Education through art

Mai Samih , Saturday 28 Sep 2019

Mai Samih meets a Cairo artist who is teaching children to appreciate and express themselves through arts and crafts

Life Up Space
Life Up Space

Many parents send their children to nurseries or art schools in the summer months, with the aim of teaching them how to draw and spend time there instead of possibly causing mischief at home. 

One Cairo artist has decided to teach children art using an indirect but simple method at a workshop called “art camp” organised by the Life Up Space where different forms of art, fitness techniques and crafts are taught.

Monica Shamshoun, the school manager and a fine arts graduate, said that “it all started when I found out about Life Up and was attracted by their belief that art can change society,” adding that art for her has always been a passion.

“We thought of organising a workshop for children to teach them art and crafts and to give them the liberty to express themselves and imagine being taught things without restrictions on their freedom,” Shamshoun said.

“The idea was that children could act freely and learn at the same time by making things with their hands. This will also make a difference for them when they grow up,” she added.

Shamshoun said that the idea came to mind because parents often like their children to learn things at an early age and this age group needs certain attitudes to help them flourish and give them the elbow room to be creative without deforming their imaginations. 

The first workshop lasted for two weeks and featured recycling projects, painting, sculptures and mosaic images made using seeds and pebbles, among other crafts. There was also a visit to the Adam Henein Museum and the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

“We teach the children how to make animal shapes using paper from recycled materials. The aim is to make simple artistic shapes out of the materials, like roses. Another aim is for the children to just experiment with the materials and the colours until they have made something artistic, rather than expect them to do superb paintings all at once, since they are still at a very early age,” Shamshoun said.

“We have samples of the things we intend to make and show the children step by step how to make them by themselves. The shapes they are supposed to use are already cut out for them, so they can be ready to make things themselves. We let the children examine the materials before they use them, so that they know what the right material for each shape is,” she said.

While the last workshop was the first time that an event of this type had been organised for infants, there had already been such workshops for other age groups, including family members working with recycled materials and making them into useful objects. A mother and daughter might draw together, for example. Some 17 children attended the first infants workshop, and many others are eager to join future ones. 

DIY flower

“The workshop was a very good idea. I especially liked the part where we were allowed to sketch anything we saw, or use unusual materials like lentils and rice for collages,” said Celine Rami, a primary school pupil. “The instructors were friendly, and I particularly liked the games we played, like lava balls. We also made castles out of recycled cardboard and plastic. We worked in groups of four. I wish the workshop had lasted much longer than six hours because we had so much fun,” she added.

Her mother Mariam Emad said her daughter had had so much fun that she intends to send her to a similar workshop in the future. “They took care of all the details and taught the children the benefits of group work, which will help them cooperate with others on the social level. The field trips also helped them to discover things they don’t usually see, like museums,” she said.

The workshop fees cover the cost of the materials, so the children do not have to bring anything with them. Parents get to monitor their children from behind glass walls, while children are assisted by staff members.

“At Life Up, we believe that an artist can start to appear at an early age, even though this workshop can appear to be beyond his age group. It is not only technique that a child learns here, but also values he can apply to his life. The workshop can help a child to build his personality,” Shamshoun said.

She added that the workshops are careful to observe all health and safety measures. “We make sure that the children do not use scissors alone when they are working, and if they do need to use such tools we are there to help them. In some cases, we even cut out the shapes they need for them. We try not to use glue guns because they get hot and they need a lot of supervision. If we want to stick things, we use a glue stick or sticky tape instead,” she said.

“Nature is full of shapes that we can use. The aim it for a child to be more aware that he can make art out of the simple materials around him. A child can make a collage out of leaves or a mosaic out of lentils and things like that, for example. These are natural things that make the children use their minds to see that art is everywhere around them.”

The Life Up Space has now been operating for five years, and it offers some 40 courses in the field of art. There is a junior art school for children from the ages of five to 15 who are committed to learning art with a syllabus composed of ten levels during which they have the opportunity to use different materials and tools while producing water colours, soft pastels, oil paintings, acrylics, collages, prints, and so on. 

They draw natural scenes and gradually start to produce portraits. The classes are organised so that the children can understand and become more aware of the materials they like the most. This increases their self-confidence, and they start to understand their interests in terms of the types of arts they would like to practise in the future,” Shamshoun noted.

“We even teach them the history of art and about famous artists and the materials and techniques they used. A child ends up understanding the techniques and learns about the artists who used them at the same time,” she added.

“One of the most important things is that any instructor who is to teach these children should be aware and able to see the children’s talents in his own way. He should not compare any child to other children in terms of how fast they are in developing. He should also understand the stages or phases of a child’s development.  He should be able to see what is good in these children,” Shamshoun said.

“This summer, we have been working on the art camp, which lasts for many consecutive weeks and is like a school where children come every day during school hours and learn about art and art activities and are allowed to play. Every week we have a different theme. The first week is about observing nature, in which we show children natural materials and let them discover materials from nature – printing from leaves, for example, or using coffee and spices for water colours instead of traditional colours.”

Shamshoun is now planning a field texture week that will help children use their tactile senses. Another idea is a media master’s week in which they can explore artists from the history of art through their different styles. They could be introduced to Van Gogh, for example, and see how different he is to Picasso in terms of his use of colour, light and technique. 

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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