Philosophies that influenced and inspired Thinking & Creating With A Line:

While working on Thinking and Creating with a Line, Cathy found that she was able to combine and integrate many of the influences and approaches to education that have been so important in her teaching. She would like to acknowledge the work of individuals and philosophies that have inspired and shaped her thinking, teaching and writing.

The Reggio Emilia Approach

In 1989 Cathy was part of a delegation of teachers from the United States and Australia who spent a week visiting pre-primary schools and meeting with teachers, studio teachers and pedagogical coordinators in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy. In 2006 Cathy returned to Reggio Emilia to attend the International Reggio Emilia Studio Teacher Institute. Trips, conferences on the Reggio Emilia approach, as well as many encounters with exhibitions, The Hundred Languages of Children, and The Wonder of Learning created by educators and children in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy have been a profound influence on every phase of Cathy Topal’s teaching and life. Cathy co-authored Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials, Davis Publications, Inc. 1999 with Lella Gandini, liaison for the Reggio Emilia approach in the United States.

Rudolf Arnheim: Visual Thinking

Rudolf Arnheim's teaching and writings on “visual thinking” inspired Cathy’s graduate work in Visual Studies. Whenever she ponders a teaching dilemma, the following quote seems to unexpectedly pop up in her mind:

“…art training is not one of the minor fillers of the curriculum, but relates to the very fundamentals of education. What are these fundamentals? Reading, writing, and arithmetic? Certainly these are indispensable skills; but should we not realize by now that they are just skills? And that even as a list of skills the list is incomplete? If I am not mistaken, the three fundamentals of education are, perceiving … thinking … forming and the tools needed to exert these faculties of the mind are numbers, words, and shapes. Of these three sets of tools the first two have been considered the only essential ones since the Middle Ages. We must now rehabilitate the third.” from Rudolph Arnheim, “Perceiving, Thinking, Forming,” Art Education Magazine, March 1983

The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) developed by Phillip Yenawine and Abigail Housen, grew from Rudolf Arnheim's writings and teaching. The visual thinking strategies are used in museums all over the world today.


The VTS approach has inspired countless education and visual arts students in Cathy's "Teaching of Visual Arts" classes at Smith College. It has helped students engage with works of art at the museum, and helped them feel comfortable engaging their students – both young and old – in discussing works of art.

Rhoda Kellogg

Rhoda Kellogg and her research on the stages of development in young children’s drawing and painting have been instrumental in helping Cathy figure out how to pose and offer developmentally appropriate challenges and problems to her youngest students. Analyzing Children’s Art and The Psychology of Children’s Art by Rhoda Kellogg Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Friedrich Froebel

In the 1830’s, German scientist, mathematician, crystallographer and educator, Friedrich Froebel originated the concept of “Kindergarten.” Froebel believed in active learning through play. He created a series of manipulatives, which he called “Gifts”, and along with them a philosophy of how they were to be used. From these original Gifts came block sets, Cuisenaire rods, parquetry tiles and other construction tools that are still used in classrooms to this day. With each Gift and the guidance of a teacher, children arranged what Froebel termed, “life forms or nature forms,” “knowledge forms” and “beauty forms.” Through this work with minds and hands children learned both visual and verbal languages. Within these languages lay the foundations of mathematics, reading, writing, and scientific discovery as well as an appreciation for design and aesthetics. While researching Froebel’s educational system, Cathy discovered that Thinking and Creating with a Line had a precedent in Froebel’s work. Scott Bultman, from Red Hen Toys and Froebel USA, has been a longtime advisor on all things Froebelian. His digital know-how was instrumental in creating this website!


“Constructivism is basically a theory -- based on observation and scientific study -- about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences … Constructivism is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning, or learning by doing.” Thinking and Creating with a Line offers a basic way to construct knowledge in many content areas.