PTA volunteers travel through school districts in the Philadelphia region with a portfolio of 20 to 25 artistic reproductions, some famous and some not so famous. The pieces line art-room walls each week, accompanied by musical clues, grab-bag props and games.
Children listen, look and focus on what they like about Edgar Degas' ballerinas or Frederic Remington's football painting, Touchdown, 1890.
I haven't taken an art history class since, well, never mind. So when I joined the volunteers, I took a deep breath. There was that momentary twinge of intimidation when I attended my first meeting, saw the mountains of research materials, and viewed the paintings.
Were the other volunteers art experts who completed theses on Picasso's Blue Period and its effect on modern art? Would I know the answers when students asked them? What if some kid was some kind of art genius, a prodigy yet, and she sat in the front row of my class?
Still, I embarked on this interactive program, which asks children to think about color, style and history. I also knew this would be a dynamic way to play a role in my own children's school.
I stretched my mind in directions it hasn't gone for a while as I studied the materials that the committee prepared. Twenty individuals (by the way, some do have degrees in art) and I got the chance to bring an art museum experience to our town's classrooms.
The first day I led a class was exhilarating and absolutely overwhelming. I stood in front of the paintings while 18 second graders filed into the room, some pointing at the wildness of Salvador Dali's work or the odd way Alice Neel portrayed a turkey in her Thanksgiving, 1965.
Fifty minutes lay before me, and I kept telling myself, "You are ready for this, you studied, you are prepared."
But you are never quite prepared for the girl in wire-rimmed glasses who puts her hands on her hips and balks at Mary Cassatt's The Bath because the child in this magnificent impressionist piece of work is half-dressed.
You're not ready for the wise and philosophical observations that come from the clear minds of 7- and 8-year-olds.
One small boy in the second row, who teetered on the edge of the art stool for the entire period, observed: "The faces in Rainbow Shabbat [Judy Chicago's stained glass that makes a feminist and political statement on unity] are all different races. It's about peace."
Yes, exactly. Wow.
I found myself journeying down unexpected roads. It was more than OK.
I am nearly through this Art Goes to School season. There are only a couple of more classes for me to complete, and I'm disappointed it's coming to a close.
Reflecting on this program, I absorbed a vast amount of information and gained precious experience. I learned about different periods of art, facts about specific artists, and the effect artists had on history.
I also had the opportunity to work with children, thus increasing my great respect for what teachers do every day.
More important, I was reminded of the gift that children hold, the gift of pure imagination. They are uninhibited. They look at a work of art and without hesitation tell you what they see and feel.
After viewing a contemporary abstract in orange and yellow, one thin, sandy-haired boy scratched his head and simply said: "I just don't get it." Then he continued to ask questions.
He did indeed get it. Perfectly. And that is one reason I'll be back next year to do this again.
Kendall Ellis writes from Marlton.
To find out more about the regional Art Goes to School program, visit the Web site at www.lmtsd.org/art2school.htm.