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Your first grader and art

First graders explore new art materials and learn the vocabulary and elements of art.

By GreatSchools Staff

In your child's classroom

Exploring new art materials

First graders explore new art materials and learn new ways to use more familiar ones. They enjoy make-believe and creating objects. They are interested in art that shows familiar subjects, such as animals and family. Your first grader is likely to begin to develop more skill in using sculptural materials, like clay and papier-mâché.

Dr. Mike Norris, associate museum educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, notes: "While teaching in the museum, the enthusiasm and fresh points of view from first-graders sometimes wash away my preconceptions about a work of art, giving me new insights. As the old Zen Buddhist saying goes: 'Barn's burnt down — now I can see the moon.'"

Learning vocabulary and elements of art

You can expect your first grader to build her vocabulary to discuss art. She will learn to mix secondary colors from primary ones. She will begin to distinguish among types of paintings by learning about the still life and the portrait. Your child might be asked to create her own examples, perhaps painting a still life with secondary colors or creating a portrait of a classmate.

First graders build on the perceptual skills they began to develop in kindergarten to identify and describe repeated patterns in nature, in works of art and in the world around them. They can use an arts vocabulary, especially when prompted by questions. Arts educator Nancy Roucher says: "Questions about what the child sees in the artwork, focusing on how color, line, shape, space, and composition create a mood or feeling, help students discover meaning and learn about styles." For example, the students may discuss the way the Impressionists used light and color in their soft, luminous works. These discussions give your child the vocabulary to describe his own work of art, the technique he used, what he likes about his work and what he might change.

Your first grader may also learn to identify Japanese screen painting, African masks or other art from another culture.

Integrating art into the curriculum

Art is often integrated throughout the curriculum. For example in social studies when learning about communities your child may draw her house or create a streetscape in clay.

First graders also learn what an illustrator does, after looking at favorite picture books. They explore the different materials an illustrator may use, such as watercolors or cut paper. Students then illustrate their own stories and writings using some of these techniques.

Many states base their arts standards on the National Standards for Arts Education which include standards for visual arts, dance, theater and music.

What to look for when you visit

  • A variety of materials such as markers, crayons, water color and tempera paints
  • Art examples that incorporate texture: yarn, textiles, collages
  • Student work that explores new processes, such as splatter painting or crayon resist (the technique of using watercolor paints on top of crayon rubbings)
  • Student artwork that uses three-dimensional construction, such as masks or clay sculptures
  • Art reproductions

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/24/2008:
"hi my mom is a first grade teacher and she needs help on an art project! she doesn't know what to do! the project needs to be able to be taped to the wall in the hall way. something easy for the first graders would be nice. thank you mariah"
01/23/2006:
"My child is right on target with all this article is saying should happen in first grade. I am glad to have the what should be happening as a guide. I have visited several times and have seen first hand the efforts from both students and leaders. Thank you"
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