EAST CAMPUS: Students connect with nature, science by studying Monet's art

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 4:07 p.m. CDT; updated 4:13 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 23, 2011
A student from Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School paints along with other second graders at the wildlife pond next to Stephens Hall on MU's campus Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — A picturesque scene — a pond, water lilies, reflections, natural light and children — made up a secret garden at MU.

Eighteen Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School second-graders visited MU's Wildlife Pond, between Stephens and Lefevre halls, to learn about the prominent artist Claude Monet and re-interpret his artwork by painting their own.


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“Today we’re studying artist Claude Monet,” said Ann Mehr, art specialist of Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School. She explained slowly to the students who sat quietly by the pond: “We’ll paint the blooming water lilies outdoors today.”

Mehr, who has been teaching at Lee Elementary for 25 years, asked her inquisitive-looking students: “What's Monet’s style?”

The children quickly raised their hands and yelled, “Impressionism!”

As the children started to appear impatient, anxious to grab their drawing utensils, Mehr made sure they understood to focus on their own perspective about nature.

“Paint the color that you see, not what Monet saw,” she emphasized.

Diane Gilbert, the students' classroom teacher who has been coming to the pond every fall for the past eight years, said the field trip was an integration of art and science classes. 

“We’re studying animal habitats, so they can actually see animals in their natural environment,” she said. 

Gilbert said the students enjoy it because they love being outdoors, seeing nature and creating artwork.

The teachers said they think the integration is something worth doing every year.

Mehr said this field trip authentically shows what Monet painted.

“I have a big print of Monet’s water lilies in the art room," she said. "Now they can understand why he loved painting outdoors so much."

Some students agreed with their teacher.

Connor Gibson carefully walked near the pond and tried to catch fish with his plastic cup.

“I like this because it’s cool seeing the Koi fish, and I think the black fish are moles,” the 7-year-old said with a big grin. “My favorite animals are frogs and toads. I have two toads, one turtle and a few fish.” 

Connor’s father, Phil Gibson, also felt very positive about the integration and said art should be incorporated into every class.

“In elementary schools, art should be the focus point in bringing the math and science,” he said. “As you get older, I found it important to not to forget the art, because that’s what helps give meaning to what you do.”

Gibson said he is glad Lee is located on the edge of MU.

“We’re lucky here in Columbia because we have this special elementary school and the university is right here,” he said. “So there’s a multitude of diversity; there’s a multitude of resources available for the kids. In everywhere I look, it’s a win-win situation.”

On the other side of the pond, student teacher Adair Stokan was about to add a final touch to her water lilies painting. Stokan completed her art degree at Columbia College and is now working on getting the art education certificate. She will be teaching with Mehr at Lee Elementary for eight weeks until October. 

The school is fantastic with incorporating art and music into their curriculum, Stokan said. “They figured out a way for everybody to benefit: for the students, the classroom teachers, and art and music.”

The second-graders left in a hurry with their teachers, but Stokan said they will be going over the childrens’ little masterpieces at the next art session.

She said her students are lucky because other schools do not get the luxury to go on as many field trips.

“These kids really get to go out into nature and actually experience it,"  she said.

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