There are several benefits to taking a thematic approach when it comes to creating an art portfolio. It provides a structured framework to explore the different stages of the portfolio construction process, while challenging the students to develop subject matter knowledge and fostering inter-disciplinary learning. It promotes group interaction and encourages cross sharing of the subject matter among students. What’s more, it also helps the teacher by creating economies of scale as fewer resources are then needed to develop lesson plans and activities.
What’s the objective?
Creating a themed art portfolio allows us to document the process of how a child learns, as well as how a child creates an art work. It also allows teachers to communicate with parents on matters such as the art curriculum and how a child is developing artistically, while also providing a window into what subjects and themes may interest a child.
Using a theme to hone observation skills
Observation fosters deep and accurate learning, and is not only important to developing artistic skills but also an important way in which children learn about the world around them. Through well-designed activities that complement the theme chosen (for example, marine life), a child’s in-depth observation skills can be developed.
We start the project with a series of observation studies. These provide concrete experiences for the children so that they can gain more knowledge about the subject matter. When working on a theme of marine life, here’s what we can do:
• Concrete experience 1
We offer students opportunity to feel the texture of the fish, squid and prawns which have different textural surfaces before asking them to draw and paint the subject matter.
We find that that children can still become engaged with a distasteful topic (sea creatures) once they become curious enough. Ask relevant questions to spur interest and encourage the children to shift their attention to observing and sketching the live forms.
• Concrete experience 2
Take students on a field trip to see the actual subject matter within their natural habitat, letting them observe how the sea creatures interact with one another.
For this theme, we usually take children to Resorts World Sentosa to visit the aquarium. Children can bring along their sketch books and drawing tools and we encourage them to spend time sketching what they see and experience. This helps them develop an informed visual vocabulary and opens their eyes to observing the world around them.
During these experiences, prompt students with questions to stimulate inquiry learning. Ask: “Are all the prawn legs of the same length?” or “Why is the jellyfish tank cylindrical in shape, unlike other fish tanks which are rectangular?”
Abraham has achieved a good level of sophistication in terms of drawing skills. He is able to capture fine details and stylise his drawings. Also, we observe that Abraham has shown an acute interest in scientific facts, storytelling and stylized drawings.
Use different art media
Don’t just restrict children to one or two modes of artistic expression — encourage them to use different art media and techniques, such as print making or creating a story book. Also encourage them to use different materials to create art; think beyond paint and crayon to various mixed media. Using different materials allows children to show the various layers and depths of their learning.
Every single layer of Haien’s work is exploding with different textures and colours, pleasantly juxtaposed. Her work also exhibits a use of a large variety of materials. Haien’s work is rich and altogether a pleasure to look at.
Developing a child’s interest even more
We can easily see from a child’s art portfolio where his interests, talents and strengths lie. From here, we can then make suggestions on how to best develop and inspire him. Suggestions include:
• Continue to expose the child to more art forms, images and books. Build up a love for looking at things and trying new mediums of art. These will also help enrich his visual vocabulary and provide inspiration to create his own artwork.
• For a child interested in comics, expose him to more work by animators and illustrators. While he practises and hones his drawing skills, such exposure will help develop his own style of drawing and expression.
Wong Seet Fun is an artist and an early childhood educator. She obtained her fine arts degree from University of London, Goldsmith College and Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College, USA. As founder and owner of Art Loft, she has been teaching art to young children and adults for more than 10 years.