Art at PKS

During the 2016-2017 school year, we are presenting a series of posts about the PKS approach to learning. This installment features our school’s art teacher, Jill Henry. Read past installments on progressive educationMandarin immersionHabits of Character, and social-emotional learning.

Q: How did you come to work at PKS?

My daughter is a PKS student so I first became familiar with the school as a parent. After many years of teaching at the secondary level, I thought working with younger students would offer a new and exciting challenge for me. It has proved to be just that. Each day, I am surprised, impressed, and amused. It’s been a great experience.

Q: Why are creativity and art a crucial part of learning?

Art is communicating creatively. In preschool, art helps children to develop fine motor skills, express themselves, and explore materials and techniques. At the elementary level, art encourages children to communicate their ideas visually through creative development, critical thinking, and problem solving. These skills transfer to all areas of a child’s learning and development; contributing intellectually, emotionally, and socially. 

Q: How do you approach art within the PKS progressive model?

Art fits naturally within the progressive model; it is the product of experiential learning. When I develop the art curriculum, I don’t just look at what children should know about art and where they should be developmentally. I try to incorporate projects that allow for personalization and inquiry. Art should do that. For example, even though the entire class can be drawing the same still-life from observation, the student is the director for how it is ultimately going to look.  They have to make the important decisions about format, composition, media application and personal expression. I also look for opportunities to integrate art within the units of exploration.  Many children, adults too, need to build, draw, or deconstruct an idea before they can really connect with it.  This hands-on connection almost always raises more questions, opens up more possibilities, and deepens the learning.  It’s great when students can bring prior knowledge to a project and further their understanding of it in an artistic way.  I would love to one day have open studio hours where students can visit the art room to work on their regular classroom projects too.  

Q: Student fine motor skills in early years are highly diverse. How do you work with a broad range of skills and help all students appreciate the joys of art?

I encourage students to approach art from wherever they are. That doesn’t mean I don’t encourage proper grasp, the development of technical skills, or to try out something new or difficult, I do, because I believe that eventually builds confidence. But if a child isn’t able to see and render the shape of a flower petal, or manipulate the clay into a round coil, then we return to those challenges later when they’re ready. I try to steer dialogue away from what is “good” and “bad,” to what they’re experiencing from the process and what they can take away from it.  I often show students well-known artist examples at the beginning of projects and try to incorporate a range of artistic types and styles of art that can challenge the concept of what is skillful and what art is. It’s easy to praise only the realistic renderings of children’s work and overlook the expressive or more direct qualities as immature or as play. We need to guard against commenting in this way. I try to design projects so that students of all skill levels can be successful.  

Q: What is your favorite project you've worked on with PKS students? Why?

I really enjoy the projects where the students take the lead and surprise me with approaches that I haven’t thought of integrating into the work. That’s when real art-making happens. Last year when the third graders were working on their collaborative hanging sculptures for Chinese New Year, it was apparent how comfortable they were with working together to solve problems. I showed them some examples made from a different material and demonstrated a few techniques and practical applications, but it was up to them to work through a solution in an aesthetically pleasing way. They’re risk-takers and it’s really great to witness. 

Q: Do you see art tying into social-emotional learning? How?

Absolutely. When children experience the joy of creating, they try out new ideas and make their own decisions. This self-direction provides feelings of accomplishment and a stronger sense of identity especially when nurtured in an environment that respects the process and not just the product. Creative expression provides kids with the opportunity to share feelings and personal interests, hopefully without the fear of judgement. Visual art is unlike other disciplines in that it can communicate what is often difficult to say. For many, this can be where confidence is built, problems get resolved, strengths are reinforced, and imaginations are let loose.

Q: What makes PKS a special place?

It seems as though every member of our community is working in some way to make this a positive learning environment for the children. I’ve worked at many schools and this level of dedication from everyone is what makes PKS special. I feel like if we can dream it, we can make it happen.

Follow PKS on Facebook!