Since the fall, Linda Naccarato has been spending her Saturday mornings between 11 and 1 at McCormick Park creating outdoor artwork with children. The materials range from sticks and leaves, to ice balls and snow cakes. I had a few opportunities to join with my children over the past few months and it’s a great way to get out of the house and meet up with others.
■ – I’ve heard that you’ve been teaching art outside at McCormick Park since September. How did this start and how has the experience been so far?
Linda Naccarato – I was first contacted by the Friends of McCormick Park to lead some eco-art activities for the launch of the McCormick Park Cafe and new playground. On the day of the launch, I was overwhelmed by the support from the local community and their determination to make the park a centre for the neighbourhood. At a community meeting not long after, we discussed the possibility for a weekly, drop-in program that would connect kids to nature and attract families to the park. The experience has been incredibly positive so far, and we have a solid group of families that have now incorporated natural art making and creative play into their Saturday routines.
■ – What kinds of things are you doing with the kids and how has their reaction been?
LN – My focus is really to foster a variety of opportunities for open-ended natural play. Each week there is a new activity, like building structures with sticks and yarn or weaving with fabric and natural materials, but there are also lots of loose parts (stones, shells, bark etc.) to encourage the kids to play in their own creative ways. Although I’m always modelling new techniques, I try to keep my resources simple and accessible, so that parents and kids can easily reproduce them at home and continue the momentum to play outside.
The kids reactions have been fantastic. I love seeing them try something new, like drawing with crayons on hot rocks, but my favourite is when they use the materials in unexpected ways. It’s great to see them feeling comfortable to dive right in, experiment and create!
■ – Can you give me a little information about you and your creative past? How did you come to be an art teacher?
LN – I come from a background in Visual Arts, and while studying Design in University I quickly realized how important it was for me creatively to keep my hands busy and my fingers messy. Luckily, I have always worked with kids, leading camp groups, working in preschools and teaching afterschool art programs, so I had a wonderful outlet to keep on experimenting and really play with art again. I eventually followed this path to Teacher’s College, where I focused on integrating art throughout the curriculum. The majority of the work I do now is in schools as an art educator, teaching diverse art practices like recycled textile weaving and natural shibori dyeing, practices that connect art-making with nature and the environment. Teaching art to me is all about showing kids another way for them to express their ideas, and think creatively.
■ – I’m inspired by your willingness to get out in the middle of winter to get creative. What drives you or inspires you?
LN – I know, playing outside in the season of Arctic air blasts seems pretty crazy! The truth is my inspiration comes from the many kids I’ve seen who would rather stay inside no matter what the weather is. I think that we need to model all seasons of outdoor play and teach our kids to really embrace the weather outside our windows no matter what that is. I have visited Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools in Northern Europe, and the children there loved being outside, whether it was in rain boots or snowsuits, they loved the freedom and all the opportunities they had to explore outdoors. I’m more than happy to bundle up each Saturday and share some of that enthusiasm for natural play with our Brockton neighbourhood families.
■ – I can’t wait to get my kids out there with you painting snow and making nature based art. What are you looking forward to this season?
LN – I love that winter gives us a white canvas to work on outside, so I’ll be excited to create art with seeds, sticks and coloured ice. Making art outdoors in a public space like the park also gives us a chance to make a little magic for unsuspecting neighbours and might just encourage someone else to get outside and create something.
For more information on school workshops with Linda or if you are interested in starting your own neighbourhood natural art drop-in, check out www.artwithlinda.ca, and follow her @artwithlinda on instagram.