by Jason Forrest
LITTLE CURRENT—If children are given the tools to learn and shown how to use them, they can create wonderful things. Allowing children to express themselves creatively at an early age gives them a mastery over their surroundings and helps them to think in alternative ways and adapt to different situations.
This is the third year 4elements Living Arts, Rainbow District School Board and the Ontario Arts Council have partnered to offer land-based art education in Kindergarten classes from Manitoulin Island to Sudbury.
According to the Ontario Arts Council website, the goals of the Artist in Residence program are to increase student engagement and provide alternative avenues for learning. The program helps students discover and explore their artistic talent and learn in innovative ways to improve grades and receive a better understanding of concepts. Students also develop teamwork skills through peer teaching, and collaboration with students, teachers and the artist in residence.
Mariana LaFrance is the artist in residence at Little Current Public School (LCPS). Other schools this year included Assiginack Public School in Manitowaning, and Queen Elizabeth Public and Algonquin Road Public Schools in Sudbury. Each artist in residence started the program at the beginning of spring. The program included 16 sessions in each classroom with different art projects each day. Ms. LaFrance worked with both Kindergarten classes at LCPS.
On their last day, some of the children were drawing on cloth they had previously dyed with turmeric and red cabbage. They tied the cloth up and tie-dyed each piece. Some of the cloth was striped and it gave Rowan the idea to draw a zebra on one of the pieces. Later the cloth was going to be strung up like flags and hung in the classroom.
Ms. LaFrance said she uses two approaches when working with the students. The first approach is to introduce them to new art medium, like clay, watercolor, charcoal or markers and then give them the skills to work with them. The other approach is more inquiry led.
“The kids will have wonderings or questions about the world and my job is to tap into that and provide an art experience and the tools to explore the question further,” she said. “The most fun and challenging part of the program is coming in without a preconceived idea of what kind of art we are going to create. There is no plan when I come in besides teaching them how to use what medium we will be working with. It requires that you are in the present moment with the kids and really paying attention to what they are picking up on.”
During a previous session, the children were given raw charcoal and charcoal crayons to draw on a 12 foot sheet of paper hung in the hallway. They were given the opportunity to figure out for themselves how different pieces made different lines and where charcoal comes from.
Ms. LaFrance said it’s about drawing a link with the medium and becoming a master of the material, knowing how it feels when they use it, knowing that charcoal can be smudged. She said she tries to avoid telling them how different lines are created or that you can smudge to allow them to create the context and find out for themselves.
“Part of that mastery also comes from knowing what it is they are using and where it comes from; for example the next time they are at a campfire they’ll know a piece of leftover burnt wood can be used as charcoal to create art; they will create that link for themselves. It’s about the art literacy and presenting these tools; presenting these languages that they can use to express themselves further now and down the line,” she said. “The connection to the land and the empowerment of knowing what they experience in the world can be used creatively and expressively. Charcoal and clay are great examples because they are so readily available; they’ve had the experience of walking in a lake and feeling the clay on their toes.”
She said another great thing to watch is the peer teaching that will happen.
“I’ll do something with someone and another child will see it and try to do it, or they’ll ask if I can show them, and usually someone will just volunteer and say ‘here, I’ll show you.’ There’s a really important thing you learn when you teach someone else, a different kind of mastery.”
Throughout the program the children had a chance to separate dirt from clay to create their own modeling clay. They also went out on a field trip to draw what they saw, and Ms. LaFrance also brought in twigs from outside to teach the children to ‘look and draw,’ an easy way to draw and keep them focused.
With the program coming to a close before the end of the school year, Ms. Lafrance curated an exhibition of the collaborated work from the two classes in the library on June 14.