Learning Communication Skills Through the Arts (Year One)
In 2004-5, this Learning Early Network Communication Skills project brought age-appropriate music, storytelling, dramatic play and visual arts activities to 289 children from low income, rural families in the 17 Bradford-Tioga Head Start (BTHS) centers. Rural isolation is a major challenge when providing arts activities in small population centers, as is the limited attention span (30-40 minutes) of children three to five years old. To meet these challenges and ensure a significant impact, the program included activities for building skills of teachers, aides and parents to reinforce arts activities designed by master artists.
The first year of this project included training and planning activities for teachers, aides and artists; master artist residencies; and two live performance/exhibitions for parents and children. At a culminating event the master artists demonstrated the arts activities used, handout study guides, and present some results of their work with BTHS teachers and children. To accomplish project goals, the master artists will be in residence for 34 days each.
Training and Planning Activities - The initial meeting and training session of participating artists and BTHS teachers was held at the April 30, 2004 annual Learning Early Network Conference, Helping Children Learn Communication Skills Through the Arts. In addition to presentations, the master artists were introduced to the wider regional early childhood community, as well as the BTHS teachers at this event.
On August 11, 12, & 13, 2004 a three-day Summer Institute was held for the artists and BTHS teachers and aides. Consultant Paula Bing facilitated the first two days, and project artists took over on the third day.
In early October and November 2004, parents of the 289 Head Start children met with teachers, administrators and participating artists to learn about Learning Communication Skills Through the Arts and the year ahead. Ideas for keeping parents involved were incorporated into the program. For example, Ask me notes; a note sent home with children at the end of the day, encouraged parents to discuss the days activities.
Artist Residencies - Four master artist residencies provided the 17 BTHS Centers with 16 artist visits each. At the outset all activities were artist-directed, supported by teachers. By the end of residencies, the teachers and aides had developed the ability to continue future activities. This was accomplished through on-the-job practice and debriefing with the master artists. In addition to the survey observations given below, the Canton Head Start teacher recently sent a telling e-mail. Marys musical experience has hit home in the dev. (developmental) continuum: social emotional self-control, self-expression, making friends, etc; physical is obvious moving all around using small and large muscles; cognitive counting, opposites, etc; and language foreign lands, etc. The master artists are stimulating the children and encouraging teachers to use quality arts activities to nurture their development and communication skills.
Live Performance/Exhibitions - The performances were presented to parents and children at the Keystone Theatre in Bradford County (Paperbag Players) and the Arcadia Theatre in Tioga County (KJ Smile). Study guides and show introductions informed both children and parents about theatre etiquette.
Culminating Event - On April 29, 2005 at the 6th annual Learning Early Network Conference; the artists presented workshops, study guides and audio/visual materials detailing their work with BTHS (see attached brochure). The goal was to encourage the (non-BTHS) educators, artists, librarians, YWCA and other Network members in the use of high quality arts activities to encourage communication skills in young children.