Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Easton Children with School of Natural Learning Respond to Arts Festival with Art of Their Own

"Air" a collaborative piece by School of Natural Learning kids in classroom NS1 at Community Services for Children, Inc. on Northampton Street. The artists are ages 3-5

Posted by: Noël Jones

Cathy Stoops, creator of the School of Natural Learning in Easton, has been working with young children in the West Ward through art and nature for years. An alternative approach to teaching and learning, Cathy takes the kids on nature walks, for instance, along the trail in Hugh Moore park along the Lehigh River, and encourages the children to interact with nature and collect leaves, sticks, feathers and such to incorporate into the art projects which they create upon their return. Sticks and feathers become paint brushes, leaves become stencils or are crushed into hand-made paper. This is not your typical children's art class. Kids do not use coloring books and are not taught to paint within lines or draw
smiley-faces, but rather, are given a theme to discuss and within a specific structure of materials and color, are encouraged to express themselves freely.

"Composition is not part of the structure that is prescribed for these art projects, because I find that these children have such a strong natural sense for composition of their own," says Cathy. "The children are ages 3-5 years old and it is a stage of pre-literacy. Our culture is very keen on making them literate, and that's great, but it is an age where line, color and composition are intuitive, and it's very strong, so it is something that School of Natural Learning strives to protect, rather than teach. Once children are taught to read and write, it is an authoritarian approach--one that is necessary--but it slowly obliterates a child's natural-voiced hand expression. School of Natural Learning is a curriculum based on sensory exploration, not an authoritarian mode. A lot of the top artists, like Cy Twombly, Picasso, etc. all understood that children's art is amazing, and they spent their careers trying to approach the innocent intuitiveness of children of this pre-literate age--before conformity, before inhibition, before self-criticism."

The kids working with School of Natural Learning curriculum have put up a handful of exhibits in the StoreFront Gallery of Community Services for Children, Inc. at 673 Northampton Street in Easton, and they have always impressed me. Some of the pieces look like they could have done by MFA visual arts students. I would love to see them exhibited in real gallery some day, but for now, being hung in the storefront windows of the day care gives walkers-by the opportunity to appreciate the creativity and talent of the West Ward's youngest neighbors.

The current exhibit is called "Ancient Elements" and is a response to the Art of Urban Environments Festival that is being staged in Easton this summer, which is funded by an NEA grant that the City of Easton and Lafayette College partnered to win earlier this year. For this project the children discussed different aspects of the four elements--how they feel, how they sound, what they represent. With "Air," for instance, the children discussed how they know that air exists and what happens in the air, things like sound, the voice, language. The children decided that one way that they know that air exists, is that they sometimes see dust blowing on the wind, so chalk dust on white paper was used as a medium to represent air. Water colors were used for "Water." Oil, wax and chalk on black paper were used for "Earth." Charcoal was used for "Fire" to express the idea of something burned. A couple of the AUEF exhibit sites will be in the West Ward--one at St. Anthony's and one at Raspberry Park. These neighborhood children were encouraged to make and exhibit art of their own, concurrent with the larger festival, and this exhibit will be up from now until October 15th.

According to the flyer for the exhibit:

"For two thousand years the four ancient elements--Earth, Air, Water, Fire--were thought to be the basis for the structure of our world. This exhibition of collaborative artwork by young learners, based on an exploratory arts and nature curriculum, is supported through funding form the Lehigh Valley Arts Council and is presented by Community Services for Children, Inc and the School of Natural Learning. Additional funding is provided through the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership. Curriculum information for School of Natural Learning can be found at: Celebrate urban arts!

No comments: