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Lori Pickert on Art and Learning the Reggio Way

by Jean Van't Hul
April 15, 2008

Lori Pickert is the brains behind the children’s art blog, Camp Creek Press, as well as the Inspiration Boards Blog. She is a homeschooling mama of two, a writer, a teacher, and a Reggio educational consultant.

JEAN: So first of all, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to make art a priority and to teach it to your children and to other families?

LORI: In 2000 I started a Reggio-inspired private school for preschool students. It eventually grew to include a multiage K-3rd grade class as well. I was passionate about the Reggio approach to early childhood education. We had art studios for each class, incorporating art every day with long-term projects. Children used art to explore topics, ask questions, do research, and express ideas. Eventually I began working as an educational consultant, training over 100 teachers in my state in the Reggio approach and how to use long-term projects and authentic art to build a curriculum.

JEAN: How did you become interested in Reggio initially?

LORI: During the year before I opened my school, I focused on learning everything I could about early childhood education. I read everything–Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Montessori, Erickson… Somewhere in that year of study, I picked up and read The Hundred Languages of Children. I was already focused on collaborative, project-based learning. The Reggio approach synthesized everything I believed and felt about what children need and deserve.

JEAN: I understand that you homeschool your two boys. How long have you been homeschooling and how did you make the decision to do so?

LORI: Our primary class was forced to close, and I started homeschooling my sons at that time, three years ago. My older son was 8; my younger son was 5. There was no question that we would homeschool. My private school continued to offer preschool and an after-school program, so for a couple of years we homeschooled-at-school. They had a library, art studio, room for music practice-it was great! Now we are homeschooling at home, and we like it even more, if that’s possible. When I was running my school, one of the best comments I received was that it was “like homeschooling with other kids.” We really do all the same things now that we did then-long-term projects, open-access art studio, etc.-except now we’re at home, which is our favorite place to be.

JEAN: Can you give a few examples of the long-term art projects you did in your school? How about long-term art projects that your boys do now?

LORI: Rather than art projects, they are learning projects. Within those projects, the children explore and represent ideas using art. (In Reggio parlance, they use the many languages available to them-drawing, painting, sculpting, modeling, etc.) Our students did months-long projects on the ocean (comparing and contrasting with our local lakes and rivers), musical instruments, frogs, construction equipment, Shakespeare, and much more. Each “topic” is really just a starting point from which the children explode outward along different lines of inquiry. We had a preschool class where the children studied one project for an entire year, then came back after summer break and asked to continue! This year, my sons have done projects on birds, Greek mythology, geology, and cartooning. As they work on these projects, they read books, write books, interview experts, take field trips, and create representations of their learning in every art medium: drawing, painting, collage, clay sculpture, wire sculpture, model building, and so on.

JEAN: So this is how your family incorporates art into your homeschool day?

LORI: We have an art studio where we can all work together. The boys have been making art on almost a daily basis since they were toddlers. There is some art component to virtually everything we do-illustrating letters and books we write, making models and sculptures for projects. They create something every day. Even their free play incorporates making art. They build and make things every day-swords, costumes, buildings for action figures. Right now they are really into making stop-motion Lego Star Wars movies.

JEAN: Will you describe your art studio?

LORI: We have room for a drafting table, a two-sided easel, and another table for working on projects. We have lots of wonderful natural light and places to store heaps of materials. The floor is concrete, so we don’t worry about spilling paint or anything else. Everything is accessible, so the boys can work independently.

JEAN: Can you also tell us about the weekly art class that you teach?

LORI: I teach an art class for homeschooled students once a week. The children range in age from 5 to 12. I am really enjoying working with a large group of children again. We are exploring different media, focusing on lots of time for free exploration and open-ended projects. This spring and summer, we are working on nature journals.

JEAN: I don’t know much about Reggio Emilia but would love to learn. Will you describe this educational philosophy briefly and also tell us how it has influenced your family and your approach to art?

LORI: The Reggio approach promotes an image of children as strong, resourceful, and capable of constructing their own knowledge. Teachers are researchers and co-learners, negotiating the curriculum with their students. Long-term projects and daily work in the art studio with high-quality art supplies leads to amazing, inspiring work by young children. One key idea is that children have “100 languages” with which they can learn about the world-these include all of the visual arts as well as singing, dancing, talking, storytelling, etc.-and it’s our job to make sure they have access to all of those languages. ReChild is a wonderful free magazine, downloadable in PDF format, that explores the philosophy and some of the projects created in the Reggio Emilia schools.

JEAN: What books have most influenced your family as artists and as homeschoolers?

LORI: The Hundred Languages of Children and Authentic Childhood have probably done the most to form my opinions on learning through projects and authentic art. As a homeschooling parent, John Holt’s books as well as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society have had the greatest influence.

JEAN: What are some of your sons’ favorite art activities? How about for your art class?

LORI: My sons work enthusiastically with every media from charcoal to clay to scratch art. Drawing and painting is such a normal part of their day, I don’t even think they notice it as art per se. They communicate naturally by drawing, making, and building.

One of their favorite activities is building sculptures and models from recycled materials. They’ve never seen a problem they can’t solve with enough masking tape and cardboard.

I can’t speak for the children in my class, but my favorite activity is to take them out in the world to draw – to the museum, at the park, etc.

JEAN:  People have so many different reasons for blogging. Can you tell us why you blog? And how did you decide on Camp Creek Press as your blog name?

LORI: I have been spending this year working on book projects, and my blog is a casual writing side project that helps keep my brain limber. Camp Creek Press is named for the creek that wraps around two sides of our country property. In general, I blog to meet people with similar interests and share some of the things I’m passionate about. I’ve made some incredible friends through Flickr and the blog world. It’s also a great writing exercise and keeps me focused on my many projects.

JEAN: I see that Camp Creek Press is subtitled Books and Curriculum for the Artful Child. How do you define an artful child? How does one inspire and encourage a child to be artful?

LORI: My studio teacher and I co-wrote a book that will be published in the next year about authentic art for children. An artful child, to me, is one who is fluent in the languages of drawing, painting, building, and sculpting-a child who can use art to ask questions and express ideas.

One way you can encourage a child to develop these abilities is to make art a normal part of your everyday life-sketching together as a family, making art materials easily accessible for everyday use, making things yourselves rather than purchasing them. Rather than being a “special” thing that you do, make art a normal part of how you interact with the world.

JEAN: I get so much inspiration from interviewing interesting people and realize that others do too. Can you tell us about your Inspiration Boards Blog and perhaps about the inspiration you yourself get from interviewing others?

LORI: I am inspired by creative people who are actively pursuing their passions. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a painter, a photographer, a chef, or a landscape architect-if someone is passionately engaged in creating something meaningful to them, I want to know about what inspires them. Everyone has interests, but not everyone gets off the sofa and really pursues what they love. I want to talk to people who are actively engaged in that pursuit. The Inspiration Boards Blog is yet another one of my side projects-interviewing these creative people and sharing their thoughts on inspiration with others. It grew out of my Inspiration Boards Flickr group, which is also a wonderful source of inspiration, with over 1,800 inspiration boards and more uploaded every day. I recently posted my interview with the fantastic Maira Kalman, one of my biggest personal inspirations, and I’ll soon be posting interviews with Amy Butler, Denyse Schmidt, and Lotta Jansdotter.

JEAN: Finally, how on earth do you find the time and space for yourself and your writing, especially when you homeschool and teach a class? This is something I’m grappling with right now. I’m interested in homeschooling, but also find myself wishing for more time to myself and for my writing.

LORI: I love to work; other than hanging out with my family, I would rather work than do anything else. So I don’t do much TV watching or housework or working out (I do none of that, actually). Homeschooling really lightens our load. There’s no commute, no homework, no inflexible schedule ruling our lives. We have so much extra time during the day for playing, for reading, for talking. My children are older (8 and 11), so they are busy during the day with their own projects, and at this point they do almost all of their learning independently. So I have plenty of time to work and write. Just not quite enough time to clean the house. ;^)

JEAN: Is there anything else you would like to add?

LORI: Thank you for interviewing me! :^)

JEAN: Thank YOU Lori! I’m off to read some books about the Reggio approach to education. Sounds like it might be right up my alley…

If you would like to learn more about Lori Pickert and her blogs, you can visit Camp Creek Press or the Inspiration Boards Blog.

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