Art Curriculum Guide

The Grammar School

Art Curriculum


Our art program is multifaceted, set forth with the intention that each child can develop artistic abilities and gain an understanding of the language of the art world, both past and present. Art is incorporated into classroom study at all levels, in addition to our dedicated art classes. Every year all students work with diverse media. The curriculum is envisioned as a spiral, building upon itself like the rings of a tree. Using the same materials at different levels of complexity allows continuity and promotes growth, confidence, and facility in the young artist. Students are encouraged to experiment and play with each material, as well as to gain knowledge and skill from specific instruction about how these materials are used and cared for. Tactile integration is a strong focus throughout the grade levels. We study artists and art movements to bring insight into techniques and styles as they relate to culture, message, and time period. Most importantly, art is considered a language we use to express all aspects of the human experience. It is essential to create an atmosphere where each artist is appreciated for individual contributions and where it is comfortable to share, explore, and have fun.

To this end, our classroom environment is cultivated specifically to nurture several interconnected habits of mind. Students are guided to develop their skills not only through technique instruction, but also in proper use and care of tools and materials. They are offered opportunities to closely observe both external and internal worlds, as well as to envision the imaginary and innovative. Young artists can learn to record experience and generate possible outcomes or threads to follow through in their work, stretching their ability to incorporate the unexpected though accidents, mistakes, and surprises, and learning to see these as avenues for exploration and growth. In learning to engage with these challenges, students develop focus and perseverance. By integrating the study of art history and contemporary practice in a variety of media and approaches, students become fluent in both the visual and verbal vocabulary that can help them to reflect on their own work and discuss others’ work constructively. These ideas are posted in the art classroom for reference and discussion, as a framework for understanding and approach.

Artmaking is also a rich lens through which to more fully understand many ideas concurrently explored in other disciplines, so integrated study is coordinated whenever possible. A STEAM approach is cultivated, using the common thread of art and creativity to explore and express concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in ways that broaden understanding through experiential narratives, and that highlight the creativity inherent in all five disciplines. In addition, the yearly Global Education Theme (GET) provides a framework for focused cultural study, and projects are adapted each year to highlight the art history and practices of our GET geographic area. Diversity of practice ishighlighted over the course of the year in each grade; during the months of February, March, and April, projects are themed in observance of Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Earth Day, emphasizing artists and movements involved in each.

The practice and understanding of art is an essential part of self reflection and expression, an avenue for self-discipline, and a haven of creativity and deep curiosity that serves our students in all areas of study and self in their growth as enthusiastic learners.


Many preschool art lessons start with a story as a means of introduction, moving into a short demonstration and project. Art is a primary part of the preschool classroom experience, so the art teacher’s visits the to preschool classroom serve to develop a comfort level with art and its vocabulary, movements, and examples of practice. Together we read stories about artists or discuss the illustrations as a jumping off point for creative materials exploration. Cardboard-and-yarn weaving, collage, sculpture, observational drawing, and painting are all areas of exploration for preschoolers during art.


Kindergartners, who continue to use art as primary means of classroom investigation, become more familiar with colored pencils, crayons, and tempera paint in art class. We learn by experimenting, and students begin to have a sense of when and why an artist might choose one medium over another. Tactile integration is a strong focus, as is sensory experience; we work on several projects that describe a sensation with another sense, such as drawing the shapes, patterns, and colors of different kinds of music. We also build sculptures from found materials, looking at the work of Louise Bourgeois, John Chamberlin, and Henry Moore. Kindergarten art is an opportunity to share materials with peers as well as to develop vocabulary to describe what we see and sensitivity to different styles. Early exposure to artists from many periods and places helps students have a sense of the diversity in the art world.

First Grade

First graders build on their growing knowledge of materials and develop facility with scissors and squeeze bottles as tools for artmaking, in addition to tempera paint, craypas, and pencils, working in more complex collage-making, printmaking, and sculpture. Basic color theory is introduced as students become more adept at mixing their own secondary colors, and emphasis is placed on experimentation and acceptance of and delight in the unexpected. Different approaches are studied through art historical movements such as Modernism, Expressionism, and contemporary illustration. The social curriculum of materials and space sharing is continued in first grade, as well as an introduction to the care of art materials.

Second Grade

In second grade, students gain exposure to new materials and begin to create more complex pieces using combined media. The students are interested in process and product and can begin to create art that ties directly to their own learning and place in the world. Longer art classes allow for more sustained engagement. Second graders can explore and identify spatial relationships, and integrated classroom areas of study include birds of prey and colonial America through several clay hand-building projects and modelmaking. We study the contributions of Modernists, Impressionists, and several great masters through our projects in second grade.

Third Grade

Third graders study Van Gogh, Millet, Bourgeois, and Picasso, among others, in a curriculum that is closely woven with classroom study. Concepts of symmetry, balance, one-point perspective, and more complex color theory form the basis for dynamic projects such as glue and oil pastel layering, acrylic and soft pastel painting, ink-blown monster drawings, and Rube Goldberg machine constructions. An alternating study of China and Egypt that pairs third and fourth graders offers the opportunity for in-depth exploration into the history and practice of traditional art forms from both countries, including sculpture, brushwork, and lettering. Third grade classroom study of ponds and wetlands provides a chance to closely observe form and describe it visually through drawing and watercolor painting. Collaborative work is another highlight of the third grade year.

Fourth Grade

The fourth grade art curriculum builds on earlier years and is a time to learn techniques and skills to render fine detail and more complex color relationships. Students practice showing space in their work and begin using the foreground, middle ground, and background as well as 2-D and 3-D as terms to describe art. Students also work with the concepts of value and complex symmetry. A few artists that we study are Georgia O’Keefe, Keith Haring, and Andrew Goldsworthy. Detailed drawings of hands and feet in the style of Leonardo da Vinci, Rube Goldberg silhouette collage drawings, and Elizabethan portraits are just a few highlights of the fourth grade curriculum.

Fifth Grade

The fifth grade art curriculum introduces an analytical approach to looking at and thinking about art, while at the same time applying the concept of productive play. Students learn the principles and elements of design, as well as experiment with a variety of media and techniques. Mindfulness and sustained focus figure largely into this year’s curriculum, with a closely linked integration of math. Ratios are studied through the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud, measuring fractions through his colorful desserts. Other projects include Op Art by Victor Vasarely, horse sculptures in the style of Deborah Butterfield, and vases painted in the subtle style of Giorgio Morandi. Students work on improving overall drawing ability and familiarizing themselves with the proportions of the human head and observation of light. In the winter term they do an in-depth integrated study of Greece, creating papier mâché vases and mosaics that depict mythical characters and stories, as well as Greek banners stenciled by hand.

Sixth Grade

The sixth grade year fosters students’ burgeoning sense of independence and leadership via group projects, dedicated critique time, and projects aimed toward catalyzing a sense of identity through inclusion and community. Art classes build upon each student’s knowledge of the elements and principles of design. Sixth graders identify important elements of painting, such as line and texture, and articulate how these elements are used in a composition to express an artist’s idea. Students are given sketchbooks midyear; these become the homework component of the art curriculum and an opportunity to practice working independently outside of class. Sketchbooks are an opportunity to practice drawing at home and to sketch ideas for projects that they would like to explore further. We review and practice two-point perspective and students are encouraged to discuss work in terms of positive and negative space, scale, gesture, and proportion. Student projects include sewing, life sized self-portraits, optical illusion drawings, costume designs for Mardi Gras in conjunction with Foreign Language, and Lewitt-inspired sculptures. In the spring, an integrated unit on Islamic art combines the study of art with math, and a short drawing intensive bolsters students’ growing observational drawing skills, culminating in a six-stage crushed can drawing that reflects back to students their growing understanding of form, light, and value. 

Seventh Grade

In the seventh grade, the students take a more focused look at the work of a variety of artists from throughout history with an eye toward self-expression and how our unique identities inform our work. The curriculum builds and refines more complex skills and concepts, with a focus on creating concise expression of ideas in artwork and working toward a longer term idea/goal. Students complete weekly reading assignments about contemporary artists and issues in the art world, with some emphasis on our GET region. Often research done as homework informs classroom projects. Students projects related to the work of Joseph Cornell, Jim Dine, and Roy Lichtenstein. Seventh graders look to new media, learn to use it in their work, and to see it critically as they would other media. As an interesting lens, students use Photoshop and to create album sleeves for 45rpm records for fictitious bands. Seventh graders must be able to discuss artwork critically within a greater historical and social context. Winter art electives are part of the seventh and eighth grade program, and students may choose to study a specific subject in-depth and work with a visiting artist. Past electives have included filmmaking, printmaking, ceramics, oil painting, and black-and-white photography.

Eighth Grade

The eighth grade art experience brings together all of the skills and knowledge gained in past grades, synthesizing into new combinations at a higher level of complexity. Students are expected to create sophisticated and thoughtful works of art. Our art history component focuses primarily on modern and contemporary art, highlighting material that deals with transition and compassion as key elements of the eighth grade experience. Students continue to use their own time to research and plan art pieces executed in class. We study conceptual artists from the 1970s to the present, and each student creates several conceptual works. Projects undertaken in past years include acrylic layer paintings in the 15th-century style, Dream Windows inspired by Andrew Wyeth and Salvador Dali, multi-media layerings in the style of Guillermo Kuitca’s Dairios, and oversized office supplies that reference Jim Dine’s sculptures, carefully rendered in charcoal.

Eighth graders must also be able to discuss artwork critically within a greater historical and social context. Winter art electives are part of the seventh and eighth grade program and students may choose to study a specific subject in-depth and work with a visiting artist. Past electives have included filmmaking, printmaking, ceramics, oil painting, and black-and-white photography.