When I moved back to Athens from Baltimore in the US, I was stressed and worried. I knew the economic situation hadn’t improved since I’d left Greece for the US six years before, and I knew it would be a struggle to find a full-time teaching job in the subject I am passionate about: art.
It was while I was studying fine art in the US that I first developed a strong enthusiasm for arts education. I came to realise how much education mattered: all children deserve a beautiful world, and a good education not only opens their eyes to this but gives them the potential to change our societies.
Luckily, I was able to find employment, and I now have two part-time jobs teaching art. Both are in private schools, one at a prekindergarten and kindergarten facility, with children aged between 2 and 6, and one at a primary school, with children aged between 6 and 12. It is at the prekindergarten and kindergarten facility that the power of art to transform lives is most in evidence.
As I enter the facility at 4pm, my pupils are heading upstairs to take a 40-minute nap. They’ve had a full day, and as they are only young, they need time to recharge their batteries before their art lesson with me.
While they sleep, I prepare the classroom, organise the supplies we will need and review my lesson plan. It sounds easy enough, but as every teacher knows, 40 minutes always goes by quickly when there’s a lot to be done.
Children expressing themselves
I wake them with calming music and prepare them for their class, which usually means putting their shoes on and going to the bathroom. After this, we transform into a walking train, and carefully go down the steps to the first floor where the art room is located.
Often, some children are still a bit sleepy from their naps, so we always do a few movement exercises to wake up our bodies and brains. Once they’re all feeling ready and energised for the lesson, we sit in a circle on the red carpet and discuss what we’re going to learn. We usually look at a few examples of sculptures or paintings and try to analyse them as much as we can.
You would be surprised how accurate some of the kindergarteners’ critiques and comments are, especially when they look at abstract art. This discussion always works wonders: the children get excited about what they can create, how they can express themselves and what the final result will be.
We wear our aprons and sit around our art tables. When I teach the two- to six-year-olds, I focus more on the process of art, the new experiences and the amazement that comes from creating, rather than assignments solely aimed at achieving a beautiful result. This isn’t because I do not believe that children are capable of achieving a beautiful result (their work is always a joy to look at). It is because I believe that the act of creating, and the many wonderful materials accessible for them to use, help them to increase their knowledge of the world. It expands their creativity and imagination – in art there is no wrong or right, and creation for creation’s sake is key in the latter stages of their personal and artistic life, whether they follow that path or not.
When the class is done, we wash our hands, go to the bathroom and eat a snack while we wait for the parents to arrive. I clean up, lock the door and feel fulfilled as I do so because, as always, I have had a beautiful and creative day. More importantly, I have had fun.
Nefeli Asariotaki is an early-years and primary school art teacher in Athens, Greece