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......