Special Class Introduces Chinese Students to Art Education's "Three C's"

School of Art Education’s Marybeth Tereszkiewicz leads a day of fun and imagination-boosting creativity


Academy of Art University’s Art Education Director Marybeth Tereszkiewicz and Academy grad student Angie Chi during a special Saturday class held for a group of young students visiting from China. Photo by Dorothy O’Donnell.

On an otherwise quiet Saturday morning at 180 New Montgomery, laughter and pop music filled Room 200. A group of young students visiting the U.S. from China gathered around a long white table heaped with colorful art supplies for a special class taught by Marybeth Tereszkiewicz, director of Academy of Art University’s School of Art Education (ARE). Zheng Qinyan, who runs the children’s art education program at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, accompanied the students.

“Zheng wanted to stop in at the Academy during their tour of the States to have me give an art lesson using the philosophy of how we approach teaching art to young children,” said Tereszkiewicz, who met Qinyan in 2016 when she was invited to speak at an International conference in Hainan, China and then presented at the Central Academy. “Traditional Chinese art education is predominantly based on skill development. But my program is more focused on the three C’s—creativity, collaboration and community—and having students work together to create this actual ‘maker’ experience in the moment.” 

Angie Chi, an ARE graduate student, assisted Tereszkiewicz with the class, translating her instructions for the children in Chinese. This was definitely helpful. But it was also clear throughout the morning that you don’t need to speak the same language to bond and have fun while making art. 

The kids got a kick out of Tereszkiewicz’s energizing opening exercise to get their creative juices flowing and introduce them to the key concepts of the class. She led them in a simple chant using four words—imagination, cooperation, community and yes—which Chi repeated in Chinese. Each word was accompanied by a gesture. “Cooperation,” for example, was symbolized with a clap to represent two things coming together.

After several enthusiastic rounds of the chant, the students settled around the table and Tereszkiewicz explained the first part of their assignment. She asked them to pretend they’d landed on a barren planet where strange, colorful creatures that were part-animal, part-vehicle, suddenly appear. Working in pairs, the kids selected one animal, such as pig or cat, and one vehicle, such as a plane or bicycle, from two baskets. Each team member had 30 minutes to make a creature that combined traits of both their animal and vehicle. Tereszkiewicz urged them to keep the fourth word they’d learned in their chant—“yes”—in mind as they worked so they could free their imaginations and avoid judging their ideas.


Photo by Dorothy O’Donnell.

“Any idea that comes to you, say ‘yes,’” she said. “Your creatures are going to look funny, they’re going to look silly, and that’s okay. Whatever you make doesn’t have to look exactly like your animal. Your pig can have a hat, your bird can have a necklace or boots.”

Soon, a rainbow-hued herd of fish-cars, lion-tricycles and boat-cats fashioned from clay, pipe cleaners, feathers, construction paper and other materials began to take over the table.

Santiago Wang created a fabulous winged pig. He wanted to cut a pipe cleaner in half to make a tail for his critter. But there were no scissors. Tereszkiewicz encouraged him to use his imagination to come up with another solution. Seconds later, his face lit up as he twisted the pipe cleaner into the perfect curly tail for his pig. 

“I have two words—one is happy, one is amazing,” said Wang when asked what he thought of the class. 

After putting their creations in a circle in the middle of the table, the young artists began part two of the project: Making a gathering space for their critters. Jumping right in, they worked together to transform a drab cardboard box into a magical hangout.

According to Qinyan, her students really enjoyed the class. “We think it is very useful for them to understand different cultures and different kinds of education,” she remarked. 

Parent chaperones who’d been watching the fun from the back of the classroom snapped photos of their kids’ whimsical creatures. Then everyone pitched in to clean up before heading to lunch at a nearby restaurant, a fitting ending to an exhilarating morning of building community and making imaginative art.