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Our Montessori Kindergarten Art Appreciation Program

One of the highlights of the kindergarten year here at CHMS in Reston is studying some of the great artists of the world.  The children truly love learning about art history and artists throughout the year. We have a entire hallway dedicated to their masterpieces, take a field trip to the National Gallery of Art to see the paintings first hand, and every May we host a Kindergarten Art Show for parents to view their children's accomplishments. It's during the Art Show that parents realize just how much time and effort their children put into their art work...

Each week throughout the school year, the children learn about the history of art. We start with a book called "The First Drawing" by Mordicai Gerstein and then we take a make believe field trip to the Lascaux Caves in France (a sight famous for Paleolithic cave paintings). The caves were discovered in the 1940s by young boys who were out exploring the area when one of their dogs fell into a hidden underground cave.  Our kindergarteners are always surprised to learn that one of the greatest discoveries in art history was made by chidlren.

We set up a room across the hallway from the classroom with posters of Cave Art, turn off all the lights (it has no windows so it's really dark), and take the kids on an adventure to see what we can discover. We bring along a flash light and gather together in the center of the room to "ooh" and "aah" over the amazing images we are finding on the walls of the "cave" we have stumbled upon. It's always a fun day, and a wonderful, hands-on introduction to art history that the children remember and talk about all year.

Next we learn about Functional Art, which is anything that serves a purpose and has been decorated. We show examples of items that are plain and compare them to ones that have been decorated - a wooden bowl vs. a carved wooden bowl, a plain white porcelin vase vs. one that has been elaborately painted and decorated. We look around the school for all types of examples to use: flower pots, clocks, trays, anything we can find. We ask the children to think about things in their homes that might be considered Functional Art. They are interested to learn that a long, long time ago, people started creating tools and items to help them in their daily lives (bowls, baskets, clothing, etc) and at some point along the way, they decided that making those items beautiful was also important. Between the Cave Art and the Functional Art we establish that humans have been creating art for a very long time and in many different ways and now WE, the kindergarten class, are a part of that history as well.

We then begin our study of the lives and works of famous artists - some of whom are Johannes Vermeer (Golden Age), Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt (Impressionism), Vincent Van Gogh (Post-Impressionism), and Pablo Picasso (Cubism). We use a series of books called "Getting to Know the Worlds Greatest Artists" by Mike Venezia. Each book is about an individual artist, with details of their lives, pictures of his or her most famous works, and a few cartoons sprinkled throughout to add a little kid-humor. The children love these stories and learn so much about the artists in a fun way. We introduce artists that have an interesting story that might capture their interest like Rousseau, who never had a single art lesson and never traveled anywhere, yet painted incredibly imaginative jungle scenes, and Pippin, who was injured in World War I and had to use his left hand to support his right hand when he painted. These little details stick with the children and really leave an impression. Monet is a regular favorite and seeing "The Japanese Footbridge" during our field trip is always a highlight for the children. We also share with the children a portfolio of post cards of the artists' work to further tell the story of the artists.

We spend a month on each artist learning about their style of art and what makes them unique.  We usually have three or four art projects where we try our hand at the artist's unique style. Several of them are group projects, like the large "murals" of the Japanese Foot Bridge by Claude Monet and Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. The rest are individual projects. We draw their attention to little things and think about how the artist was feeling or what they were thinking/doing when they decided to create their paintings. We use the "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artist" series of books as well as books by Laurence Anholt to get to know who these artists where in an effort to better understand some of the choices they made about their art and what might have happened in their lives to motivate them artistically in some way. We also demonstrate specific techniques each artist used to create their works. The children can reproduce the works at the easel, just like they see the artists do at the National Gallery of Art during our field trip. 

During our field trip in the spring, the children recognize and know the stories about many of the pieces that they see.  The museum tour is led by a docent, and the children each receive their own sketch book to use as they learn more about these paintings during our time there. 

The children gain a true appreciation for art throughout their kindergarten year, and we have as much fun with the studies as they do.  It is such a joy watching them so engaged and learning to love the world of art.


You can read about our kindergarten program on this blog post or on our website. Please contact us to learn more!