AMHERST – The images made an immediate impression.
On a bulletin board inside the main office at Spring Street Academy, art work by Grade 2 students had been pinned up. All of the work was colourful and creative. Some of it deserved to be framed and given a permanent home on a prominent wall.
Who was the teacher that was evoking such accomplished work from her young pupils?
Susan Rector is her name. She’s been an elementary school teacher for about 30 years. Each teacher at Spring Street is responsible for teaching art as part of the broader curriculum. In other words, there’s no dedicated art teacher (although Daren White runs an after-school art club).
“We spend about an hour a week,” said Rector.
Not a lot of time. But Rector said many teachers find ways to incorporate art into other subjects, too.
The teacher explained the Grade 2 art curriculum focuses on three things: making, looking and reflecting.
Students are taught how to use various materials to make art, from crayons to tin foil. They are shown pictures of famous works of art, as well as student pieces inspired by those masterpieces. And they’re taught to reflect on their own work and the work of others.
An elementary school teacher could be a generalist in a subject, with no particular aptitude for art.
“Luckily, we have some great resources,” said Rector.
The school has a large volume containing art drawn from cultures around the world, and an accompanying teacher’s guide.
The pictures hung in the office were pastels of flowers in a vase. Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ was the inspiration. Rector said a large poster was made using pictures of flowers cut from a seed catalogue, to give children a guide when deciding how to approach their own flowers and leaves.
“Some of them invented different petal shapes,” she said.
Perspective was also a learning element, with the edge of a table appearing behind the vase in each picture.
Rector doesn’t live in Amherst and couldn’t comment on the number of art resources (for kids) in the broader community. She expressed her hope kids had the opportunity to do art at home. Not all of them do.
“There are kids like that,” she acknowledged.
The teacher said even at the age of seven, some children have become self-conscious about their work. The topic of ‘excellence’ is a point of discussion: making a habit of doing your best. After work is completed, students do a walk-through of the finished projects and look for positive elements in each.