Sunday, March 30, 2014

Preserving the old, preparing the new.

This is one of the WPA mosaic tiles built into the walls of the North End Pavilion at Spring Lake (NJ) Beach. That pavilion was totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The tiles, we heard, had been removed for safe-keeping before the storm. The new pavilion is an almost exact replica of the old one, which is such a joy to those of us who thought that a new construction would be a new look. Even better, there are replicas of the old tiles in place. To those of us who love the Jersey Shore, this was the right thing to do.

New and original architecture, and new art are good for culture and society. New and original people are, too! Once the WPA employed artists were the breath of fresh air, the innovators, the vanguard of art in the early 20th century. When I think of how the government actually financed them, I feel such pride that the U.S. Government saw employment of artists as equally important as employment of steel workers or machinists. This attitude towards the arts has not been carried along into the new century.

Ironically, teaching through the arts has been shown in research to be the most integrating path to healthy, mature and consistent learning. I find that using the arts as a pathway motivates students to bring all of their own "human capital" to their efforts. Just as those early WPA artists, paid by Uncle Sam, threw their best efforts into working with other craftsmen to produce useful and beautiful buildings, our students will work through the arts to produce beautiful "products" that demonstrate what they have learned. New and original people are the human product of this approach. 

Teaching through arts integration is rigorous. Students must address learning standards in both the arts and in other subjects, such as history, literature, science and math. They use their hands, bodies, voices, feelings AND intellect in the learning process. This is what we call, in the Early Childhood field, integrated curriculum. There are many ways teachers can learn this approach, one being at the Kennedy Center's CETA (Changing Education Through the Arts) program. Becoming a CETA school means getting teaching artists into your building. Wolf Trap also works with schools to train teachers to teach through the arts. There are many online resources ask well. Here is one example of a digital documentation of teaching both visual art and mathematics to kindergartners, and here are examples of lessons for grades 5 through 8 addressing both social studies and language arts.

An old building is not always worth replicating. Certainly old teaching methods aren't, either. We need to teach to the whole person, preserving the best the arts and education have to offer. Let's not ignore this challenge.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Peinture en Plein Air

Ou, la la! The story of Pigasso and Mootisse continued today!

We have been experimenting with colors indoors, mixing black and while, black, white and green, and the usual primary colors into secondary colors on paper with tempera. The children delight in "discovering" combinations. Some already know that blue and yellow make green. They've read Little Blue and Little Yellow for some time. Fewer know The Color Kittens, but are veterans of science experiments where other combinations have been tried. I asked my small group what they would like to do that the characters in When Pigasso met Mootisse did and one little boy suggested painting the fence!

Instead, we painted a big piece of cardboard.

I brought out a variety of bright colors, along with white and black. The children took turns being painters and art critics. The art critics were to tell the painters what they liked about what they were doing and what colors they saw evolving. This was slightly challenging since there were other children playing on the playground while they were critiquing their friends' art! Considering the distraction, they did well. 

Next we added leaves. This girl decided that, rather than stick leaves to the paint, she would make sure the leaves stuck by painting them individually. This worked well. 

The task took longer than I imagined it would, and so we stowed the painting in the shed to continue with tomorrow. We will see what transpires! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You say Pigasso, I say Picasso...

I love four year olds! They are in a transition stage of development, at the cusp of separating reality from fantasy. You can see the wheels turning in some of their amazing brains, shifting gears from, "Is this real?" to "Of course it's not real". I can see it when I bring out my puppet, Melvin the Monkey (named after my beloved first voice teacher, Mel Hakola). "He's not talking, YOU are!", they say, at the same time speaking with Melvin directly. "Melvin, do you want a banana?" 

We read When Pigasso Met Mootisse, and I carefully explained that there were real artists named Picasso and Matisse, showing them pictures of the artists and their art. But throughout the subsequent activities related to the story, each time I said the artists' names, they corrected me. One little boy, a concerned look on his face, said, "Gail, you mean Pigasso, right?". I admit I caved. That "G" started creeping into my pronunciation. 

Here is how we did our Pigasso, er, Picasso art project, and the objectives you as an early childhood educator can reference if you do it with children. 

We gathered at morning meeting and listed our choices for activity time, as usual. On the art table Sue had prepared a long mirror down one side of the table so that the children could draw a LARGE circle, eyes, nose and mouth, looking at themselves while they drew, sitting three at a time.. Children, speaking their thoughts aloud, said, "My face is a circle", or "Mine's an oval". Some, remembering the cubism we discussed prior to the activity, said, "I'll make my eyes triangles like a pumpkin". 

The next step was to cut their picture into five largish pieces (these instructions were to prevent the inevitable cutting into shards and iddy-biddy pieces that often happens when we say, "cut"). Sue had demonstrated in morning meeting that pieces of a drawing could be reformed into a "new face", just as Picasso, I mean Pigasso had done. 
We saved the pieces for each child by putting them together with a paper clip with their name attached. The next day they pieced their "new faces" together on a sheet of construction paper of their choosing. After gluing them down, they used my favorite colors, Creamy Crayons, to give vibrant colors to the new faces. As these are children of varying age within the "fours" bracket, not to mention varying individual interests and passions, the result was a broad range of "new faces" to put up in our stair well.

On the subject of directions, which I raised in my last post, we only provided those I have already mentioned except for encouraging children to color pieces so that the idea of a face be preserved. They were left to interpret that direction as they wished. Our direct instruction was not to tight, not to loose. Hopefully, it was just right!

Virginia Visual Arts Foundation Block 1: Visual Communication and Production, all four objectives.
Virginia Visual Arts Foundation Block 2: Art History and Cultural Context, objectives b and c.