There are many fun ways to introduce children to the wonderful world of art. Using picture books is one of my favorite teaching tools to supplement my lessons and to build upon the students’ natural love of art and reading.
Although I enjoy introducing new projects in the art room often, this lesson is a classic that I revisit each year with kindergarten. In this lesson, we explore one of the world’s greatest artists: French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet.
First, we read The Magical Garden of Claude Monet, by Laurence Anholt (Barron’s Educational Series; 2007). This book is an ideal way to introduce the painter to a young audience. A girl named Julie embarks on a journey with her mother and she befriends a gardener who turns out to be the great artist, Claude Monet.
Monet’s work graces several of the pages, and is overlaid with Anholt’s charming illustrations of the characters. My students were captivated by the story, especially the large foldout spread of the lily pond where we were practically pulled into the painting of the pond, lilies and willow trees.
Monet painted a series of the same subject again and again to capture the changing effects of the light, and each one is different. We examined the paintings in his bridge series and compared them. The students learned that Impressionist painters used thick, chunky strokes in their work, which we observed in all Monet’s paintings.
We noticed differences in the angles, light, and colors, especially in his later work. Monet spent the last 10 years of his life painting scenes of his water garden, even after developing cataracts and losing much of his vision. He continued to paint the bridge and lily pond, though his work lacked a variety of color and was primarily red and maroon.
As we began the project, I demonstrated each step to the class from my easel at the front of the room and the students followed along at their seat. We started with a pencil and drew an arching line from one side of the paper to the other, much like a rainbow. We added two more lines below and several vertical lines across the bridge, connecting the top to the bottom. This formed the structure of our bridge.
Next, we used oil pastels in two shades of blue to trace over our bridges, pressing hard so the colors were bold. The students used various shades of green pastels to draw lily pads (“like the shape of Pac-Man”), willow trees, and other aquatic plants. They used the colors of their choice to draw water lilies in the pond.
Then, we used blue, green, pink and purple tempera to dabble short, spontaneous brushstrokes across the bottom half of the paper. I encouraged overlapping the colors to fill up the white space and boy were they excited to discover the new colors that appeared as they mixed together! It was an equally magical moment when the oil pastels appear through their paint strokes to showcase their bridge and lilies.
Finally, we painted above and in between the bridge railings in the same way with yellow and green. I told the students to think of their brushstrokes as quick footprints traveling across their paper. The kindergarten class took pride in their finished masterpieces, and will hopefully visit the local National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., one day to see one of Monet’s Japanese Footbridge paintings in person.
We can learn a lot and be inspired, not only from Monet’s finished products, but from his process as well. He studied his subjects, planned his paintings, and worked hard to achieve results. This is what I strive to teach my classes to do and just as each of Monet’s paintings is unique and different, so are the artists I’m teaching.
Kindergartners will …
• learn about the artist Claude Monet and Impressionism.
• explore combinations of colors.
• paint with short, controlled brushstrokes.
• create a painting of an arching footbridge and lily garden using a variety
of media, tools, and processes.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning
and external context.
• 9″ x 12″ drawing paper
• Oil pastels
• Tempera cakes
• Visuals of Monet’s bridge paintings
Chrissy Leishear teaches K–8 Art at St. John the Baptist School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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