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My Teaching Influences

11:24:00 AM

A bit about me...

I attended a Montessori school as a child for a couple of years, and it was one of the best experiences I had in school. As an adult and a new mother I knew that I wanted to give my children that type of school experience so I began to research Montessori and Montessori at home. I started a co-op of young moms who would get together and work on introducing Montessori inspired activities to our infants and toddlers. I eventually decided to begin training in Montessori officially and I ended up working for a short time in a Montessori classroom. I loved the approach and how the child was the center to their education, how their natural curiosities were nourished and how they blossomed in such an environment. Read more about my background here.
Photos from my Montessori inspired Co-op
But...life has a funny way of turning you upside down from time to time, and my time in the Montessori classroom soon came to an end as did my training. I still loved the idea of Montessori, but I was no longer drawn to it as an educator...there were just too many stumbling blocks in my way and it began to feel forced. Around that time in my life I moved to Portland Oregon with my family. My oldest child was admitted into an amazing school there. The school was based on the theory of Constructivism.

Constructivism simply says that, people create their own understanding through personal experience and by reflecting on those experiences. Children under this philosophy are active participants in creating their education. Once again they are at the center of their education with a teacher acting as their guide. I realized that even though I love Montessori, I also love other Constructivist educational approaches, such as Reggio Emilia! It became clear to me that what I value most is the idea that the child is an active participant in their education, not just an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Each child is honored for their ability and are encouraged to build their knowledge through experiences which appeal to all their senses and lead to a natural curiosity with a desire to learn.
A glimpse of the studio

Fast forward a few years...I moved back to TN and I opened The Basement Community Art Studio with my friend and business partner. I had the idea of a space where all of the art supplies were open and at the disposal of each and every artist who walked through the doors. My idea was to create an open studio where people of all ages could experiment and play with art, following their own interests.
As the year progressed it became clear to me that if I were to keep the doors open I would have to teach art not just offer Open Studio. There were just not enough people who were comfortable with a completely open ended art experience. My model slowly began to change as I experimented with various classes. I knew that I did not want to teach product driven classes but how to teach in a way that developed the creativity of the student? I began to research Constructivist methods of teaching art and along the way I found both Reggio Emilia and TAB. Both of these methods fit with my vision for the studio. So how exactly do each of my influences inspire my teaching style? Well, I am glad you asked...


A young child exploring possibilities with paint.
As I mentioned above, Constructivism is the theory that people construct their knowledge of the world from their experiences which build on prior knowledge and understanding. They then reflect on this new information they have experienced and create a deeper and more meaningful understanding. This idea then naturally leads to hands on project based learning experiences, and art readily fits into this idea.
Students in our studio are constantly exploring various mediums, and as they discover its particular attributes and limitations, they are effectively problem solving. They are building on their prior knowledge of the mediums and constructing new and deeper understanding of each medium as they explore. It is truly one of my favorite things to watch unfold here in the studio.


“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.” ― Maria Montessori
The bulk of our supplies are kept in bins along a low counter where children can explore them, and gather them as they are inspired. They offer many different textures and the children love to just dig their hands in the bins to feel the many items at their disposal!
One of my favorite aspects of the Montessori approach is the prepared environment. In Montessori the learning environment is prepared in such a way as to foster independence in the children. Items and lessons are within their reach. Tables are just their size, and children are encouraged to take ownership of their environment and its care. Here in our studio, because we are open to multi aged artists, I have had to adapt our environment to be suitable for all ages. I have however maintained the importance of fostering an independence for even our youngest artists. Many of our materials are readily accessible and within their reach. We have included two child size tables as well which allow our young artists to be more independent in their creative choices.
One of our tiny artists enjoying a sensory exploration of paint.

Montessori is also very focused on sensory experiences, Dr. Montessori saw the child as a "sensorial explorer." She observed that children gain knowledge of the world around them through their sensory explorations of their environments. Sensory experiences give children "the keys" to classifying the things around them. These experiences lead to the child to discovery and classification of their world. It is crucial to the child beginning to organize their own intelligence...ahhh, constructivism ;)
In our studio we keep the materials within the child's reach so that they can gather the materials they wish to use. As I plan my classes for children I keep their need for independence and choice in mind. Children are encouraged to gather many of their own materials. For my youngest artists especially our classes are based on sensory exploration of the materials.

Reggio Emilia: 

An invitation to create using deconstructed flowers and leaves.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy where a unique method of educating young children took shape. The approach was founded by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi along with parents and schools in Reggio Emilia and surrounding villages. The method is based on the Constructivist theory and uses experiential learning and self guided exploration of a carefully prepared environments which encourage discovery and curiosity. They believe that children poses "a hundred languages" with which they can express their ideas. Among these hundred languages is the language of art. Art in all its forms are important to the Reggio approach because it allows children to express and make sense of their ideas. Reggio schools are equiped with an "atelier" or art studio where the children are exposed to many of these mediums of expression. The atelier is considered a "third teacher" along with parents and classroom teachers. As children investigate and work in their classrooms they are encouraged to depict their knowledge, and findings through these various "languages."
Children are given high quality, beautiful, and real tools with which to create. Interesting objects and bits of nature are often used in their creative exploration which provides for a wonderful multi sensory experience. The children are allowed to explore these materials without offering a specific teacher derived product to replicate.
Mobiles and wall hangings put together to display the children's work with natural materials.

In our studio I love to include interesting items and bits of nature for the children to explore and create with. With our youngest artists we strive to provide many open ended sensory based explorations of the various materials. All of our classes for our infants to 6 year olds are based on process art, allowing our youngest artists to really explore the various mediums we introduce them to.


Choice based art from the studio

TAB is an educational approach based on choice. "Teaching for Artistic Behavior Inc. is a grassroots organization developed by and for art teachers, and serves to promote and support choice-based art education in public and private education settings." -From the TAB website
I first heard of TAB this past year as I researched methods of teaching for my art classes. TAB or Teaching for artistic Behavior is an approach to teaching art where the child's personal ideas and choices are honored. It is the teachers job to guide the child to artistic discoveries. The child learns to think and work like an artist in a functional art studio. This idea falls directly in line with my own ideas for the art studio and my goals for teaching art.

The TAB method is geared towards K12 classrooms and though my model is a bit different, as I am not a part of the school system, I have still found a lot of inspiration in this methodology. 
Here, at the Basement Community Art studio we believe in the creative spirit of all individuals and we believe that everyone can benefit from a creative outlet, weather you are a practiced artist, a casual crafter, or just interested in exploring your creative side a bit. We encourage exploration and artistic play. We have witnessed amazing creativity from our artists of all ages.
Projects from past kids mixed media art classes

So, how do I implement all of these influences into my kid's art classes?

With my classes here in the studio I recognize that there must be a balance between process and product. Children need the freedom to explore and to make their own creative choices. Parents, however, often want something they can hang on the wall. After all they are paying for extracurricular art classes, they want evidence of what their child is doing, right?

In our classes you will often find projects where artists are guided in creating a finished piece of art with an end product in mind, while still allowing for artistic interpretation of the project by the individual artist. In this way the children can take ownership of their individual creations.
Each class begins with a project intended to introduce a particular skill or medium to the students. The students then work on the lesson/project using the mediums or skills we are learning. They are given many choices with in each lesson, such as subject matter or color selection, for instance. These choices allow for individual creativity to emerge within the confines of the project. No two pieces are ever the same because the children are not being taught to simply replicate my example.

In all of our after school art enrichment classes we build in an extra half hour in which children are encouraged to make their own art projects, similar to our Open Studio Sessions. They may use this time to work with any of the available mediums, without any pressure to create a finished work of art for display...however, many of my favorite works of art come from these sessions. These kids are simply highly creative beings! 

Examples from a lesson where we explored landscape collage with fabric scraps.

If you are interested in finding out more about our many art classes either for children or adults, please visit our online store. All of our current classes are listed there and are open for registration.

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