Monday, December 27, 2010

Art is Smart - Part One

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

As one of the creators of KinderArt.com, I often receive letters from teachers who work in public school systems where the arts are not a priority. Faced with dilemmas like how to raise test scores and how to stretch budgets as far as they can go, school board officials need to make tough decisions.
It is always disturbing to hear of yet another set of district policy makers doing away with arts education in the schools. Trouble is, many hold the misconception that art is a superfluous, isolated subject when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth...
Art helps children understand other subjects much more clearly - from math and science to language arts and geography.

Art nurtures inventiveness as it engages children in a process that develops self esteem, self-discipline, cooperation and self-motivation.

Participating in art activities helps children develop the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapt to and respect others' ways of working and thinking, develop creative problem solving skills, and communicate thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways.
It is important to remember that teaching children about art is not just about showing them how to recognize a van Gogh or a Picasso, but also about preparing young minds for a future of invaluable experiences - art related or otherwise.

Am I preaching to the converted? Good. But now comes the tricky part... where do you begin?

Incidentally, the following tips apply as much to parents as teachers.

Create Creative Space

Try as much as possible to introduce your students to a wide variety of art media. Create an area in your home or classroom where youngsters can have unlimited access to art materials. Use the resources at your disposal to engage students in a variety of art-making activities. See if you can find a local artist to visit your classroom (a local gallery can help you). Begin to introduce your students to the styles of certain artists. Vincent van Gogh created many self-portraits for example. Discuss his work, look at some examples and then encourage your students to create their own self-portraits. Remember to always discuss a child's work with her. Ask questions and never criticize her attempts. Be supportive and listen carefully.

Quick Tips:
  • Designate an area of your classroom as the "Creative Corner". Encourage your students to spend free time in this area. Keep the corner stocked with costumes and games for younger kids, and clay, pencils and sketch paper for older kids.
  • Allow time for non-representational drawing, even with older students.
  • Don't insist that students reproduce images exactly. Allow for alterations and additions, see what develops.
  • Organize group projects in the classroom. Children can learn new problem-solving skills by working with others.
  • Integrate art with other subjects such as science, geography, math and language arts. Hands-on-science experiments can be as creative as art projects, and students can make connections to geometric shapes and measurements through drawing.
  • Play music when appropriate. Introduce students to many different styles of music. Have students discuss which styles are their favourites and why.
  • Initiate a storytelling or daydream session whenever possible. It's a great way for you and your students to relax and create.
  • It is incredibly important that each and every student sees their artwork on display. This creates inspiration and shows your students just how important their expressions really are. Having your work on display does wonders for self-esteem. Try it. You'll see.
No... Really.

Next - Part Two:  Take Field Trips and Talk About It

This article first appeared in Classroom Leadership, a newsletter for K-12 Classroom Teachers, published by the American Society of Curriculum Developers.

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