(Klimt inspired, gold paint and pastel)
Hi! So many things that make kids into happy adults are impossible to measure: people skills, grit, and I believe an appreciation for beauty and trust in their own ability to think creatively. Whatever we can do to nurture those things in children is time well spent, don't you think? We are in the third official year of the Parent Art Docent Program at our elementary school. I feel like I've learned a lot through trial and error in the last few years about getting something like this going, so I thought that I would write a little about my experience in the hope that it might save someone out there wanting to do a similar thing a few headaches. (Warning - it's super long and rambling).
First of all, in California, our state budget is in dire straits and our district has had to make huge cuts to survive the last couple of years. There is no money for art education (although we are still very fortunate to have a music teacher at our school), so four years ago I began volunteering in my son's second grade class each week teaching art history-based art lessons that I found in books or on museum websites. It was really fun and not as hard as I'd worried and everyone had a great time - me, the kids, the teacher - so at the end of the year I went in and talked to the principal about starting an official program where parents came in and taught art-history based lessons in as many classes as possible. She was on board and so I spent the summer putting together binders of lessons, mostly from museum websites, and powerpoint presentations for visuals to go with each lesson (all of our classes have LCD projectors that hook up to teacher laptops) that could be emailed to the teacher before the lesson was presented.
(animal mummy, before getting wrapped in gauze and decorated. clay)
The first official year was okay. We had a small but enthusiastic group of volunteers (the volunteers have been incredible. When I say "okay" that is in reference to my work figuring out the program, not to our volunteer docents) and at the end of the year we had a tiny little display of art in the school cafeteria. I hadn't done a great job of organizing the art during the year, so some of the art ended up not having names on it which I felt so badly about. We have since implemented a really obviously simple way to keep track of the art: we buy a bunch of poster board at the beginning of the year, and every student participating in the program gets a portfolio (poster board folded in half and stapled on the sides). All art made during the year gets put in the child's portfolio, and the portfolios stay IN THE CHILD'S CLASSROOM. Before the spring art show the kids choose their favorite piece to display, and at the end of the year the portfolios go home.
Another thing I learned: the binder lesson system I slaved over for the docents was totally unnecessary. Many of the volunteers discovered that they loved researching and finding their own lessons - which is so great! - so we ended up creating a school art docent blog, where we put pictures of finished pieces and links to lessons that we found online that worked with our supplies and classroom set-ups. There are zillions of amazing blogs out there that art teachers around the world maintain, which really have been our very best resource. A few favorites that always deliver: deep space sparkle, incredible art department, and art dish. Lately I've also been finding great ideas on pinterest.
Last year was much better. The program became clearer and simpler in its goals - mainly, to provide each class in the school with a parent art docent (hopefully regularly, but for sure at least once), and to have an art show at the end of the year to generate interest for the program and celebrate the students' work. We had 12 dedicated art docent volunteers who volunteered in classes all over the school and at the end-of-the-year art show, we had over 800 pieces of art displayed (and labeled!). We really struggled to determine the best way to display the art (to mat or not to mat?) but in the end we had such a small budget that we simply mounted the work by class on bulletin board walls lined with black paper. Simple and effective. Lots of families came, and the kids were so proud to show off their work. We recruited a string quartet from our local high school to play, and had free cookies and a donation jar. It was low-key but nice.
Speaking of budgets - another issue to work through is fundraising for supplies. We have a supply closet in the main office where we store our collective supplies, and in order to keep it sufficiently stocked we've partnered with restaurants, had a bake sale, sold t-shirts, and solicited donations. A couple of other great ideas: one of our docents last year came up with the idea of asking parents to "sponsor" lessons, which works well (she made a list of her lesson plans for the year, with the amount of money that it would cost for the class to complete each activity next to each lesson on her handout. For example: a lesson about Matisse, where the kids make collages with scissors and construction paper, costs only about $4 for a whole class. So it's fun for a parent to send in $4 and feel like they are facilitating a great experience for their kids, without it being crazy expensive). Every little bit adds up and helps! And second - a couple of weeks ago my friend Liz came up with the great idea of collecting leftover halloween candy, and making candy grab-bags to sell at school functions. I bet we can make over $100 this way over the next few months (for free!). Again, every little bit helps.
(inspired by Andy Goldsworthy)
(inspired by Monet's Magpie, watercolor and salt)
So there it is an a very long-winded nutshell. If your child's school doesn't have the resources to provide art, don't be afraid to jump in there and fill the need. You don't have to put a perfect program out there, just do your best, use parents in your community, and it will get better and better. Something is always better than nothing! It's been such a great experience, and every art lesson I teach inevitably ends up totally making my day. Not only that but I am so inspired by the other parents that work so hard to add their effort to our school's program. Amazing!
Are any of you involved in school art programs? And do you have any great ideas for me? (...ideas to somehow tie art into community service?)