SchoolArts Room

Stretch & Explore with Studio Habits of Mind

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Feb 12, 2015

When I taught elementary art, I usually had certain materials and supplies on my tables that students could use at any time: boxes of all kinds of scrap papers, wall paper, fabrics and trims, glue, hole punches, and regular and “fancy” scissors. And the projects my students were most likely to get lost in (and lose track of time), were playful ones that they could embellish and extend as desired. Though I arrived at this approach more intuitively at the time, I now realize how well this fit with the Studio Habit of Mind called Stretch and Explore.

The NAEA Board at the New Orleans Museum of Art


This year each SchoolArts issue is focusing on one of the eight dispositions of the Studio Habits of Mind, found in Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, published in 2013 by Teachers College Press and the National Art Education Association. Stretch and Explore may be my favorite.
Stretch and Explore is about fostering creativity by playing with possibilities, discovering different approaches, taking risks, not worrying about failure or final results, and learning by experimenting. Teachers can actively encourage and challenge students to be willing to try new or different approaches, to play around. The authors of Studio Thinking 2 suggest that teachers “strive for tasks that are clear enough to communicate a direction and open enough to allow infinite solutions.” In my own teaching, I thought of that approach as freedom within structure.
If you would like to explore these ideas further, two examples of this playful approach given in Studio Thinking 2 include the engaging rules of artist Sister Corita Kent (Rule 6 is “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There’s only make.”) and artist Oliver Herring’s interactive Task Party, full of playful assignments. You can explore them here and here.