In 2017, Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center was one of 13 schools named recipients of a grant from the Arts and Education Council's Maritz Arts and Education Fund for Teachers. With the grant, the school’s art teacher, Kari Schepker-Mueller, created the Bodies in Motion project for her second graders.

The school operates around the theme of “School as Studio” for its preK through 2nd grade classrooms, encouraging arts integration throughout the curriculum, which is based in the Reggio Emilia pedagogy.

“With the Reggio method, students are encouraged to start internalizing who they are and what they need and how they’re part of our community,” explained Schepker-Mueller, who has taught in the MRH school district for 17 years. “We use portrait work to help them feel included and involved and be aware of a sense of self.”

The way that portrait work is incorporated into the classroom progresses with each grade level as the students progress developmentally – from drawing faces in kindergarten to full body portraits in first grade and now, 3-D animation in second grade.

“Bodies in Motion is the first year we have tried to do a 3-D project,” Schepker-Mueller said. “This is hopefully going to become an ongoing project.”

Schepker-Mueller has worked with each second grade classroom teacher to identify a theme that resonated with those students. The students then work with their classroom teacher to choose a story they want to tell, then create a storyboard, build their characters out of clay, draw their scenes and ultimately, turn their story into a stop motion animation using iPod touches and a free app.

And, while teaching stop motion is new to Schepker-Mueller, teaching through experimentation and observation isn’t. In fact, her art room is set up with stations, ranging from collage and sculpture to drawing and dress-up. The students can choose where to go each day.

“I run a choice-based or TAB [Teaching for Artistic Behaviors] program,” she explained. “Artists don’t all sit in the same room and draw the same thing all the time. We have our own ideas and we want to express them in our own way. Yes, I teach skills and front load skills. Each area has skills, so I keep track of where they go because I do have to observe and document their skills.”

TAB has been growing in popularity since the 1970s, but Schepker-Mueller says only recently has it been integrated into “mainstream public” schools like the Maplewood Richmond Heights school district. 

“You’re teaching value but when they need it because that’s when it catches. In the moment, if they want to make something look real, I can sit down with them and show them right then. And because they need that skill then, they acquire it,” she explained.

“They are so much more engaged when they get to make that conscious choice of ‘I’m going to draw today.’”

– Kari Schepker-Mueller, art teacher at MRH Early Childhood Center (an A&E grantee)

During the Bodies in Motion project, the TAB approach was evident. One student’s question of how many photos he needed to take per minute quickly became a math lesson and another’s question about how to depict her idea for a 3-D space on a 2-D surface became a lesson in perspective that resonated in a way that might not have otherwise.

And the results are fascinating – just check out this quick stop motion animation created by second grader Ethan during our visit.

These are seven and eight year olds confidently expressing their ideas and visions through storyboards, clay models and stop motion animation. Along they way, they are learning the value of experimentation and teamwork, while also hitting state educational standards, and, dare we say it – having tons of fun.

To apply for the Maritz Arts and Education Fund for Teachers, click here. 

To keep meaningful arts experiences happening for students throughout the bi-state region, make a gift to the Arts and Education Council today.

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