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Eddie was proud of his half-finished self-portrait. He and about 20 of his peers had just finished gluing cut-outs of their profiles to rectangular pieces of cardboard, and were preparing to affix traced cut-outs of their hands to the works-in-progress. "That's my face," said Eddie, proudly pointing to his creation. Eddie, like most of his fellow artists in Moonstone's pre-school program, glued his hand tracing haphazardly onto the cardboard. But it didn't matter. At Moonstone, the learning and self-esteem that come from a job well-done -- be it a self-portait, a play or a discussion about family life -- are what matter most. Moonstone's motto, "education through the arts," graces everything from the seven-year-old school's letterhead to its day-to-day programming. Music, painting, acting and dance at this private pre-school a few blocks from South Street are viewed as more than an expendable enrichment activity. They they are a way of life. "There's a significance in the arts to everyday life that's to a large extent ignored in the United States," said Larry Robin, who sits on Moonstone's board of directors. Moonstone uses the various arts to give children a chance to find their individual talents, boost self-esteem and start experimenting in other areas. Part of the school's goal is to create a situation -- such as making a self-portrait -- where students will always succeed, said Larry Robin. If children feel that they have failed, they will not try as hard. But they will grow by trying and gain strength by succeeding. That is the school's credo. Director Sandy Robin starts with a theme around which she designs a series of projects, such as family, the current theme. The project involves different art forms -- music, dance, painting -- all of which children are encouraged to try. "When [the kids] see an actual tracing of their hand they get a better sense of how the whole piece reflects them," said staffer Linda Conley. The walls of Moonstone are covered with the various works of the 28 children in the program. The wall of a main hallway bears the self-portraits. Sandy Robin started the school in 1983 as an after-school arts program -- it grew into a preschool in 1985. Her work with children began about 12 years ago while she was a studio artist in Philadelphia. Friends suggested she work on a local school project in which children were painting a wall mural. The project introduced her to the joy of working with children in the arts. Sandy Robin continued her work at a Variety Club camp attended by children with physical handicaps. The children's physical challenges demanded a different approach towards art than the traditional popsicle-stick arts and crafts projects, she found. So she ditched standard sheets of paper for long continuous sheets of butcher paper, rejected frustrating paintbrushes in favor of paint squirtguns, and sought abstract expression instead of specific real-world images. Her approach encouraged the handicapped children, who saw interaction and collaboration around them, Robin said. Art was an avenue for the children to build their self-esteem. Sandy and Larry Robin have found that there had already been a research base in the kind of work they had been doing. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has described the human mind as consisting of seven intelligences -- many of which, Larry Robin says, are accesible through art. Music is a constant around Moonstone. From special "clean-up music" played while the children pick up their toys at the end of morning free-play, to a jazzy rendition of the ABCs, the children are almost constantly exposed to sound. Moonstone's staff of eight rotates throughout the day, with five people working at any given time. George Barrick has worked with Robin for over four years, and he said the program, by encouraging children to engage in any comfortable mode of expression, results in children who are "fearless with their feelings." At "Circle Time" last Friday, Sandy Robin brought the children together for an hour-long discussion-and-acting period. Once they were settled in their circle, she asked the children to follow her lead, making happy, sad, and unusual facial expressions and hand movements. They followed along with every expression, every sound. Then the talk turned to families, and Sandy Robin asked the children yes-or-no questions focusing on understanding diversity in family cultures and structures. Can children live with one parent? she asked. The children answered yes. Can a pet be part of a family? Again, the answer was yes. After the family discussion the children acted out the story of Peter Rabbit as Sandy Robin recited the tale. As for the name Moonstone, if there is a story behind it, Sandy Robin isn't telling. "We like the sound of it. It has a lot of O's in it, and O's are lucky," she said.

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