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The paintbrush palace.

To experience culture shock is to enter the world of elementary art after fourteen years of teaching at the secondary level. I knew it was time for a change, but did I have to change everything all at once?

It wasn't just the midget-sized sink and the pint-sized chairs that swept me into reality. It was the schedule with 500 kids, and 30 classes per week at 40 minutes each that drove home the point. "Beam me up, Scotty. I am no longer on the home planet."

"I've been here twenty-two years!" the former art teacher said as she left the building that day with a look that said, "Try'n beat that honey!" So not only am I the new kid on the block, but I've got to de-throne the Queen Mother Art Teacher who doubled as the vice principal! (Oh, be still my beating heart.)

"Do you have any questions?" asked the principal kindly. "Do I get my own room," I asked hopefully, "or do I travel around like a pretzel vendor in New York City?" "I'm not sure yet," he replied.

August brought me to room #19. It was the last room on the left at the far end of the school with lots of windows through which could be seen trees stretching far into the distance. Perhaps they thought I was the noisy type. Oh well ... they were right.

The surest way of keeping one's room forever is to paint permanent murals on every available space on every wall. Thus was the birth of the "Paintbrush Palace!" Being the territorial type, I immediately transformed an ordinary elementary classroom into a children's paradise complete with rainbows and sparkles. The storage cabinets became part of the palace by placing boxes cut into tower shapes on top of them.

This new theme approach really began to come alive in my mind as I thought about seeing students for less than an hour a week. How was I going to be an important part of their education? How could I capture their hearts and minds in less than an hour a week? How could I get these little creative characters to love me as much as I knew I would love them?

Thus was the birth of Queen Paintbrush herself. I was determined to capture their hearts right from the start. I didn't want them to like art; I wanted them to love it! By this time I had thought up the Royal Password ("Purple Cow" ... shhhhh, it's a secret!) that must be whispered by each student in order to gain entrance to the Royal Palace. The Palace theme song is sung to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel."

Purple Cows are welcome here

And so are funny faces.

Lines and shapes and strawberry grapes

This is the artroom! We sing this at the close of every class. if I forget, my students remind me.

Our first art experience was to make and decorate (with glitter, metallic paper and gold markers) a royal crown just like the Queen's. After all, these students were no longer merely boys and girls coming to art class. There were lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, knights and maidens, damsels and dragonslayers, counts and countesses or princes and princesses! I had six tables with five students at each. The signs above the tables (color coded for the primary youngsters) tell the students which title has been bestowed upon them. Each student is addressed as Sir or Lady in front of his/her first name at all times in the palace. A giant green stuffed frog looks regally from the center of the palace with a crown that says Prince Emerald. He accompanies the Queen to bus duty and assemblies. He comforts crying children and eats the flies that enter the palace from time to time.

A "time-out" chair displayed in the front of the room beside the Queen's desk is labeled Dungeon. Any royal subjects who misbehave or ignore the palace rules must occupy the Dungeon for a designated period. Palace rules are displayed in plain sight on the board in front of the royal subjects. Rules such as "When the Queen is talking, you are not," make life in the palace relatively calm for all of us.

Smocks are referred to as "donning the royal robes" and must be worn into the palace in case of a "royal mess." The Queen's robe is a lab coat in Prince Emerald's favorite color, green. And the royal bugle sound, "TatataTAta," signals cleanup.

It is not the physical presence of Queen Paintbrush in the Paintbrush Palace that has captured the interest and hearts of the boys and girls at LaGrange Elementary. It is the concept and the freedom within that concept to imagine all sorts of wonderful things that makes this approach a smashing success. One mother approached me in awe as she explained to me that her child's reaction to the first day of school centered around her experience at the Paintbrush Palace. No mention was made of the new teacher, fellow classmates or the school itself. How powerful is the human imagination and our desire to escape into fantasy and wonder! I am called everything from "Mrs Queen Paintbrush" to just plain "Queen." It becomes comical when I run into students with their parents in town. It is not uncommon for them to run up and wrap their arms lovingly around my legs as they attract the attention of every person within a five mile radius by yelling, "It's Queen Paintbrush, Mommy!"

My colleagues have participated beautifully in my attempts to create a totally creative and fulfilling art experience for my young students. When they drop the students off at the palace, they are confident that the students will return from art class enthusiastic and full of news about the Queen and what they did together that day.

Parents have responded positively and have supported my program by providing much-needed materials or time as room Moms and Dads. How I wish I had eight arms and legs when I work with those little ones! A parent in the classroom provides that extra pair of hands that allows me to spend more time on instruction and detail. A letter home that first week of school explaining my approach and my hopes for their children brought the parents right into the swing of things and made that first Open House a worthwhile encounter. Monthly letters from the Queen keep parents and staff members involved and contribute to the success of the program as a whole.

The amount of energy required to maintain a totally nuts and bolts creative approach to art education is phenomenal. I am constantly on my toes in an attempt to provide each new class with that total experience that begins right outside the art room door with the royal password, and ends with the Palace Theme Song as they leave to reenter the real worlds of the elementary classroom.

Will they remember Queen Paintbrush years from now when the world has a hold on them and they are reaching for the stars? I certainly hope so.


Dear Parents,

I am looking forward to a fantastic year with your children as they delight in each new challenge that they are presented with. Their enthusiasm and willingness to learn inspires the energy that I need to maintain their interest as we paint, draw, cut glue, fold, etch, mold clay and IMAGINE together.

Parental involvement is the factor that can turn any good art program into a GREAT art program! Your response to your child's work, whether it be scratches and scribbles or faces and figures, is of major importance in the overall art experience. Therefore, I am soliticiting your involvement.

Here's how you can help.

* When your child brings home a piece of artwork from the classroom or from the "Palace." Focus less on content and more on the child's experience in connection with that artwork. Comment on the use of COLOR, SHAPES. TEXTURES, BRUSHSTROKES, BALANCE, DESIGN, CONTRAST, and FEELING contained in the work. Ask the child to tell you about the art project and listen for cues to question further. Avoid saying things like, "What is it supposed to be?" This implies that the child did not reach a goal or satisfy some visual requirement while he/she was enjoying an art experience.

* Display your child's work in a place where it can be seen often by friends and family members. Comment on the artwork as often as possible and be sincere and specific. Remarks Such as, "Those colors remind me of the most beautiful sunset I ever saw as we drove across country last summer, remember? I'm so glad you chose to combine them that way," help to focus the child on the success of his creative communication! How comforting it is to be validated!

* Visit the Palace on Open House or during the school year to see the activity in motion. I would LOVE to have some room mothers or fathers if there is anyone in the Kingdom who has always wanted to be a part of a busy, active, sometimes messy artroom! It gets hectic at times with thirty children and one tiny sink!

* Provide your child with creative materials to work with at home. A file box filled with art supplies makes a great holiday or birthday gift and will encourage the child to work independently on art projects. Begin with the basics such as scissors, construction paper, glue stick, colored pencils, markers, crayons, pencils, ruler erasers and sharpeners, and add extras like pipecleaners, clay, colored wire, glitter, watercolors, etc. as time goes on. Ask your child to draw for you whenever possible. For example, he/she might be asked to design the family holiday card this year, or design some picture cards for little brother, or an older child might want to design the birthday invitations this year. This is the highest compliment you can give a young artist.

* Plan a family trip to a nearby museum or gallery and allow your child to examine the works of artists and painters. Children's museums are great for involvement and experience as well. Ask your child to describe the work of art from his/her perspective. (What do you like about this painting? Would you hang this work of art in your room? What would you ask the artist if he were here right now? How does this painting make you feel?) Zoos, botanical gardens and parks provide great visual stimulation. Bring a sketchbook along!

* Keep a collection of your child s artwork. It will be a source of pleasure and delight, not only for the child in later years, but for you as well. Drawings provide a unique tangible record of the child's growth and development.

Well, I hope these tips are helpful to you as we attempt together to open new doors into the imaginations of our children. As the new Art Specialist here at LaGrange Elementary, I can honestly say that in my fourteen years of working in the classroom, I have never seen a more creative and innovative faculty! It is a pleasure to be here, and I look forward to meeting each and every one of you!


<ADD> Kathryn L. Prisco "Queen Paintbrush" </ADD>

Kathi Prisco is the art teacher at LaGrange Elementary School, LaGrange, New York.
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Title Annotation:includes teacher's letter to parents
Author:Prisco, Kathi
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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