Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin writes about working with preschoolers at Marindale school.
I look forward to working with Jessica Leaper’s language delayed preschool class every year because her kids have so much enthusiasm for music. Every visit begins with the students yelling, “Hannah!!!!” as I enter the room.
They memorized my daily agenda by the second week, and they cheered at each transition. One area that was especially successful was the teaching of musicianship. About half the students could read basic rhythm by the end of the residency, quite a feat for preschoolers! Here’s a picture of a student matching the shapes of music notes
Their favorite song by far was “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt” where we marched around the room looking for a bear to take a picture of, and then we ran yelling back to our seats when we finally found him. They also really enjoyed playing with a parachute. We started every week sitting on the parachute identifying colors and singing about them in English and Spanish. Then all the children would jump under it while the adults pretended we could not find them.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a great group of kids and teaching team!
Teaching artist Suzanne Joyal is working again with Susan Wilkinson’s early intervention pre-K class at Marindale (It’s been seven years!) This time students are studying Emotions, using materials developed by YIA and perfect for young learners. Students looked at cards featuring children showing an emotion, and then practiced making those faces in mirrors. They learned to look closely to notice what happens to their face when they show different emotions (mouths go down when you’re sad, up when you’re happy, eyebrows go down when you’re angry and up when you’re surprised).
Students then drew their own faces on matching paper, and painted a treasure box to carry everything home in, where they can play a matching game with their family. When art time was over, Susan continued the lesson with songs and movements and more opportunities for young students to practice looking at faces and sharing emotions.
by Mentor Artist Sophie Cooper
This spring while making art with the students of the Marindale Special Education preschool, I learned a great deal about how sound, movement, line and color are intricately related, especially in the experience of a preschooler!
Often one of the greatest challenges with working with very young children is that their attention wanders. On multiple occasions, I found myself using sound – tones, simple melodies, a sung version of the child’s name – to bring their attention back to our project. Recognizing the power of sound to gain and focus their attention, I began incorporating music more and more into our art making.
One day I was working with a young boy who is very vocal and he kept repeating “I’m done now,” after making just a few marks on the canvas. I began tapping a pastel onto the canvas in steady rhythm and sang a simple melody, using the syllable dee. He was immediately transfixed by the song. He joined in by tapping along with a pastel and, when I handed him a paintbrush, he began drawing forms and splotches of color, all the time listening to the song. We went on this way for some time, much longer than I had ever seen him engage in an art project.
When I stopped singing, his movements stopped as well. He looked up at me and said: “I want the dee dee song!”
by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin
Most of the work I do in “Arts Unite Us” classrooms is process based, meaning that the experience of music or movement activities is the goal of the session. There are of course many other ways that the students benefit including language, social and pre reading development. Creating a show is almost never part of the conversation, but there are times when students, even autistic preschoolers want to share what they have learned. Sometimes organizing a small show for their parents is the best way to give them this opportunity. Jessical Leaper’s preschool students at Marindale Special Day School were one such group.
The question that arose for me was: How does one put on a show with a group of students who are often afraid of social interactions and may not be able to retain enough information to put on a traditional performance? The conclusion I came to was that we needed to develp a delicate relationship between routine and flexibility.
If possible I think shows like this should take place in a setting in which the students are comfortable. In the case of Jessica’s class I chose to have the students share their work in their “circle time spots.” We held all of our class sessions in this space, and the students were accustomed to heading straight for their chairs as soon as I walked in the room. The songs and activities we shared were also in the order we I taught them each session, and I used the visual aids that were present in each class session. The order is listed below along with a description of the visual aids:
Good Morning Song (Picture of the morning with the words “Good Morning” imbedded)
Hello Song (Choice board with options for dance movements to perform with each round of the song)
Pepperoni Pizzas (Pictures of Rhythmic notation with pictures of foods-Pepperoni is paired with four 16th notes, Pizza is paired with two eighth notes, Pie is paired with one quarter note, Cheese is paired with one half note)
Singing Songs (Picture of singing to remind students to sing along)
Dance (Picture of dancing to remind students to dance)
Penny Game (Picture of Penny and a real penny to help participation)
Goodbye Song (Picture of students waving “Goodbye”)
There are three aspects of flexibility that were important to this experience. First, I started to introduce small changes to my routine halfway through the residency to acclimate the students to the possibility of changes in the class order. The parents in the audience were also asked to be flexible. They started sitting behind the students, and then we slowly moved them forward. Eventually many were sitting in front of the students in traditional audience seating. I as a teaching artist also needed to be flexible. I needed to understand that some students would need to sit on their parents laps. I needed to remember that this production was not going broadway, so following the students in this way was just fine. I did pull those parents into the dance portion, and the parents seemed to enjoy the experience.
Ultimately this untraditional show was successful for everyone involved. The students shared their work. I was given an opportunity to introduce parents to our work, and Jessica was able to bring parents into the classroom, some of whom had not visited all year. We plan to try it again next year!