If you’ve ever seen a toddler slap his or her hand in a pile of paint or tug clay into the shape of an imagined creature, you know the power of art to inspire and engage young children. Many All Our Kin providers are already incorporating visual arts-based experiences into their curricula. Through a recent two-workshop series at the Yale University Art Gallery, All Our Kin providers deepened their understanding of and strategies for engaging young children with art, both in their programs and through visits to art museums. “I’ve been with All Our Kin a long time,” All Our Kin provider Rosella noted during the second workshop, “but they still surprise me a lot, like by bringing us here to talk about kids and art.”
During the first workshop, the Yale University Art Gallery’s approachable and knowledgeable staff gave our providers a tour of the museum’s collections and helped us feel comfortable with the Gallery’s spaces and rules. At the start of the workshop, we each chose words to describe what art meant to us. As we walked through the Gallery, we talked about pieces of art that resonated with the words we had picked. At the second workshop, staff led us in gallery-safe art experiences. Jessica Sack, the Gallery’s Senior Associate Curator of Public Education, explained that the workshop was designed to help us explore “ways that we can engage with looking and making.” Throughout both workshops, providers enjoyed creating and analyzing art while strategizing as teachers about how to bring more art-based experiences to the children in their programs.
Our first activity at last week’s workshop took place in the Gallery’s contemporary art collection, where we studied paintings by Mark Rothko and had a conversation about color. We talked first about what Rothko’s paintings looked like to us. One provider saw a Rothko piece as a door, and another saw it as a sunset. The Gallery’s guides then encouraged us to put ourselves in the shoes of children. What might they see in these paintings? “Colors,” one provider answered. “Rectangles to count,” added another. Felicitas thought children might ask how they could make the colors themselves. “The children are going to take meaning depending on how they’re feeling that day,” said Damaris. “They tend to choose the colors that call to them.”
During our next activity, we used sculpture as an avenue to collaboration. Our guide encouraged us to model a metal sculpture with sculpting clay, and then asked us to trade our piece with someone else and add to their sculpture. “What does it feel like to collaborate?” our guide asked as providers laughed and traded sculptures with one another. After the activity, Rosella noted that art helps children and adults lessen stress and “build imagination.” María Edith said that the children in her program would love the colorful sculpting clay we were using. Collaborative art experiences are likely a novel idea for many providers, and will help open them up to many new possibilities when designing their curricula.
Our final activity took place in the Gallery’s African Art collection. We each picked one object to look at closely, and we were instructed to draw basic and complex shapes from that object on our own papers. After creating our shape banks, we used the forms we’d isolated to create new drawings. One provider, Ife, commented that the project could be adapted “in so many ways to use with the children.”
“The room was silent as we each took white pencil to black paper to create,” said Janna Wagner, co-director of All Our Kin. “And the intensity, the concentration, the energy was palpable. The providers, inspired by the art, were creating just as they ask young children to do every day. They were personally experiencing the power of art to inspire learning.” Janna designed the collaboration between All Our Kin and the Yale University Art Gallery together with Dana Holahan, All Our Kin’s Professional Development Coordinator, and Jessica Sack.
At the end of the evening, providers shared their own strategies for incorporating art into their programs. Teresa described loading a simple mesh screen with paint and letting children run a toothbrush over it to create layers of color on papers held underneath. María Edith said that she tailors her work with children around the intention of individual artists. She gave the example of helping children in her program study shapes while learning about painter Piet Mondrian. Providers left with many tips for using art as a springboard for learning, both from the Gallery’s guides and from each other.
By the conclusion of the workshop, providers were full of ideas for future learning at the Gallery, including sessions focusing on the connections between art and storytelling. Providers are also excited to return to the Gallery with children from their programs and from their own families, and some are already planning their next visit. For many of our providers, these workshops were their first time setting foot in the Yale University Art Gallery. We’re so grateful to the Gallery’s staff for welcoming us and helping us feel at home in their collections and on Yale’s campus. We’re excited to build on the success of these workshops to deepen our collaboration with the Gallery in the future.
If you’d like to see more pictures from the event, please check out our Facebook album. You can also “Like” our Facebook page to learn about upcoming professional development opportunities for our providers, including future collaborations between All Our Kin and the Yale University Art Gallery.