Longfellow Elementary School fourth grader, Eva Spangler, loves digging into art teacher Jenny Raia’s classroom scrap bin.
“Those are my favorite materials because I like to choose the colors and textures and make lots of collages,” Spangler says. “I actually wish we had art more often, like maybe two or three hours every week, ’cause kids need a chance to be creative, and let everything out, you know.”
Spangler says she assuages and sublimates all that at home, by regularly booting up the software program Photoshop to create “very fun” virtual collages of flowers, penguins, pandas and greyhounds, her latest themes.
Michael Robot, however, says he is drawn to building anything out of paper, clay, rolled up old magazines…whatever.
Thanks to what he’s learned from veteran art teacher Raia about the principals of proportion and perspective, he has built a likeness of the Willis Tower out of wood.
“Yeah, in Ms. Raia’s art class I like the 3-D stuff we are doing, especially what we are working on now, which is a 3-D lizard’s tail,” says fourth grader Henry Thompson from a nearby seat. “And then we will make the legs and then the head.”
Likewise, classmate Madeleine Niewoehner says she “likes how we can do 3-D things in this class, and have learned how to make them link, because when you do that it is like a slinky,” she says, demonstrating it.
Inspiring her students to actually see, feel and touch art in all its forms first, before choosing to do art by touching the flat screen of a computer, is this 10-year, tenured art teacher’s aim. Although, the use of technology, is a go-to tool in her classroom, too.
“It’s nice because when we are talking about drawing a figure, for example, I was able to talk to the kids about careers for artists where they would need to be able to draw the figure, things like fashion design and sports illustrations, and because I have a smart board, I am able to pull up examples very quickly and project the images of different fashion designers, for example, and show them what the designers’ sketches actually look like, because we were talking about proportions and how you draw the human body,” Raia says.
And so, in her classroom at Longfellow, art goes and grows.
“I am a very firm believer that kids should not be having virtual art drawing experiences until they have authentic, real world drawing experiences,” says Raia, who is also an Oak Park mom with two young school age children. “It’s great to have art programs on a computer for kids as an option, but I would rather see them doing some kind of photo shopping or moviemaking, or digital collage…and there are some great apps that do just that. They are very straight forward and allow kids to put together these really interesting compositions.”