BY COLLETTE CAPRARA

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Pint-size Picassos will have an opportunity to explore new artistic territory in the coming months, as the folks at Belmont launch their new "Preschool Palette" program.

Offered on weekdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the sessions are geared to children ages 3 through 5. Each program will follow a monthly theme and will include a story session, a visit to Gari Melchers' studio and gallery (where children can view related works of art), and a session of hands-on creativity--with a take-home work of art.

"We will be focusing on one element of art in each session," said education coordinator Michelle Crow-Dolby, who designed the series. "And, our emphasis for this age range is definitely on the process, not the product."

The process that's explored can be quite exciting for little ones. For example, January's theme is "Your Snowy Day," with a focus on warm and cool colors. The featured story is Ezra Keats' award-winning "The Snowy Day," a tale of a little boy's adventures in his snow-covered city.

As a project, a "monotype" using shaving cream was selected. Participants will apply and smooth shaving cream directly on a table top. They will then drip acrylic paints corresponding to the pinks, purples and blues of the book illustrations.

Finally, they'll place a piece of drawing paper on the mixture. The paint will be transferred, and each child will have a unique work of art to take home.

"When my assistant, docent Cathy Stikes, was giving instructions and brought out the shaving cream on a little pan in our first class, every eye was on her and the children's little mouths were open as they thought, 'We're going to do this?'" said Dolby. "Parents said, 'We would never do this at home!' I said, 'Yes, I know. That's why we are all here!'"

February's theme, "Art to Heart," will focus on the shapes incorporated in a variety of paintings, and will feature the children's book "Mouse Shapes." Participants will be creating a "stained glass" heart from colored tissue--a unique and heartfelt valentine for a loved one.

The "Preschool Palette" sessions in March will explore primary and secondary colors, incorporating two children's books--"Little Blue and Little Yellow" and "White Rabbit's Color Book." The take-home (likely "in-tummy") creation that month will be an edible color wheel, created with mini-bagels, cream cheese and food coloring.

"I think this is a unique opportunity in our area to introduce young people to the joy of art, not only with a classroom but also with the studio and gallery," said Dolby.

"Some children learn visually, some by hearing, and some by doing. I hope that by combining these three approaches, we'll be providing something for everyone."

"Belmont, itself, is beautiful," said Stikes. "'Preschool Palette' allows families to experience Belmont, spend time together and have fun."

One adult chaperone should accompany every two children. Preschool, day care and homeschool groups can schedule their personalized "Preschool Palette" sessions by contacting Michelle Crow-Dolby at 540/654-1851, or

Email: mdolby@umw.edu. Preregistration for all sessions is required.

Collette Caprara is a local artist and writer.

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