FAQ: Toddler Art Class

What is Toddler Art Class?
The Madison Public Library began leading Toddler Art Classes in the fall of 2011.  The goal of these classes is to introduce toddlers (and the adults who bring them) to a variety of art experiences in which the process is valued more highly than any finished product that might emerge.

Why teach art classes at the library?Libraries have always had a reputation for being places of learning. Traditionally, the books housed in libraries have been perceived as the library's main purpose, and indeed books are a great way to learn. However, in today's increasingly digital world, it is important to remind everyone that valuable learning also takes place outside of books and libraries are a great source of person-to-person learning experiences. The learning that takes place in libraries is what keeps this institution relevant in a world where access to books is changing rapidly.

I want to teach Toddler Art Classes at my library, what supplies do you recommend?
At a minimum, I'd recommend getting paint (tempera paint, primary colors plus black and white), a class set of paint brushes, and heavy paper (someone once donated a stack of thin cardboard sheets that came tucked into her husband's dry cleaned shirts--they were perfect for painting on!).  I also love the canvas dropcloths that my maintenance department provided to protect our carpets!  Beyond that, the supplies you use are really dictated by the projects you choose.  Look through the books on our Recommended Books and Website lists for inspiration.  If you can afford it, I also highly recommend investing in some short tables (16-22" height).  Toddlers work best when standing at tables that are at their height.  I was able to find some lightweight folding tables that adjust up to adult height if necessary and they have already proven to be well worth the money (around $100 apiece)!

What does a typical class session look like?
1. I have them write their name with crayon on a simple geometric shape cut from milk filters (http://www.farmandfleet.com/products/140183-ken-ag-15-transfer-system-milk-filters.html#.UW21vvJRpD4) as they enter the room.
2. We start the class with a hello song where we greet each child by name (see next question, below)
3. I read a picture book
4. I present the art materials and suggested activities (and include a subtle heads-up to parents about unexpected ways their child might interact with the materials and assure them that this is normal and totally acceptable in the class -- "You might decide that you'd rather throw the confetti into the air instead of gluing it onto the paper and that's fine"!).
5.  Then, I explain the "adult challenge of the week" and we go straight to the art project.  I try to get to the hands-on stuff as quickly as possible because otherwise the kids get antsy AND they do their best learning that way anyway. 
6. After that, the class is pretty self-directed.  Kids interact with the art materials however they want to (as long as it doesn't do any harm to themselves, other people or the room) until they're ready to leave.  For some kids (on some days, with some projects), that's three minutes.  Others stay until I have to gently nudge them out the door before the next class begins.
Soooo.... what's your hello song?
Our hello song for this class is sung to the tune of "Goodnight Ladies" (here's a clip of the original song if you're not familiar with it) and has these lyrics:
Hello __________ (first child in the circle)
Hello __________(second child in the circle)
Hello __________(third child in the circle)
Come put your name [or shape] on the board.

When the verse is over, those three children are invited to come up and stick their name on the flannelboard.

Should I limit attendance/require pre-registration? How many participants do you recommend?
There is a very high demand for these classes at my library, so registration is an absolute necessity.  I limit my class size to 15 toddlers, partly because that's a nice group size for that age group, and partly because I only have three toddler-height tables and don't want to squeeze more than 5 kids (plus their families) around each table.  I do generally have three programs, back-to-back (9:30, 10;30 and 11:30) so that I only do one main set-up and clean-up per day (with mini-clean-ups between each class).  Each class lasts about 30-45 minutes, but some kids get so involved with their projects that they stay a little longer.  I love to see such engaged learners!

I'm not really an artistic person.  Can I still teach Toddler Art?
I highly recommend reading First Art by MaryAnn Kohl (see recommended books section).  Especially read the introduction where she introduces the philosophy of "process over product."  I think you'll agree that you don't need to be "artistic" to be able to provide toddlers an opportunity to play with art.  Plus, she offers tons of fantastic project ideas, along with recipes and instructions and supply lists.  Then, just match the project you'd like to do with a toddler-appropriate picture book and watch the magic unfold!

If you have further questions, feel free to e-mail me at: cchristner{at}madisonpubliclibrary.org

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