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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kids and art: Musings from an art educator and parent

A photo of the artist as a young child c. 1972
Growing up in Toledo (Ohio) gave me the chance to go to the fabulous Toledo Museum of Art many times as a child; on both school field trips and trips with the family. The museum has a long and storied history of arts education for children of all ages. Some of my earliest memories as a kid are from the museum and the trips I took to this amazing institution. During the school trips, if you were good on the tour, the docent would end the trip with a visit to the Classical Court to see the mummy. Our deceased Egyptian friend is no longer on view due to changing ideas on displaying human remains, so for many of us, the mummy lives on only in our memories. Along with the school tours, the museum also offered Saturday classes for the kids of Northwest Ohio and it was a thrill for me to go back to the museum as a college student and help out as an assistant thanks to a scholarship from the University of Toledo.
My parents understood my love of art, and kept me happy with a steady supply of art materials as a kid. Coloring books were fun, but stacks of blank or recycled paper from my dad’s office were even better. Each trip to my maternal grandparent’s home had us racing to my grandma’s desk to pull out the countless coloring books and notepads that my cousins and I colored in each visit. They provided us the big clunky crayons when we were little, but as we grew, they crayons got smaller and the assortment of colors available grew. We knew we hit the big time when the 64 color assortment showed up with the built in sharpener!
"String Art" by Tommy Oakley 1970.

My parents also understood the power of displaying my creations. A string art picture made in kindergarten was given to my paternal grandparents as a gift. It hung in their family room and when my grandma moved into an assisted living facility after my grandfather’s death, it followed her and sat on her television. When my grandma passed, my dad returned the artwork to me, still framed and in pretty good condition (considering our less than ideal archival framing). It now hangs in our home along with our own children’s work. Our dining room is graced by a large oil painting done by my husband’s grandmother after her time following the amazing Bob Ross on PBS. A piece done by Anna at the Toledo Museum of Art, in the same classroom that I went to as a kid, hangs below it with one of Eli’s early paintings from day care. They might not be famous artists, but we love and cherish them just the same. We have a magnet purchased at the Detroit Institute of Art that says in big bold letters: THIS IS ART so there isn't any question about the artifacts done by our two kids hung on the fridge for display. If you haven’t figured it out, we love art!

Studies have shown that increased involvement in the arts beyond the school have a huge impact on the child on an emotional and educational level. The work of Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University found that students involved in the arts were:

·         Four times more likely to win an academic award, such as being on the honor roll.
·         Eight times more likely to receive a community service award.
·         Three times more likely to win a school attendance award.
·         Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair.
·         Likely to score higher on their SAT college admission test scores if they have been involved for more than four years of after-school arts study.
As an arts educator, it should come as no surprise that I try to expose my kids to the arts any time we can. They went with me to the opening weekend of Art Prize in Grand Rapids, MI to view my entry and have gone to countless museums and galleries with us as we have toured the Midwest. Just this past weekend, a group of artists from the Jackson area put on a show called “Renegade” in a vacant warehouse in our neighborhood. Many of the artists present were former students of mine and I was super thrilled to come and support them. The planners put out a kids’ table full of blank canvases, a roll of paper, and several different types of paint.
Anna's landscape. Watercolor on stretched canvas

Eli's abstraction in black and brown. Watercolor on stretched canvas
Where do you think my kids were all afternoon? When Eli wasn’t out dancing in front of the musicians, he was with his sister creating works that will undoubtedly end up gracing our walls in the near future. When you support the arts with your kids in tow, you support not only the artists but your kids’ futures as well.