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Two Year Old Class SFMOMA

With the inauguration of the new museum building in 1995 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art began offering classes for children between the ages of 2 and 6 as part of the Family Programs and in conjunction with the School and Teacher Programs. The hour long classes took place in the Korete Center, a room with a studio like setting that was flooded with light. The classes, which included parent participation, were scheduled to meet the educational goals of the museum by bringing families with young children into the membership, and by providing opportunities for teachers, volunteers and interns to work with professional art educators, like Miriam de Uriarte, who developed the classes for the Education Department.

child drawingThe structure of the classes for early learners was influenced by the work that art educator Muriel Silberstein had done with older children at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. However, the objective was slightly different. Not only were the parents at SFMOMA to participate, the intent was to offer a learning opportunity regarding the spontaneous unfolding of 2 to 7 year olds graphic development so that they could be supportive of their toddler’s drawing. This freed them to playfully interact, confidently drawing with the appropriate art materials. The child and her parent shared the drawing paper and colorful chalks. The parent’s support made it possible for the child to become directly involved with markers, chalks and oil pastels fully sanctioned by her adult. Furthermore, this playful curriculum encouraged the young learner to imagine responses keeping her mind open to new possible solutions that can teach resourceful problem solving in the real world. It encourages flexibility and confidence necessary to meet the demands of a fast paced, ever changing future.

Through an introductory slide lecture where children’s art work served to illustrate movement from universal pre-pictorial forms to pictorial art making, parents were shown the natural evolution of graphic development in early childhood. This meeting, that preceded the first class, served to orient the parents. Discussion about instruction v.s. spontaneous play was encouraged. Here the importance of play was stressed. By having the child actively involved and inventing metaphors for various lines and forms the parent was assisting their child’s understanding of visual communication and the grasping of spacial concepts.

Roughly parallel to this flowering of understanding there does seem to be a gradual deepening of aesthetic awareness. The child’s perception of meaning moves from directly involved with exploring the media, to more interest in the subject matter and the rules that govern its expression. Each one of these “resting” plateaus of development can be significantly deepened, expressively and graphically, through exposure to and mastery of the simple basic tools that toddlers use to make art. However, all art instruction for early learners must be grounded in the senses as children between the ages of 2 and 5 are generally relaying on physical perception of the material - whether it is pleasurable or distasteful — to determine what the next step will be. They must determine what the possible forms are and become really good at drawing them, much as they do with sounds and structure of language — which they also teach themselves - before they can figure out how to manipulate form and composition.

tableThe classes were structured to include both two and three dimensional art making in an interactive way. Beginning at a long table covered with colored butcher paper children and parents drew, playing with different kinds of lines by using the motion of their arms to make the abstract marks, swirly lines and hopping dots, imagining what the marks could be.

“Mine is a kangaroo jumping.”
“A snail lives inside my purple swirly.”

The students accompanied their drawing with songs providing simple rhythms to move to. Songs like, The Wheels of the Bus or Itsy Bitsy Spider suggested easy motions. At various times during this drawing activity new materials were added to the surface of the paper and the activity was transformed into finger painting, or collaging.

Additionally children and parents painted with bright, bold tempera colors standing at a wall where large pieces of paper were attached. Hands, big watercolor brushes, sponges and rollers were used to work directly on the surface of the paper in a tactile way, playfully mixing the paint to discover new colors. Games were invented, “Close your eyes and guess what color I’m painting your fingers,” and, “Can you make this dot grow like a big seed all around the page?”

tableFinally, three dimensional building included working with wood scraps, cardboard shapes, boxes, and clay. These activities helped the young art maker acquire 3-D spacial concepts of “inside” and “outside”, “top” and “bottom” that typically unfold more slowly than two dimensional drawing perceptions. After gluing, building and clay exploration, the class ended with cookies. The children proudly carried off their works of art to be hung at home saying, “Look what I can do!”


SFMOMA, two and a half year old uses high contrast oil pastel to create pre-pictorial scribbles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Children’s Art Studio, class set up; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
SFMOMA, Three year old and mother use wood scraps to create three dimensional sculpture; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.