Lani Carney, (center) with young artists at Featherstone. Photos by Tamar Russell
I simply don't know the first thing about children, never having had any, and I wouldn't claim to be a chocolate connoisseur, even though I can ramble on about its benefits. But on March 3, I learned that when you put children and chocolate together, wonderful things happen. "The reason I like chocolate day" was held at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, part of the pre-school arts program. Nine young children took the opportunity to explore chocolate in a marvelous environment, guided by Lani Carney.
Ms. Carney is the pre-school arts program director. She is a woman who knows how to nurture children. It is her passion and this is obvious in the preschool program she developed for Featherstone.
"It is really important for people to be present when they are with children because it is a privilege to be with them," Ms. Carney said at the beginning of the March 3 class.
Present is exactly what Ms. Carney was. It was easy to see what she meant by this as the morning progressed. She was constantly on hand for any comment, complaint, or request, but was not in anyone's space. In a most organized manner, every child received attention as well as their own space to create.
The young artists paint at their easel. Shown from left are Wyatt Belisle, Max Potter, and Colby Zarba.
Go to the source
The morning began with drawing and each child drew his or her idea of chocolate. Then everyone embarked on a field trip to the source of the chocolate-the cow pasture. Everyone trotted down the hill to the pasture, chocolate wafers in hand, to offer the cows Wampanoag songs and a treat. With large eyes the children stared at the cows and threw their wafers through the fence.
Back in the studio
Back in the children's studio, a chocolate ice cream making session began. The group of nine children put together a fabulous treat, with goods donated by Vineyard Gourmet. With contented little eyes they all started to wander about the room and play with one thing or another, completely unaware of their chocolate faces.
The children's studio is built with the children firmly in mind. Its decoration was, "sensitive to keep the children's studio simple because that is what they need, simpleness, crispness," Ms. Carney noted. With calm colors, tables and chairs perfectly sized for little bodies, a new, donated "think tent" and a wonderful little art studio filled with easels, the studio is a small haven for children.
Art is the focus. There was drawing in the beginning of the day and painting later on. Each child was given one acrylic color at a time, though a child named Spencer Pogue told me that they, usually use watercolors. The painting began with a rich chocolate color and continued to include five colors altogether. The painters gradually faded away from their easels to invest time in other things. The last few painters ended up with a lighter chocolate color to place on top of their chocolate, raspberry, silver and cherry paints.
A chocolate-covered Kyra McCarthy.
Ms. Carney was constantly on hand to give advice, commendation, love, hugs or kind words through the whole session. The children in turn responded to all this love and attention. "They follow orders really well, without much to-do," Ms. Carney said.
As the painting session concluded, the students were encouraged to sit down, relax, have some water, and a book discussion ensued. The topics ranged from crocodiles to socks, writers, artists, and poets. A feature writing for the day was Nikki Giovanni's poem entitled "The Reason I Like Chocolate."
The morning ended with story time on the rug in the studio. Almost everyone was engaged and calm. Ms. Carney's demeanor with the children is at the heart of this program's goal: to encourage children's creativity through art, to be with them so that we might foster their enjoyment through art, to be sensitive to children and to allow them to unfold naturally while with us, and to be quiet, wise and gentle as we guide them.
As I took my leave, Ms. Carney's comments about individual children brought tears to my eyes as I realized how such young personalities respond to such a wonderful, warm environment.
Preschool classes with Lani Carney continue: Saturday, May 5, "Mother Goose Day;" Saturday, May 19, "World Turtle Day." All programs are from 9 am to 12 noon, and cost $25. Ms. Carney also teaches weekly programs for children. For more information on Featherstone Center for the Arts, Barnes Road, Oak Bluffs, visit: featherstone.org or call 508-693-1850.