Diana Bick’s students at Hillcrest Progressive School are unusually conversant with the work of artists such as Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and Vincent Van Gogh, given that they are only four and five years old.
Recently, Bick led a senior kindergarten class in a discussion about Andy Warhol, reviewing what the children had learned in a previous class. “What kind of things did he paint?” she asked.
“Soup cans!” piped up one youngster.
“Do you remember why he painted soup cans?” Bick prompted. “He was sick, and what did his mummy feed him?”
The discussion circle – which included concepts like intensity of colour, complementary and contrasting colours, and what constitutes art – preceded work on a Warhol-like art project.
Each student had a paper divided into four squares, and painted traced images of their hand in each of the four squares. Bick also read the class a story by Warhol’s nephew, James Warhola, titled Uncle Andy’s.
An award-winning artist who teaches a junior kindergarten class in the mornings and art in the afternoon, Bick likes to use a Smart Board as part of her lessons. She often shows the children art images and videos about artists.
Bick has been at the 83-year-old Jewish preschool school since 1986, when she was an early childhood education student at Humber College.
A mother of three children, now 22, 20 and 18, Bick worked part-time during their growing-up years.
As a teenager at Vincent Massey Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, she wondered whether to pursue art or early childhood education, opting for the latter with the intention of pursuing her art studies later.
“I loved art class in school,” she said. “For my birthdays I’d get art kits and pencil kits. I was always drawing.”
She traces her interest in art back to her childhood, when her father would draw funny cartoons of family events – of her not eating her eggs, for example – and leave them for her to find.
Art has been “sort of a second career I’ve been fostering for years,” Bick said. A member of the Bayview Watercolour Society and Toronto Watercolour Society, Bick studied for several summers at the Haliburton School of the Arts. She also studied art, history and literature at York University and has taken private art instruction.
Bick initially instituted art education in her own classroom and was asked to bring the program to other classes in the school. She has also done pottery with her students.
As well, she makes a point of incorporating art activities into holiday and special occasion activities.
“I really believe strongly in incorporating art and learning through art,” she said. Benefits include improvement in fine motor skills, focus, and colour recognition, she added.
Her work at the school “really combines my two passions.”
For Bick, the process of creating art is the most important part of the lesson. “You’re supposed to be in that creative zone. There’s no right and wrong… I want it to be a successful, happy and rewarding experience.”
A lesson from the teacher: “Children are never too young to start learning about art and its history… I believe that children are naturally creative.”