Creative Learning Center fosters discovery-oriented art

June 09, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Art teacher Doreen Riss (standing) and Director and Head teacher Sara Mwagura (kneeling) show the class a Vincent van Gogh piece before students start on their project painting ricecakes with colored icing at the Arts based day care and preschool.
Yvette May/Staff photographer

Doreen Riss has a great job: She guides preschool children through the process of making art.

But she's not so much a teacher as a expedition leader.

"We have a hands-on, process-oriented art group," she said. "We get kids involved in discovery, as opposed to a cookie-cutter approach to art."

Riss is part of the teaching team at Creative Learning Center, arts-based day care and preschool, an outgrowth of Hagerstown Children's Theater, 806 Frederick St. in Hagerstown. The preschool has 16 students, ages 2 through 6. Some are morning or afternoon students, some are all-day students. Three teachers work with the students.

The public can find out more about the preschool and see its facility at an open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 11. HCT's Creative Learning Center is at the same address as the theater.

Riss' approach to art represents the preschool's educational philosophy: Let children learn by experiencing life through the arts. Riss leads students in arts and creative movement. Jamie Golembiewski leads musical activities. Sara Mwugura is the preschool's lead teacher.

Mwugura said the preschool's nature-based, arts-based curriculum is inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach — an Italian educational system.

"They look at the child as a researcher," Mwugura said. "We're a researcher with them. We see what they're interested in and help them go deeper."

The preschool is set in a large, open room. Dividers and wall decorations break the space into areas for art, music, pretending and climbing. Kids flow easily from one space to another. Mwugura said the physical space of the preschool mirrors the teachers' educational approach. They select an overall theme or project, then conduct different activities to explore that theme.

A dome-shaped tent stands in one corner of the preschool. Mwugura said the tent is part of a theme the preschool is exploring now.

"We've been talking about camping," she said. "So I'll ask the kids, 'What do you know about camping?' They bring that into thematic play."

The teachers led several activities connected to the camping theme, including building a fire with tissue paper flames, singing around the campfire, writing a list of camping supplies, painting pictures of a starry night, and playing in the tent.

The themes are overarching guidelines, but learning doesn't always follow a schedule. Often, it's spontaneous.

"Yesterday, there was a boy using the doctor kit," Mwugura said. "He told me told me how many pounds I was. I told him maybe he should write it down. He saw that writing was a useful part of life."

In addition to leading thematic activities for all students together, Mwugura said teachers work with each student individually.

"We have goals for kids. I have those in my mind when I work with each child," she said.

Children come with different strengths. Some children are expressive, some are reserved. Some can read, others can't. Some children are comfortable making art, others aren't. Mwugura, Riss and Golembiewski work with each child and their parents to help kids expand their skills.

"We've had parents come in and say ‘We're more science-y people and we want our child to get more arts,'" Mwugura said.

Part of the preschool's work is to help children prepare for attending school. But another part, Riss said, is simply to help each student blossom into a well-rounded human being through working with art, music, play and movement.

"We want kids to be a part of creating their beautiful surroundings," Riss said. "Our kids can point around the room to things they have made. That's the beauty. We are a very child-centered preschool."

If you go ...

WHAT: Open house for Creative Learning Center

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 11

WHERE: Hagerstown Children's Theater, 806 Frederick St., Hagerstown.

COST: Free.

CONTACT: Call 301-733-8261 or go to

MORE: There will be costumed characters, games, prizes and face painting.

The Herald-Mail Articles