Imagination Used as Teacher; Waldorf Program Unique

Article excerpt

Byline: Maggie FitzRoy, Shorelines staff writer

Four-year-old Katie Marshall was finished with blue. Now she was about to tackle yellow. She dipped her paintbrush into some yellow paint, swept the brush across the paper in front of her, then smiled.

"My paint is making something different. Look what it's making," she shouted to her classmates, pointing to her green paper. "Do you like it?"

Katie's classmates' paintings actually looked a lot like hers. Monday was art day at The Seaside Playgarden in Jacksonville Beach and the dozen 3- to 6-year-olds in the preschool/kindergarten class were painting in the style of "wet on wet."

The goal of the technique is to let the children discover the appearance of secondary colors as they appear. The watercolor painting technique, using only a few primary colors, is characteristic of the unique teaching philosophy of the Waldorf Inspired Education school on Eighth Avenue South.

Waldorf education promotes learning through play, with the belief that "creative play is the true work of childhood."

Monday is art day at the school; Tuesday is bread-making day. On Wednesday, the kids color with beeswax candles. On Thursday they sculpt creations out of beeswax. And on Friday, they go to the park, sew toys and clean.

Walking into the converted 1930s-style beach-house-turned-school is like walking into the 1930s. Watching the children at The Seaside Playgarden is like watching children from another time.

There are no TVs or computers at the school. And there are no letters or numbers on the walls or anywhere else.

Imagination rules.

"Painting day, painting day . . . you'll need your smock on painting day . . . " teacher Sue McCann sang as she announced the children's next activity. As she repeatedly hummed and sang the words, the kids stopped playing with their wooden blocks and hand-sewn dolls, they crawled out of their silk scarf tents and they donned bright yellow art aprons.

They found their place at the wooden tables and waited for McCann and their other teacher, Sharon Elliot, to begin the lesson. While the weeks have "rhythms" at the school, so do the days. McCann had prepared each child's art paper in advance, placing each one on a special plastic tray and wetting it with a sponge.

And as the children settled into their seats, Elliot took a brush and began to paint her paper first, as a demonstration.

"Your paintbrush needs a bath before he goes out to play," Elliot said as she dipped her brush in water. Then she added blue paint.

"He tiptoes outside . . . "

Paint gobs spread across the wet paper.

"He tiptoes out to sea . . . "

More blue blotches.

"What is happening to the sky today . . . winter must soon go away."

Blue is winter's color, according to the school's art philosophy. But that day, in honor of Groundhog Day, the color yellow was introduced.

"Spring will be coming soon," Elliot said as she added yellow to her freestyle painting. Melding blue with yellow symbolized the hope of spring -- now it was time for the children to get their brushes.

They stood up and cupped their hands. The teachers placed the brushes in their hands in a ritualistic way, fluffy side up. Then they painted.

"We made green with the blue and yellow," Katie said when she finished. "It's a yellow and green and blue picture."

The emphasis was on playing with color, not creating an image of anything in particular. Using brushes and sponges, the kids painted at their own pace.

When they finished, they dumped their painty water into a bucket. Then Katie's sister, 6-year-old Grace Marshall, grabbed a wicker basket, tucked it under her arm and went to collect everyone's sponges.

"I like to collect their sponges, each and every one . . . when they're done," Grace sang over and over in a sing-song voice. …

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