Seasoned art educator Bonnie Leong: teaching kids to express themselves

06 2019 | Issue 33
Text/Jasper Hou

Art education is not uncommon in the west as it is considered as part of quality education for individuals. In Macao, quality education is becoming increasingly popular and more and more parents are paying attention to their children’s art education. In order to meet the growing demand, schools and commercial education centres are developing art education features for their curriculum, offering art courses for children and creating a new art education environment for children in the city.


In this issue, we have invited Premier School Affiliated to Hou Kong Middle School, dance studio TDSM Kid Dance and experienced art educator Bonnie Leong to share their take on art education for children in Macao.


Born in Macao, Bonnie Leong graduated with a degree in arts in Vancouver and has settled in Canada. She now has years of teaching experience in art education for children. In recent years, Leong regularly comes back to Macao and organised workshops on art education for children. Through teaching different arts to children, Leong is able to teach her students how to express themselves and understand their relationship with other people better, helping children gain better psychological development.


Art helps children express their feelings


Leong is very busy with her work in Canada. But she would still find the time to come back to Macao. “I lived in Macao when I was little. Since childhood, I always have a keen interest in art. But I didn’t have that many opportunities to learn,” Leong recalled. “So I want to bring new art education concepts and teaching methods back to the kids in Macao. I think this is something very meaningful.” Leong believes that children have two personality traits that are very similar to artists: genuine curiosity and stubbornness.


In her opinion, teaching kids to create art can enable them to express themselves more clearly, build up confidence, imagination and creativity, which is very beneficial to character-building and well-rounded development. “When making art, kids can have more room to express themselves,” Leong explained. “Sometimes they might be afraid of expressing themselves. But making art can help them feel safe. During this process, they would be more open to adults and would talk about their feelings or even the things they keep to themselves. This is the magic of art.”


Streaming students and tailoring classes for students’ needs


Leong streams her students into different classes based on their personality. “Every student has a different growing background and they have unique life experience, personality, hobbies, etc. That’s why we need to adopt different teaching methods to match their needs,” Leong explained. “At my workshops, there are classes that focus on different skills. Some classes are designed to improve the ability to express while some focus on confidence building. There are also classes that help students control their emotion. I have also set up classes for kids who have character disorder.”


Leong’s workshops focus on teaching painting. She combines other art forms such as story-telling, games, drama and dance with her painting classes. Leong encourages her students to observe and interact with the world through different art forms and methods. She also encourages the kids to express themselves with different artistic expressions. “Painting is only one form of expression. I also teach my students other methods and ways of expression, allowing them to try out different art forms. This gives them more space to realise their creativity and express themselves in different ways. This is the core of my classes.”


What Macao’s art education for children can improve?


From Leong’s perspective, early education in Canada focuses more on allowing children to express freely. Space is also incredibly important for children when making arts, Leong added. But space happens to be a scarce resource in Macao, which puts constraints on organising art activities. Leong had no choice but started making adjustments for her curriculum design. In addition to that, Leong thinks that there are generally more students in each class here in Macao and therefore there are more class rules and disciplines to follow. This limits children’s freedom to create arts to some extent. But it is also true that it is very difficult to have small classes in Macao. In addition, Canada has more mature relevant infrastructure when comparing with Macao. If the teachers discover that the kids are having issues during the learning process, they can refer them to psychological consultant and help them receive professional help. In Leong’s opinion, these are the things that the art education industry in Macao can learn from Canada.


Art education for children needs parents’ support


Leong believes that parents’ encouragement and support are very important to their kids. Most of the time children make arts to get recognition and praises from their parents. In this case, parents could join their kids and make arts at home, for example, making handicrafts, paintings, etc. When making art with the kids, parents can talk to their kids and get to know their concepts for the artwork that they are making. During the creation process, children naturally lower their defense and feel relaxed. That said, parents would be able to know better what their kids are really feeling and thinking. By doing so, parents could learn what issues their kids are facing.


As an experienced professional in the field of art education, Leong knows that educating children about art is a long-term process, meaning taking only a few classes won’t translate into immediate result. What really helps children achieve progress is the efforts their parents make that would contribute to the learning process. “I cannot stay for long every time I come back to Macao. My classes generally last one or two months. So my influence on the kids is very limited,” Leong concluded. “That’s why parents learning the correct ways of teaching their kids are equally important.”