Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Fillmore School at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School

On Thursday I went to school and observed the 3-year-old program during their weekly arts classes. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, four teachers from the Fillmore School come to our school to give instruction on Visual Arts, Music, Dance and Drama. This is the second year for this program. Each class gets one hour with each subject. Thursday is the day the 3-year-olds take part. Rather than be discovered by my son, I tagged along with Ms. Sutherland's class to learn a bit of what my son is doing.

The Art teacher, Ms. Hsu began the class by taking them outside to find leaves. The goal of today's lesson was to explore texture. The class went out and gathered leaves and then returned to their classroom. They sat at long tables in a huge room on the second floor. Ms. Hsu handed out blank pages then had them draw colors on them. Once they had drawn shapes she squirted glue on to their images and handed out the clumps of leaves. The students then placed the leaves onto the drawings.

After a short time of using leaves, Ms. Hsu pulled out the pièce de résistance, a can of small sticks. She passed them out and the kids added them to their works of art.

She then gathered the children into a circle and spoke briefly about texture allowing them to touch sticks and leaves and feel the contrast between the rough textures and smoother textures like coloring markers. As they touched the different pieces, she used descriptive words like smooth and rough and bumpy to help them grasp the concept.

As a parent who is always around my child, I tend to focus on my method of helping him understand things. Watching a whole room full of three-year-olds create art, you can see all levels of comprehension. They're all learning different things in different ways and at different speeds. Some kids just scribble in big straight lines, some make tiny shapes. Some kids are developing a real sense of color and what combinations they like. Some kids are already showing a desire for specific details. As we lined up to leave, one student stayed at her table studiously trying to put tiny last minute shapes around in the corner of her project. That was fun to see.

Next it was on to music. I ducked into an empty room in order for my son not to see me as they traded classrooms. The room I popped into was the autism room. There are two teachers for autistic children at Ludlow-Taylor: one teacher for the lower grades and the teacher I met, who teachers the upper grades. She has 6 children in her class.

Convinced I was undetected I slipped into the music room and met Ms. Janice Gill, the music teacher. She began class by having the children clap a steady beat by patting their lap twice then clapping their hands twice. Then she sang a repetition song based on African syllables. This is pretty hard to do for adults but easier for children. If children can learn while young to feel constant rhythm in their bodies, they can focus on more complex musical ideas without having to focus on the steady beat. Like anything, it takes practice which is why they do it over and over again.

The best part about music class was hearing the music teacher sing in the range of the children. As adults, we forget that children's voices are pitched higher than ours. Since singing takes a back seat so often in daily life, adults, out of laziness, often sing in a range that is too low even for them, much less children. But enough of my musical soapbox.

The teacher then led the class in singing Eensy Weensy Spider. She asked each child if they had ever seen a spider and for each child that said yes, she led a new song for that child. Then we sang the clapping rhythm song again and then finished the hour with a tip-toe-hopping song.

Each of these classes lasted a full hour. This is a really long time for three-year-olds to focus on one subject. In speaking with all of the teachers, including drama and dance, it seemed that all felt they would modify the program in weeks to come to accomodate the shorter attention span of the three-year-olds.

I then headed upstairs to speak with the dance instructor. Her name is Eliza Derick. We saw her work on Back to School Night. She had a lot to say about the topic of arts and education. So much in fact that I want to do a second blog post next week as "Fillmore - Part II".

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