Bridget Matros

Bridget Matros

The ubiquitous hand-print turkey—to me, a symbol of how artmaking during early childhood is trivialized, as it pertains to the serious stuff of developing (or crushing) critical aptitudes needed in the 21st century.

Preserving and developing the creativity of the young child through quality artmaking experiences—it’s a challenge for those of us who were artistically “squashed” or deprived during our critical years. It’s a tender task, so easily undermined by the well-intended comments of parents who share a “creative deficit!”

Here I’ll share some tips for the “parent issue”—I hope to talk with you about the rest in the comments below!

Making the shift of priorities from “cuteness factor” to experiential value in the classroom is an uphill battle. Teacher prep programs include “process over product” and “there’s no way to do art wrong” as general guidelines, but resources for putting those ideas into practice are scarce; resources, printables, and materials for craft projects that teach conformity, art-for-pleasing-others, and external guidelines over self-expression are everywhere!

What’s more, the latter is what parents (and school administration/program funders, etc.) want: cut-out pumpkins colored orange with black triangles glued on are a kind of currency for early childhood educators.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rachael Carnes

Rachael Carnes

Babies and toddlers love to move! Any parent or caregiver can tell you that.

For further demonstration, just look at the happy expression on their little faces as they flap their arms like a bird or their sheer focus and determination as they scoot across the floor on their tummies: kids just seem to have fun exploring their world through their own bodies.

And as they play, stretch, curl, reach, grasp, teeter, cruise, crawl and run, they’re also learning.

What Do We Mean by the Kinesthetic Sense?

When asked to list the human senses, most of us would rattle off sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. From the shape and color of an apple in a picture book to the smell of grandma’s pumpkin pie or grandpa’s curried tofu, babies and toddlers get lots of sensory experiences that they will begin to recognize, sort, differentiate, and assimilate.

As babies and toddlers grow, their sense of their own movement, called kinesthesia, will expand. Some movement educators, physical therapists, and developmental psychologists refer to the kinesthetic sense as the “sixth sense”: It represents not only the sensation of your child’s own body, either still or moving, but also his or her growing ability to abstract cause and effect among objects. Read the rest of this entry »

Ron Jones

Ron Jones

There seems to be an unstated assumption that any change in how the arts are utilized in early childhood education requires that the focus be on influencing and shaping the pedagogy of the teachers who currently work directly with this age group. That seems like a practical strategy, but we all know how challenging it is to initiate change.

I would submit that there is another avenue, a quicker and more effective path for accomplishing our goals with early childhood.

This avenue is at least as powerful as any other strategy advocated and, at its best, may be the most efficient way to implement beneficial change—positioning the arts as central to and essential for early childhood education.

I would argue that it is easier and faster to shape the philosophy and ensure a new approach to pedagogy when the focus is education majors within our colleges and universities.

The resistance to change evidenced in many experienced educators, be they teachers or principals, makes it difficult for me to believe that we can witness significant influence over what happens; rather, or at least at the same time, we must marshal the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of soon-to-be teachers. Harnessing that energy will yield positive results in just a few short years. We must create a transition that permeates every classroom, that impacts every student, and that is advanced by every educator.  Read the rest of this entry »

With the smell of coffee brewing and waffles toasting, I peer into my girls’ art studio and see two preschoolers happily invested in the processes of drawing flowers and painting landscapes.

My two-year old dips her brush delicately into a bowl of water and then fills her brush with paint. The brush dances across the page and I hear her chatting about rainbows and a blue-green sky. My four-year-old fills her page with intricate illustrations of imaginative flowers and spirals.

kids painting

We have a morning ritual of making, and it’s almost always process-driven. I do everything I can to set up an invitation to create—on this Spring morning the table was covered with paper, a jar of markers, and watercolors—and then I’ll step back to allow my children to find their creative voices. This is process-oriented art: open-ended, exploratory, individual, and one-of-a-kind.  Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Harris MacKay

Susan Harris MacKay

Every day, in every aspect of curriculum, Opal School students are invited to work with the arts to express their interpretations and growing relationships with the world around them.

Inspired by the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, Opal School began 12 years ago with the intention to pursue the question: What are the implications of these approaches for the American Public Elementary School?

Carlina Rinaldi, has written, “We are all researchers of the meaning of life. Yet it is possible to destroy this attitude of the child with our quick answers and our certainty.”

We ask ourselves daily: What assumptions need to shift if we are to sustain curiosity and preserve this attitude of research? What would school look like if it intended to promote the development of the kind of healthy brain architecture our citizens need to support a healthy planet and democracy?

What happens if we withhold quick answers? What relationships become visible? What tools and strategies become of value?

In TED prize winner, Sugata Mitra’s recent talk, we hear him ask similar questions. While I agree with his equation/response to these questions: broadband + collaboration + encouragement, my experience tells me he is missing a vital part: the arts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lynne Kingsley

Lynne Kingsley

Picture it: you bring Tyler, a nine-month-old infant, to sit through a high-quality production of “James and the Giant Peach.” To expect the same deliciously wide-eyed and captivated response as his seven-year-old sister is nonsensical.

Would we say, then, that baby Tyler, in his most formative years, is not entitled to the same level of quality artistic experiences (and benefits that go along with them) as other members of his family simply because his intake mechanisms are less developed therefore more reliant on senses than words and linear thought?

It was only in the last 10 years did Theatre for the Very Young (TVY or Baby Theatre, or Theatre for Early Years) become a popular practice in the United States. Our comrades in Europe began researching and practicing this work roughly 25 years ago. And, I was surprised to learn from Manon van de Water’s book, Theatre, Youth and Culture: a Critical and Historical Exploration, that part of it was a response to a different perception of the very young as “human beings” and not “human becomings” who had the right to art and leisure as stipulated in the UNESCO Convention on the Rights of a Child.

Not only is experiencing arts a human right, but also it’s incredibly beneficial to them. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, dramatic play is important in helping young children express themselves and gain understanding of different societal roles. Read the rest of this entry »

Akua Kouyate

Akua Kouyate

At a Congressional Briefing about the national dissemination of Wolf Trap’s Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) project—now in the third year of a U.S. Department of Education Arts in Education—Model Development and Dissemination grant—a District of Columbia Public Schools classroom teacher who had participated in an Early STEM/Arts residency approached me.

The teacher talked excitedly about one parent who came to her in tears of joy as she shared how her four-year-old explained to her that the sun does not rise and fall, but stays still while the earth orbits around the sun. The teacher also described how her children spent time in the dramatic play area of the classroom taking turns being the sun while directing their playmates and teachers to “orbit” around them.

What happened in that Wolf Trap residency that had such a strong impact on that classroom? I was able to see it myself a week earlier, when I’d visited the teacher’s classroom during an Early STEM/Arts session. This is what I witnessed:

Through the drama techniques of imaginary journey and utilizing sensory experiences, a classroom of four-year-old preschoolers prepares to embark on an outer space expedition. Before they leave, they put on their imaginary space suits, like the one that is projected on the big screen/smart board.  Read the rest of this entry »

Louise J. Corwin

Louise J. Corwin

Art has traditionally been an important part of early childhood programs. The arts in early childhood education is spontaneous, creative play—drawing, painting, self-expression, singing, playing music, dancing, storytelling, and role playing.

Pre-school age children love the arts because that is what they do naturally. The arts engage all the senses and kinesthetic, auditory, and visual modalities. When parents, early educators and early childhood teachers engage and encourage children in the arts on a regular basis early in life, they help lay the foundation for successful learning and school success. The Early Years Matter!

In early childhood vernacular, the arts include children’s active participation in a variety of experiences—dance, drama, fine arts, and music. These activities allow them to express themselves through the arts and appreciate what they observe.

To be ready for school, children need to reach core milestones and master key skills and abilities in seven domains of learning including the arts.

Important questions to ask include:

  • What skills in the arts do young children need?
  • Why are the arts important to school success?
  • How can parents support the arts?  Read the rest of this entry »

Old Songs, New Opportunities

Posted by Erin Gough On March - 18 - 20134 COMMENTS
Erin Gough

Erin Gough

It is a familiar trope that early childhood teachers claim that they get as much out of teaching young ones as students get out of their lessons. They do it for the love of children, the excitement of youthful discovery, and the joy of nurturing rather than a hefty paycheck. My own mom, a longtime preschool teacher, often says she gets “paid in hugs.” But for some women in Erie, PA, early childhood instruction is a gateway to a new life.

The Old Songs, New Opportunities (OSNO) program at the Erie Museum of Art creates opportunities for refugee women to use traditional skills and cultural assets from their home countries to begin to build a career as early childhood educators. This program—one part job training, one part cultural education, and one part early education—has been transformative for the both the women who go through the museum’s training, and for the students they care for.

Through OSNO, women who were expert caregivers in their home countries and are interested in learning the ins-and-outs of the American early education process are provided with over 50 hours of accredited instruction in basic child development theory, discipline and alternatives, the role of the childcare work, and how art, music, and movement aid physical and mental development.

At the same time, these women provide exposure to and instruction of their cultural traditions to fellow OSNO trainees, and create a tapestry of song and tradition that bonds teachers with students, and teachers with one anotherRead the rest of this entry »

Kaya Chwals

Kaya Chwals

There is a lot of science behind the benefits of universal preschool education. The idea was first introduced in France in the 1800s; many developed countries have a strong history of educating all children early on. We don’t, and so a debate began, and science set about to study whether or not there’s any benefit to investing energy in developing young minds in a structured way.

Short answer: yes. The sevenfold savings Obama described in his state of the union speech highlights a study that shows a marked difference in lifelong achievement between high risk children who receive quality preschool education and those that do not.

In turn, one would argue to those who would be against universal preschool for financial reasons, the savings to society are seven times what they would be if these children were caught in a cycle of poverty that requires government aid or, frankly, prison costs. We have far more prisoners than preschoolers, more prisoners than anyone else in the world, and that plays a part in our national conversation about early education.

The hitch is that these children received, as the Perry study pointed out, “a high quality preschool program.”

If we were to enact universal preschool in America, what would such a system look like? Probably kindergarten, which became universal in the United States in the 1960s and 70s. I am very fond of kindergarten, but anecdotally, here are some goals I’ve heard in working with kindergarten teachers:  Read the rest of this entry »

Kristen Engebretsen

Kristen Engebretsen

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

As the mother of a four year old daughter (Sofia), I have seen firsthand how natural it is for young children to communicate and express themselves through singing, drawing, and dancing.

These mediums allow youngsters a chance to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions that they might not have the words for. They also help them explore the world around them through their five senses—one of the primary ways that young children learn.

As my daughter’s first teacher, I have tried to provide her with materials and experiences that will nurture her innate curiosity and foster a lifelong love of self expression through the arts.

Sofia and I love to do what we call “projects.” The projects usually involve art, music, or nature, but more importantly, they involve discovery, exploration, and a focus on process over product. You’ll see through the pictures below some of the projects that Sofia and I do together.

For example, one project might involve multiple days’ worth of activities:  Read the rest of this entry »

Steven Dawson

Steven Dawson

What happens when an arts organization’s business model no longer works?

Well, as with the metaphor of the shark, it must continue to move forward or it will die.

For decades, the arts organization model has remained largely unchallenged, because there was no reason to challenge it. It almost served as a microcosm of “The American Dream.”

Everyone wanted to start their own organization, and the great entrepreneurial spirit in the United States created a thriving environment for this mindset. Margo Jones, one of the regional theatre pioneers in the 1950s, supported the idea, saying “What our country needs today, theatrically speaking, is a resident professional theatre in every city with a population over one hundred thousand.”

However, as Rocco Landesman so famously said, audiences have begun to dwindle while the number of organizations continues to rise, and there should be fewer arts organizations. I am in no way saying that some organizations should just close up shop so that another can benefit. But this is definitely something to think about.

There are only so many contributed dollars out there for the arts. This trend of continued marketplace crowding will eventually lead to organizations relying quite heavily on earned income to meet budget. And as I mentioned a few weeks ago, many organizations must keep prices low (affordable) in order to fulfill their missions. Put those two factors together, and it doesn’t add up to success.  Read the rest of this entry »

Katie Kurcz

Katie Kurcz

At last month’s Arts & Business Council of Chicago’s workshop, we learned that the secret to building cultural corporate partnerships is that there are no secrets. In fact, the core strategy is as basic as building a strong, healthy relationship.

Although this revelation is rather anti-climatic and fairly intuitive, the case studies and advice shared by the workshop panelists provided instructive takeaways about who to target, how to approach prospective partners, and what to expect in making asks.

The panel was comprised of two sets of partnership pairs representing both the corporate and the arts perspective.

Ruth Stine, director of special projects at the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) and Business Volunteer for the Arts (BVA) consultant, presented alongside Beth Gallagher, director of community engagement at Aon.

Beth acknowledged that the best way to get support from Aon is having an internal advocate(s) already involved with the organization as a board member or volunteer. The more Aon employees involved with the organization, the more likely Aon will consider a request for support. The status and tenure of the advocates are factors that are considerations as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman

I have made no secret of my disdain for the practice of announcing theatre grosses as if we were the movie industry. I grudgingly accept that on Broadway, it is a measure of a production’s health in the commercial marketplace, and a message to current and future investors. But no matter where they’re reported, I feel that grosses now overshadow critical or even popular opinion within different audience segments.

A review runs but once, an outlet rarely does more than one feature piece; reports on weekly grosses can become weekly indicators that stretch on for years. If the grosses are an arbiter of what people choose to see, then theatre has jumped the marketing shark.

So it took only one tweet to get me back on my high horse [last week]. A major reporter in a large city (not New York), admirably beating the drum for a company in his area, announced on Twitter that, “[Play] is officially best-selling show in [theatre’s] history.”

When I inquired as to whether that meant highest revenue or most tickets sold, the reporter said that is was highest gross, that they had reused the theatre’s own language, and that they would find out about the actual ticket numbers.” I have not yet seen a follow up, but Twitter can be funny that way.

As the weekly missives about box office records from Broadway prove, we are in an endless cycle of ever-higher grosses, thanks to steady price increases, and ever newer records. That does not necessarily mean that more people are seeing shows; in some cases, the higher revenues are often accompanied by a declining number of patrons. Simply put, even though fewer people may be paying more, the impression given is of overall health.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l)

Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l) during Arts Advocacy Day.

One of our great American leaders, Congressman John Lewis, has been celebrated in the news quite a bit recently. It is the 48th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL. The march was led by a young John Lewis—his skull was fractured, and for that sacrifice an enormous gain for civil rights and for voting rights was realized.

Congressman John Lewis is also a great arts leader. For years he has personally led the fight for fair tax treatment of artists. Many times over the last several decades, he has brought his powerful story of how the arts and the Civil Rights Movement were invaluable allies to Americans for the Arts gatherings.

He has pointed out that the arts—from folk or gospel or classical music performed in jails or the streets or in concert halls, to the visual arts in portrayals of the struggle through posters and placards—were a key to motivation and hope as the Civil Rights Movement progressed. We all honored him last week as he, Vice President Joe Biden, and others reenacted that famous bridge crossing.

During the State of the Union Address, President Obama highlighted the civil rights of the broad face of America when he honored the battles and sacrifice at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. And during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama honored the transformative power of the arts and arts education for everyone when she said, “[The arts] are especially important for young people. Every day they engage in the arts, they learn to open their imaginations and dream just a little bigger and to strive everyday to reach those dreams.”  Read the rest of this entry »