Back to kindergarten

Kindergarten teacher Leigh White invited me to paint in her classroom yesterday morning.  Leigh teaches a Reggio inspired class at Walter and Gladys Hill Elementary School.  What is "Reggio inspired"?

Here is the definition direct from Wikipedia:

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was developed after World War II by a teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy. Following the war, people believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. The assumption of Malaguzzi and the parents was that people form their own personality during early years of development and that children are endowed with "a hundred languages" through which they can express their ideas. The aim of this approach is teaching how to use these symbolic languages (eg., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.

As I was setting up, the class of 15 to 20 student - both 5 and 6 years of age - sat in a circle to start the day.

One boy looked up at me with his toothless grin and said "My dad knows you."

"Oh?" I replied.  "Who is your dad?"

"My dad's your dentist."

I felt oddly complemented that out of hundreds of patients, Dr. Beaulne's young son knew that I was one of them.  Obviously they had spoken about this visit at home.

Based on my observation, in the Reggio inspired environment, the students are very self-directed.  They could chose to watch me paint, go and paint themselves, or go play grocery store.  It was completely up to them.

At first, I had one astute girl spend quite a bit of time with me, asking a lot of great questions and making insightful remarks about my process.

"Are you copying the picture?" she asked, watching me sketch out the facial lines of my subject, movie director and actor John Huston.

"Not quite," I said.  "I am drawing all the lines of the face so that I get the proportions right before I start painting."

I also shared with her that I always use a black and white reference photo, which forces me to pick the colours completely on my own.

Another student came up, watched, and asked "Are you copying?"

Before I could open my mouth to respond, the other young lady answered for me.

I painted.  They watched and asked questions.

I painted.  They looked through my collection of paints.

I painted.  They ran off to paint something at one of the craft centres, then rushed back to show me what they had done.

Several of the creations that the students gifted me are now on my inspiration wall in Birdsong Studio

"Maybe you can use this to paint a butterfly next," offered one young girl, proudly holding up her creation.

At one point, someone moved, bumping my painting arm, causing the brush to go askew.

"Oh cool," I said, seeing the effect of the happy accident.

"Do you know what I always say to my adult students?" I asked.

"What?" said severals of the children.

"There are no mistakes in painting."

Everything in this process is additive, and takes you closer to the finished product.  For instance, it took several layers and experiments to reach the final stage of this portrait of Mr. Huston with a bright red background.  Beneath the layer you see, are several others that helped create the finished effect.

By the time I was putting the finishing flourishes in the hair, I had two little ones on my right and two on my left, intently watching.  Throughout the process, teachers and staff of Walter and Gladys Hill School came in and out of the classroom to check out my progress.  It was wonderful.

Mrs. White was capturing everything, taking notes and picture throughout the two hours of the visit.  I'm excited to read and see her observations and how this approach to learning and my wild colour portraiture influenced this talented and inspiring group of Kindergarten students.

I didn't quite finish the painting in the classroom.  I ended up spending several more hours with it in Birdsong Studio yesterday evening.  The integration of fingers always takes more time than I remember.  I sent Mrs. White the final product before closing up for the night, so she could show the kids this morning.

With opportunities like this, I always feel like I got the better end of the deal.  I enjoyed myself tremendously and learned so much from these young artists.  My deepest thanks to Leigh White for the invitation to paint with her students.  It was an awesome way to start the day.


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