Whatever the dictionary definition, collage seems to be inter-preted widely to include any work of art which depends on the juxtaposition of related or unrelated materials and objects fixed to a common background. As one student said,’ If you stick it on you call it collage.’ This last description is probably adequate enough for the activities of small children.
Watching what under-fives do when presented with a variety of materials, suitable glue and background paper gives some clue as to what presentation is most suitable and effective. However many different materials and shapes are provided they will probably use only five or six of these at most, although several pieces of any one kind will be used. While adults know that one or two very bright, sparkly, vividly patterned or coloured pieces show to better advantage if they are used with plainer pieces, children will choose only those which are attractive in their own right with no thought as to how they may detract from or complement each other. This in no way spoils their pleasure. The approaching fives may use materials to carry out ideas but four-year-olds simply enjoy the glueing and placing process with little thought of anything else. Three-year-olds are often more interested in the adhesive. The first stages seem to consist of glueing all the background and sticking pieces on so that a small surface with edges to contain the glue and with some hope of being able to use all the glued surface is a wise choice. Older children who select pieces, apply glue and then stick them on might prefer a larger background to work on and perhaps they could be given a choice. Paper can be used as a base but the weight of material and wet glue may be too great. Card or some other more substantial material is better. Round cheese boxes, box lids, polystyrene trays and papier mache trays are very useful.
The adhesive used matters a good deal. For very young children who just wish to spread it a cheaper one which will not do permanent damage to clothes is sensible. The drawback is that Polycell, cold-water paste and gum, which fulfil the above conditions, will only stick paper and card together. Once children have worked out this interest in adhesive and become more concerned with what they are sticking then a PVA glue will stick more materials and can still be washed from clothes if it is dealt with quickly. For children who have reached the next stage a quicker drying adhesive such as Copydex may be necessary but this should be used sparingly and needs supervision.
There is a good opportunity, when deciding what to provide, to structure the materials to encourage incidental. Dif-ferent shapes in a variety of sizes, textures and materials could be the focal point of each collection. There are always more than enough possibilities within any one concept or material to pro- vide for the five or six choices which is the limit for most child-ren. A collection of wood pieces could include sawdust, shav-ings, pieces of bark, tiny pieces of hardwood, softwood, match-sticks, lolly sticks and excelsior (packing material made from shredded wood) for instance. Grains and seeds offer a good deal of choice. Pasta is a great favourite and comes in many shapes and sizes. There are so many possibilities with fabrics that one could use it to focus attention on colour, shape, size and texture in almost any combination. This structural presentation need not prohibit children from being allowed to add to it from a well-sorted collection of other materials if they wish to. Asking for specific items to add to what is presented often denotes the stage at which a child has some definite objective in mind and is considering each separate part of his collage in relation to the whole. It might, of course, just mean that he rather fancies sequins or whatever and likes to put them on everything.
There are other activities, which involve actually embedding small objects such as beads, buttons, shells into a permanent base of clay, Polyfilla or plaster of paris. This is not strictly speaking collage but might be a natural extension of the same interest for older children.