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Bridging a classroom community through art

Classroom Development

1/20/2022 | Rena Grosser

I have noticed over the years how even my youngest learners are so interested in investigating and discussing famous pieces of art. Last year, my 3-4-year-olds became incredible art experts and exhibited great appreciation for artists and their work. We investigated, experienced, explored, and created in order to better understand each artists’ creative process. Our Artist Appreciation Unit began by investigating artist Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life” to compare the features of different trees as we prepared for Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish holiday of celebrating the birthday of the trees.

Through the Visual Thinking Strategy approach, we looked closely, examined the artwork, and shared what we noticed and other observations. The students used their detective's eyes and saw towers, squiggles, birds, flowers and discussed the connections they noticed in his tree compared to the trees we see outside. We had discussions about what kind of materials we could use to recreate our own “tree of life” together with both Nursery classes. We also sparked dialogue about why Klimt chose that title for his piece and what it might mean. Our conversations about trees deepened and we also discussed our promises for the trees and how we can care for them.

The students expressed such an enthusiastic interest in exploring Klimt’s Tree of Life,, we continued our artist unit by following the same learning approach with black artist and vibrant painter, Alma Thomas. We observed, looked closely, and discussed our observations as a class of things we noticed in her “Light Blue Nursery” piece as well as “Starry Night and the Astronauts” and recreated different pieces of her work.

Another historical artist and pioneer we explored was Ruth Faison Shaw. Ruth Faison Shaw (1889–1969) was an American artist and educator who introduced finger painting into the USA as an art education medium. The students explored finger painting by painting flowers at the easels, practiced carving the letters of their name in paint, as well as looking closely at Alma Thomas’s pieces to try to recreate them by using their fingers as “brushes.”

In appreciation of their interest in colors, shapes, and forms, students studied the beautiful and colorful works of Israeli artist, Yaacov Agam. After seeing many of his vibrant pieces the students painted different shapes of cardboard with tempera sticks to add to a collaborative Early Childhood Agam installation in the hallway. Students traced his name and even tried guessing what some of his pieces were called.

The students were also introduced to the whimsical world depicted by the Russian-born artist Marc Chagall and examined his artwork. They learned how everyday objects seem to defy the laws of gravity and appear to be “dreamlike.” Cows and people float in space high above the rooftops of a distant village. After our investigation of the vibrant and glistening Chagall Windows, the students created their own “Chagall Windows” by applying transparent paper and drawing their dreams in a window frame.

We then celebrated the art that our students created and their appreciation for artists' work by taking a “museum tour” around the EC wing. The students reflected on their art installations and noticed other artwork in our hallways. The students were able to identify and recall their observations of what styles represented each artist. Just planting the seeds of a Tu B’Shvat investigation about famous art with trees, sparked an interest in art appreciation. Some takeaways from my story would be that as educators we should look to culture and art history as teaching points. The Visual Thinking Strategy is a simple yet strong tool to foster deeper communication and conversation, even for our youngest learners. Relaunching and reflection can help to validate the students' work through ongoing “gallery walks” of documentation.

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