Saturday, May 30, 2009


When we talk about art we often only think of the visual arts but dance, theater, music and storytelling are also part of the arts. Any time that you can integrate more than one art together into a lesson the more likely you are to reach every child. Many times my friend Peter a second grade teacher and I would work together to create lessons that used literature, visual art and sometimes theater skills. Our favorite was a lesson which integrated the Harlem Renaissance artists with the poets. We also included a children's book about Duke Ellington for a little history. This also gave me the opportunity to play jazz music while the students worked. At the culmination of the lesson we held a coffee house reading, inviting the parents in for punch and cookies as the students read their poems. The other students beat light rhythms on bongos and small drums as the reading took place. We used all the arts in this one.

What I discovered is that the students really liked the jazz music and often asked me to play it as they worked on other lessons. They seemed to concentrate more and some even stood by their seats and danced as they worked on their pieces. I remember one parent asking me what was going on in the art room because her son started asking for jazz music when they were driving in the car and she was pleasantly surprised.

We decided that we would create a book which included all the students images and accompanying poems. If I were going to do this lesson again, I would have enough colored reproductions to allow for each child to receive a copy of all of the works. Unfortunately, I didn't think of this so I have the only copy.

I used the work of Romare Beardon as a visual stimulus for the students. He created a number of images about jazz. To produce their images the students made their own scratch board paper (much cheaper than buying it). First the student colored the entire piece of oak tag paper with craypas crayons using many of the colors. (Avoid using black as it won't show up in the artwork.) Then using black tempera paint, which had a small amount of liquid dish washing soap mixed into it, the students coated the entire surface of their paper. When it dries, the students used small bamboo skewers to etch their images into the surface. This lesson really requires prior planning as once the line is scratched it is there forever. There is no way to erase it. The students had created pencil sketches of what they wanted prior to beginning the etching. The real problem solving happens when a mistake is made as the student has to find a way to incorporate it into their plan.

When the poems were written and the artworks were completed, the work was bound into an accordion fold book. The poetry is surprisingly sophisticated for second grade students. It is full of rich descriptive language.
"I hear fireworks in the drumsticks..."

"And the music teaches me to play
And the keyboard just playing
away as the crowd's mouths open
Like doors opening as fast as they can."

"I hear the pounding of a drum
saxophone screeching loudly and
the water sailing around the slippery keys
of the piano."

"The keyboard acts up
the music turns itself around."

"I hear the trumpet yell out its blues."

AMaZing! As a reference of how artist and writers respond to jazz music, try reading Seeing Jazz published by Chronicle Books.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I can't believe that it has been so long since I sat down to write. We went on a cruise and then I caught a cold and haven't done much of anything for a couple of weeks. Well, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was writing about my experiences at the Children's Studio School in Washington, D.C. By the way, I Googled the name and found another Children's Studio School but it is not the one where I worked as it has only been in existence for 18 years and I was in D.C. almost thirty years ago.

Some of my favorite memories are of the students. My favorite was Mildred, a Hispanic girl who was the same age as Jeremy my son. Her parents worked for a doctor. Her dad was a chauffeur and her mother was a housekeeper. Dad spoke only English to Mildred while her mother spoke only Spanish; hence, she was fluent in both languages. Mildred could explain how to create a silk screen from start to finish. She made many lovely paintings and would often ask me to write her stories for her as she dictated them. She was very articulate and creative. At least once a week Mildred would come into the office to deliver a work of art which she referred to as her "gifts". They were very conceptual. You see she would fold whatever she had drawn into very small shapes with the drawing on the inside and then tape them shut. She would tell you not to open the packages as this was the way they needed to be seen. I must admit that while I was tempted to open one, I never did.

Later in my teaching career, I had a fellow art teacher who taught a lesson where children made dream necklaces. She had students write a wish on a piece of paper and put it in a plastic film case which was glued shut. The lid had a loop sticking out of the top so it could be laced onto a necklace. The children decorated the container and strung it with paper beads to create a necklace. This lesson reminded me of Mildred's art.

Mildred was the one who taught me salsa dancing, encouraging me to sway my hips and shake my shoulders. She loved music and dancing and especially loved a party. Once she attended an art opening with Jeremy and myself (more on this later) and her only comment as we walked around looking at the art was, "they call this a party? where is the music and dancing?"

Over the years, I have taught nearly 9,000 children but Mildred and her "gifts" is still one of my fondest memories.

To be continued......

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog. I'm not really making excuses but I have been a little busy lately. Actually, I have been working in my studio every free chance I get so I have been avoiding the computer. I read an article in Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine (January/February 2009) recently about clutches made from recycled plastic grocery bags. I decided to give it a try.

My first attempt was beautiful to look at if I do say so myself but it had a few problems. The paint was too thick and and once I folded it the paint began to crack. I added some paper to counteract this but I still wasn't happy.

The next three are more successful. I painted a thin coat of gesso on the surface before I applied the designs. This worked much better and I kept my paint thin, Also, for some reason that I can't fathom the plastic seems more pliable than the first one. Each one is lined with a faric that matches or enhances the design on the outside.

My pictures are not great but I think you get the idea. They have the appearance of painted leather. They are very light. They would make great evening bags or special occasion purses.I have already had requests to buy them. I want to build up a better selection before I start letting them go. What do you think?

Monday, April 13, 2009


The Children's Studio School was a daycare program for 3 to 5 year olds which used the arts as a basis for learning experiences. There were 50 students and, for at least 35 of them, English was a second language. Most were Hispanic but we had a few children from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. My son Jeremy was the only Caucasian child. Coming from Maine, where everyone knew the only African American student in our high school, I was indeed entering a new world. (By the way, things have really changed around here since then. We now have children from all over the world in our schools. At our high schools there are more that 38 languages being used.)

The staff was composed of trained pre-school educators and artists, actors, dancers and musicians who were supplementing their incomes by participating in our school. Tom, one of our teachers, was a docent at the National Art Museum and a visual artist. Walter was a PHD candidate who also did appearances on a soap opera. Other people included a Brazilian dancer and an African dancer, a musician for a well-known singer, and several other struggling actors and artists. A very diverse group, to say the least.

The center itself was located on 15th Street, NW. The area had been devastated during the riots after Martin Luther King's assassination. The building, a church, was used by the community to help rebuild the area. There was a food program for the elderly in the basement, a health clinic on the second floor and our program on the first. We had a huge common room with a stage, three classrooms and a small office. The door to the office was always open so that I could watch what was going on (my choice). Children were always coming in to show me what they had made or to share a story. I liked this part best. There was a great deal of spontaneity!

The teachers took full advantage of the city, arranging field trips to Rock Creek Park for science lessons, the zoo, the many different playgrounds and museums and the workshops that were offered at the Kennedy Center (free to schools in the area). Transportation was the public bus which allowed 5 children to ride free for each adult or by foot. It's amazing how far a young child could walk if there is an adventure involved!

My job was to keep track of where every class was, to arrange for extra adults if they were needed for a field trip, to set up workshops for the teachers, to report all of this to the Department of Human Services as many of our children had the cost of their daycare supplemented by them, to write grants, pay bills, to cover classrooms as needed to arrange for lunch deliveries and purchasing of snack foods, and to keep parents informed and happy. Oh, yes, I also had to complete the application forms for DHS for the parents. Very often these interviews were in Spanish, hence the requirement that I be able to read and write Spanish. Occasionally, I would run into difficulty translating what the parent was saying due to dialect and idioms. Luckily, there was Mildred, 4 years old but fluent in two languages. She was a great help! More about her later.

I worked 10 hour days. I loved every minute of it!

To be continued......

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sometimes the choice isn't ours

Thirty years ago I moved to Washington D.C.. The choice to move there wasn't mine. I would be finishing my degree in art education and had been substitute teaching art in a local district in hopes of landing a job there when I was finished. So the idea of packing up and moving somewhere else was not what I had planned for myself. After all, we had a lovely two family home and a great three year old son. My family and my husband's family all lived nearby. we were comfortable if not rich.

My husband was a middle school science teacher and had been for about 7 years. He should have felt pretty secure but our local school district had had trouble passing their budgets so they had informed him every year for three years that he may not have a job in the fall. In this district he was the last science teacher hired therefore he would be the first to go. During his last year of teaching he had assigned a project for students to investigate and report about careers in science. One of his students wrote about a program at Georgetown University. This program, at no cost to the students, trained people to be ophthalmology technicians. He was very interested in this program so he wrote to Georgetown for more information. Then he applied and was accepted.

He left at the end of the school year but I still had one more course to complete so I would not be joining him until sometime in September. We were very naive about the change. We thought it would be easy to find a place to live and I would easily find a job as an art teacher since I had some experience and a degree. Because we were not sure that we wanted to stay in D.C after he completed his two year program, we rented our house in Maine and arranged for my father to pick up the rent every month. We had just enough money to last us through December if we were frugal and we were sure that I would easily find a job.

We found an apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland just outside the District. The apartment complex would allow us to have our dog and had a child care facility ( a Montesori school) on site. Perfect! Art teaching jobs were nonexistent. No problem. I had worked for the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield office in the Public Relations Department and had written some training programs that had received recognition from the National Plan. There was an office in DC. So armed with recommendations and the knowledge that I knew the person with whom I would be interviewing, I felt pretty secure. No Soap! While they thought I was qualified for the position that was available, they couldn't hire me as I did not understand how the "district" worked.

We were rapidly running out of money and I was thinking of returning home with Jeremy where at least I could find a job. Then one day I was reading the classifieds and I saw an advertisement for someone with a degree in art who could read and write Spanish and was capable of writing grants for a school that used the arts as the main focus of education. I nearly fell off my chair. This, I was sure, was the reason we had come here. I had always felt that the best way to teach a child was to use the arts. I called the school, talked to the Director and arranged for an interview. I was hired on the spot but not before I negotiated free tuition for my son as daycare in DC was very expensive and the pay was low. Thus my two year tenure at the Children's Studio School in Washington DC began.

To be continued........

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Well, it's April already and I have not been doing a great job on my blog of late. I have been really busy working on my own art work. It must be Spring fever! I just want to see a lot of color!

I promise to do better. I think what I will do next is tell you about my experiences at the Children's Studio School in Washing ton D.C. and how this influenced my thinking about the teaching of art to young children. No time today between doctor's appointments and meetings so I will write tomorrow.

Have a nice day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


My art class with Leah is finished for now but I had promised my niece that I would post one more article about the class. There was one activity that I thought was the most age appropriate. STRINGING MACARONI NECKLACES. This requires some prep work before the child can get started but it is an activity that a young child can do with very little supervision. Stringing beads helps to develop fine motor skills and eye hand coordination, both of which are essential pre-reading and writing skills.

Step One: Preparing the Macaroni

You will need to purchase some macaroni. You need to select pasta that has a hole like penne. Try to avoid the kind that has too many bends like elbow macaroni. There are so many shapes out there so be creative. Secondly, you need to have rubbing alcohol, food coloring and some large empty plastic containers. I used a large yogurt container.
Pour a half of cup of the alcohol in the container. Squirt in a generous amount of food coloring. I used red. Did you know that food coloring now comes in neon colors? Add approximately 2 cups of pasta. Cover and set aside. I let mine sit for about a week because I was too busy to check on it but overnight is probably long enough. Drain off the alcohol and spread the macaroni out on newspaper or paper towels to dry. They will look lighter in color and the pasta will be soft. Don't worry! The color darkens as it dries and the pasta gets hard again when dry.

Step Two: Beading

You will need some string for the necklaces. Shoelaces work great! You can use cotton crochet thread or yarn but you will need to tape around the end to make it easier for the string to push through the pasta.

Remember that plastic tray I suggested that you use for finger painting. Well, it would be great for this project too. Spread the different colors of pasta out on the tray or a cookie sheet. Show the child how to put the pasta onto the string and then watch. Once the child masters the stringing part, you could start suggesting different ways to string the "beads". Here's one suggestion. String a pattern like "two red, one blue, two red" or "one round shape, one tubular shape, one long shape." Lay it in front of the child and ask him or her to copy your pattern. This is a pre-math skill called sequencing.

When it is time to clean up, have the child sort the different colors into containers. Sorting is a great skill. This promotes color recognition and naming.

Have fun!