Letters From Camp: An Insider’s Perspective

Professional storyteller and educator Ann Marie Newman directs a gallery experience for summer art camp students.

Each year, the Family Experiences staff has the privilege of working with a wonderful and extremely talented group of summer camp interns. These dynamic individuals truly make up the heart and soul of our camps and are responsible not only for the day-to-day operation of the program but for also helping to make the connection between our campers and works of art something that is both enjoyable and transformative. We could not run our camps without them! This is the first in a four-part series written by our summer camp interns and reflecting on their experiences at the Museum.–JC

During my first week of camp, I worked with the 4-5 year olds in a camp called Art Lab. It was a camp in which science and art were used side by side to show how they related to each other. This is a pretty big idea for 4-5 year old to understand; however, I should never have underestimated their young minds.

There was one student in the class who was continually causing distractions or refusing to follow the rules. He loved ninjas and was very energetic and imaginative. He would continually talk while the teacher was talking or interrupt her to ask questions. He would run around and play fight with the other boys in the class, distracting them from their own work. He could never stay still in the galleries, and wanted to touch every single piece of art.

Eventually he needed to hold someone’s hand every time we went to the galleries, so I and the other intern would switch off holding his hand. He was such a ball of energy that by the time we would get back from the gallery our arms would be sore from all the spinning kicks and lunging punches he had been doing. He was always full of questions about what we were doing and why we had to be so quiet and still, and why he couldn’t pick the art that he wanted to see instead of looking at the art that the teacher wanted him to.

“Vishnu as Varaha”, 10th century, India: Madhya Pradesh, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation and the Alconda-Owsley Foundation, E.E. Fogelson and Greer Garson Fogelson Fund, General Acquisitions Fund, Wendover Fund and gift of Alta Brenner in memory of her daughter Andrea Bernice Brenner-McMullen

One gallery visit we went up to see a statue of the god Vishnu. He enjoyed ninjas, warriors, and super heroes and was enthralled when listening to the teacher explaining the story of Vishnu saving his lover, Bhu Devi from the depths of the sea. He could picture himself as Vishnu, the brave and noble hero. This related directly to what made him tick, and it sparked his imagination. He asked questions about the symbols that Vishnu held (the chakra, the mace, and the conch shell) wondering about their purposes and how they could be used to give Vishnu “super powers”.

When we got back to the classroom the children were asked to create a sculpture using different wooden shapes and there was no requirement that their sculpture relate to the gallery visit. He was ready. He grabbed an assortment of shapes and went to work. He seemed more focused than in the other projects, talking to his classmates less, and hadn’t gotten up once to practice his ninja moves on the other boys in the class. I asked him what he was making and he explained to me that he was building Vishnu.

I was surprised and a bit confused because to me his sculpture looked nothing like the statue we had seen in the galleries. He began to point out where the chakra was, his mace, his 4 arms, the conch shell he had even found a wooden piece to represent Bhu Devi! I was amazed. He had made his own interpretation of the statue with the limited materials he had been given. All the major parts had been incorporated, and he had put a lot of thought into choosing which wooden pieces would work the best. I was in awe, all week this child had been a handful, distracting the rest of the class and refusing to follow rules or listen to instructions. All he had needed was something that engaged him and sparked his imagination.

I want to see this kind of engagement and focus in all the students. He was one of the only students to relate the gallery experience directly to what he was creating in the classroom. How can educators engage their students directly as individuals, so that they are learning and retaining the information that they are given? And how can they work with the students individually when there is a large group of students that they are teaching? How can educators learn to pinpoint a student’s interest and help them grow and expand in that direction? How can student’s behavior be controlled, not through discipline or punishment, but by creating an environment in which they are so engaged that there are no opportunities for them to act out I haven’t uncovered the answers to my questions yet, but I am interested in reflecting more on these ideas as I continue to intern at the DMA this summer.

Posted by: Karen Parrish

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Filed under 6 to 12 year olds, Center for Creative Connections, Children’s art, DMA Programs, In the galleries, Parents, PreK

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