I just finished teaching the latest session of Kids’ Art Classes at Smoky Lake for the Community Learning Council. I usually start by planning a 6 week course, establishing a supply list, and writing a 2 line blurb for the course calendar.
My lesson plans for generic 6 to 12 year olds invariably changes when I get to know my 8 specific kids.
If you ever have the chance to interact with kids this age, go for it. They’re funny, blunt, enthusiastic, noisy, hungry, wiggly-jiggly bundles of energy.
I always feel I walk a fine line between teaching some art theory and keeping the setting fun. I don’t want to be one of those people (read parents, teachers, classmates) that criticizes and shames the creativity and spontaneity right out of the kid. Grass needn’t be green, the sky needn’t be blue, skin needn’t be pink.
I feel compelled to teach more than just the manipulation of art supplies. I try to teach observation skills and rules for critiquing. I intervene when kids want to pounce on someone’s shortcomings rather than seeing the successes.
I ask them individually and collectively about the things that matter to them—family, home, pets, interests, school, dreams. We talk about bullying and unkindness. We talk about empowerment and artistic freedom. I try to offer possibilities not dictate a course of action.
I’ve got some informal rules of conduct. “I can’t” is not allowed. Teasing and hurting each other isn’t allowed. Swinging from the chandelier isn’t allowed. I laughingly make a big deal when they manage to suck me into helping them do what they should do alone.
I seek rapport with the group and with each kid. I confront – publicly or privately – behaviour that’s disruptive or counter-productive. I pat heads and hug shoulders.
In a session last year I told 2 girls about the evils of high-heeled shoes. Call me crazy, but do 10 year olds really need 2 1/2 inch heels? “You’re already walking funny,” I say, “in 30 years you’ll be crippled.” No way they insist. “I’ll come back and check on you,” I reply.
“You’ll be dead in 30 years.”
I’m stunned to realize they’re probably right. I recover enough to say that none of us know how long we’ve got, but if I’m around and in a nursing home, come see me and show me you’re not crippled.
The next week one of the girls shows me her totally sensible red running shoes. “Are these better?” Oh, yes.
In my experience “teachable moments” exist for all of us, every day, whether we have a B.Ed or not. We all have the chance to affect another’s life, especially a child’s, by what we teach, what we do, how we live.
Did my rant about high heels change her life or behaviour long term? Probably not, but I did get her thinking and some days that’s the best we can hope for, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission