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The City Journals

How to keep art in your kids' lives during the summer months

Jun 05, 2019 04:22PM ● By Jet Burnham

The dinosaur theme influenced art lessons. (Jet Burnham\City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Summer is a great time for kids to explore art, believes Fox Hills Elementary School art teacher Nathan Smith.

“There’s no reason that they should be creatively deprived because they’re not in school,” he said.

His advice to parents is to not be afraid to let kids get messy with their art. He suggests putting down an old sheet as a drop cloth or sending them outside to create.

“Sometimes the mess is the fun part, and that’s the learning—it’s just getting in there with those materials and experimenting,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to be messy at home.”

As a BTSLAP art specialist, Smith’s job is to create opportunities for students to explore core curriculum concepts through art and experimentation.

“We are reviewing material that they’ve learned before in a new and different way that engages different parts of their brain,” he said. Creative projects he develops for students help them form stronger connections that enable students to retain information better, especially in topics they normally have a hard time making a personal connection with.

Smith said summer offers the opportunity for kids to explore art through summer camps and classes.

Another resource is as close as the local library. There are a growing number of books for young readers that explore art.

Diane Gilmore, chair for the Great Artists program at Fox Hills, has found several books that support the curriculum, such as “The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau” by Michelle Markell, which she reads to students while they create pieces inspired by Rouseau’s works. Students learn about five artists each year in the Great Artists program. Lessons and art projects are taught by parent volunteers who have little or no art experience but who are very dedicated to the program.

“It's really cool to see them go above and beyond just the Great Artist program and going to the library and getting extra books to expose the class to them,” said Gilmore.

This year’s Great Artist showcase was themed after one of the books a parent found, “If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur” by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold. The Newbolds have a created a series of books featuring many of the great artists that Fox Hills students study.

The author/illustrator team came to talk to families at the Great Artist showcase April 18. They discussed the inspiration for their books and showed the behind-the-scenes development of the themed twists they add to classic artists’ works.

“If Picasso Painted a Snowman” portrays snowmen melting like Dali’s clocks and a Pollock-style splattered snowman, while “If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur”  features dinosaurs surfing Hokusai's giant wave and smelling flowers in Cassatt's garden.

The Newbolds love to engage students in exploring well-known art pieces through their books.

“This was the kind of book we never found in the gift shop when we took our kids to art museums,” said Amy Newbold. Their books include biographies of the featured artists.

“For most of them, it's a process of learning and experimenting and finding out what their voice is,” said Amy Newbold. “We wanted to send the message to kids that your own style is important to finding your own voice that matters.”

Smith encourages his students find their unique artistic style through a variety of projects throughout the year. He believes everybody can be an artist.

“As long as you’re creating something, and you’re being honest and you’re having fun, and you’re trying your best—that’s the creative process that really makes art valuable,” he said. 

Greg Newbold agrees artists should not let anything stop them from creating.

“At some point in education or growing up, somebody squashes a kid’s artistic ambition,” he said. “The difference between someone like me and someone who didn’t keep drawing is I just didn’t let it bother me, and I just kept drawing because I liked it.”

He believes art is a continual process of experimentation.

“There’s not a right or wrong way to do art,” he said. “It’s just ‘did it turn out the way you want it or not?’”