Summer learning programs can be a blank canvas for new approaches and creative ideas, and summer classes are the perfect time to incorporate art into your lessons. Not only does integrating art into your lessons make them more engaging for students, it also helps them learn faster and retain information longer, which leads to higher learning outcomes.
If you’re looking for ways to bring an artistic element to core subjects in your summer learning program, here are some tips and activities to help get you started.
1. Think like an artist (even if you aren’t one)
In an article for Edutopia, UK drama teacher Ahmet Ahmet, wrote that the key to integrating the arts into any curriculum is to approach the issue from an artist’s perspective. To do this, Ahmet suggests thinking less about checking off boxes and more about what you want students to actually learn. He suggests creating a list of topics to teach and then finding the right content to make your lessons come alive — just like a composer, director, or painter would do with their own work.
“If you make the art form concise and specific, you’ll make your students hungry for creating outstanding products,” Ahmet wrote. “Look at what’s already out there in the arts and recreate it — or better yet, inspire your own art form.”
One way to put Ahmet’s theory into practice in a summer learning program might be to approach a topic from a project-based learning perspective with projects like these:
- Have students explore the life and work of a famous artist, such as Frida Kahlo, and emulate her work or create artwork depicting her, as shown in the example above using the Quilling self portraits lesson plan.
- For an ELA angle, have students write a fictional-narrative story using Kahlo as the main protagonist.
- Have them create a storyboard where Kahlo is a character in a short graphic novel or comic.
The possibilities for this approach are endless, but in this example, learning about Kahlo’s work and Mexican heritage would help students gain a better understanding of culture and diversity while integrating important learning targets in a fun and engaging way.
2. Add summer learning projects that put the “A” in STEAM
STEM subjects nurture the development of skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Though many students thrive in these areas, there are still lots of students who excel when taking a more artistic approach. Creative thinking is a huge part of the STEM model, and adding art to the mix can often be a game changer for some kids. Try these summer learning STEM projects that incorporate art.
- A great example of an activity that marries art with STEM is the Origami Circuit STEM/STEAM Project. This activity combines design, engineering, and basic electronics with the ancient Japanese paper art of origami. Students design and embellish an origami robot and then add LED lights, binder clips, coin batteries, and a vibrating motor. By using nylon-based Maker Tape™ to create a conductive pathway, the final creation will blink, light up, or move on its own. This is a great project for almost any grade level, individual students, or even team collaborations, plus it has elements for all five STEAM targets.
- Another great example of a STEAM project for younger students is the Metamorphosis lesson plan. With this activity, students are introduced to the metamorphosis of butterflies through Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and then create a model of the metamorphic stages explained in the story using dry macaroni, construction paper, pipe cleaners, food coloring, tissue paper, crayons, colored pencils, and more. For a social-emotional learning angle, the lesson also includes a “power-up reflection” guide to help you lead an SEL-focused discussion once students complete their projects.
- For more advanced students in middle school and above, Camera Obscura is also a fun and engaging STEAM project that’s perfect for summer learning programs. Though this project takes 12–14 days to complete, it allows students to design, build, and decorate a pinhole camera while learning the history of optic machines in art. It also helps students understand perspectives in nature and how to render these in their own artwork. Upon completion, students will have a working camera, as well as a better understanding of photography, exposure, and composition.
3. Make creative learning easy with kits
It’s always easier to engage students in creative learning when they have all the materials they need to get started. That’s why learning kits are a smart and economical option for summer learning programs. Of course, there are countless classroom and individual student art kits to choose from, but if you’re taking a more cross-curricular approach, you’ll want to focus on kits that do more than art alone — such as makerspace kits.
For a STEAM-focused angle, the Learn It by Art™ Makerspace Builder Kits enable quick access to all the materials students need to engage in STEAM lessons, like the ones mentioned above. In addition, the Beginner Makerspace Kit is perfect if you want to create an area in your classroom that encourages students to explore and flex their creative muscles. And, if students are working both at school and home, the Individual Student Makerspace Kit is a transportable option that can keep them creating even after the summer program ends.
For an activity with a collaborative approach, the Wax on Recycled Caps is also a great option and you can purchase all the necessary materials you need in one convenient kit. What makes this project special, as well as ideal for summer learning programs, is that it teaches students the importance of the reduce, reuse, and recycle model while incorporating art, literacy, science, and math skills to create an earth-friendly piece of art.
To get started, students will collect plastic bottle caps from around school or home, and then use the principles of design to make their artwork. For this project, you could also group students into smaller teams and have them create multiple pieces of artwork to display at a mini-gallery showing for friends and family at the end of the summer.
4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box
Though the statement might sound cliché, thinking outside the box is exactly what you need to do when it comes to planning a summer learning program. Art, in all its many forms, is an important part of every child’s educational journey. Whether you choose to keep students learning by weaving art into everyday lessons or you choose to have them do artwork that simply allows them to expand their creative minds, there really is no wrong way to get the job done if you set a good plan in place before you begin.
In the words of French artist Henri Matisse, “creativity takes courage,” so even if you haven’t set your summer learning plan in motion just yet, the fact that you’re already thinking about it is a brave and solid start.
For more examples of downloadable activities to help spark your imagination and spur your inspiration for summer learning, browse our extensive library of free lesson plans, or see even more activities below that give an artistic spin to core subjects.