Saturday, April 11, 2009

Working with Children in Museums

Earlier this month my fellow Fulbrighter Christi Anne Hofland and I presented a workshop on working with children in museums at the National Art Museum of Ukraine. The plans for the workshop started with a request from staff member Anna Perekhodoko to learn more both about working with individuals with disabilities and with teenagers and then expanded to a broader focus on developing age-appropriate activities. I had asked Christi Anne to join me because her work her in Ukraine is focused on teaching art at a rehabilitation center in Ukraine, and she has taught art to diverse audiences back home in the US.

We began with a basic overview of child development, with images of appropriate activities from American museums (thanks to all those of you, and all those parents, who post images on Flickr. Great for my research). We also shared a video about Visual Thinking Strategies from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston--turns out that the staff at the art museum use VTS in their work as well.

Christi Anne then led the class through a drawing exercise, based on a very contemporary art installation (see the top image in this post). In general, much Ukrainian instruction is based on doing things the right way--even art--so Christi Anne's technique of beginning with a group drawing exercise and then asking them to complete the drawing in any way possible, was a great exercise that both made the museum staff participants feel comfortable but encouraged individual exploration.

We then divided the participants in small groups and asked them to find a work in the museum and to develop a way of looking at the artwork, developing a hands-on activity related to it, and considering what post-visit activities teachers could pursue in the classroom--but we requested that the materials for each painting be geared to a specific age group. Great, interesting ideas came from all the groups and we particularly appreciated the feedback from staff from an organization (or department) that deals with disabled individuals here in Kyiv, who offered to work with the museum staff in developing appropriate programs.

Some of the ideas: for very young students, looking at the painting with cows, learning to make cow sounds, and seeking out other paintings in the room with animals in them; for middle age students: considering the life of the older woman; exploring a reproduction trunk with her possessions, and writing an essay imagining her life; and for the violinist, for high school students, a discussion of the materials and process of production of the piece, beginning with observation that the bow of the violin is absent from the piece. In every small group project, the participants moved beyond the often typical old Soviet approach of directly providing the information to students--and encouraged them to consider the lives of those depicted in the paintings, forging a deeper connection to the works of art.