A Fine Line Between Art and Math

By Kelsie Castro

“Lines really are in everything.”

– Lillian, Age 5

“Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.”

Piet Mondrian

Last year, one of our children’s biggest interests was drawing. They would use this language to express stories, explore ideas, and collaborate with their peers. This year we noticed immediately that this interest was still there and stronger than ever. Seeing this, I was inspired to find a way to connect the love for drawing we knew so many children had to a part of our classroom where they didn’t get to explore it often, investigations.

As a way to incorporate drawing into our investigations time, the children have taken some time to explore a universal piece of almost everything we do, lines. In both math and art, the line is one of the first places you start. It is a foundation upon which we create numbers and explore geometry, but also the first step in taking something from our natural world and illustrating what we see.

Thinking about how we needed to bridge their interest in drawing and our goals for exploring math, I could see that lines provided the perfect entry point for an interdisciplinary study. Starting with measurement as our core thread, I introduced the children to rulers giving them a chance to see how this new tool could help them create lines. We spent the entirety of that first day simply playing with these tools and taking time to appreciate all the possibilities that emerged when these different pieces worked together.

From that first day, we moved forward by turning the line exploration into a game. The children rolled dice to figure out how big or small their lines should be and then found those numbers on the rulers. With the rulers, they practiced creating parallel and perpendicular lines, noticing the different angles and shapes that were created as they moved the rulers around. Through just a simple exploration with dice, a black pen and a ruler, the children became so excited about what they could do with a line.

After giving the children some time to work with the one black marker, I added the final layer to our work by offering them chalk pastels. With their only prompt being to see what ideas they could find in the lines, they had drawn, the children took to the colors immediately. In just a few short minutes an exploration of lines and measurement had become a rich art experience with some children illustrating full scenes within their lines, and others embracing the abstract designs that the Iines brought forth.

As I watched the children work through this process, I realized that art and math intersect far more than we might think. While we may not always imagine math as being part of the creative process, it certainly has its place. It supports us in bringing our visions to life and allows us to look at and understand the process behind even some of the most complex works of art.

The conversations, ideas, and collaboration that came from this small experience I believe speak volumes to what can happen when we cross the line from one area of study to the next, leaving me to wonder…

What other ways children’s exploration in one unit of study can shape their understanding of another?

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