There’s no instruction manual on how to teach meaningful art classes to kindergarteners and first and second graders when they’re not in the schoolhouse.
John Preusch, art teacher at Davis School, had to figure it out as he moved through the year of the pandemic.
“I really had to make the kids more independent this year and focus on being creative, having fun make the choices that you feel are best,” Preusch said. This is his seventh year in Bedford, and he said, “This district has been very supportive of the arts since I got here.”
For most of the year, he has taught remotely from his classroom, which is vacant, because the students were either at home or spread around two other rooms at Davis. “The only way to fit all the specials (like art or music) in was to teach over Zoom to multiple classrooms at one time. And I had to tailor everything to make sure kids could do things with what they had.”
“As things changed through the year – kids going from two days to five now — the way I’ve been teaching has changed,” Preusch said.
Now that most students have returned to school every day, “It’s a lot easier. I travel around and am teaching in person for the first time this year. We are able to do things we couldn’t do before – a lot more sculpture, 3-D stuff, clay, sculpture with paper. Things are more diverse. Kids have been really excited.”
Back in September, Preusch assembled “art bags” for students to use at home, containing sketchbooks and markers, paper, glue, scissors, colored pencils. “Everybody had the same thing to start with and could focus on choice.”
“We tried to order a bunch of things and not all of it was here in September. Some of it still isn’t here,” Preusch noted. “You’ve got to roll with the punches – what do we have now that I can make use of? I had a lot of paper left from last year.”
He explained that last fall, “everyone was doing school at home so everyone was buying students watercolors and crayons, and because a lot of stuff is manufactured in China, there were delays in shipping.”
“A lot of things I used to do wouldn’t really work over Zoom,” he related. “Some needed an adjustment. So I looked at it as an opportunity to freshen things up. It was certainly the most work I’ve done since my first year of teaching, planning new lessons, new curricula.” The students also did “a lot of drawing, a lot of collage, a lot of painting.”
Part of the curriculum is familiarization with noted artists, and the new models gave Preusch a chance to introduce some new names, “contemporary artists, artists with different backgrounds, artists from other parts of the world.”
Last spring his wife had a baby, “so it was certainly a strange, busy time for me,” Preusch related. “None of us had used Zoom before. It was mostly asynchronous work. I didn’t find out how we were doing things this year until late summer. It was certainly a challenge learning the technology and how we were going to make this work.”
Th students are back in the building, but there is still distancing in school. “In art class, the social aspect is a big part of the class,” Preusch said. “Traditionally we work at tables and we have discussions. We have gallery walks where kids look at each other’s work and give each other suggestions or compliments. It has been a lot harder this year to do that, harder for me to lead a discussion.”
“I think kids are excited to be back,” the teacher asserted. “Certainly it was tough for a lot of kids to not be in school with their friends.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763