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Showcasing the Very Young at Art

Education: Thousand Oaks preschool 'commissions' kids to provide works for a fund-raising auction.


Forget about bringing home messy finger-paintings for parents to proudly post on the refrigerator.

At Roots and Wings preschool in Thousand Oaks, toddlers intend to get top dollar for their works of art.

But the little ones won't be making a profit from the "abstract" paintings and sculptures they have spent the last several weeks creating.

The money raised in the school's first-ever children's art show and silent auction next weekend will go back into the center, the only place in the affluent east county community offering free preschool for low-income families. Using professional art supplies--not the newsprint and washable paint of standard preschool art projects--the youngsters have made colorful paintings, jewelry boxes and ceramic ornaments.

"We wanted to give children the opportunity to experiment with real, authentic art media," said Sherri Laboon, executive director of Roots and Wings City Center. "By putting things on display and selling them, it really elevates the importance of what they've done."

At the preschool last week, 4-year-old Savanah Andersen sat at a pint-sized easel, delicately spreading acrylic paint on stretched canvas.

"I like the red," she said, admiring her work.

In another room, 2-year-old Brendan Hirano practiced "spin art." Clutching a purple marker in one tiny hand and pushing a Lazy Susan with the other, he made a design of concentric circles.

Though art at this age mostly is for fun, it is also critical for early development, Laboon said.

In handling thin-stemmed paintbrushes, children are learning motor skills and hand-eye coordination--important precursors to writing.

And no one has been excluded. Even infants, too young to hold a brush, created art by crawling around a canvas in paint-drenched mittens, Laboon said.

The preschool serves 111 children, from infants to 4-year-olds, five days a week.

About 51% of the students are from low- or moderate-income families, their $650-per-month tuition subsidized by the California Department of Education. To qualify, a family of four has to earn less than $36,000 a year.

The program also is supported by the city of Thousand Oaks, which provides the school's building on Conejo School Road rent-free and pays nearly 90% of maintenance costs, said Carol Williams, the city's director of special projects.

But with rising utility bills and teachers' health insurance costs, the school's budget for materials has decreased, Laboon said. Parents helped raise money in the fall to buy art supplies and plan the show and auction, which Laboon hopes will yield the center at least $5,000.

The silent auction will include about 100 donated gifts from local businesses and residents, including a week's vacation in Mammoth and rounds of golf at local courses.

The children's artwork, priced according to the cost of the school's materials, will be displayed on the lawn in front of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Parents are eager to help the center by purchasing the preschoolers' creations.

"I could frame anything my daughter brings home, but do I? No," said Jillene Stevenson, whose 3-year-old, Gwynne, has been at Roots and Wings since she was 4 months old. "I usually put it on the bulletin board, and then after three months, it probably goes in the trash. This is going to be special."

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