Art and music students partner to create children’s books

Art and music students partner to create children’s books

Arts and music students at Central College partnered to create picture books for children featuring inspiring stories and songs.

A 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found less than half (42 percent) of students believe their professors choose diverse instructional materials representing a variety of perspectives and voices.

Over the past several years, Central College faculty and students have considered ways to diversify the music education curriculum, incorporating voices from women and non-American music education leaders. To further diversify music education, Sarah Van Waardhuizen, associate professor of music at the Iowa institution, was inspired to have students create their own books, reflecting their own experiences and perspectives.

Through a departmental partnership, music education students created new course materials to share with young students in their own classrooms. The hardcover books help fund future music education and conference attendance for Central students, as well.

Making art: Van Waardhuizen piloted the new course, Elementary Music Methods, in spring 2023, making the children’s book a primary feature of the course. The goal was to write simple songs with simple chords that elementary school children could learn and sing along to, alongside a story with a life lesson.

Mat Kelly, professor of art and chair of the visual and performing arts department at Central, helped find students who could illustrate books alongside the music students who wrote the songs.

Music education students wrote stories and songs and then met with art students. The students edited the books and they evolved as the illustrations were created. Each of the art students received one research credit to compensate them for the workload, as well.

“The collaboration and dialogue were practical and very educational for the students,” Van Waardhuizen says.

Ultimately, the course produced three books, one from each of the students in the course and one by Van Waardhuizen.

One student, Quinci Cottrell, created a story based on Albert Einstein’s quote, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” The story A Fishes Wishes focuses on how each individual is unique and should be celebrated alongside friends.

At the end of the term, Van Waardhuizen sent the art to a publishing website to print hard copies, which she distributed over the summer. The department didn’t receive external funding to produce the project, but a small percentage of the sales is given to a venture fund that covers conference attendance and other music education projects.

The impact: “The partnership resulted in a beautiful fusion of music and art, creating a novel approach to storytelling and education,” Van Waardhuizen says.

Each student who contributed received a hardcover copy of their book, which they could bring into their classrooms to use in their curriculum.

“How cool is that? I think the little kiddos will light up when they see that their teacher has published a hardcover book,” Van Waardhuizen says.

All three books are also sold online.

As a result of this class, additional faculty members from other departments such as communication studies and psychology are interested in partnering to create similar projects.

The cornerstones of the experience were trust and creativity, as students had to pivot throughout the semester to meet deadlines and overcome problems, but the resulting product was well worth it, Van Waardhuizen says.

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