Dana Lee is the mother of three, a teacher's aide at a coop preschool, and a designer and sewer of aprons, dresses, and headbands. Here she talks about sharing art and craft with her children and with the students at her preschool.
Note: Readers will have a chance to win a beautiful child's apron and headband set made by Dana at the end of this interview!
JEAN: Can you tell us about Parents' Cooperative Preschool and the role it has played in your family?
DANA: We are a parent-operated and play-based preschool for 2 ½ -5 year olds. The cooperative concept is based on bringing the parents of our students into the classroom to assist the teacher on a rotating basis, thus becoming an integral part of the child's learning experience. I have 3 children, ages 8, 6, and 3. My youngest is currently enrolled in the coop and my older ones also went through the program. Parents' Cooperative is very special to our family, and we love being a part of it. We've been thankful for the chance to participate directly in our children's early education. The transition from home to school seemed so natural, and we have been learning and growing together. My role has evolved from parent, to board member, to teacher's aide. Our website is http://www.parentscooperativepreschool.com/ if you'd like to know a little more about us or the cooperative philosophy.
JEAN: Can you tell us about the role that art plays at your preschool? How is it encouraged?
DANA: We incorporate both free art time and a craft into our daily routine. As the children arrive in the morning, the art area is one of a few centers they can explore.
The materials vary from day to day, depending on our theme. For example, to learn about shapes, we'll set out a caddy filled with markers and crayons along with heart-shaped doilies to color or make rubbings. There is play dough with a basket full of tools, including triangle-shaped cookie cutters. There's an easel set up for painting, using empty thread spools as stamps. A sensory table filled with rice that can be scooped with spoons (ovals). The children are invited to explore the materials freely. An age appropriate craft project incorporated into our morning also uses a variety of materials. We have made shape collages with construction paper scraps, a "melting" snowman painting with shaving cream just to name a couple. Our craft time is more teacher-led, but still leaves room for individual creativity. The craft is also a great way to communicate to the parents what their child is learning about. The children are excited to show off their creation, and the parents are just as excited to see it. (I read your discussion about art vs. craft. Personally, I agree with you 100%. I want to stress that we try to balance the two. We realize the importance of free art, and at the same time, a craft, done carefully and openly, can be just as free and educational.)
JEAN: What about the art that your children do at home? What are some of their favorite art activities?
DANA: Art is so important to our family, and my kids know that they are always free to do art. Our dining room table also serves as our art table (and it shows!). We store our art supplies in a closet adjacent to our kitchen/dining room, where everything is accessible to them in baskets. We call it "the art closet."
My kids seem to always be drawing or painting something, so in addition to the typical kids' brand art supplies, I think its important to have good quality drawing pencils, oil pastels, gum and kneaded erasers, different kinds of paint, canvases, brushes, etc. Also, good, old fashioned craft supplies like fabric scraps, ribbon, buttons, fun foam, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks always inspire them. Office supplies are also exciting-staplers, tape, paper clips, and sticky notes. It's a struggle to keep it all organized, but it's always full of inspiration.
We also display lots of their artwork at home. We hang the artwork on a wall outside our art closet and 3-D projects sit on the mantel.
JEAN: Do your children seem to have differing artistic inclinations and temperaments?
DANA: Yes, they each seem to be drawn to a certain medium more than others.
My 8 year old is very much into drawing right now. He takes pride in having his very own drawing journal and set of drawing pencils. He likes to draw in solitude, without distraction. Where he used to act out his imagination in play, I see it coming to life in his drawings.
My 6 year old loves scrapbooking. She likes to think of new ideas for a page and loves to pick out the paper, stickers, etc. The journaling on each page is also fun for her. Her personality is very bubbly, and it shows as she tries to make her pages as bright and cheerful as possible. She involves the whole family and tells us the story of each page.
As for my 3 year old-what else? Painting! It makes her so happy, and it truly is about the process. She will crank out the paintings, one after another, and not care if they all look the same. If I'm not really in the mood to mess with the real paint, sometimes I cheat a little and let her "paint" in other ways. Weather permitting, I'll give her a paintbrush and a little plastic cup filled with water so she can go outside and "paint" the deck, sidewalk, or even the house.
DANA: My kids and fabric. I like making things for my kids, and they like to get involved, so if we see something we like in a magazine or a store, they'll help me pick out the fabric, and I'll make it myself. I really love the textures, prints, and patterns of all kinds of fabrics. I could spend hours in a fabric store or on a fabric website and find so much inspiration. Sometimes it's hard for me to actually cut into a piece of fabric that I love, afraid that I won't do it justice. For that reason, I have a large stash of fabric just waiting to be made into something beautiful. When I finally decide on a project, sewing is a relaxing form of creativity for me.
JEAN: What do you think it's like for your children to be raised amidst your sewing, designing, and creating?
DANA: We enjoy it all together. They see how much joy sewing and creating brings me, that they want to be involved.
They like to help me pick out fabric, and my two oldest know how to sew a straight stitch on my machine (with supervision). The little one likes to sew (or "poke" the fabric as she calls it) with her big plastic needle, some yarn and an open-weave fabric. They have made their own pouches, wristbands, and headbands and are so proud to wear them.
We're also trying to teach ourselves how to knit and crochet, so that has become a frequent bedtime activity. I love to watch them concentrate on each stitch. I truly believe the creativity in our home helps them with all sorts of things like hand/eye coordination, spatial reasoning, art appreciation, and patience, just to name a few.
JEAN: Anything else you'd like to add?
DANA: I am thankful to have found your blog because it inspires me even more to incorporate art into my family's daily life and at our preschool. Thank you, Jean, for taking an interest in my artful life!
JEAN: Thanks Dana!! I really appreciate the time you're taking to share your experiences with me and Artful Parent readers! For more information about Dana, you can visit her blog at Dana Lee Designs or her Etsy shop. All artwork shown is by her three children.
Readers who leave a comment on this interview by Friday, April 4th, midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for this beautiful "Apples, Pears, & Polka Dots" apron and headband set, handmade by Dana. The apron fits approximately ages 2-6; the headband fits all ages. Don't you wish she made them in your size, too!