Teacher Beverly Normal and student Josceyln Jones pretend to be trees that grow from seedlings.
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Swirling yellow and red paint together to create a warm tangerine shade causes exclamations of wonder from young children.
Any observer can see that small painters have fun, but what is not so obvious is that experimenting with a paintbrush helps them learn to think.
Painting is just one of many art forms that children explore in a new local program called Project ABC. The program uses visual arts, music, and dramatic exercises to teach youngsters social skills and prepare them for school.
“We know that kids learn through arts activities,” said Danette Olsen, director of the program. “Who doesn't sing the ABC's?”
Project ABC, which stands for Arts Bridging Culture, offers several two-hour sessions weekly at the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center near Jermain Park. Most children attend one or two classes a week.
The program, which targets children ages 3 to 5, has sessions open to the public and classes for children enrolled in Head Start, an academic early childhood program. Ms. Olsen said more than 100 children from Toledo and the suburbs have attended Project ABC classes.
Parents, older siblings, and adult friends are always invited to participate. Johnny Jones, Jr., of West Toledo took his two children to Project ABC earlier this month. He said they look forward to the classes.
“The kids are having fun, and they're very happy,” he said, finishing an abstract painting with a few more strokes of blue.
Each Project ABC session is organized around a children's book. At the class Mr. Jones visited, Where The Wild Things Are was the story of the day.
After teachers read to the children, they led the class in acting out scenes from the story. The children took turns being the main character, wearing a crown, and watching the rest dance in a wild rumpus.
“They learn to express themselves more clearly, and they build confidence,” said Denyce Calvin, a local artist who teaches the class.
After the rumpus ended, the children sat down to paint. Teachers explained the difference between warm and cool colors, and encouraged the youngsters to try mixing different tints.
“See what I did?” squealed Josceyln Jones, 4, pointing to the brown glob on her paper.
Ms. Olsen praised Joscelyn's muddy dot and asked her to explain how she made it from the primary colors
“The foundation of literacy is language,” Ms. Olsen said. “By helping the children with vocabulary and gaining control of words, we help them to be literate.”
Seven artists help children discover painting, experiment with clay, appreciate music, and try new types of movement. “We looked for people who are really concerned with the creative process and who were in love with the idea of working with children and their families,” Ms. Olsen said.
Project ABC is free for participants. It is funded by a four-year, $700,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and a $35,000 grant from the Women's Initiative of United Way.
Bob Cryan, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Toledo, said programs like Project ABC improve a child's chances for later academic success.
“The arts, specifically the visual arts and music, and to some extent the performing arts, are absolutely critical,” he said. “We're not talking about frills. We're talking about the very substance of significant learning experiences.”