K  A  R  E  N     K  I  E  F  E  R

e s s a y s

Multi Age Groupings- A Positive Experience for Everyone

     One of the greatest byproducts of a studio approach to art education is that independent study allows for people of all ages and abilities to work together in the same environment. We encourage students as young as six to join the studio because this is the age of independence where a young artist can be given instructions and can work on their own. Sometimes we encourage five year olds to come with a parent to be exposed to different media for as long as their attention span allows. On the other end of the spectrum,  there is no such thing as too old to learn art. This fundamentally diverse atmosphere is a lively and dynamic place to learn as each and every participant benefits from exposure to each other. When you have a homogenous group, or one based on age, skills, or other similarities, students are more likely to be competitive and comparative and are less exposed to forward thinking and retrospection.  With certain age groups, particularly early teens, socialization can even become a distracting factor. Diversity really does help students focus in on their own work .  We like to think that diverse grouping is a microcosm of the real world . It mirrors our society, and encourages inclusion and diversity, inspiration and aspirations, introspection and reflection , mentoring and reinforcement.

      Adult students often find great inspiration from the very youngest children, watching them fly through one project after another with wild and explorative abandon. Sometimes the little ones remark that the grown ups are so slow. Everyone gets a laugh, because it’s true! Also, older students new to the lessons benefit greatly by seeing students at the appropriate age learning along side. It can be healing for an adult to see and understand what was missed in his or her own education. To watch a ten year old delight at the experience of learning realism can bring an adult back into that moment in time when the opportunity was not available to them. It can help in the process of detaching from negative memories, realizing that these experiences really are so often products of neglect. Watching a youngster learn something is a way of living through them and of feeling that you too could have learned it, given the chance. It also reinforces that it’s not as hard as once imagined, and perhaps laboring over ideas of perfection means missing the point. Children will generally experience a lesson with much more joy and less judgement because they haven’t been exposed to disappointment. When an adult is laboring over perfection, and looks over to see a child do the same skill with a joyful, yet less perfect approach, insight into the process of art is often achieved.

Likewise, the very youngest students get to watch and see older students all around them going through lessons they will some day learn. Because of this early indirect exposure, youngsters often navigate towards the lessons sooner, and are eager to learn them as they have observed the success of others. Of course, it is important to balance this tendency with age appropriate instruction. If a six year old watches her teenage brother learn a painting lesson in landscape realism and wants to “ Do one too” We will ask her who is going to live in her landscape and all sorts of other leading questions that bring her back to exploring her own ideas. We do often encourage siblings to attend different classes to de-emphasize competition that can sometimes be an overwhelming factor in their relationship coming in.

     Experienced students who have gone through the lessons also get to review what they have learned by watching others around them repeat the experience. So often they will glow with pride while watching another student learn something they already know. Often they are eager to share their knowledge, and we encourage this support role to our teaching. It is said that the best way to remember something learned is to turn around and teach it.  In this way we mentor our students to someday teach themselves. When a student shows maturity in their understanding of how the studio works, they are offered the opportunity to become assistants. This is when the magic curtain is drawn and they really get to learn the behind the scene workings of the studio. They learn how to prepare the room and clean up afterwards and how to help the younger students on their projects. It’s an exciting time for teens; a great way to develop their confidence, abilities, and ultimately lets them feel like an important part of society. We think this rite of passage is an essential  experience for all teens. Mentoring, and student teaching reinforces lessons, and  keeps the studio vital, living, and growing. It’s part of a broader vision of empowering future generations to be meaningful and important participants in the world.  We strive to expand the excellence!