(Above: Kindergartener attends our zoom art class, September 2020.)
When the elementary school I teach in went into lockdown last March, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to teach any more art lessons to the kids for the rest of the year. To tell the truth, I was afraid of zoom. I feared I lacked the charisma or class-management skills to keep the kids entertained on video. Also, when I taught art in person, I always brought the supplies. Would the kids have any coloring materials at home? Many of our parents were affected by Covid layoffs, so asking them to purchase a luxury item like paint was out of the question.
Though I was terrified the kids would all wander out of the camera from sheer boredom, I decided I had to be brave and try to make zoom art work. Turns out, I was worried over nothing. Art is marvelously compatible with distance learning! When a child has been sitting in front of a computer in their bedroom for hours, and a person comes on the computer screen saying its time to draw and paint, they are eager to participate! Using one’s hands to make things is a nice way to take a break from more intense video lessons. My goal as the art instructor is to provide a meditative art activity for the primary teacher and the students, so they could return to their regular subjects refreshed.
(Above: Kindergartener attends my zoom art class, September 2020.)
As everyone knows by now, zoom classes have their ups and downs. Any parent of a young elementary school child can tell you the downs: zoom fatigue, loneliness, lack of physical community and difficulty digesting information on a tiny flat plastic surface. I can assure you, reader, that the teachers all long to reach through the computer screen and help the students in person. By happenstance, though, some problems are relieved by zoom classes. First and foremost, there is the magical “mute all” button that works much better than “If you can hear me, clap once!” For students who are easily distracted by other students, a button that produces instant quiet is a nice feature. Another “in person” problem for me as the art teacher was that some kids were very sensitive about other people seeing their art and possibly making fun of it. That fear goes away when they are drawing alone in their room. Lastly, when I taught in person, some kids finished painting quickly and began to get into mischief (i.e. cause complete havoc) while they waited for other kids to finish. On zoom, they can just do something else at home, while the kids who are really into painting can continue undisturbed. I always see myself in the kids who are still painting long after everyone else has finished and run out to recess.
I have been incredibly touched by how hard the kids work to follow my guided drawings on zoom. I can tell from their furrowed brows and stuck out tongues that they are working very hard to mimic what I am doing. When we have all worked together on a drawing for twenty minutes and then the kids go super quiet as they begin to paint, that is teaching bliss. I hope that the kids will remember their happy afternoons painting in their room, many years from now, when Covid is a crazy tale that old-timers tell.
(Above: Wonderful 2nd grade painting from zoom class, September 2020.)
Special thanks to the Fairmont Elementary PTA for their incredible support and generosity in paying for supplies and art lessons this school year. xoxo.