Joshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)
The Artist's Studio: The Atelier and Atelierista
Ive never been a very "arty". I don't know much about the key elements of a kindergarten art studio and curriculum. You might say it isn't important as it's all about "the process" but what makes a great art program, in any kindergarten or school, is an art teacher who knows their stuff. What I mean by this is someone who knows how get the best out of tools and materials, how to use water colors, other types of paint, clay, wire etc. effectively. This is because children need more than access to these types of materials. They need someone who can expose them to a variety of materials and offer the skills to use them to the fullest as a means of expressing their (childrens) ideas. When it comes to places to learn more about art in the early years there is no better place to look than in the ateliers of the Reggio Emilia Infant Toddler Centres, Italy.
The atelier 'artist's studio' is a designated space in the school where children can explore and create art.
"Rather than naming the space dedicated to creative exploration with children an “art room,” Malaguzzi chose the French term “atelier,” which evoked the idea of a laboratory for many types of transformations, constructions, and visual expressions."
(In the Spirit of the Studio, 2015).
Therefore the teacher working with children on was named atelierista, rather than “art teacher.” The atelierista, who is an art specialist, is responsible for overseeing the atelier and providing guidance and support to the children as they explore and create. The atelier is an important part of the Reggio Emilia approach because it provides children with a space to express themselves and to explore their creativity. In the atelier, children have access to a wide variety of materials and tools, such as paint, clay, and scissors, which allows them to experiment and explore different forms of art. The atelierista is responsible for providing the children with opportunities to use these materials in ways that are meaningful to them. For a deeper dive into the Reggio Emilia Atelierista read this extract from the book 'The Hundred Languages of Children' and 'In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia'.
"The atelier is the heart of the school, where children can express themselves through art and where they can explore their creativity."
In the atelier, the children learn art through observation, experimentation and representation. The atelierista observes the children's work and asks questions that encourage them to reflect on their own process, making connections to their own experiences and interests. As children experiment with different art materials and techniques, they develop their fine motor skills and their ability to problem solve by being allowed ample time to enjoy the process, edit, redo and learn from others.
Representation is important as it allows children to express their own ideas, thoughts and interpretations. The children can also use representation to communicate with others, creating a dialogue about their work. The role of the atelier and the atelierista in the Reggio Emilia approach is not only about teaching art, but also about providing children with opportunities to develop their creativity, self-expression and problem-solving skills.
"The art experience is not just about creating art, but about the process of learning and discovery that takes place during the creation."
On one side we want to avoid giving children "cookie cutter" crafts and calling it art. On the other side if we just leave them materials what often happens is a muddy puddle from every color of paint mixed together. It is important to highlight what a tool can do and sometimes provide fewer materials to allow children to really to see what is possible.
Here are three tips:
1. Allow children to explore using all their senses. Getting messy is ok! Teachers can often avoid messy materials due to the clean up and getting clothes dirty. The two bug mistakes they make is requiring using certain tools, like a paintbrush, and punishing experimentation that gets messy.
2. Time is important. A good Reggio inspired art program can't be success is art is 30 to 40 minutes per week. Children need enough time in the atelier (both classroom and art studio), to be able to take their ideas and creativity further.
3. Talk with children: Ask questions, add language, and engage in a dialogue with children about how things feel, what we can create and different ways we can use them.
"Above all, the atelier brings the strength and joy of the unexpected and the uncommon to the process of learning. It supports a conceptual change that comes from looking through a poetic lens at everyday reality."
(The Hundred Languages of Children)