The Visual Arts
The first grade Art & Shop program at Ethical Culture is a fundamental experience for students in ”learning by doing.” Students are introduced to the basic problem-solving of making things. The necessity of children working with their hands and minds to explore and make sense of the physics of the real world is essential in a progressive school. Art & Shop provides children with experimentation in a variety of materials…wood, paint, clay, fabric, paper, papier-mache, and wire. The ideas and projects in Art & Shop encourage children to solve problems independently and to develop confidence in the use of tools and materials. The projects often parallel what is being studied in the classroom and science. For example, while the curriculum in the classroom and science is Central Park, in Art & Shop students design and build their own park. Puppets made in Art & Shop are used in the classroom for writing activities. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced students to African masks, which they then made in Art & Shop.
Art courses for second to fifth grades are designed to introduce and familiarize students with a wide array of art materials, techniques and design theories. In the earlier grades, importance is placed on experimentation and exploration. As the students spend more time in the program, more advanced concepts are introduced. The projects in each grade further develop the skills and knowledge students have gained in prior years. Overall, the art room is a place where kids are encouraged to be enthusiastic, imaginative, observant, and independent art makers.
Music at Ethical Culture is not only woven into the curriculum, but advances in appropriate complexity from year to year.
In the third grade classroom activities include the use of numerous Orff and rhythm instruments, autoharp, and physical activity. Students learn rhythms first by rote; then they discover how to write these rhythms and how to play rhythms from the written page. The importance of proper singing is addressed. Students match given pitches and individually learn how to make their voices work for them.
Music of the Native Americans is an important part of the curriculum, supplementing the third grade social studies program. A culmination of this study is a Native American naming ceremony, involving music, games, dance, and storytelling. Folk songs of the Hudson River are also introduced throughout the year.
In addition to learning proper vocal production, classroom activities focus on learning to play the recorder, which allows student to master the element of melody. Students learn to read notation from the written page. They also sing the melodies they play on the recorder. Students play individually and in small groups and are tested periodically on their cumulative knowledge of music notation.
Ten weeks of the year are devoted to a musical theater presentation in which students sing, act, build scenery (art class), and serve as stage crew. Proper stage techniques are addressed, including assuming a specific character, vocal projection and focus. Students help develop the choreography for their songs. After helping design the scenery, they build it, assemble it on stage, and are trained to move it during performance on cue. All students are assigned a part in the play and have lines to learn and perform.
The year culminates in a trip to Carnegie Hall for a specially designed concert for school children. The program is presented by a full symphony orchestra conducted by a world-renowned conductor. Students are prepared with listening experiences and related activities for several weeks before the event. During the one-hour concert, all 2,000 students in the audience get to sing with the orchestra.
Students are taught the proper care of the voice by using warm-up exercises and exhibiting correct posture for singing. Proper placement of vowels and consonants is explored. With this comes an understanding of the importance of language as a vehicle to expression in singing.
Students begin with songs in unison, followed by rounds, then partner songs, and eventually two-part harmony. As a choral group, students gain musical development and maturity with an understanding of the total work, not only the part they are singing. Songs include folk songs, music of other cultures, patriotic songs, appropriate songs that are currently popular, and songs relevant to their social studies program.
Listening skills are also addressed in music appreciation lessons. Fifth graders are exposed to the classics before the 20th century, including Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and many others.