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Starting an Art Club, by John W. Healy

An after-school art club is more than a lot of fun — it's a way to build a close-knit community

When we're very young children and first starting school, we're often enrolled in small schools. As we grow older, the schools we attend often become progressively larger.

Perhaps you remember a time, however brief, when you were enrolled in a small school. Some of you may recall a large school, for that matter, which offered some activity that established a special closeness among its students, perhaps through an activity which created the environment of a small school.

Regardless of the grade level at which we experience a small school, that experience is often unforgettable.

PreK student working on an art project

Three-year-old Sophia is a preK student at a small Waldorf School. The Waldorf School model has long included integrating the arts into every aspect of the academic curriculum.

Arts and academics
Sophia, the three-year-old girl shown above, is in the preK class at the Waldorf School in Garden City, NY. Waldorf Schools are small schools that integrated academic instruction with art long before that practice became widespread. At a Waldorf School, an academic lesson presented in the morning, such as ancient history, would be followed by an art lab in the afternoon, in which students would create visual, tactile art projects such as Roman arches, aqueducts, Hadrian's wall and gable roofs with Roman and Greek columns. Ancient history — or any other topic of study — comes to life and is made memorable through art when children and adolescents work in small groups.

Join the club
Larger schools can offer activities which break down large numbers of students into small, productive groups. School clubs and sports activities are some of the options that are geared toward encouraging students to form meaningful attachments and gain the benefits of vivid learning experiences. Many students who feel lost in the crowd at a large school find ways to excel and make good friends in an after-school club or activity.

An art club is a wonderful after-school activity that can offer a way for children to experience a small school environment, even if they attend a large school. If your school doesn't already have an art club, why not start your own? An art club is a great addition to a school of any size.

A special place
Often, in order to address their unique differences and goals for the future, many children eventually leave the small school – either for a short time, or forever. I was enrolled in a Waldorf School from my freshman to senior years of high school. Entering a small school at this grade level is unusual. School wasn't a place I wanted to be until I started attending Waldorf. Students there were made to feel special because they were different.

Whenever possible, regardless of how large our schools are, I think it's important to establish within each school, somewhere, and in some way, a small school environment.

The art club that I've set up at Woodland Middle School, where I teach, is much like a smaller school within Woodland. The members of the club meet after school to work on their latest projects and quietly talk with their friends – friends they might not have made if they'd never joined the club.

The art club's activities mean a lot to my students. The trips we take, the people we meet and the works of art we create are so memorable for these children. Many of them visit me years afterwards, to talk about the exciting things we did together. Their memories of those events are still vivid and valuable, and I hope they will remain so for life.

Starting an Art Club: Some guidelines to consider

  1. Membership in the art club should be voluntary.

  2. The students should complete any art projects they start.

  3. Student art may vary greatly in style and subject matter, but it must be appropriate for a school environment.

  4. The club should meet after school on several regularly-scheduled days per week throughout the school year.

  5. Children who attend the art club should be encouraged to be involved with the other clubs and sports activities at the school. Children come to the art club when they are able to and when they wish. A mix of choices will contribute to the development of the whole child, instead of producing an isolated specialist.

  6. Heterogeneous grouping is encouraged. Avoid a gifted and talented criteria for the art club. It is a level playing field when children create art.

Dr. John W. Healy teaches art at Woodland Middle School, East Meadow, NY.

Arts & Crafts