Early Childhood Development

STEAM: Art Spotlight

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Over the past few months, we have highlighted the importance of STEAM learning at The Gardner School, including specific spotlights on engineering, technology, and math. As we continue showcasing the ways our schools incorporate STEAM activities into daily learning, we’re giving the spotlight to art this month.

Arts and crafts are fun all year long, but these activities are especially fun during the summer months, as our students experience Camp Gardner’s fun weekly themes. Here’s a look at how The Gardner School incorporates art into learning, as well as a few tips for continuing art-focused STEAM activities at home.

How Does The Gardner School Incorporate Art into Learning?

The Gardner School incorporates artwork in everyday learning activities, as students can do things like work at a classroom art easel during a designated learning center play time. With a variety of art supplies that includes paint, chalk, markers, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, and more, students can create whatever they desire or whatever they are learning about. “Teachers use art as an extension of the daily lesson,” says Rachel McCormick, Director at The Gardner School of Brentwood. “For example, the students could be learning about ocean life and would be free to create whatever sea creatures they would like. After completing their masterpieces, the teacher may prompt the student to describe the piece, asking questions such as, ‘What did you create?’ or ‘Can you tell me more about it?,’” McCormick adds. 

Especially for younger students, artwork helps with fine motor skills development, such as learning how to hold or pinch objects they are using to create arts and crafts. Because many children are visual learners, it’s important for them to be able to turn what they have learned into something concrete. “During the preschool years, drawing, painting, sculptures and collages are an important forms of self-expression. For example, to enhance a science lesson, preschoolers can draw or mold the stages of a seed growing,” says McCormick.

How The Gardner School Students Express and Create through Art

At The Gardner School, students experience a combination of free expression and teacher-directed artwork assignments. “For teacher-directed assignments, students are given a visual of something to recreate and provided with specific materials to create it,” says McCormick. This type of art is an excellent way for children to develop new art skills and learn how to follow directions, while still celebrating individual expression. “Free expression art assignments give students full responsibility for all aspects of the creation—from the color of paper to the drawing medium—they make all the decisions. This type of art is very valuable to us as educators, because we can prompt meaningful questions from the students’ work that encourages critical thinking and communication,” McCormick adds.

Through free expression art assignments, the focus is in the process of how or why something is created rather than the final product. As part of Camp Gardner preview week, students at The Gardner School of Lincoln Park examined fresh flowers up close and learned the names of the flowers. The students then used the flower petals as paint brushes and stamps to create a class mural. “The intention of the project was not only to showcase the summer camp theme, but to encourage students to work together to create a class mural, while bringing in a new medium from the outside world,” says Karina Cadiz, Director at The Gardner School of Lincoln Park (Chicago). “We encourage our students to do process art, which allows them to be creative through expression, putting an emphasis on the fact that artwork shouldn't all look the same. The individual should decide the end result,” Cadiz adds.

How Can You Incorporate Art and STEAM Activities at Home?

When it comes to incorporating art activities at home, we encourage parents to simply give their children the opportunity to create something. “The goal shouldn’t be to create something fancy, but rather to let the child get a little messy and to then ask them about their creation,” says McCormick. Some practical ideas could include making a collage from old magazines, creating a paper airplane, or having children draw something for a family member or friend. “Something I have done recently is to encourage my child to draw or create a birthday card or thank you note instead of purchasing them,” adds McCormick. Finally, it’s important to hang or display the artwork somewhere visible in your home for the children to see and recall the creative process.

Be on the lookout for ways you can practice and encourage art and creativity each day. For more STEAM activities and ideas, we encourage you to visit our STEAM Education board on Pinterest.