My kid is decidedly not a team sports kinda girl, but she does have a ton of 9 year old energy, so I wanted to find a specialty day camp that she would enjoy for a few weeks this summer. Hello, Art Camp.
Fen partook in a week of art camp and I was so impressed with the level of projects the kids got to work on, not to mention the architectural walking tour of Chicago they took, that I hounded the camp director, Jacqui Neidhardt, to let me interview her. (Actually she was quite gracious when I asked her. Plus she even sent me photos to use in my post!)
Maybe you could tell me a little about how and why you got interested in teaching art to kids.
My interest in teaching art started at a very young age. My aspiration of becoming an art teacher began when I was in 2nd grade, the usual age children begin to ponder what they would like to be when they grow up. But, unlike my friends, who hoped to be firefighters or astronauts, my dream job was an art teacher. I think my unique interest stemmed from my love of drawing and painting as well as my admiration for my elementary school art teacher. We only had art once a week, and it was “Art on the Cart”, but it was my favorite part of school. It challenged me to think outside of the box and use my imagination. So, from then on, I worked toward my goal of becoming an art educator, and I recently graduated from Elmhurst College with a BA in Art Education, so I feel that I accomplished my goal (at least the first major hurdle).
Prior to entering college, I was in search of a summer job that I would enjoy and involved working with children. I fortunately found the EPD and EAM’s Summer Arts Camp, and started as a counselor. I had such a wonderful experience creating and teaching art lessons to children, that my years at camp just reaffirmed my love of teaching art. It is now my fifth year at Summer Arts Camp and I my second year as Director. I honestly look forward to my summers because of how much I enjoy working camp and seeing all the young artists blossom throughout the duration of camp.
Do you have a favorite project when you work with kids, or one that tends to surprise you the most with their results?
As for a favorite project, I am having difficulty choosing just one lesson. Every summer we attempt to create an entirely new set of lessons because of the inevitable repeat camper. So I’ve probably taught or aided students in over 150 lessons thus far. But, from my recent experiences this summer, I can pick out two that were really successful. The first is the Outrageous Dada Collage project in which students are challenged to invent outrageous character “combines” by combining magazine images together. We use Dada collages by Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann as inspiration. I’ve taught this a few times, and every time the children come up with such imaginative, humorous characters. I’ve done this same collage challenge with older students (high school/college age) and I find that, in general, they aren’t as successful because they lack the uninhibited creativity of a child.
The second project that was very successful this summer was a printmaking project in which students made their own Adinkra cloth. The original concept of this lesson was one that was introduced in my collegiate elementary art methods classes, but I took the idea and altered it to something that I thought would produce even better results. In this lesson, we talked to students about the Akan people of Ghana and their famous Adinkra cloth. Students looked at examples which lead to a brief discussion about the importance of symbols in Akan art. Students then created their own cloth by completing the following steps:
1) Students chose a 12″x18″ piece of colored construction paper on which they created decorative borders, using markers, and mapped out four blank boxes in which to print, 2) Students created 1-2 symbols which they then carved into 2″x3″ E-Z Cut Printing Blocks, 3) Students printed their symbols in the blank boxes using washable, colored printing ink. Overall, the results were awesome!
What are the most important benefits of kids learning art?
There are so many important benefits of children learning art, but to ensure I don’t go off on a tangent, I will stick to my two favorite. First of all, our ability to use critical thinking, make decisions and judgments, and produce creative ideas define us as human beings. All of these qualities are embraced by the learning and practice of art. Without art experiences, children would be lacking development in these very important human functions. Secondly, art encourages individuality as well as collaboration. In art class, children learn to be more accepting of different ideas or cultural differences and also use art to find commonalities among their peers. An art-centered atmosphere offers itself to an open community that allows each student to express themselves in a way they feel best represents their ideas or emotions. As a student, I always felt most comfortable in my art classes for this very reason.