Monday, March 26, 2012

Calder with 1st Graders

I have definitely been on a "Calder kick" this year after seeing a great exhibition last summer in Newport Beach. This week, after seeing a brief clip of a video on Discovery Education explaining how Calder (at age 8) made his first animals as a gift for his parents, first graders will be creating their own kinetic (moving) bird sculpture.
My sample:

Here's the plan:
Each child gets a pre-cut circle (about 3" diameter) folded in half for the body, which will rock. These were from old wall art calendars that I have  a LOT of. This was a good way to make use of them. They also get a piece of galvanized steel wire, 24 guage (about 7 inch length), a small piece of folded copy paper (1  1/2 inches by 2") for the head, and a 4 1/2" X 2 1/2" piece of copy paper for the tail feathers. This may sound like a lot of preparation, but it really didn't take too long.
Students insert the wire from the underneath side and twist the wire til it holds. I pre-bent the wire at the point where it needs to bend back towards the neck. I anticipated kids having trouble knowing how much wire to leave for the twisty part. Frankly, I am a bit anxious about that twisting, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that most of them will be able to do it without help:))
Once the neck is assembled, we draw the head on one side of the fold and cut it out. Then they can draw a matching head on the other side. The bottom part above is the fold line. That is where the wire will be sandwiched when we glue
The tail feathers are pretty straightforward. Students  color...

fold into narrow strips, cut a point on one side and then cut apart on the fold lines.
The head gets glued first. Notice that it faces the body. This is important when adjusting for the balance point as kids glue tail feathers.
Tail feathers are glued last, making adjustments in the neck for balance.
I'll take photos of the kids at work so you can see if this all works!!


  1. What a great project to illustrate the work of Alexander Calder.

    Great tutorial; thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice birds with lovely bright colors! Great project!

  3. How do I type hearts and flowers to show how this lesson makes me feel? LOVE LOVE LOVE. Can't wait to see how the kids do with it, because somehow I'd love to find the time to squeeze it in. Just SO CUTE!!!

  4. AMAZING!! I have to pin this idea :)

  5. Thanks so much for posting this idea - what a simple way to explore Calder and use up that box full of colored wire gathering dust in my storeroom!

  6. These might be fun to do at Thanksgiving as Calder Turkeys!

  7. Thanks for working so hard to make art a fun and useful experience for your students...more interesting projects and connections to real artists of the past makes a HUGE difference in engaging young people and encouraging them to create and dream. I know because I had a teacher like you. :-)

    1. This is such a kind comment -- thank you. I love hearing that you had a good art experience in your own schooling!!!

  8. Hi,
    I would love to try this lesson with my 1st graders too! It seems like a wonderful adapatation of Calder-inspired scultpures. However, I think introducing this project with a video seems like a great way to get them excited about Calder's work, but I can't seem to find the video you mention! Is there any way you could post a link to the video or list the film title here?

    1. I showed part of this video:
      Arts4All, (2004). Alexander Calder. [Full Video]. Available from

      The full video is about 15 min. and is available through the Discovery Education site that our school subscribes to.
      Hope you can access it!! I think I have seen a similar clip on YouTube, but you would have to do a search for it.