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Helping Students Understand Human Experience
Written by: Andrea Mulder-Slater [Andrea is one of the creators of]

Article First Appeared in Classroom Leadership
Published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
October 2001 | Volume 5 | Number 2

Article Summary:

As one of the creators of, I often receive letters from teachers who work in public school systems where the arts are not a priority. Faced with dilemmas like how to raise test scores and how to stretch budgets as far as they can go, school board officials need to make tough decisions.

It is always disturbing to hear of yet another set of district policy makers doing away with arts education in the schools. Trouble is, many hold the misconception that art is a superfluous, isolated subject when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth...

Teaching your students about art is a good idea—here's why:

  • It's been proven that early exposure to visual art, music, or drama promotes activity in the brain.

  • Art helps children understand other subjects much more clearly—from math and science, to language arts and geography.

  • Art nurtures inventiveness as it engages children in a process that aids in the development of self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperation, and self-motivation.

  • Participating in art activities helps children to gain the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapting to and respecting others' ways of working and thinking, developing creative problem-solving skills, and communicating thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways.

So, where do you begin? Start by remembering that teaching children about art is not just about showing them how to recognize a van Gogh or Picasso, it's about preparing young minds for a future of invaluable experiences—art related or otherwise.

Making Connections Through Drawing

Drawing is one of the most important activities you and your students can do. Drawing not only provides the basis for other creative activities - like painting, sculpture and printmaking - but it also provides a direct link with reading, writing and especially mathematics. The connection between drawing and geometric shapes and measurements simply cannot be denied. And do you know what else? Drawing is the single most accessible form of art available. All you need is a pencil and a sheet of paper.

Here are some quick art ideas you can implement right away without a lot of preparation or materials:

  • Have your students create picture stories. Everyone draws a series of images—use stick people and box-shaped houses. Once everyone has created a picture story, share the images to see if the other participants can decipher the "code." See how many versions of the story develop.

  • Youngsters can dip their fingers in some washable ink and make fingerprints on paper. They can then use markers to add eyes, ears, and noses to create people, cars, animals, and more.

  • Suggest that each student keep a scrapbook that belongs to him or her alone. Drawings, postcards, clippings, and pieces of grass can all go into a scrapbook. Once a month you can have a scrapbook-sharing day.

  • Hand out paper and invite students to draw circles of all sorts, letting them overlap. Next, they can color in the shapes that appear—taking care not to let two shapes touch one another. Voila, a creation! If you have more time, try the same thing with modeling clay.

  • Provide cut-up pieces of fruit and vegetables, along with paint and paper. Have your students paint a fruit and veggie picture.

  • Enlist your students' help in creating signs. Supply paper, cardboard, or wood and lots of brightly colored markers.

  • Have your students imagine there is a hole in the wall. What is lurking behind the wall? Talk about it. Ask them to draw it.

  • See if your students can make figures using torn paper. No scissors, no pencils, just paper. If you have more time, the torn paper can be glued on another sheet and painted with watercolors.

  • Set the clock and have your students draw stick figures on a sheet of paper for 10 minutes, spending no more than 10 seconds on each drawing. When a sheet of paper is full, they can move on to another sheet. Discuss the drawings at the end of the session.

  • Try having your students draw their names in big blocky print with pencil on paper. Next, encourage them to fill the paper with all sorts of designs using markers, crayons, or oil pastels. If there is time, cover the paper with a light watercolor wash
One of the most important lessons you can teach your students is that more often than not, a mistake is not a mistake—it's a happy accident. Illustrate this idea in an eraser-free art-making session during which students are encouraged change a "mistake" into something else. No erasing allowed! Turn a boat into a sunfish or change a lion into a raspberry bush. Before long, going with the flow will become second nature for your students.

Basic Art Materials Supply List

Paper. Lots of paper: every size, every shape. You can use photocopy paper, newsprint, mural paper, and butcher paper. Even paper grocery bags cut up into squares will do just fine. So will old shirt and cereal boxes.

Pencils. If nothing else, you must have pencils. Nice big fat pencils for little hands and smaller pencils for your "grown up" students.

Crayons. The brighter your crayons are, the better.

Markers. Make sure they are washable for the little ones.

Modeling Material. This can be clay, or even homemade goop—anything that can be formed.

Pastels. Try to have both chalk and oil pastels on hand. Chalk pastels should be reserved for your older students while the oil pastels can be introduced to the younger set.

Scissors. Provide safety scissors and adult assistance for the tiny ones.

Glue. Just a small container of glue is all you need, or you can make your own with flour and water.

Paint & Brushes. You will be most pleased with water-base paints (tempera or watercolor) and brushes from small (¼") to large (1"). Here's a tip: Make clean up easier by adding a few drops of dish soap to your paints.

Found Objects. You can use buttons, beads, stamps, thread, and so on in many an art project.

Also See



Here are some resources to help back up the argument that the arts are a necessary part of learning...

The Value of Art Education

Enrich Learning with Discipline-Based Art Education

What's a Good Arts Education Program

Music, Arts and the Brain

Arts on the Outs

What You Can Do to Bring the Arts to School,1120,24-322,00.html

How Important are the Arts in Our Schools?

National Art Education Association

National Association for Music Education

Art Teaching Resources:




Eyes on Art:

Marilyn's Imagination Factory:

The @rt Room:

The Incredible Art Department:


Sanford Art Education:

© Andrea Mulder-Slater

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