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Curriculum Insights • Inside the Art Studio

Curriculum Insights • Inside the Art Studio
Gina D’Emilio, Visual Arts Teacher, Sara Poplack, Assistant Head of School for Academics, and Scott Erickson, Head of School

Imagine that you are back in elementary school working on an art project in a naturally-lit studio. There’s a scent of eucalyptus in the air and a music playlist that seems to keep time still. You’re sharing space with people who support, celebrate, and encourage you. Sounds like bliss!

At the same time, you’re trying to not let an inner critic or fear of making a mistake block you from bringing your ideas to fruition. While these are natural feelings, the ideal situation for creative growth is one that allows people the freedom of choice and autonomy to make their own internal decisions, without worry about external judgment or uncertainty.

The PBS art program fosters creative agency with its ideal and dedicated studio and connection to social-emotional learning. It fosters creative agency by taking a holistic approach to support students on their path of exploring their artistic potential. The spiritual component of the PBS art program hones the interconnectedness of body, mind, creative spirit, and emotion. Students are supported in developing an aesthetic awareness and are encouraged to engage in the art of “trying.”

What sources does PBS draw on for the visual arts curriculum?
The PBS curriculum is creative and intentional. It draws from different educational philosophies, the art teacher’s expertise, and professional resources. The curriculum is a choice-based program developed in accordance with:

How does social-emotional learning connect with arts education at PBS?
Art-making is exploratory with attention to process as well as product. We believe that every child is artistic. During the early years, students are taught to practice separating the artmaking process from the critique process simply by noticing and acknowledging without judging. Together with the child’s curiosity, the teacher's guidance, and studio environment, an inherent spiritual nature is fostered for effective communication while respecting the uniqueness of each person.The dualism between “mind” and “doing” is central to cultivating an artist’s mindset and supporting the alignment of social-emotional growth with creative growth. Elementary school students develop cognitive awareness in art classes, which increases in complexity as students advance emotionally because of the responsibility, self-discipline, and commitment fostered in shared studio space.

What does the art curriculum look like in Kindergarten through 5th Grade?
The teacher-directed and child-centered art program is both rigorous and reflective of students’ interests and needs. Students identify the ways they prefer making art so that each year progressively builds upon the foundation in the year prior. We have a heavy emphasis on the Studio Habit of Mind of Understanding Art Worlds, ensuring students are exposed to a multitude of different artists, art forms, and art experiences. Fifth-graders graduate with a focused approach to transferring art concepts to middle school.All grade levels demonstrate overlap with the research-based C.A.R.E.S. social and emotional competencies that make up the Fly Five curriculum. When put into action with an open set of cognitive dispositions called the 8 Studio Habits of Mind, students increase self-esteem, self-confidence, and life skills. Some examples of how the Studio Habits of Mind framework overlaps with social-emotional competencies:

  • Develop Craft: Artists learn to use tools (e.g., viewfinders, brushes), materials (e.g., charcoal, paint), and artistic conventions (e.g., perspective, color mixing) independently. This has a direct correlation to developing the Fly Five core competency of responsibility.
  • Stretch and Explore: Students play, try new things, and make and learn from mistakes. This directly correlates to developing empathy for oneself and others.
  • Envision: Young artists learn to imagine next steps to bring ideas to life, requiring executive functioning skills like impulse control, time management, goal-setting, and organization. This studio habit promotes self-control.

How can parents constructively talk to PBS students about their art?
It is important to remember that children’s artwork is an extension of themselves. Consider your role as an interactional compassionate listener rather than transactional. When talking about art with kids, start the conversation with a visual inquiry, then let them lead the conversation. Parents can develop a dialogue by asking nonlinear and non-threatening questions, generating opportunities for children to feel heard like, “What do you see?” or “What do you notice?” or “Can you tell me more about that?”

Parents can link the artwork to their children’s comments. Remember to keep a non-judgmental disposition in mind instead of asking “what is it?” or “what did you learn?” or “what are you making?” Then ask “what’s going on here?” or “can you tell me more about the art?” If appropriate, ask “what do you see that makes you say that?” or “what did you use to make this?” to encourage them to elaborate on their responses with things they see or may not see in the artwork. If your child gives a partial answer, you can ask, “what inspired you?” Remember that it’s perfectly OK if the conversation sizzles or takes an unexpected turn. Let the child take you on their artistic journey!

Thank you for your continued support of our multigrade programs. We look forward to seeing you at our upcoming Parent Education Session!

Gina D’Emilio, Sara Poplack, and Scott Erickson
Visual Arts Teacher, Head of Academic Programs, Head of School

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