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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004 07:40 am

Rugrat Rembrandts embrace art early at Springfield Art Association

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Luke Sherman puts the finishing touches on his name plate
Photo by Job Conger

Some social anthropologists suggest that the impressions made on the life of a young child through the age of 5 "set the table" for how the young person relates to the rest of the world for the rest of his or her life. Thanks to the Springfield Art Association and teacher Kathy Harvey, a growing number of parents are ensuring that some of the first impressions made on precocious progeny are artistic ones.

Throughout the year, the association offers ABC Story Time/Craft Hour for children between the ages of 30 monthsand 5 years who are accompanied by a parent or caregiver. The class is held at 10:30 a.m. each Thursday. For half of each hour, Harvey reads from lavishly illustrated large-format books that share art history with toddlers. The period is more fun than it sounds: During one class, Harvey leads the group -- most children seated on the carpet but some sitting with grownups in grownup chairs -- in a tale of how Mona Lisa found her smile and an informal consideration of The Graphic Alphabet.

When Harvey came to SAA from the Lincoln Library, where she had presented storytimes for kids, she added the artistic element. "Some kids come for the stories. Others like the art, and most are eager to get creative," she says. During one class, the art activity consists of making nameplates on matte board with the use of buttons, ribbons, pipe cleaners, sequins, and white glue. Other activities during the 10-week sessions: finger painting, clay sculpting, decorating cardboard masks, wood-block sculpting, making collages from assorted objects, and painting self-portraits.

"Some kids hate to get their hands dirty, and some love to dig right in," Harvey says. "At their ages and variety of backgrounds, there are no standouts, and that's natural. The focus is on fun, introducing them to creative options they may want to enjoy at home." Many of the crafts materials she uses are donated, but each 10-week session carries a $35 materials fee.

Harvey, who is also a pediatric registered nurse and mother of three teenagers, says that getting kids involved with art in preschool pays dividends. "There's no doubt it helps with hand-eye coordination, and it's activity shared positively with the parent or caregiver who helps. It also gives children access to an emotional outlet other children may not engage as frequently or with such satisfaction."

The current series runs through the second week of December, and a new class begins in January. SAA membership is not required. The classes are open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

The ABC Story Time/Craft Hour is the first step in a progression of artistic activities for young people as they grow and learn. Older children may want to participate in after-school activities as well.

For more information or to be added to a mailing list of SAA activities, call Sharon Black at SAA: 217-523-3507.

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