Artful Play: Springfield Museum of Art program teaches preschoolers the fun of creativity

Preschoolers from Clark Early Learning Center and Miami Valley Child Development Centers in Clark and Madison counties visit the museum almost every Thursday from October to May.
When preschoolers visit the Springfield Museum of Art, they learn about color, self-expression, and creativity. The museum’s Artful Play program teaches them that art tells stories — and that art is for everyone.

“They were engaged really with all of their senses,” says Kathleen Foley, a preschool intervention specialist at the Clark Early Learning Center, which serves preschool students ages 3, 4, and 5 in the Springfield City School District.

The Artful Play program, which began in 2016, welcomes about 150 individual preschoolers to the museum for a series of repeat visits each school year and reaches hundreds more through visits to their school, says Amy Korpieski, a museum educator at the art museum, located at 107 Cliff Park Road.

Andrew GrimmAmy Korpieski, museum educator, describes the artwork to the children of Head StartThe visits often mark a child’s first time visiting an art museum, she says. One goal is to show the kids that it is a place for all.

“As community members, they grow up knowing they belong in a museum, that they enjoy museums,” Korpieski says.

Preschoolers from Clark Early Learning Center and Miami Valley Child Development Centers in Clark and Madison counties visit the museum almost every Thursday from October to May, she says. Classrooms usually make a series of three visits throughout the year, transforming their initial feelings of awe into comfort and excitement.

Andrew GrimmSkyler Strong shows off his dragon he made at the art museum.Visiting both the galleries and the studio to create their own works of art improves the preschoolers’ gross and fine motor skills, as well as critical thinking, close observing, social-emotional, and self-regulation skills, she says.

“It fits so well with developmental and kindergarten readiness goals that are basically the tenets of preschool,” says Korpieski, who created the program. 

Each trip lasts for about an hour and may include a walk through the space, studio work that relates to what they saw, and conversations about the artwork. They also learn new vocabulary words, like “gallery,” she says.

In addition to introducing children to the museum, Korpieski says the field trips also serve as an introduction for many adults. The museum encourages as many chaperones as possible to attend and most of them have never been to the museum – or didn’t know that it even existed in Springfield.

Historically art has sometimes been seen as reserved for people of privilege, she says. The museum wants families to understand that all are welcome, including children. “All people are privileged with art,” she says.

The museum is invited into classrooms through the program as well, spending multiple days on-site on top of the museum visits.

Andrew GrimmKahRelle Merchant looks through an opening of a toy house.Beyond the experiences that Artful Play provides for children, the program also offers professional development for preschool educators and partners with Wittenberg University and Clark State College to provide learning and work opportunities for students studying early childhood education.

Recent grants to support the program have been provided by the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The museum – the only Smithsonian Affiliate art museum in Ohio – also has received a Smithsonian Affiliates small grant.

Clark Early Learning Center sends several classrooms – around 70 students – on field trips to the museum throughout the year, Foley says. In addition, the entire school benefits when Korpieski visits the building to engage with art.

Andrew GrimmJessica Raab helps her daughter Julia create a dragon.The students learn how to respect the artwork of others, that art is created for many reasons and that art can tell a story, Foley says. They develop fine motor skills, learn new words, and explore self-expression.

At least half of all students also bring an adult with them on the field trip, and teachers are introduced to different ways they can combine art into their work with children. Foley calls the program an excellent experience for parents and teachers, as well as for students.

“Amy specifically makes all the difference because she brings it down to their level,” Foley says.

Korpieski feels lucky to lead Artful Play, which she says is “an ambassador program for the museum.” And when the students return without their class?

“It’s so exciting when it happens,” she says.

Andrew Grimm"Mississippi " helps his son, Josh Givens, create a dragon out of clay.

All photos by Andrew Grimm. See more of his photography here.
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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.