MARQUETTE - With a small group of kindergarteners surrounding her in a loose semi-circle, art teacher Joy Bender Hadley held up a painting of a tiger and two cubs in a cave and asked the children about various details within the painting.
Several children noticed the tiger's image was reflected in a river. Others noticed the tiger appeared to be inside a cave.
Hadley said one of the most important things about being an artist and creative thinker is observation.
Piper Andrews shares her drawing during kindergarten art class with art teacher Joy Bender Hadley Monday. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
"I wanted them to look at more than just the animal. What's around the animal? What kind of mood does this painting show you? ... I think at a young age kids are just natural. They just naturally observe life around them and ask questions," she said.
Hadley teaches art at North Star Public School Academy. She teaches kindergarten through sixth grade and ninth grade through 12th grade - about 180 students. She said teaching a wide range of ages can be typical for a public school art teacher, though it depends on the size of the school.
"Some art teachers do all elementary and they might go from one elementary school to another," she said.
With kindergarteners she focuses on numbers, colors and other simple concepts. As students get older, Hadley teaches them more complex techniques and concepts as well as art vocabulary. At the high school level she teaches art and design, drawing, painting, sculpture and arts and crafts classes.
"Each age level, for me, has its rewards. I walk into an elementary classroom, especially the lower grades, and it's just hugs and 'Mrs. H! Mrs. H!' and I certainly don't necessarily get that at the high school level," she said. "But I have had a lot of very serious artists at the high school level and several of them have gone on to college going into the arts and to me that's very rewarding as well."
Observation plays a key part in art instruction for all ages, she said.
"A lot of times people in general, kids and adults alike, will look at an image and say 'I like it' or 'I don't' and just leave it at that so I really try to get even the kindergarteners observing and looking at art," she said.
She said arts or music classes play a vital role in education. Hadley said kids involved with creative activities do better academically.
"When we're teaching and working with kids in painting or drawing, they're learning more than just techniques and painting and drawing," she said. "They're learning non-verbal communication, which can be really important for students at all ages. Students learn a lot of creative problem solving skills which can then go into helping them in social studies or math."
Hadley said people often have a misconception about how art projects are graded. For young elementary students if they have a positive attitude and try every project then they are likely to pass their art class, she said. For older, high school age students each project they do has required elements and it's up to the students how to incorporate those elements, but the elements must be there.
"Like one of the assignments, the students used the letter of their first, middle and last name, and they used a radial design using their initials. So if they didn't use their name or didn't put it in a radial design that would impact their grade. It could have been very well manipulated with the pencil or colored pencil but it might not have followed the assignment," she said.
Hadley said one aspect of her job which she takes very seriously is to find the creativity within each and every one of her students.
"I can honestly say there's not many students who leave my classroom at the end of a semester or end of the year not feeling like they have some creativity," she said.
She encouraged parents to foster creativity in their children at home.
"The nice part about art and being able to do it at home - a box of crayons is not very expensive. A lot of what parents can do to help their kids is just even taking a walk and making observations and talking about things - especially this time of year when the leaves are beautiful colors. Pick up a leaf, talk about the leaf veins and really look around them."
Hadley tells her students to observe as much as they can.
"I always tell the kids to look low, look at eye level and look high when they take walks because otherwise if they're just looking at their feet they are going to miss everything around them," she said.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.