One of my all time favorite things to do is to head into a classroom full of preschool students, sit them around a table and teach them how to draw. That would strike terror into the hearts of most people, but with training and a reasonable expectation of what is possible – it is a most remarkable experience.
Preschoolers doodle and draw as a form of communication and entertainment. While limited to often rainbows, smiley faces and basic shapes, these innate skills are the beginning of their visual and artistic vocabulary. Young children can benefit greatly from time spent learning to draw. Being trained to see and draw will expand the number of things they can draw, which in turn expands their ability to communicate verbally and visually.
While there are a multitude of assessments to gauge preschool development, as an educator, mother of four, and now a grandmother, I would like to share some thoughts. And while it’s enormously tempting to measure, compare, worry and even compete, it’s hugely important to remember that all children develop at their own pace and in their own time.
I was recently invited to speak at a private school in Cleveland to share some thoughts from Being Visual. Having the opportunity to speak about Being Visual at a private school in Cleveland proved to be an amazing opportunity to witness first-hand how vital the role of art education is to a child’s successful academic career. Agnon is a wonderful school, with evidence all around that the arts are highly valued and considered key to a strong educational experience. While talking to the Headmaster, Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, I also found out about their integrated curriculum and commitment to minimal testing. The parents at this school are involved in their children’s education and seemed as committed to their own education, as they were to their children’s.
Recently, I was invited to be part of a teacher in-service at a local Montessori pre-school. We met in the evening, after the children had gone home. As I entered the classroom, I saw shelves lined with familiar Montessori activities—all colorful, well-organized and designed to entice young learners. There is a special place in my heart for Montessori pre-schools, because their teaching method includes techniques and tools that work well for a multitude of learning styles, especially our visual and kinesthetic learners. Their engaging activities get the children interested but are also designed to help children develop discrimination, sequencing and organization skills that are critical to successful learning.
While at Northrop Grumman speaking about the nuances of left and right-brain thinking, I saw a friend of mine who is a software engineer. After the presentation, he identified himself as a right-brain, visual-spatial thinker. This friend is also a musician — an excellent guitar player — so I asked how he thought that impacted his abilities as an engineer? He felt his participation in music had helped him develop the patterning, sequencing and innovative abilities that enabled him be so creative.
What Students are Really Missing when Tight Budgets Cut the Arts
It’s no secret that arts programs for children are the go first when budget cuts take place in our school systems. Schools must achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act – and the arts are not a priority, or even included in the assessment standards of most states. But we must pose the question, what are students REALLY missing when we drop the arts from our curriculums?
Art has always been a facet of who I am. From the first moment I picked up a pencil and scribbled something other than my name, art became a part of me. Art has helped me develop my creativity. Art has helped me build my confidence. Art has shown me an endless canvas of unlimited possibilities.
When I was a child, art allowed me to express my thoughts that were too complex to convey through words. It brought focus and simplified concepts I had conceived. Art took those thoughts and brought them to life in a visible and tangible form. For being a child, art provided this powerful tool which aided in my communication.
Too often the visual arts are considered a place for unstructured activity and exploration, freedom from discipline or constraint. There is a notion that any structure or expectation in the visual arts will stifle creativity. And yet we would not hold the same standard for any other form of the arts.