Art in Learning

Second-graders Use Art to Discover the World

Ridgeview Elementary art teacher Heidi Mitchell is awash in her students’ handiwork on display at the district’s Board of Education room

Prominently displayed in the hallway of the administration building and inside its Board of Education room are 50 paintings that staff members and parents alike consider treasured works. It’s art with a mission.

The two-dimensional creations are the handiwork of Ridgeview Elementary second-graders. Their artwork vibrantly portrays one of the themes Ridgeview Elementary art teacher Heidi Mitchell assigned to them: cityscapes, Australian Aborigines and Australian animals, including birds, turtles and jellyfish and dancers in the style of French artist Edgar Degas.

The paintings serve as a visual reminder to all of who they’re truly serving – the students, said Superintendent Gordie Nickels.

 Tips for Art Students

  • Don’t hold back — fill the entire paper with a drawing.
  • Essentially, there are three parts to a painting or illustration: the foreground, middle ground, and background.
  • Create the foreground first. This helps students plan which things should be closer or farther away.
  • Take good care of paintbrushes by cleaning them right away with soap and water.

Paintings that were finished on time and met the requirements of the assignment were framed and exhibited, said Mitchell, and admired by both parents and the school community.

“We sent letters to parents inviting them to the school to see the artwork because we want to celebrate children’s success,” said Mitchell. “We also want to continue to promote the visual arts and let our School Board see what’s happening in our program.”

Art Crosses Many Academic Subjects

Art is a launching pad for teaching other lessons, too. To illustrate her point, she holds renditions of two cuckoo birds kindergarten students created. This served as a gateway to teaching them about Mexican culture, one of the nations the birds inhabit.

“I always teach art as a cross curriculum,” said Mitchell. “I always want to support reading and writing. When my second-graders were learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they wrote a journal about why they admire him and drew pictures of him.”

When students made drawings of Australian people and animals, Mitchell cast a piece of carpet on the classroom floor and set reading materials on it and – viola! – they had their own “research rug.”

District art students proudly exhibit their artwork outside of Sparta, too, like at the Festival of the Arts, in downtown Grand Rapids, an event that draws an average of half a million people.

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