On a recent sunny Wednesday evening, a group of staff members and members of community arts organizations generously volunteered their time to allow a group of about 150 people, families of students at the school, to have an evening of family art night. The image of those families making art together warms my heart and confirms a belief I have held for years now – families need shared art-making experiences.
Over 15 years ago, I got trained in a music program designed for families of children under the age 6 to come together to dance, sing and play instruments. Sometimes it would just be mom or dad that would accompany the child but other times it would include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, older siblings and even friends. For 45 minutes they would make music and engage in musical play with each other. I had been a classroom teacher for over 5 years at that point seeing students learn in isolation rather than with their families.
Once I started teaching those early childhood music classes, I was so enthralled with the idea of this kind of family learning experience. What made me sad, however, was that once the children reached school age, that shared family experience was over. That’s not to say that these families didn’t continue to make music together outside of class but so often once children are in school other lessons and sports and homework take over any spare time. Families lead busy lives. So, when my elementary school had the opportunity to host a family art night sponsored by P.S. ARTS out of Los Angeles, I was happy to do what I could to make it happen.
That night the families learned about 2 artists and then engaged in an art project inspired by those artists that were simple enough for even the youngest participants but open-ended enough to engage artists of any age. I wandered around the room and watched an amazing variety of art being created. I heard whole families chatting, sometimes about the art and sometimes not. I witnessed smiling faces and a high level of engagement.
At the conclusion of the evening, I listened as the children presented their work with confidence speaking into the microphone in this room full of people while the proud parents recorded the experience on their phones. Some families donated their work for us to use as a display at school. Other families talked about bringing their artwork home to frame it. Either way, they not only each had a beautiful piece of art they created but they had this shared learning and art making the experience as a precious memory and an experience that could be built on with future experiences.
Yes, it was a long day for those who work in the school and had stayed through to help. Yes, it was a good deal of work to organize (and we didn’t even have to prepare the art materials or design the project!). Still, having witnessed the experience, I can say that it is a worthwhile investment of time. In the days that followed I had families asking when the next family art night would happen! If we can raise the money, I would love for the school to host yet another evening of art-making.
Any time we can lure families to the school for a positive experience that the whole family can share, it is worth the effort to make it happen. If your school has never tried an art night, I highly recommend it. Try it, you’ll like it! And so will your families!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.