Driftwood has to be one of my favourite art materials. It’s free, beautifully organic, and involves getting out into nature to collect it.
Every spring, I take our three girls on a driftwood hunt on the banks of Winnipeg’s Red River. On these nature walks, we usually end up discovering much more than driftwood, which always leads to other investigations and learning.
In my work with children and families in classrooms and child care centres, I have used driftwood on many occasions, and the results are always so beautiful.
In this post, I share five ways to use driftwood in artful learning experiences that combine collaboration, storytelling and fibre arts.
1. Collaborative Texture Trees
The child care centre I was working with was looking to have more colour in their space, but were limited with what they could hang or affix to the walls. Thinking outside the box, we decided to bring colour and visual interest in a unique way.
We chose to create a collaborative “forest” - children used driftwood branches to work together to add layers of texture, fabric, wire, beads, feathers and other embellishments. We layered the branches, and each child worked upon the last child’s contribution. Finally, we “planted” the textured driftwood branches into cylinder planters (filled with sand to weigh them down and to keep from tipping).
This experience required collaboration, sharing of materials and resulted in community art project - a special piece that every child, no matter how young or old - had a hand in creating.
Here is an example of a texture tree in our home//school classroom:
2. Textured Wall Hanging
Many learning outcomes can be “woven’ into the creation of these wall hangings.
For example, I’ve taught a lesson incorporating the Seven Sacred Teachings (each coloured strand represents a Sacred Teaching: Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth); or children can identify their strengths or passions and have them visually represented through colour.
3. Family Portrait Mobile
Using Todd Parr’s book: Families are Different as a springboard, we talked about how "there are many different ways to be a family," and although families may look different, we all share the same love.
Children took turns drawing members of their family with a Sharpie, and mounted on colourful cardstock. These portraits were then strung on yarn, and hung from driftwood at various levels. Tassels, pom poms, feathers and beads were added with the help of family members.
4. Family Talking Stick
One of my favourite ways to use driftwood is through this collaborative project, the family talking stick. It could easily be adapted for a classroom or childcare programme, and the idea is that everyone has visual representation (through yarn or other embellishments) on the talking stick.
A sharing circle is considered traditional practice in some Indigenous communities, and is designed to ensure everyone as an equal opportunity to share their opinions and ideas. We use our sharing circle as a way to share what is on our minds, to solve problems, and as a means to come to decisions. You can read more about the talking stick in a blog post I wrote here.
5. Map of my Heart
After reading My Map Book by Sara Fanelli, we created maps of our own heart.
We shared the things that were most special to us: family, pets, favourite foods, favourite sports and hobbies, and favourite books and movies. Children used vellum, sharpies and watercolour to share their visual representation of their heart, and hung these with wire from driftwood, and later added embellishments like beads and feathers to the wire.
This summer, if you decide to go on a nature walk on a riverbank or beach, pick up some driftwood and create something!