The auditorium at Union Elementary School on Wednesday, May 10 is standing room only, full of camera-clutching families awaiting the annual Kindergarten Celebration Show. In all, 67 kindergarteners are standing on risers, trying earnestly, if not successfully, to control their wiggling. If anyone’s suffering from stage fright or even knows what it is, that’s not apparent. One tiny redhead in the front row does an impromptu dance while spreading the skirts of her silver dress. (“It has sparkles,” she confides before going on stage). The show begins with a crowd-pleasing production of the song “Stars Shining.” Then music director Samantha LaFleur tells the audience, “This is a time for everyone to take those photos.” The performers beam, the cameras flash, and the show goes on. The kindergarteners sing about the topics they’ve studied during the year, many of them related to the artists they’ve also learned about: Van Gogh, Cezanne, and the African American quilter, Faith Ringgold. When the last bow has been taken and both LaFleur and art teacher Kristina Kane have been presented with flowers, the children take their families to view the art they’ve created in the style of great masters. Why should five and six year olds who have trouble tying their own shoes be taught about Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Cezanne’s “Apples and Oranges,” and Ringgold’s “Tar Beach?”Art can be a powerful force for good in any age, but especially during times of stress, art can heal. During the height of the pandemic, Kane reminded families that, “The playful effects of art can be a way for children to process their feelings and lead to a more healthy outlook.” Learning about an artist’s style is another way to help children become involved with art, and learning about different techniques can inspire them to create. There are other benefits, too. Vivian Ladd Tomasi, a Montpelier resident and a consultant with the Hood Museum at Dartmouth, helped the museum create a program aimed at developing powers of observation called “Learning to Look.” The program, which can be used with almost any age and can also be employed in the training of doctors, scientists, and detectives, doesn’t begin with lectures or background information. Instead the teacher brings out a work of art and asks an open-ended question, for example, “What do you see?” or “What do you notice?” When one kindergartener looked at Cezanne’s “Apples and Oranges,” she saw the fruit but puzzled over the apples spread out on the cloth. “The dishes should be holding all the fruit,” she said. Her classmates pointed out “The fruit looks real … I think it must be a holiday because if it wasn’t that special, they wouldn’t have painted it.” His friend looked at the same painting but shook his head over the darker shades in the fabric of the cloth. “That tablecloth looks beat up,” he noted. Kindergartener Arlo Mitzberg leaned in to look closely at a print of Ringgold’s “Tar Beach” quilt. He told his friend, Martin Riechel, “The border isn’t in a pattern.” Martin agreed but added, “Some colors are the same, though.” What these young children perceive may not be what we notice; however, they’re developing a set of skills they’ll use in science, in art, and, perhaps, throughout their lives. But on this Wednesday evening, the kindergarteners may only be interested in pointing out that their version of “Starry Night” has lots of “swirls,” just like Van Gogh’s.