Squaring off with Mondrian

Article excerpt

Nine years ago I moved from one state to another and changed grade levels. On returning to the elementary level, my biggest concern was the lack of curriculum for kindergarten. My challenge was to re-learn what a kindergartner could understand and build on. What was at first a dread, has now become my greatest joy. A major goal I have for kindergarten is that all students learn to recognize and create the following: a portrait, a landscape, a still life, and a sculpture. I also introduce the concept of abstraction to this age group.

In kindergarten, to teach primary colors, I turn to Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. His use of line, geometric shapes, and primary color are the perfect vehicle for learning more than red, yellow, and blue. I showed my young students the beginning drawings and paintings of the artist. We looked at trees, landscapes, houses--all familiar objects to a five year old. I had three goals for this class to learn: the primary colors, the art element line, and the artist by name.

As we turn the pages of the book the artwork begins to become more abstract. Abstraction is a difficult word and concept for kindergartners but I explain it this way: I ask who likes and eats ice cream? All hands go up. Then I ask who drinks milk? Again, a connection takes place. We have a conversation about those two foods items and then I ask, "What happens when you mix the milk and ice cream together?" Some students know you get a milkshake. "That," I explain," is an abstraction." You know you are eating milk and ice cream but they have both changed the way they look and taste. That is what an artist does with pictures of people, houses, and animals. They change them by using colors and lines and shapes so you kind of know it's a picture of a person, place or thing, but not exactly. …