Leda Farrow teaches children art at The Learning Connexion. Her students get the chance to find out what they are passionate about, and the freedom to learn from their mistakes. It's that philosophy that makes her one of New Zealand's best children's art teachers.
We had a chat with Leda about teaching art to children, and her own background in creativity.
How did you get into teaching kids art classes at The Learning Connexion (TLC)?
I first became interested in teaching kids when I worked on a performing arts summer camp in the USA. The camp was great because it allowed kids to find their passion through many different outlets from creative arts to circus performance. While I was there I taught painting, drawing, mural art, 3D sculpture and theatre classes.
When I came back to New Zealand I really wanted to bring the freedom and positive energy from the camp into the classroom, which is when I started teaching at TLC.
It must be exhausting! Do you enjoy it?
Kids get excited about the same things I get excited about so I don't find it that exhausting. I get a lot of energy from seeing them create and have fun, though being on your feet for the whole school holidays can be tiring. Every class is always different so I enjoy the variety and different energy and wacky ideas the kids bring to it.
Tell me about your teaching philosophy when working with children?
I believe kids should learn to make mistakes and take risks, which are the key skills for innovation and creative thinking. Art is all about taking risks and finding out what it is you are doing through making. I try and encourage students to find confidence in themselves and in new ideas by giving them variety and allowing them to experiment. We obviously have boundaries and I do set limitations and parameters for them to work within but it is great for them not to have that pressure of trying to make something perfect and to just enjoy the process and see where it takes them.
Why does TLC run kids classes?
I like to think it is a great service to the community and gives kids and parents some different options. I think parents do see the value of creativity and see it as part of a child's healthy development and sense of self.
Why is it good for children to learn art?
That is a big question that I could write a whole essay on. I think the main benefit is for them to learn how to express themselves. At a more existential level I think art has the power to be transformative and helps us see ourselves and the world in new ways. When we create it is kind of like a mirror reflecting our innermost self back at us. It can give us clues as to who we are and where we are going.
I think more practically it allows kids to have a healthier relationship with themselves and encourages them to take risks and make mistakes which in turn helps them to become more resilient as adults.
I also think the younger generation is going to need to be innovative and not be afraid of going against the status quo if we are going to solve some of the challenging issues facing us in the future.
Do you get good feedback from the kids?
It is hard to get kids to fill out feedback forms as the feedback can vary hugely but many of the kids in our holiday programme come back every term. Some don't want to go home at the end of the day and some who come for the whole holiday programme, for example, get really excited to find out what the next day's activity is. So it is normally very obvious when they have had a good time.
More about Leda
Leda recently completed her Masters in Fine Arts at Massey University. She is interested in puppetry, multimedia, sustainable development and the avant-garde. She likes art that is experimental, expressive and immersive.
Her studies in the arts at Massey University (Wellington) include a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours in 2011, majoring in Installation and Performance Art. In 2009 she studied at UC Berkeley, where she took courses in sound and video art.
In 2011, she worked with Bread and Puppet Theatre, a political puppet theatre company based in Vermont, where she learnt the art of animating objects and constructing large scale puppets.
Her love of teaching began long before TLC's art classes, completing her Post Graduate Diploma in Secondary School Education at Victoria University of Wellington in 2013. She then went on to be an art tutor at Camp Pillsbury, a performing arts summer camp for kids in America.
In addition, Leda has worked as a set designer for the Manawatu Summer Shakespeare, as a puppet and effigy builder for the Wellington Loemis Festival and as a special effects artist for BodyFX.
She is interested in creating sustainable art through the use of recycled and eco-friendly materials and through looking at art as a sustainable philosophy.
She believes art has the power to transform communities and encourages artists, young and old to embrace risk-taking, self-expression and the creative process.
Check out this video of the creation of Staccus - an effigy built by Leda and team as part of Loemis Winter Solstice Festival in 2019.