Carlow Students Bring Art Classes to Area Preschoolers

Alison D'Addieco - November 15, 2013

It’s a crisp autumn day at Pittsburgh’s Toy Lending Library. A perfect day to paint leaves.

Inside, preschoolers saunter into the art area—a cozy nook sectioned off by a kid-size door and waist-high book cases. They step softly onto thick, color-flecked rubber matting and are quickly drawn into a mini-artist’s studio: paint, easels, crayons, colored tape, construction paper—it’s all here.

Today, the kids grab bright blue plastic paint smocks and head to squat green chairs around age-appropriate tables. It’s art class day. The art area is open every day, but on Thursdays through mid-November, Carlow University School of Education students plan activities that make the visit all the more fun.

Carlow education students teach at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library 
Carlow education students (left-right) teach art to preschool children at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (PTLL): Erin DiSanti, Janelle McIntyre, and Amanda Knobeloch.

Sam pulls a smock over his Batman t-shirt and heads to a table occupied by three little girls and three big college-aged girls.

He is quickly greeted by Erin DiSanti, a Carlow junior from West Deer Township.

“Hi! Come sit over here and I’ll tell you want we are doing.” says DiSanti. Next to DiSanti, Janelle McIntyre from North Huntington and Amanda Knobeloch, from Wexford, also Carlow juniors, are busy cutting oak and maple leaf shapes from thick paper. 

Sam finds a seat across the table from Abigail, who is busy coating a maple leaf shape with a thick layer of orange and red paint.

“I will choose red,” Sam decides. “I’m going to make it disappear,” he adds.

The kids cover their leaves in paint and then, with DiSanti’s instruction, apply a layer of plastic wrap over the paint, which they start to smoosh around with their fingers.

Angela Marshall Leads an Art Class
Carlow's Angela Marshall leads an art class and is completing an education practicum at the PTLL.   

“Make sure you put the plastic on the middle of the leaf,” says DiSanti. “What’s it feel like? Is it squishy?”

“The paint is all mushy,” says Abigail.

“Today my daddy is having a birthday,” announces Sam as he paints his leaf bright red. “I am making him a present.”

The art classes were the brainchild of Elisabeth Moyer, a 2005 Carlow graduate with a degree in early childhood education and special education. Moyer worked for Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s DART program before giving birth to her daughters. Today, she and her children frequent the Toy Lending Library.

Moyer wanted to find a way to offer art classes to toy lending library visitors, so she called one of her professors, Rae Ann Hirsh, director of undergraduate early childhood education at Carlow.

The toy lending library would supply the location, supplies, and preschoolers. Carlow students could come up with lesson plans and guidance.

Hirsh jumped on the idea—a perfect opportunity for students in her Integrated Art class.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” says Hirsh. “Hands-on experience is so necessary. You can create lesson plans all the time, but until you actually do it, you have no idea.”

Christi Howell, president of the Toy Lending Library’s board of directors, is also thrilled.

“I am especially excited to have education students from Carlow offering the classes because of their passion and commitment to education. Personally, I love it because my kids love art, and I can bring them here to do it!”
Carlow junior Angela Marshall from Cranberry, says it’s all about the process.

Elisabeth Moyer Helped Design Art Class

Carlow alum Elisabeth Moyer ’05 (pictured here with one of her two young daughters) was instrumental in designing the art class.

“Instead of directing kids to create a specific product,” she says, “it’s about letting the creative process happen.”

Amanda White, a mother of two from Pittsburgh’s Avalon neighborhood, is benefiting from that creative process—and from the Carlow students’ enthusiasm and direction. “She wants to do art when she’s here,” laughs White, gesturing to a smock-covered toddler at the art table. “It’s hard to paint with one while I’m holding the other!” she says, glancing down at her squirming baby.

White says she’ll be coming here more often, as the weather gets colder. “We’re not always going to be able to go the park,” she says. “We’re going to be looking for things to do.”

“The fact that Carlow is willing to do this allows us to offer more programming for our members,” says Howell. “It’s a really cool thing: you get paint all over yourself and your smock, and it’s great!”

Carlow education students facilitate morning art classes at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library at 5401 Centre Avenue in Shadyside every Thursday through mid-November. The center is open to children birth through age six with their parent or caregiver. For more information call 412.682.4430 or visit www.pghtoys.org.