, princesses, and magicians. Tag board arches allowed the actors to enter stage left. Stars reflected in the precious well water, and the moonlit sand became a fabulous collage of cool blues and purples. The clothespin acting was wooden, but it took place beneath fabulous date palm trees made of wine corks and green construction paper fronds all cut and curled. The midnight desert fairy danced through the classroom with magenta glitter to shrieks of enthusiasm. Rather more special effects and less substance than I prefer in my clothespin dramas, but it was popular at the box office.
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows painting our faces
Traces of romance in our heads
Heaven's holding a half moon
Shining just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
Kick up a little dust