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Around The Arts

October 1, 2011

In the classroom, art is not done only for art's sake

A few weeks ago, my daughter started a new chapter in her life, one that will last at least 13 years _ she began her formal education and entered kindergarten.

On the first day, I sent her a with an empty backpack and full lunchbox. She returned with a mostly empty lunchbox and a full backpack. Her princess-adorned satchel wasn't filled with a school supply list or note from the teacher, but with numerous arts and crafts projects.

Her.

Very.

First.

Day.

And, this deluge of paper, glue and crayon hasn't skipped a day yet, and I doubt it will for years to come.

I am an alumna of the State University College at Oneonta, which, as most of us know, is known for being a leading school for future educators. Having had many friends, former hallmates and roommates that were in the program, I was very aware of the curriculum and projects required of the major. I know the importance placed on art in their mock lesson plans and other assignments.

While I purchased my school supplies from the college book store, they were shopping the big-box stores alongside elementary school kids, picking out reams of construction paper, boxes of markers and gluesticks by the dozen.

Teachers use art to engage students and strengthen their lessons. Taking time to draw, color, cutout and paste together relevant objects slows down the students' easily distracted brains and forces them to focus on what they just learned. A lecture would soon be forgotten, but a 20-minute project allows the information to marinate, and then live as a reminder in the hallway or on the refrigerator at home.

My daughter loves to describe each and every one of her assignments, in great detail, to every visitor in our home. She wouldn't do this if she were simply copying information into a notebook; 5-year-old chicken scratch on lined paper isn't fun to show off. Each time she explains the works in her magnetic art gallery, she is recalling, refreshing and increasing the understanding of the information she learned.

And, if something was forgotten or has been confused over time, it allows the perfect opportunity for correction.

Art also gives abstract concepts practical reinforcement, much as a laboratory hour does for a science class. Hands-on activities help students move information from working memory to long-term memory, an essential step in building a foundation for future learning.

Research shows many learning disabilities are the result of communication problems between the working and long-term memories, which leads to incomplete and improper storage of information. There are many methods that assist with this process, such as verbally highlighting important information, repetition, and, as mentioned above, slowing down the process and focusing on the lesson for a longer period of time.

In addition to arts-and-crafts in the classroom, my daughter is fortunate enough to be offered out-of-the-classroom visual art and music classes, as well.

I can vividly and fondly remember my bohemian art teacher from elementary school. Her short haircut, long flowy skirts and paint-covered everything pretty much summed up her essence as a person and an educator _ very free form, lax and imaginative.

I greatly admired her, but even in kindergarten I knew I was more like my classically trained, classically dressed music teacher. I'd like to think that over time, I've landed somewhere in the middle.

These two women, with whom I spent the first seven years of my education, shaped my life in so many ways.

Yes, I learned a great deal about the history and creation of visual art and music from them, but I also learned a lot about myself and life. Honestly, more than I did from my primary classroom teachers. Maybe, it's because I was given seven times as many years with them, or maybe because our exploration of art allowed us to connect on a deeper level. I truly believe it's the latter.

When did most of us lose the urge to create art on a daily basis as a means of strengthening our understanding of the world around us? Was it when our teachers stopped mandating projects?

Have we forgotten how fun, invigorating and mentally stimulating it is to create something from scratch? To me, there is little more satisfying than completing an art project. So, let's learn from those that can still count their age on their hands. Borrow some of their alphabet magnets, and hang our lessons for our visitors to see.

June Dzialo is a member of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and marketing and public relations manager for Glimmerglass Festival. Column ideas and questions may be sent to aroundthearts@gmail.com. 'Around The Arts' columns can be found at www. thedailystar.com/aroundthearts.

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