The Mobile Art Studio (Ep. 235)

In today’s episode, AOEU Instructor April Malphurs joins Candido to discuss her mobile art studio and how she brings art to her community. Listen as they discuss the benefits of community-based education programs, how they motivate reluctant learners, and the joy that comes from teaching art outside a traditional classroom setting.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Candido: In recent months, I’ve had the pleasure of walking in the shoes of a teaching artist through my community-based art project. There are elements that are familiar but there are differences as well. I happened to enjoy the opportunity of teaching without all the red tape and really connecting with the community directly. However, I’m still pretty new to this, so after an impromptu hotel lobby conversation with April Malphurs, I asked her to join us for a discussion about the similarities and differences between classroom teachers and teaching artists, and to learn about the Spark Mobile Art Studio. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Candido Crespo.

All right. I’m so excited about our guest for this episode. April, could you please just tell us a little bit about yourself? Maybe what your role in education is and who are you currently serving?

April: Sure. So, I’ve kind of gone back and forth throughout my career. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years in art ed and sometimes I’ve been in a public school setting, mainly K through five. And, other times I’ve been in community settings, working with community education or art centers, children’s museums and just different situations like that. And, I’ve just kind of flipped it back and forth depending on what my family needs were and balancing that with my own passion for art ed.

And then, right now, I’m also, in addition to working with children, I teach at the Art of Education University, teaching art teachers who are getting their master’s degrees.

Candido: So, a couple of questions come to mind just from this. Did you mention where you currently are living or teaching?

April: Actually, I live in… Yeah. Sorry. I live in Minnesota, about an hour south of the Twin Cities, in a small city.

Candido: Okay.

April: Like, you know, it’s classified as a city. My kids would say it’s a town.

Candido: All right. And then, so, I have this grand question but it’s not… I guess it doesn’t make sense for this particular conversation, but maybe you can just answer it. How has that difference been, teaching children versus teaching adults?

April: You know, it’s… It’s been really fun and there are… There’s more overlap than you would think.

Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

April: Like, you know, some of the skills I think that I apply with having conversations with parents, I apply those same principles to my students. Like, I guess if a student’s really worried about something, I always try to think what is it that’s causing them to write me this email and then try to think from their perspective what is it they’re worried about and then respond with that first, like, oh, you know, let me reassure you. You’re doing really well in the class. And so, I think those are the same kind of skills you apply when you’re kind of working with parents.

Candido: Right.

April: And then, yeah. I don’t know. It’s just… There are similarities and differences, but I just… I’ve found them both really enjoyable. I never thought that just teaching online would be so fun, but I’ve done studio courses and everything and I really enjoy it, so.

Candido: That’s neat. All right. Thanks for sharing that. And, speaking of differences… So, we’ve had this conversation a bunch of times already now, but we never recorded this engagement, so what would you say is a difference between community-based art education and the classroom setting?

April: So, I think the biggest difference to me is kind of predictability and flexibility, and around that… Like, when you think about teaching K five especially, you know, there’s a schedule that’s kind of predicting your time. You know every 50 minutes you’re going to get another group of kids. If you’re lucky, you have an hour and… And so, there’s that predictability with the schedule, and then you have a kind of… A semi-homogenous group in that they’re all going to be first graders usually or fifth graders coming at that particular time, and then you differentiate within that. And… And then, the last thing I guess in the terms of that predictability would be that you get to have the same kids from week to week and year to year and build a relationship kind of long term would be how I see public school teaching.

And then, when you’re in the community setting, you’re never sure how many families you’re going to get or kids you’re going to get, so that’s an unpredictable factor. You’re going to have a wider age range and you don’t always know ahead of time, so you kind of have to be planning for a lot of different scenarios. And then, you may or may not have the same kids from week to week. But then, on the other hand, one thing I really enjoy is a little bit of flexibility with time. You know, if I’m doing a community project and it’s supposed to end at X time but the kids are really engaged, I can make the choice if I want to to go a little longer and not feel that pressure of, oops, we got to get out the door so the next class can come in.

And then, yeah. Just like… You just have to be really flexible, I think, as a teacher and kind of shift with the scenario a lot. And, a good example of that is I used to be a director of a nonprofit, The Creative Play Place, and with that in the summer we closed… It was kind of like a free mini children’s museum and it’s still operating, but… But, in the summer, we would close because we wanted kids to be outdoors and playing outside. So, we would just do outdoor programming and we had all these arts events that we would bring in guest artists for and one… Sometimes we would get like four families for the art project that came before the event, but one time we were having this concert and we had 40 families show up and I had… Yeah.

So, I had like picnic tables set up with the art project and then more families kept coming in, more families, and so I was just like, okay. We’re just going to all come over here and meet on the ground to talk about what we’re doing today. And, we just formed a big huge circle and then they all kind of went to their own places and worked. But, you know, it’s that kind of thing that you just have to go, okay, today’s going to be really different and we got to change, so.

Candido: I love that. And, were you prepared for 40 families? Did you have enough…? You had everything you needed?

April: I had enough supplies.

Candido: Wow.

April: It’s just like tables-wise, you know, we were not going to all fit at the picnic tables.

Candido: Yeah.

April: And so, I was like, okay. Well, we’ll just change this.

Candido: Okay. Before we go into your current project, you mentioned flexibility a number of times and I think… I think… I think I want to just expand on that a little bit because when I think of teaching, that’s one of those… That’s one of those elements I think that’s super important for both new teachers and veteran teachers.

April: Yes.

Candido: You know, alike, is that there should be a strong emphasis on understanding the need to be flexible. I have my ideas on it. Well, what comes to mind for you, like, you know, with flexibility?

April: So, in the classroom setting?

Candido: Sure. Let’s go to that classroom setting.

April: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think… Yeah. I think that even though you have that time structure that keeps you a little more rigid, I guess, I think again you have to have that flexibility in place of if the kids are really running with a project, maybe it’s going to go longer than what you first anticipated or their ideas… You know, I’m a big believer in that art is supposed to help kids recognize that it’s a way to share their stories with the world.

Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

April: And so, you know, when I’m having a discussion with them, I’ll have ideas about what direction it might go in terms of their ideas, but you have to be open to that, like maybe the kids are going to end up having ideas that take it in a completely different direction. And so, I guess those are two areas that really pop up for me.

Candido: Yeah.

April: And then, the obvious. Like, you know, you think that you’re going to have time at the end of class to share and line everyone up and then somebody’s water can spills and plans change and you’re like, “Okay, kids. Let’s… You guys do this.” And, you know? So, there’s that flexibility, too, that’s more of like emergency based.

Candido: Then, suddenly this is also attached for review next week.

April: Exactly.

Candido: For me, when I think about flexibility, I… You know, I like to tell new teachers that it’s okay if a project doesn’t work and you recognize that very early on in the class. You know? Or, you know, you tried to teach it to one class and you realize like, hey, this is not going to be the lesson for this week. It’s just not going to work out.

April: Right.

Candido: Like, I think teachers should feel comfortable in that way to say like and just recognize and using self-reflection really early on and just saying like, “Wait a minute. This is… This is not the lesson. This is not the one that we need to be doing this week or I need to be doing with this group.” And, being okay with that and being okay with saying, hey, yeah, even though I did spend some time on creating this lesson, if it’s not working for the group, just let it go.

April: Yes.

Candido: Move on to something else because you’re probably going to find more value in something completely different instead of being stuck on this one thing. So, being open to the idea of moving on.

April: Yeah.

Candido: All right.

April: I think that’s very true.

Candido: All right. So, what is Spark Mobile Art Studio? I’m so intrigued by this.

April: Okay. So, last summer, the program started and it’s… The philosophy is to take art to kids in the neighborhoods that they live in. So, we picked six different sites that we went to once a week and it lasted for seven weeks. Basically, my car served as the mobile art studio and we just had everything very organized because of COVID so that… Like, we had bins for every kid and disinfecting and all that crazy stuff that had to happen. But, it was all just in the back of my car in bins and then I would drive to the different locations in our city and do art with the kids.

Candido: Great.

April: So, that’s kind of the basic of it, the basis of it.

Candido: When I first heard the name, I was like, wow. She’s really pulling up in an RV with an expandable studio space. The name… I was like… I was like, is this for real? Is this really happening? But, now that you mention it, that’s exactly the way I should have seen it because there is that mom… There is that element of like pure investment. And, yeah, of course it’s you in your car and you’re taking the materials out of the car. It just… That’s just… You know, that’s just the way it would be. That’s the way my experience currently is in the project that I’m doing in the community as well. I just have these bins inside of my personal car.

April: It’s funny that you say that because one time last year, the director of community ed and I were chatting and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if somebody donated an RV and we could like…?.”

Candido: I could see it. I could see it.

April: I totally get that.

Candido: Well, maybe. You know, maybe. How did…? How did you decide the target audience for this program?

April: So, Tammy Skinner is the director of family and community ed here in St. Peter and she reached out to me. She had seen my… I had done a presentation for the World Minnesota Equity Summit.

Candido: Right.

April: And so, she reached out to me. We had worked together a lot in the past and she knew that she wanted to target groups of kids that she didn’t feel were accessing the community education programs, and so, she wanted to think about what were the barriers that were keeping kids from participating. And so, we met and we talked about it a lot and she really felt that it was an issue of transportation, kids whose both their parents were working during the day and couldn’t get them to the summer programming and… And then, that registration itself created a barrier, and cost.

Candido: Right.

April: And so, that was kind of the things that we were looking to and then she wanted… So, she wanted to reach the BIPOC children in our community and then low income families.

Candido: Right.

April: And so, we basically tried to look at where were the neighbors… Neighborhoods that had the largest populations that fit those groups and planned for those to be the sites that we would go to.

Candido: Right. Okay. Okay. And now, I’m still very new to community-based art education because I’m very much a classroom teacher, this being my 15th year. But, I have started to explore the idea. I have always been interested in taking… Of connecting the classroom to the community. Right? But, that’s still very much different than being a teaching artist and specifically working in a community-based program. And so, I’m interested. What’s the…? What’s like…? What’s the process like, designing lesson plans for something like this?

April: So, you know, I follow a similar format to thinking about the lessons that I would for teaching except I guess there’s more freedom, like you don’t feel like you have to cover any particular standards. And so, a focus that we wanted when Tammy and I talked was to incorporate social emotional learning into the art projects as one big goal and then the second goal was to make sure that the kids could see themselves as artists, and so I wanted to use a mirrors and windows approach where any art I shared would help them kind of expand their view of the world and also allow them to see themselves in the artists. So, just including a lot of diverse artists in all the lessons that we planned.

And so, I would start with kind of like those goals and then thinking through from there what kind of lessons I could develop from that and then we would kind of think about the materials and stuff. So, I… So, like a backwards design model.

Candido: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. If I want to reference an artist inside of my classroom, I can move over to my keyboard or my smart board and pull up that artist and their artwork.

April: Yes.

Candido: I don’t think that you have a smartboard in your car.

April: No.

Candido: All right.

April: And, maybe that’s where my age comes in handy.

Candido: Okay.

April: Because, I remember in the nineties, if I wanted to include diverse artists, I had to really go searching museums and I [inaudible 00:15:45]… Like, a colleague of mine and I designed an afterschool program and that was a big focus for us because you couldn’t… In the nineties, you couldn’t get posters very often.

Candido: Right.

April: Except for the masters.

Candido: Right.

April: And… And so, we both would go to art museums together and just scour through the posters and… And then, finding information on the artists was a lot harder then. So, actually we wrote to… Oh, shoot. Now I’m going to blank on his name.

Candido: That’s okay. It’s one of those things that will come to you after the recording, for sure.

April: Charles… Charles Serrels.

Candido: Oh, right.

April: I don’t know if you are familiar with his work. We couldn’t find any information on him and so we wrote a letter and we found out… I found an address and we sent it to him in Philadelphia and we didn’t hear back for a long time and we thought, “Okay. We probably had the wrong address.” Six months later, we got a letter back and we had sent it to his sister’s address and he was so honored that we wanted to use his art with the kids and he wrote us this wonderful personal letter, answering our questions. All kinds of stuff that you can look up on Wikipedia now.

Candido: Yeah, for sure.

April: But… But then, you couldn’t. And so… So, having had worked back then, I’m like, okay, we need hands on stuff. So, I make little eight and a half by 11 sheets that have information. I laminate them because then with COVID we can clean it really easily.

Candido: Yeah.

April: And, yeah. And so, the kids can actually hold it in their hands and look at it. So, that was a long answer, but…

Candido: Yeah. No. But, it’s the… But, it’s an important answer because it’s something that, as soon as you started talking, I was like, oh, like what… What do we do? Because, of course, early on in my career, I do remember having art, like biographical books. Right? Or like, you know, you had the large hardcover … You know?

April: Yeah.

Candido: Hardcover books that have imagery from specific artists or a specific era. And, those were super useful in the beginning as well. But, lugging those around could be pretty… You know, pretty tough especially if… You know, a book that’s like 300 pages but you only needed one image out of that book.

April: Yes.

Candido: It’s not going to be… That’s a… That’s not good to do, either. Oh. Now, there is things that are the same and there are things that are different. But, you don’t have to test these students and you don’t have to answer to a director asking you, “Did you fulfill curriculum requirements?.”

April: Yeah.

Candido: How do you evaluate a program like this?

April: So, there are a couple different things. Since we had a grant… You know, usually grants like to have a little bit of results to show what you did. So, one of the things we did is we collected numerical data about how many children participated and I would track that every week because that was just the easiest way for me to keep track of it. So, I just would, after a class, quickly write it into my phone and then I had a spreadsheet at home that I would add it back into.

And, since the grant was focusing on serving BIPOC youth, we especially tracked that statistic and we were really happy to see that we had a 35% participation rate and we have only about half of that in terms of percentage of population in our town.

Candido: Right.

April: So, we felt like we were doing well but then we want to increase that number for this coming year.

Candido: Yeah.

April: Since that is the target audience. And so, that was one way. And then, the other way is just like feedback, asking parents that came with the kids what they liked about the program or what feedback they had for us about the program. And then, asking the kids what… Why they liked coming and that was really insightful, too.

Candido: All right. That’s great. That’s great. For your… For your records of keeping track, is it so specific as to…? Because, something I did recently required me to even share the genders of my students. Are you responsible for that? And, when you say that the target audience is BIPOC, are you also looking at specifically like identifying like black students, Latinx students, like that? Or, you know, like what…? How specific is that?

April: The grant didn’t ask us to be that specific. But, I did actually track different ethnicities.

Candido: Oh, okay.

April: And, you know, our town is not huge so the majority of our students would… That would fall into the grant categories would be Latinx.

Candido: Okay.

April: And, Somali.

Candido: Okay.

April: So, like, I kept it, you know? And then, a few black families that wouldn’t fall into the Somali culture.

Candido: Yeah.

April: And, a few Asian kids.

Candido: Got it.

April: But, yeah. I wouldn’t say we’re hugely diverse, so it’s easier in some ways to track.

Candido: Yeah. I think I’m more asking the question, you know, for anybody who is listening to this that is going to embark on a… You know, their own program. Like,  how they should prepare themselves or start thinking about when.

April: Yeah.

Candido: And, the evaluation comes to mind. You know, comes to where… Or, rather when a program needs to be evaluated, what types of things they need to keep in mind. So, yeah. Just wanted to ask for that.

April: Yeah. And, we did not keep a gender breakdown just because, again, the grant didn’t ask for that.

Candido: Yeah.

April: But, now that you’re asking, it’s kind of like… Would be an interesting statistic for just for my own purposes to think through.

Candido: Yeah. I was thrown off when I was asked for it. It wasn’t something I had initially been prepared to do. But, interesting enough, the program… So, just to be clear, it was… It was a community art show that included my middle school students. But, something that was different between the two years that I have done this is one year I did it with my eighth-grade studio art class and the most recent was with my seventh-grade class. But, my studio art class is predominantly young ladies and my standard seventh-grade class is much more like split down the middle because the interest level of our boys weans as they get older in our district.

And so, the eighth grade studio art class being a semi-advanced class for middle school, I have less young men who are interested in pursuing, so… So, the first time I did this art show, it was predominantly girls and then now… And, the lat… You know, this past year, it was like split pretty even. So, while… You know, while I didn’t understand it at first, for me, looking back on it, it was something that brought attention that if I were to move forward with doing this program in the future, I would want to do it… You know, I would want to have that balance.

April: Right.

Candido: Yeah.

April: Yeah. That’s interesting. Well, in terms of gender, I don’t know if you want me to talk a little bit about that, too, with the group now.

Candido: Yeah.

April: But, so, yes. I agree. I think a lot of times when I do community art things, a lot of… A lot of programs, it’s a lot of girls signing up for.

Candido: Right.

April: And, you get a lot of that, I think, because it’s a sign up program.

Candido: Okay.

April: Let’s say.

Candido: Yeah.

April: But, one of the most… One of the pleasant surprises…

Candido: Right.

April: That… You know, we… When we evaluated the program, one of things we wrote about at the end was just surprises, things we didn’t expect to come up, and the site that was our most successful site to me in terms of BIPOC participation and consistent participation because I had the same kids coming almost every week and that doesn’t always happen in a community program. And so, I felt like there was a lot of investment in this group.

Candido: Right.

April: So, with that group, it was 90% boys.

Candido: Wow.

April: And, that was really surprising. And, initially, it was… I was worried because there were a group of about four or five boys that were on the upper age range and they wouldn’t participate the first time I was there.

Candido: Right.

April: They just kind of came and they would tease the younger boys for participating and then eventually the younger boys would go off chasing them. And so, I was like, oh, I’m going to lose them. So, I thought, okay. I need to have a plan for how to handle this and so then the next week when it started to happen, I said, “You know, why don’t you guys join us?.” And, they were like, “No. No. We don’t want to do this.” And… And, I said, “Well, you know, I think you’d have a really good time if you did.”

And, I said, “And, if you don’t want to join us, these guys really, really want to do the art, so if you just want to play, why don’t you come back a little later when we’re done and you guys can play? But, I’d really love it if you just sat down and tried it.”

Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

April: And so, I got about half of them to sit down and try it and then the other two decided to leave and that was fine. Well, those boys ended up being my biggest fans.

Candido: Ah.

April: They came running every week when my car pulled in. There was one day where it was going to… It looked really rainy and we were not sure… Like, there was potential for thunderstorms and tornado watches. And so, as soon as it started to rain, they were like, “Quick. We’ll pick everything up and we’ll go in the tornado shelter.” And, they like… Before I could like even get fully stood up and start picking things up, they had like whisked everything inside and reset it up.

Candido: Wow.

April: And so, they just turned out to be my, like, assistants.

Candido: Yeah.

April: They were just super invested in it and when we did that… The surveys with them at the end, just asking them what they wanted to share… That’s how I worded it. What do you want to share about the summer program? Because, that way it didn’t lead them to have to say that they liked it.

Candido: Yeah. Yeah, right.

April: And, the one kid said, “Well, to be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like this.”

Candido: Yeah.

April: “And, when I sat down and actually tried it, then I really loved it and I wanted to come every week.” So, to me, that was a huge success.

Candido: All right. A program like this can’t exist without funding. Have you found it to be a struggle to receive the funding for this program?

April: We actually were very fortunate. So, community and family education has their own funding for some things but because of COVID, they had lost a lot of income and so when Tammy came to me, she knew that we were going to need to get a grant because she wouldn’t have had the funding otherwise. And, we got very lucky. There’s an organization, The Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, and they have funding for different kinds of projects. Part of their funding comes from the state of Minnesota. One of the amazing things about Minnesota is about… I want to say maybe 15 years ago the… The public voted that part of our taxes will be spent on preserving nature and preserving the arts.

Candido: Oh, wow.

April: And so, part of our tax money is set aside just to do those two things, and so, Prairie Lakes gets some of the funding from the state and then they get other funding from the McKnight Foundation and so both of those funding sources give them the money and then they review grants and hand out the money to support the arts.

Candido: Wow.

April: Just the arts for that particular thing. So, I feel very fortunate to live in Minnesota and as an artist, I’ve benefited a lot from grant money.

Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

April: So, in this particular case, we were super lucky because Prairie Lakes recognized that because of COVID, everyone was hurting in the arts and so they dropped all matching funds. So, we applied for the grant and we got the grant and then in… I want to say December, maybe, of this year they reached back out to Tammy and they said, “We really hope you guys will apply again and if you do, there’s an extra thousand dollars this year.”

Candido: Oh. All right.

April: So… So, yeah. So, this year we applied. We got the extra thousand and so we’re having two guest artists, one Mexican American painter that does a lot of muraling and community work and I really wanted him because I think he’ll be an awesome role model for those boys that were participating.

Candido: Sure.

April: And, I just want them to realize they can be artists.

Candido: Yeah.

April: And… And then, the second is a Somali American student that’s just finishing her master’s degree that does printmaking, and so, I’m really excited for those kids to see themselves and their cultures reflected in artists in our area, so.

Candido: Oh, I’m… I’m really excited about… About this… You know, about the mobile art studio and what you’re doing. It sounds phenomenal. I have two last questions and… What did you learn in this past year of moving forward that you can apply moving forward?

April: I think the most important thing we learned is that you need community connections. The places where we were most successful, I… Like, I went the first time and no one was there. You know, like, I sat around with my car parked and I put everything out and no one came. And so, then, I was like, okay. Well, I’m going to just deliver flyers to everyone’s door so that maybe they’ll know next time. And, there was this mom who kind of watched me the whole time and was probably like, you know, what is this lady doing and do we trust her?

And… And so, when I finally got back to my car, she was like, “Hi. What are you doing?.” And so, we ended up talking for probably 40 minutes and she shared a lot of things with me and I shared a lot about the program and she’s like, “Well, I’m going to look into why none of the kids are here.” And so, then she contacted me. I gave her my phone number and she said, “You know what? They’re all in summer school at this time.”

And so, then we changed the time so it didn’t conflict with summer school. And so, that connection was just huge because then she could tell all her neighbors, “You can trust her.” You know? Because, I mean, I’m just this woman showing up like in the mobile home park, you know, parking my car and unloading this stuff in the grass. You know, would you send your kid to meet me? You know?

So, I just like… You have to have that community connection.

Candido: Yeah.

April: So, that they… You know, they can say, “Yeah. I talked to this lady. She’s safe. We can trust her.”

Candido: Sure.

April: “The kids… You know? And, she’ll be here next week at this time.” And so, that’s a big piece that we’re working on for this year to make sure that we have a really… A parent that connects with us in every one of the six communities that we’re going to go to. And then, we also, with the additional funds, hired an assistant who… She is going to college for art and she grew up here in St. Peter and so she’s also a Mexican American and she was like, “Oh yeah. I know so and so and I know so and so.”

Candido: Right.

April: And so, she’ll be able to form those connections, too. So, I would say… You know, a lot of people have asked us, “Well, how do I reproduce this in my own town? Can you just come, April, and teach in our town?.” And… And, we were like, “Actually, you kind of need to start with people in your town.”

Candido: Yeah.

April: Because, like, I know who I can go to to ask for help and who I can connect with. But, I’m not going to know that in someone else’s town.

Candido: Right.

April: So, I think you just have to really do your research and try to figure out who can you connect to. And, we had a lot of people helping us in that way.

Candido: Yeah. Yeah. I think that… I think that’s excellent and so important. All right. And, the last thing I’m going to ask you. During your time in the mobile art studio, what has been your favorite moment?

April: Okay. So, it was actually the first week in that particular mobile home park that… Where the mom initially was like, “Who are you?.” And then, once we got the schedule changed and we had a time where the kids showed up, it was the very first week where I got to work with all of those kids and I had recognized that we were doing social emotional stuff but I couldn’t just come in as this stranger and say, “So, tell me how you’re all feeling. Tell me your personal lives.” You know?

And so, we started with animals and how do animals feel and how do we know how animals feel, and we made paper puppets and they got so into the puppets. They were making two and three puppets each and just having the best time and everybody’s puppets were completely different and… And so, I just made this offhand comment like, “Man, we have enough puppets here. We could do a whole show.” And, they were like, “Can we do a puppet show?.” And, I was like, “Well, sure.”

And so, then the next thing I know, they get up and they all run off and I’m like, okay, I think I just lost them all. And… But, they… They came back and there was like this bed and bed frame that someone must be getting rid of that was just kind of like alongside of the road.

Candido: Okay.

April: And so, it wasn’t close enough that it was dangerous but, you know… And so, they dragged this bed frame back and they turn it up on their side and they’re like, “Okay. Get your blankets.” That we’ve been sitting on. And so, then they throw the blankets over this metal bed frame and then they’re all talking about like, “Well, what’s the puppet show going to be?.” And, while they’re doing this, I’m just kind of hanging back and letting them just be in complete control. And so, I’m putting stuff in my car and I’m just like eavesdropping on the conversation.

And, as it turned out, the kids that were doing the puppet show… Like, a whole bunch of them had like for the base color, they had like blue or… I think it was blue. And then, there were just like two or three that had yellow and so they were like, “I know. We’re all going to… We’re all going to want to be playing and the blue puppets are going to tell the yellow puppets their… Like, they can’t play with us because they’re not like us.”

Candido: Yeah.

April: And, the older siblings instantly jumped in and they were like, “You can’t do that. That’s racist.” And so, then all of them start having this conversation, like, “Well, what are we going to do?” And so, then they came back and they were like, “You know what? How about if we started out like that and then we figure out a way that everyone can be included and everyone can play together?.” And, I was like, “Okay. That’s really awesome.”

Candido: That’s it. Yeah.

April: So, I just loved it that they were playing out real world concerns and coming up with a solution that made everyone happy and it was just all their idea.

Candido: Yeah.

April: You know? And, I think… I don’t know. It reminds me of whenever I’ve worked with preschool kids, too, like if there are hurricanes in the news. All of a sudden, they’re playing hurricane and they’re working it out and they’re figuring it out for themselves and I just think… I don’t know. The more we let kids play and experiment, I think they have all the answers if we listen.

Candido: Yeah. I agree. I agree. Well, thank you so much for sharing and I can’t wait for people to hear about your project and all that you’re doing.

April: Well, thank you for including me. It was wonderful to talk to you.

Candido: I’m kind of fired up after talking with April. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about her vision and how she’s gone about building it out. Truth is, after this conversation and the one with Shana Circe from episode 224, I think teaching in both environments has allowed me to only get better at both and I plan to continue to improve and explore. Thanks for listening to Everyday Art Room. I hope you’ve learned enough to want to know more. Catch you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.