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Relating art history to what children know: teachers need to provide a natural atmosphere in which this active, constructive learning can continue. Children play an active role in the learning process when instruction builds upon, correlates, and extends information. (Outside the Box: Point of View).

Elementary and art education classroom teachers approach teaching art history with many different styles and methods. The approach I am introducing is based on a philosophy of how children learn and how new information should be meaningful and relate to what the child already knows.

From birth, children have sought to make sense of their world. They are constantly experimenting, solving problems, and testing hypotheses to gain knowledge. At home, children are encouraged to take risks without fear of failure. For example, children accomplish the complex task of learning to talk naturally, because they are surrounded by people who are using language meaningfully, rather than through deliberate instruction.

Children become literate in much the same way they learn to speak. They learn because they want to participate and make sense of the world and language around them. Making and correcting their own mistakes becomes part of the learning process. They add to their knowledge base by relying on what they know and using that information to make connections with new information.

Active Learning

Teachers need to provide a natural atmosphere in which this active, constructive learning can continue. Children play an active role in the learning process when instruction builds upon, correlates, and extends information. When students participate in discussions and connect new information to their experiences, they are more likely to understand that new information.

Children need to be participants in learning activities not just listeners. The opportunity to ask questions, analyze subject matter, give opinions, and relate new information enhances the learning process. Ultimately, active learning gives students a sense of ownership and involvement in their experiences and effectively facilitates their desire to learn more about the world in which they live.

Building on Experience

The presentation of art history information should include examples children can relate to (what the student knows and experiences). To make the art history lesson meaningful to the student and correlate new information to previous information and experiences, we need to provide concrete experiences and examples.

For example, a teacher relating "chance resemblance" in cave art to children's personal experiences can explain how cave artists recognized an image on a cave wall. An area with certain rock formations and cracks in the wall may look like a buffalo and the cave artist recognizes the image. The artist then outlines the buffalo, paints the image, and adds more detail to make the image more realistic. This is chance resemblance.

Students have all experienced chance resemblance. What do you see sometimes when you look at clouds moving across the sky? Do you recognize images that the clouds have formed: rabbits, dogs, cats, people? By chance it resembles something they can recognize. The teacher can relate the new information to students' experiences.

A Three-Dimensional Experience

You may want to extend the art history lesson with a studio art activity. For example, following an art history lesson on early colonial architecture, the students can build architectural models of local buildings with colonial features.

Art history lessons for young children at the elementary level should include examples children can relate to in order to make the art history lesson meaningful. An art activity, if time permits, makes the art history information a concrete experience for the student. Concepts and terms are absorbed while they are involved in the active learning process building the models.

Ann Klesener is coordinator of art and art education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, North Carolina.
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Author:Klesener, Ann
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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