Visual Arts As A Way To Connect Children To The Library

by | Apr 29, 2023

I have a feeling that my relationship with art has been changing since joining the fellowship. It began with doing a life story drawing at the induction. And ever since that, I have wanted to bring more of its presence into my life. By presence, I mean, through creating art.

Then I got a chance to work with Prayog at a library. The place upholds the vibrancy of libraries where art, play, and interactions are welcomed as much as books and reading. Art-making then was not a choice. It was an essential part of my work as a library educator. And this does not mean whether you are an “artist” or not. But what matters is do you have the courage to make mistakes while being immersed in an experience of art. Or do you know how to convey to children that mistakes are unexpected opportunities?

With all this background within me, I reached Bookworm to do the ‘Introduction to Libraries’ course. When I was experiencing art-related activities, I was fascinated and curious to try all this out with children and with the child inside me.

So, I set out to do this as my library activity assignment with seven children (7 to 11 years old) who live in Baniya Chapar, the same village which is home to our Community Library Campus. And this is what I would like to share in the form of my learnings.

My learnings in the process

1. Through readings

  • Art is a vast subject. It all depends on what I would like to focus on while engaging with the children. 
  • Art in itself is an experience that can/shall be separately explored for many reasons that help children to learn and grow.
  • The way we talk to the children about their art matters a lot. After reading this in theory, and practicing this in the sessions, I was able to understand its significance even more.

2. During the preparation

  • I realised that there is a chance of getting carried away if the focus is not on the purpose of the session. Reminding myself of the purpose helped me recentre.
  • Extensive reading is essential. When I read 6 books, I was able to find the best-suited, engaging book for the activity. The help, suggestions, and insights of the team, on the story/book, and their prior experience with the same books were of great help to me over here.
  • I was observing and reminding myself to have fun with art while also preparing for the session. I got a chance to practice and enjoy art with children. It took me a step ahead in believing more in the experience of artmaking rather than how good or bad your art looks.
  • At times, art attracts children to books and at times books end up inspiring art-making for children.
  • It was a learning for me that there is a thin line between the purpose of the session and what I was expecting the children to do. While journalling, I realized that I might end up burdening the children with my expectations from the session and miss out on seeing what emerges from the interaction with them, if I stay too caught up in what I wish to achieve.
  • Through guided drawing, I was able to observe how each child connects with different parts of the story. Each child drew a different scene from the story.  Art enabled them to express what otherwise may not always happen in words.
  • Artmaking instills confidence in children, which comes from the joy of creating something. The same child (Nisha) who used to feel nervous whenever there was an art-related activity, now feels like wanting to draw. She started this by holding a flower, observing it closely, and drawing it on paper. Ayush shared, “ab chitra banana pehle jitna kathin nahin lagta.” (now drawing pictures is not that difficult)
  • Interaction and engagement with art are one of the best ways to generate curiosity and interest in books. It could be a good way to draw their attention to the rarely picked-up themes/genres. Here the choice of books mattered. It was based on the purpose of which books did I want to open up for children and why? For eg: after the nature walk, I displayed some books themed on some elements of nature. These were mainly plants, trees, and insects because we had observed them throughout the walk. Observing the elements in the walk first and then later, finding the same in the book made them interested in these books.
  • Sketch walks made children observe the elements of their own village closely. I realized that there is more scope to go on many such walks where children observe, draw and share stories of different spots of the village.
  • The Neel ka Rahasya story introduced them to the art of creating colors naturally and how some communities have been practicing it for years. The story also talks about how new colors are made out of mixing two or more colors. Children were keen to explore it for themselves when they heard this story.
  • Children build stories with pictures and actions they see. Folk art is a window as well as a mirror to them. When I did a session with the book ‘Do’ based on the Warli Art, children could also relate to the art that is practiced in their own village itself and the scenes in the Warli made them imagine stories of their own. They were introduced to a way of expression in the library. The next day, Sanju came to me and told me how she tried to draw humans using the Warli art style in her school.
  • Importance of seeking feedback from children and working on the next session plans. They told me, “Ae ma’am, bohot chitra chitra hue jaa raha hai, kuch padhai bhi honi chahiye.” It also made me think do they feel that art, or painting is not something worthwhile, because the schools emphasize so much on academics, that anything other than “studying” is secondary.

Major challenges that I faced as a part of this activity:

  • Designing the session plan. I felt clueless at times as to what can be done to take this particular book or art form to children in an engaging way.
  • Keeping up with children’s energy and enthusiasm when it comes to art supplies. They all want to hop on it.
  • Integrating art with books. I knew there are books and stories related to art, but struggled in finding them initially.
  • The dilemma of where to help and where to withdraw and let the children explore

How am I planning to take the learning forward?

These learnings have given me a new perspective on the relationship between art and books. It would make me look at books differently to explore where art can be integrated with it. I look forward to enriching our collection at Prayog with books themed on art.

This assignment has also piqued my interest in exploring art as a pedagogy. I would definitely pursue this area of knowledge. It gives me the confidence to work with children on more such projects where we build stories, make books and play with art.

I would discuss with the team how to integrate these learnings with the upcoming library sessions to be planned and also integrated into our yearly library calendar. These activities can further be carried out in an elaborate manner using different permutations and combinations.

The objective of exploring ways to bring visual arts into the library is a vast one and I chose to focus on painting and drawing, as per the feedback from the Bookworm Team. This inspires me to explore other forms of visual arts apart from painting and drawing.

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