The Spiritual Heart of Aesthetic Art: Elementary Education
Much attention has been given to the “whole child” approach to learning, as each child has a unique blend of cognitive, sensory, social, emotional, physical and creative abilities. As Jewish educators, we are privileged to take that concept a step further. We are called upon to teach the “whole spiritual child.”
Young children exist in a state of mind that is reminiscent of the spiritual bliss we knew as pure souls in Hashem’s heavenly kingdom. From a Jewish perspective, we must sustain that bliss as well as facilitate aesthetic artistic reasoning in order to engage the whole spiritual child. We begin with digging deeper by igniting that heavenly spark when teaching in the classroom.
Charles B. Kleinman, Seeds of Knowledge
Aesthetic-artistic reasoning skills are based upon our ability to discern and make judgments within the context of a sensory-based artistic experience. When combining spiritual thought with an aesthetic perception, we are connecting multiple senses while stimulating intellectual capability along with deep emotion and appreciation. Thoughtful teaching strategies help transform art into an experience with opportunities to explore and discover new ideas. We seek to stimulate a dialogue between teacher and student that will inspire free-thinking and a deeper connection to Hashem.
A method of encouraging aesthetic reasoning begins by presenting a piece of artwork, such as “Seeds of Knowledge” painted by my father, a lifelong artist and art educator. I clearly remember myself as a child being mesmerized by the painting’s beauty and the glorious colors that seemed to dance off of the canvas. In order to encourage a similar response in the classroom I first ask my students to share their thoughts regarding the painting, documenting their impressions as a conversational reference point. We discuss the different sensory based elements in the painting along with the Judaic components. Eventually, we explore further, using our imaginations to hear, move and feel what we sense to exist in the art. While asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions, my immediate goals are to connect the students with a sense of God and self-worth, alongside aesthetic appreciation.
Since the role of art in Jewish education has the potential to bring children closer to God, we must guide them to appreciate and access the layers of beauty in all Judaic art forms such as in painting, sculpture, music and dance. While creating our own artistic experiences and utilizing aesthetic reasoning skills, we invoke an emotional response. Art represents what emotion looks like. Music is what emotion sounds like. Drama is what emotion feels like, and dance shows us how emotion moves. Aesthetic art appreciation is, therefore, a harmonious extension of the spiritual world. By encouraging young children to envision God’s extraordinary world, we enable them to think abstractly and emotionally at the same time and foster a higher level of appreciation for true beauty.
Nothing engages a child’s natural curiosity more than enticing their vivid imaginations. Our responsibility as early childhood educators is to make the information presented not simply committed to memory, but experienced in a heartfelt way. A famous quotation runs, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” A passion for learning is built by fostering individual interests and joy. The ramifications will prove astounding as social-emotional, spiritual, and intellectual development is increased. Our window of opportunity lies in early childhood development, as we encounter eager young minds ready to soak up information.
Since children are innately capable, our aim is to help shape a generation of compassionate and creative thinkers, who can understand deeper meanings while forging a connection to God that will leave a lifelong spiritual imprint. To ensure that young students comprehend these abstract concepts in a way that is tangible and enjoyable, lesson plans should never be bound to a dull routine or single layer standard. Every classroom needs to blossom and evolve with new ideas in order to enhance Jewish identity, aesthetic appreciation, and multiple learning styles. As teachers, we must find new ways to reach our students and open the gateways to learning for each individual child.
At the inception of God’s creation of the universe, we discover the abstractly beautiful concept of darkness to light. We quickly learn that in God’s endless world there are infinite possibilities to explore. For example, we learn that the simple planting of a seed, and the genetics that lie within each one, represent the beginning of all creation. Using aesthetic reasoning in my adulthood brought me to the profound realization that the “seeds” in my father’s painting stemmed from a tree representing the Tree of Life. My father’s artistic license allowed for seeds, leaves and colors to be visually intertwined. To his aesthetic, it was all indicative of God’s educational wisdom and ethereal uniqueness. From my perspective, his painting became a perfect reflection of aesthetic beauty and Torah learning combined. A student in my class of three-year old’s used his newly born aesthetic reasoning skills to suggest that the painting depicted “a Hashem, a baby Moses and a burning bush.” Another student reflected, “They are God’s rainbow leaves and they are dancing.” Yet another opinion: “Look Morah, there are purple angels flying!” Along with other imaginative suggestions expressed by the children, we colored our own “rainbow leaves” and threw them up in the air to watch them dance. We pretended to fly like “purple” angels, and read a story about Moses and the burning bush. We concluded with the experience of moving like seeds in the wind to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons: Spring.” The result was a layer upon layer of sensory learning.
Although we see art through a spiritual lens, we are also required to use our reasoning skills to formulate an opinion. These components relate to an immediate connection with the heart and soul, while the student’s intellect seeks to identify and form an opinion while recognizing creative expression. This abstract yet aesthetically pleasing way of thinking is the gateway to transformative thought and self-discovery. Therefore, within the “spiritual heart of aesthetic art,” we discover our own unique and enlightened perspectives. Again, just as in Genesis, we begin with a blank canvas and discover the creation of all things. As Jewish educators, we have the ability to facilitate artistic aesthetic reasoning alongside a Torah perspective. We are undeniably privileged to follow along God’s path in this way. We are the planters of seeds in the garden of early childhood education. With patience and compassion for their tender age, and awareness of their potential for lifelong learning, we cultivate them with knowledge, water them with lovingkindness, and proudly watch them take root and grow.
LESSON PLAN EXAMPLE
Questions to ask yourself in class preparation
• As an educator are you enthusiastic and spiritually motivated?
• How can you lead others to become more inspired?
• Do you encourage the sharing of ideas and work collaboratively with others?
• Are you utilizing the same “cookie cutter” projects and songs each year?
• Are you willing to enhance existing curriculum with aesthetic-artistic reasoning?
• How many songs are taught without exploring the deeper meaning?
• Are you able to access your own spiritual heart?
CONCEPTUALIZE DIGGING DEEPER AND EXPLORE THE “SPIRITUAL HEART” OF THE SONG
By the ages of three or four, most Jewish preschool children sing the following simple and short song: “The Shabbat Angels Are Peeking Through My Window.” A teacher should begin to build a lesson plan that inspires aesthetic-artistic reasoning. Questions to consider asking children for individual and group discussion:
• Why do you think angels peek through the window on Shabbat?
• What do these angels they look like?
• What does heaven look like?
• What do angels do in heaven?
• Why do you think they visit us on on Shabbat?
• How many are there?
• What do they sound like? Do they sing? Whisper? Talk?
• Do they fly? Dance? Float?
• How do you think they worship Hashem?
• How do you think Hashem makes angels?
• What mitzvot can we do to create an angel?
• Do angels have names?
EXPOSURE TO THE FINE ARTS CAN ENHANCE EARLY CHILDHOOD APPRECIATION OF AESTHETIC BEAUTY
Musical Component. Listen to various classical musical selections (voice, opera, cantorial, flute, harp, violin, etc.)
• Students decide what sounds represent the voices of angels.
• Discuss the different types of singing and music they heard.
• Allow them to vocalize their own” angel” sounds, with singing, speaking, bells, musical instruments for each other.
• How did that music make them feel? Happy? Silly? How about “angelic”?
Visual Component. Look at angel art in multiple forms (artists such as Chagall, Michelangelo, paintings, sculpture, etc.).
• What color choices were made by the artist?
• Why is it beautiful to you?
• How does this painting make you feel?
• Does it look different than your idea of an angel?
Physical Component. Let’s dance, fly, float, walk like an angel. Be creative! Scarves, ribbons, fabric can become wings. Create a world that angels live in.
• How can we pretend to be Shabbat angels?
• What do angels like to eat?
• Where do they like to sleep?
• Should we have an angel dance contest?
• What kinds of music should we dance to?
Artistic Component. Display drawings, paintings, clay, or sculpture in an area to be appreciated. Have each child show their work to the class for discussion. Compare their artistic expression to the artwork they saw in the visual component.
• Should we create 3D angels that can hang from the classroom ceiling?
• Can we draw or paint what an angel world looks like?
• What colors should we use to make your angels?
Social/Emotional Component. Create a mitzvah window. When a child does a mitzvah at school, they “create” an angel that gets attached to the window to happily “peek in” for everyone to see.
• How do we feel when pretending to fly like angels?
• Should we invite other classes to observe and share our “angelic” discoveries?
• How do we feel when do help/share with others?
• Why do mitzvot make Hashem happy?
Abstract Component. Compare and contrast similarities or differences in observations and/or in child friendly graph form.
• How are all of your painted angels / scenes different or the same?
• How are they the same or different from other artwork we have observed?
• Why are the angels happy? Do they ever feel sad?
• Do angels have different voices / sounds?
Direct Judaic component. Identify Jewish themes in the song (example) “Lighting candles” and “going to shul.” Explore these actions and bring them to life. Light Shabbat candles with the class, and walk to the “shul” or prayer area in your school. Discuss the reasons why we do these things for Hashem.
• Why do we light candles on Shabbat?
• What are we doing at shul?
• Why do these actions make angels and Hashem happy?