Teaching children the joy of creating

Educator: Margie Eisenstein gets a national honor for inspiring elementary school kids to find personal meaning in their art.

August 14, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When third-graders at St. John's Lane Elementary School were studying regions of the world, they learned about new cultures with unusual customs. One cultural tradition they got to try for themselves was drawing with mud.

In art teacher Margie Eisenstein's class, projects are often inspired by the regular classroom curriculum. "We try to make as many connections as possible ... make it cohesive for the kids," she said.

The third-graders' African "mud cloths," decorated with mud-ink symbols, was one of those connections.

The National Art Education Association named Eisenstein its National Elementary Art Educator of the Year 2002 for her work in the classroom and in the community. Eisenstein has taught in Howard County elementary schools for 14 years.

After three years at St. John's Lane in Ellicott City, she will move to Hollifield Station for the 2002-2003 school year.

Eisenstein is active in the state chapter of the professional art educators group. She served as treasurer of the Maryland Art Education Association for eight years and has given seminars at national conferences.

She said the benefit of being involved in a professional education association is that "I get to know people outside of Howard County."

The nomination process for the national award is a long one. In 1995, Eisenstein received an Eastern Region elementary art educator award. Last year, she was selected as the Maryland Art Educator of the year before being nominated for national recognition.

Debbie Jagoda, principal at St. John's Lane, said Eisenstein is "able to help each child learn to love art in each child's special way. There's not a child here who wouldn't say, `I'm good at art.' It's not just the curriculum - it's being able to teach the joy of creating something."

One of Eisenstein's favorite classroom projects is the African mud cloths. Pupils each came up with three symbols to represent their personalities: An athletic child could choose an animal, a loving person might use two rings linked together.

The third-graders used mud ink to make the symbols on a cloth and then washed the mud away, leaving only a dye. The finished cloths were sewed into pillows for each pupil.

"The main thing for me is that I want the lesson to be meaningful to the kids. I want them to be able to tell something about themselves in the artwork," Eisenstein said. "I just see how art can be such a central part of a child's education."

Another art project was done in conjunction with a second-grade science unit on insects. Pupils worked on an insect habitat collage, a three-layer drawing that displayed insects in the sky, at ground level and underground. The youths used crayon for their creations, but added cut paper to give the drawings texture and depth.

Eisenstein's instruction goes beyond elementary school. Each spring and fall, Eisenstein teaches a Saturday art course at Baltimore's Maryland Institute College of Art. The class is for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

She also works with adults. At Towson University, Eisenstein teaches early childhood educators about art.

Eisenstein said that what she enjoys most about teaching art is the response she gets from her pupils.

"I like how, if I present a problem that's really open-ended to the students, I can have a classroom of 20 kids respond in a way that's meaningful to them instead of having 20 things all the same," she said.

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