Kohler Arts Center Preschool in Sheboygan trains creative thinkers


SHEBOYGAN – In a classroom at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a group of preschoolers use blue markers, clay, paint, feathers, beads and paper to learn about the letter B and the color blue.

They are part of JMKAC’s art-based preschool program, which infuses creativity into early childhood learning for children ages 3-5.

The JMKAC Preschool program began in 1967 and has since expanded to offer two 3-year-old classes in the morning and two 4K classes in partnership with the Sheboygan Area School District in the morning and afternoon.

The 3-year program is tuition-based and the 4K program is free through SASD. Scholarships and payment plans are available for the 3-year program.

Children focus on more traditional subjects like literacy, math, science and cultural studies, but they also engage in visual and performing arts like singing and playing music, learning sign language and Spanish, practice yoga and develop visual literacy by viewing the art in the JMKAC galleries.

“Looking at something and being able to not only say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice picture’ or ‘That’s a painting,’ but to say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of my grandmother’s house,’ or something like that, they can make a connection and also develop their oral language,” said Keely Phippen, director of the preschool program at JMKAC.

“They learn to talk and share ideas,” she continued. “Two kids can look at a piece of art and one says, ‘Well, I think it’s a chicken’, and the other says, ‘No way, it’s a frog’, you know, no matter what they’re watching, and having this debate, and understanding, ‘Oh, I see why you’re saying that. I understand why you think that. I happen to think differently and that’s OK.

Preschool Program Director Keely Phippen teaches children to look but not touch artwork during a gallery tour at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, in Sheboygan, Wis.  Phippen says she encourages children to interpret what art means to them as a way to understand it.

Phippen said the philosophy of the preschool is to give children the opportunity to use their creativity and imagination.

“You always hear about kindergarten readiness, but to me it’s kind of like, ‘How about we live for the day? How about making the most of the day instead of always thinking that I will be good enough for next year? Let’s kiss this year,” Phippen said.

Preschoolers are exposed to a variety of art forms with artists from diverse backgrounds, which Phippen says helps them understand others.

Phippen has also seen some of the preschoolers use art to express themselves, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when they had fewer opportunities for socialization.

“They can find their voice through the arts, and if they don’t want to play with a friend, well, maybe they want to sit down and draw their family,” she said. “Maybe they’re sad they miss their family and that opens the door to being able to sit down with them and say, ‘Tell me, who’s in your family that you drew? What’s your family doing? mother for work? What does your father do for work? Who cooks for you? Asking things in different ways to make them think.

Phippen said she thinks all kids are interested in art.

“You’ll hear a lot of parents say, ‘Well, my kid doesn’t really like art.’ And I think that can’t be true, there are so many. You know, there’s finger painting, they want tactile experiences. They like to understand how things work,” she said.

To learn about architecture and construction, they use building blocks to create structures in the classroom, then walk around the city to observe the buildings.

4K students also vote for red, blue, or yellow on Election Day to learn more about voting and primary colors. They also make signs in support of the color they want to vote for and can vote in a secret ballot box.

“Then they have to wait until the next day, and we tally up the results and they learn the charts and counting and counting marks and such,” Phippen said. “Then we’ll celebrate which color wins and learn how not to be a sore loser.”

Preschoolers also engage with the local community in many ways, such as learning about Hmong culture from the Sheboygan Hmong Leadership Council, painting rocks and talking about peace at Peace Park, and bringing in food items. collected at the Salvation Army in Sheboygan where they stack the pantry and learn about homelessness and hunger.

Classes also go on several field trips throughout the year to the Art Preserve, Maywood Environmental Park, Christopher’s Farm and Gardens, Fire Station, Farmers Market and edge of the lake.

Although rooted in arts-based learning, Phippen said they don’t believe all preschoolers will become artists.

“But they live in the 21st century and they have to be creative thinkers,” she said. -solvers, all the math in the world is not going to save your life. You have to know how to figure things out.

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Contact Alex Garner at 224-374-2332 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @alexx_garner.


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