I’ve mentioned this art class that I’m teaching a couple of times, but I haven’t really gone into detail yet. Now that we’re at the 1/3 mark or so and I’m sure that the parents aren’t going to run screaming, I wanted to blog a bit about it.
We’re having fun. I’m having fun! Pretty sure the kids are too, and I know the parents approve of how things are going, so that’s a win for me. It’s a weekly class with 6 students and a few tag-along siblings, so our house gets pretty full at class time.
I’ve never actually taught kids before – adults, yes, but not kids. This was a new thing for me, and I didn’t want to do it at first. Why? Because I am an introvert and I loath public speaking. Totally hate it. I get up in front of people and promptly lose any words from my head. I blush easily, and my hands start to shake. Not fun.
So if it’s not fun, why am I doing something that pushes me so far out of my comfort zone? Like everything else I do these days, I do it for my kids.
The Engineer complained last year that he had very few consistent friends. He liked going to playgrounds and meetups, but after we left there was no more contact. He had to start all over again with a new set of friends. That made me sad. He has several good friends that he sees often, but it was obviously not enough. So I set out to do something about it, because we couldn’t join any of the local classes due to our learning disabilities and sibling issues.
After thinking for a while about my skills and my choices, I decided that hosting and teaching an art class was the best way to get that consistent socialization that the Engineer seemed to be lacking. And I didn’t shoot for a short class – I offered a 32 week class (plus a final art show day) to span the entire school year from fall to spring.
This class isn’t just an art class though – it’s a combination of art history, learning art techniques, and smidgens of history, geography, chemistry, and life skills all smushed into an hour and a half. And I’ve learned along the way that my teaching style (or lack of it) actually works really well for this class.
All I know is 2e. I know how to promote active, hands-on learning in a fun way. To my surprise, even my neurotypical students prefer to learn that way! So here are a few things I’ve learned that might not be a big deal to you teachers out there who already know this stuff, but might be helpful to anyone else considering teaching a class.
- Given the choice, all of my students prefer to sit on a bouncy ball instead of a cushion on the floor. No big surprise there – and sometimes a bit of a problem because I only have 2 exercise balls. We’re learning life skills like sharing, taking turns, and all of those fun lessons that have absolutely nothing to do with art and everything to do with growing up.
- I can only talk for about 5 minutes before their eyes start glazing over. All of them. Their ages range from 5-10, and they simply cannot sit and listen for longer than that. And that’s fine, because I have no desire to talk for more than that anyway! While I need to start off the class with an informational basis, it’s not the focus of the class.
- Illustrating the topic with a short video is super helpful. The kids look forward to it, because I find cool, amazing videos for them to watch. I figure if I’m bored by people talking, the kids will definitely be bored too. Short is always best, because anything over 2 minutes tends to get the kids antsy.
- All of the kids do better with transitions if I give them a warning beforehand. My neurodiverse kids absolutely need that warning, but even the typical kids have difficulty transitioning from one thing to the next. We can’t jump into doing critique without my classic “Few minutes!” announcement (I always tell my kids ‘a few minutes until XYZ’ instead of giving them a specific time because it helps with their anxiety.)
- Routine matters. We’re flexible in how long we do things, but we always do them in the same order. The kids know what to expect. They know that when they come in, we start off with the pictures and discussion, then we go get the supplies out and get started with our project. They know that after finishing their project they have a few minutes down time, then we start critique. I’m not a very scheduled kind of person myself but I’m finding that it helps the kids feel comfortable.
- Critique time is absolutely important to them – they feel heard, valued, and appreciated. Even my sibling group asked for critique after they joined us for the rock painting class. They value that feedback!
- I don’t assume that the kids are incapable of doing the hard stuff. We did a wire portrait sculpture project in the style of Alexander Calder (contour line with a wooden base) and they did great! They needed a little assistance actually bending the wire for difficult spots, but they accomplished a rather difficult (sometimes high school level) project just fine.
- You can produce interesting, amazing art just using the basic student art supplies. Like Crayola brand supplies. People often shy away from doing art because of the costs – and it can get quite expensive. It doesn’t have to be. My students use a diverse range of materials, and they all do interesting work that isn’t easily identifiable as low vs high quality supplies. This project in the picture is a perfect example – it’s basic acrylic craft paint on a thin piece of plywood for our mural project. The kids are going to fill in the circle leaves.
The worst lesson I’ve learned so far is that my 2e son still struggles in a small class environment in his safe, home space. Sometimes class is overwhelming for him and he loses it. Because I’m the teacher, I’m limited in how I can respond to him and that’s frustrating. Class for him isn’t just about the art, it’s about learning how to cope with the situation in a safe place. It’s incredibly depressing as a parent to realize that even when you do everything right and provide the accommodations that your child needs, that it just isn’t enough. That they’re still not ready.
Like everything else we do, we’re still trying even though he struggles. Because he has to learn, he has to cope, he has to keep pushing himself. Otherwise it will never get better.
Interested in doing this kind of project yourself? Stay tuned – I’m pulling together the art curriculum that I’ve created for this class in a PDF format that you can download and run with. It’s set up to be very simple: an artist or technique for the class, topics to discuss (with answers because I’m cool like that) images to look at as a class, links to the videos and references I’m using, and specific project directions. It comes with a supply list, timeline, handouts and a few other goodies too – and best of all, it’s free! It’s huge, which is why it’s taking me so long to finish.