My family had the opportunity to visit Monet and the Impressionists at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney on the weekend and my 4 year old daughter’s enthusiasm to learn (without this ever being discussed) was both a joy and instructive to the educator within.
I always get an audio guide – when available at galleries and museums – and before long Lucy wanted to know what it was. We ended up going back out of the exhibit to get her one of the junior ones (certainly not designed for a 4 y.o) and I am so glad we took the trouble to do this.
She enthusiastically sought out the audio icons and listened patiently to every minute of recorded information asking the occasional question – what’s a beret? What I found fascinating was how she had to grapple with the number pad to type in the code for each painting but soon was self-sufficient. There was more numeracy in a trip to the art gallery then I’d ever have imagined.
After we had exhausted the possibilities of each different phase of Monet (and his colleagues) artistic development I asked Lucy which was her favourite(s). She instantly said, ‘the one with the girl reading’ and we had to go back to the start of the exhibition to see August Toulmouche’s, “The Reading Lesson”.
Thinking about her choice later in the day it was evident that of all the topics and subjects explored the most familiar to Lucy’s life was not a cathedral in Rouen or a haystack or a pond but the image of a girl reading. My bespectacled little angel has had her nose in a book since…well, always.
As we wandered around the free exhibits my observations of Lucy and thoughts about constructivist notions of learning were interrupted by a squeal from Sarah who was babbling something about The Upside Down Show. She had spotted that massive painting by Jean Baptiste Édouard Detaille that had featured in the show. The next 20 minutes was spent with Kate showing them where the episode was filmed and spotting other paintings. We watched the ‘Art Gallery’ episode again on the weekend and the girls had a different, deeper understanding after the day, one would imagine.
Kids (and adults too) build on what they know and their brains connect experiences, if they have the opportunity to choose, discuss and enjoy. Learning needs to integrated, holistic and fun. It needs to be relevant and real. Numeracy, culture, art, tv shows, creativity and technology can be seamlessly part of the one experience.
When we returned home, the girls painted en plein air for two hours. Maybe all of us (educators) would do well to remember Monet’s advice:
“I would advise young artists . . . to paint as they can, as long as they can, without being afraid of painting badly . . . ”
The SMH has a good video introduction to the exhibition by the curator that is brief and worth looking at if you are interested.