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Preschool Arts: 'This is practice. We’ll learn from it.'
Video by Jesse Paddock | Story by Dylan Howlett

 

 


Preschool Arts

Preschoolers explore a variety of arts through both Enrichment classes and in their regular classrooms. Here, Preschool visual art and cooking teacher Elizabeth McCleod leads kindergartners through the Paralympics project, a dynamic painting exercise that has fast become a favorite kindergarten tradition. The Preschool arts curriculum introduces a variety of media for exploration, including drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, clay and sculpture. All Preschool students participate in visual art class twice a week.

Preschoolers also enjoy music class — which integrates song, speech, instruments and movement — twice a week. And class plays — typically adapted from a beloved children’s book or folk tale, with each student playing a speaking part — offer pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students the chance to begin honing their theatrical chops.

 

Elizabeth McLeod’s Classroom

“If you have long sleeves,” Preschool art and cooking teacher Elizabeth McLeod tells her assembled class of kindergartners, “this is a good chance to roll them up.”

It’s time for this group to experience a Preschool art tradition: the Paralympics project, a celebration of the tenacity and perseverance of athletes with disabilities. The project dovetails with kindergarten’s Global Citizens unit — which highlights cultural similarities and differences at home and around the world, providing a framework for exploring other countries.

The artistic directive is simple, though it allows students to experiment with colors and patterns: Choose a printed black-and-white photo of a Paralympian and use paint to cover everything except for the athlete and their equipment. During a future class, students will use paint pens to create additional patterns that call attention to the athleticism of the photo’s subject. “Don’t rush,” McLeod says to students before they begin. “We want to celebrate with really beautiful colors.” But the project is not an exercise in perfectionism. “What happens if we accidentally paint on the athlete?” one student asks. McLeod smiles. “We’ll just go with it,” she says. “This is practice. We’ll learn from it.”


Students retrieve cups of paint from a table at the back of the room. One student selects a “peaches” color. It’s her grandmother’s favorite. They dip their brushes and splash the once-monochromatic photos in paint to bring the athletes to life: sprinters bounding ahead on carbon prosthetics, archers flexing bows with their feet and toes, table tennis players holding a paddle between their teeth. It is both an exploration in color and technique. One student turns to a classmate and expresses their concern about covering up too much of their athlete. The classmate grabs their own brush. “Wipe it off when it’s wet! See? I got it a little on my hockey stick, but I wiped it off when it was wet and it’s OK!”

McLeod reviews each painting to ensure the paint stretches all the way to the edges. She directs students to smooth out any blobs or clusters of excess paint, and she monitors closely for consistency — both in approach and paint texture. “This paint is already wet,” she tells one student. “You don’t want to make it too wet and too thin.” Students who finish gather on the carpet to read a book or play with building blocks. One student, Sinachi, remains at her table, her eyes fixed on her painting as she creates a rainbow-like array in the top-right corner. She paces back and forth between her seat and the tray of paint cups to make sure she has the exact pattern she envisions. “You take your time,” McLeod said. Great art requires great patience.


McLeod started the project several years ago when she saw an artist on Instagram who painted patterns over magazine photos. Throughout the project, she’ll show students highlight reels from the Paralympics to broaden student awareness of athletes with disabilities. The portal of art, and its capacity for human connection, is bottomless. One student found McLeod at the end of a recent class. “I’m not gonna just watch the Olympics this summer,” the student said. “I’m gonna ask my parents to also watch the Paralympics.”

Learn more about the arts at DA Preschool at www.da.org/academics/preschool#E, and about Durham Academy’s arts offerings across divisions at www.da.org/arts.