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" At Sycamore, art history as a specific course begins in fourth grade
with an introduction to the nature of art-historical inquiry and then a
year studying Tribal Arts, Central and South American art, African art (and its
influence on modern and American art), Native American art and the arts of
China and Japan..." etc
Hi Eileen! Don't I (and I'll bet alot of other art educators out there)
wish that the curriculum in our schools was designed in the same way as
that which you described. The schools I have had experience with
simply do not offer Art History per se until the secondary level. What
a shame. Your program and the support you receive from other teachers
and the administration in your school sounds exemplary and quite
In schools where there is not such a curricular design and the absence
of district and administrative support, the thematic model seems to
work very well. I know alot of teachers who use it quite skillfully to
incorporate art history and art appreciation into their curriculum. I
do think that in the best of both worlds one can teach thematically, and
still impart to students the place in the "big picture" where particular
artists, styles or movements fit. However, I have to agree with you
"People will tell you that children do not think sequentially. I'm not surprised
since programs are rarely structured to help them do so."
It has been my experience that children can indeed think sequentially,
and very young children can grasp more than we give them credit for.
The children in my classes at the museum quite often suprise me with their
knowledge of sequential development in art. I love hearing my four and
five year olds, when talking about different styles of artwork,
explaining to their parents "which came first." In fact two of the more
common questions children ask me in the galleries are, "which came first"
or "how old is this work compared to that one?"
I think it is very important to make these kinds of sequential connections
in looking at works of art, not just with children but also with our
adult visitors to the museum. Very often so-called "styles" or
"movements" have been influenced by those that have come before. Children
naturally make those kinds of connections in learning. It seems to me that
reinforcing this natural process makes the child's experience with a work of art
more meaningful, and in making the information meaningful, learning is
"I explained that this approach IN NO WAY precludes the use of themes -
in fact, important eras practically supply their own."
This is so true!!
" As far as engaging the kids in an historical approach, I have never had
that problem. I had horrible history teachers until I got to college, so maybe
that's why I love to make history fascinating to my kids. I always throw in
lots of appropriate trivia in my introductions - like what a kid their age
would have been doing in Ancient Egypt or Greece, or all the gory details
of mummification. With all the other classes covering the same period, I
have kids coming to my room dressed in chitons and cheering when I mention
Sparta or Athens, depending on which city-state they represent..."
I too have had no problem with engaging children in the historical
approach. I do alot of the same sorts of things you described in my
classes. For example this summer we made chitons to wear, and decorated
them with meandros inspired by those seen on ancient Greek vessels in the
galleries of the museum. We went upstairs to the galleries to look at
examples of pottery so we could plan which types of vessels we were
going to make based on their shapes and the functions we needed
them for. We played knucklebones, as did Greek women and children.
We made comedy and tragedy masks and put on a Greek play (the
story of King Midas) in the peristyle of the Museum and on the last day
had our own Olympics! The children in this class were from the ages of
four to six. Parents kept saying to me "We can't believe how much the
children are learning, and how many of the things they are telling us
we didn't even know."
In my Egyptian class each student made their own mummy, complete with
magical amulets, sarcophagus, ceremonial jewelry and burial mask. We wrote
pyramid scrolls in hieroglyphics. We drew ourselves using the Egyptian
canon for figural depiction. We made mummy "tags." We sculpted canopic
jars and designed our own pyramids. We dressed up in Egyptian costume,
as pharoahs, queens, scribes and priests. On the last day, we
performed the weighing of the heart ceremony on all the mummies
to determine if the mummy was to live on in the afterlife or be
devoured by the crocodile god... each child was able to explain to
their parents on the last day what each of the objects we made was and
its significance...and these were my second and third graders. I think
parents loved it almost as much as the children!
At any rate, it is great to hear that there are schools out there like
It gives me hope that other schools and districts can and will do the
Thanks for sharing your vision.
The Toledo Museum of Art
The University of Toledo