Teacher offers art instruction for kids

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2004

Summer is in full swing, and for many kids school has become a blissfully hazy memory. But just because they're not boarding a yellow bus and heading off to school doesn't mean they can't still be learning.

That's where Stephanie Cox comes in. Cox is a certified kindergarten through eighth-grade teacher with an art endorsement and is putting that experience to use this summer by offering a variety of art classes for kids at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

In the realm of summer activities for kids, the term "art classes" can encompasses everything from popsicle stick crafts to in-depth instruction on art forms, techniques and history. Both ends of the spectrum foster creativity and have the added bonus of giving parents a respite from kids' summer squirreliness, but with the more in-depth instruction, kids generally take away more from the experience than just the art project they made.

Cox designs her program to be more in-depth. In her two week classes, she incorporates art history, criticism, aesthetics and production into her lessons. Cox says she also uses her teaching background (she taught at Kenai Middle School until her position was cut two years ago) to make her lessons comply with national visual arts educational standards.

"I hope it to be more than where some people do just the craft," Cox said. "I don't want it to be them saying, 'Oh, I'm just coming to make something.' I want it to be that they're learning something behind it and growing in art and thinking critically in other subjects, as well."

Cox says she realizes some families' schedules are too hectic to commit a child to a full two weeks of classes, so she offers one- and two-day sessions, as well. In them, Cox tries to condense the content of the longer classes. The short sessions end up being more production-oriented, but she still squeezes in some art history and criticism instruction.


Stephanie Cox helps Mika Morton with a seascape in a watercolor painting class Saturday at the Kenai Fine Arts center.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

She offers a variety of classes that cover a range of mediums and methods, including hand-built pottery, batik techniques and design, Georgia O'Keeffe painting, charcoal animals in motion and printmaking. Classes are offered to kids as young as kindergarten-age on up, though generally eighth-graders tend to be the oldest to sign up, Cox said. That's quite an age range to instruct, but Cox said she finds kids are adept at understanding art concepts, no matter their age.

In her Georgia O'Keeffe lesson, for instance, younger and older kids usually make the same observations about her colorful floral paintings.

"Kids always pick out the same things, they all notice the same things ... so concept-wise, they really can understand that," Cox said. "When it comes down to technique, that's where it's up to the individual child."

On Saturday morning, Cox taught a watercolor painting class to kindergarten through third-graders. During the first part of the session, Cox showed the kids different painting techniques, like stippling, dry brush and using various materials to create effects including tape, crayons, plastic wrap and salt. She showed them examples of paintings created using those techniques her own and from famous artists.

When the kids were turned loose to try their hands and brushes at watercolor painting, the world was their oyster or jellyfish, for one little girl to paint. Cox encouraged them to at least try all the techniques she'd demonstrated, but it was up to them to decide how to go about it. Some very studiously attempted to emulate the pictures and master the examples she'd showed them, while others chose a more free-form, "this is a pretty color," approach.

Whatever method they chose, Cox and her assistant were there to facilitate the kids' artistic impulses, whether it was by providing supplies, giving tips or just telling them they were doing a good job.

"It's really up to the individual child how they use it, but they all come out looking great," she said.

In Cox's opinion, when it comes to kids and art, encouragement can be about as important as learning techniques. She said she gets calls from parents wanting to sign one of their kids up for a class because they're really interested in art, while their siblings don't seem to be. That's great for the child who already enjoys art, but Cox said it's important for parents to encourage the other kids to give art a try, as well. If kids are not encouraged to be artistic at a young age, they can develop a lifelong stigma that they're not good at art.

"I really encourage children who may not necessarily feel like they're totally gifted in art because, like I tell parents, every child can be an artist," Cox said. "... I really encourage parents to encourage all their kids to do it, especially if they're feeling hesitant or feeling like they can't do it. It's really important to encourage them and say, 'Yes, you can."

The result of such encouragement can be that kids become enthusiastic young artists.

"None of them have ever said, 'Oh I don't like this. I don't want to do this,'" Cox said of her class participants. By middle school, some kids have developed a stigma that they're not good artists so they can be a challenge to get to do projects, but Cox said younger kids have no trouble enjoying art.

"I've never had younger kids tell me they don't like it," she said. "Usually they have a great time and most don't want to leave."

For more information and a list of Cox's upcoming classes, see the art briefs, page B-3, visit Cox's Web site at http://arts express.tripod.com, e-mail her at artroom@acsalaska.net or call her at 260-7459.

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