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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Creating Murals Creates Community

Big Kids on the Go work on their summer mural, see the result below.
Every year, our preschool summer program chooses a creative focus. This summer they decided on a study of murals, which are abundant in Chicago and particularly in our very own neighborhood of Hyde Park.

Naturally, this summer included field trips to view the murals in Hyde Park, such as a trip to the underpass at 55th Street.

However, one of this summer's biggest takeaways was that, to create a mural, you need to work as a team and collaborate. 

Murals are big and thus require teamwork to create, especially if you’re a child. For example, our Big Kids on the Go Blue created a tree print mural by working together under the direction of our resident artist Susan Carton. 

First the children paired up to use a special paint "brush" made by hanging a t-shirt from a broom handle. The class found the contraption looked like a car wash! Working in pairs, each child held one end of the broom and together they walked the paint-soaked shirt across the paper. This was done several times with different groups of children until the big paper was covered in rich blue lines.

The next step was to make prints from a tree branch. The whole team decided on the color of the prints. Then, in teams of two, the children rolled the paint on the branch and carefully placed it on the blue background to create the print.  

Tree print mural by Big Kids on the Go Blue

In our Parent/Tot class, parents got a chance to get their hands dirty.
Mural by the Parent/Tot class

Creating murals extended to involving parents and community artists. 

Right at the beginning of summer, our Parent/Tot class began exploring painting a mural with foam brushes and blue and green paint. The next day, they used bottles and funnels, resulting in circular prints on the previous day's creation.

The entire school also worked with local artist Doug on a mural on big wood panels.

Each class created a different scene. It was striking how differently each group approached these enormous panels of wood. Some classes abandoned the brushes and tools, and instead used their hands and arms to paint the giant surfaces. The Purple Big Kids on the Go used small brushes to paint their own portions of the large mural. The Blue Big Kids On the Go actually painted in absolute silence.

Eventually, we will display the mural boards from this project along the fence in the preschool playground, ready to welcome everybody when the new school year begins!

Another mural project asked the children to share what summer reminds them of. They gathered materials and each one of them shared one particularly favorite part of summer.

Our 3-year old preschoolers began their study of murals with fingerpaint, then moved on to including 3-D objects in another mural.

All through the summer, children learned to work alongside their friends to paint, draw, make a mono print and employ so many different art techniques.

We wrapped up this in-depth study with a grand gallery opening on Thursday, July 25, showcasing all the murals created over the summer. The community effort was evident in the children's work, and the gallery really made all of this summer's learning visible for everyone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Amazon-Inspired Purim Masks

As part of their ongoing exploration of and learning about the rain forest and the Amazon, the Kindergarteners created Purim masks inspired by the indigenous Amazon people and their customs.

The children used real life images as a reference. Through this project the class learned about the native people's customs and rituals, for example the way they express gratitude. They also learned how they use make up to express their feelings or their appreciation for animals.

 The children demonstrated a remarkable ability to take their time, persevere, and be creative.

The Kindergarteners also did a fantastic job keeping the colors separated by washing their brushes, and they kept their work space amazingly clean! They wrapped up this project by creating special hats for their masks that were also inspired by what they had learned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Kindergarteners Draw Picasso-Inspired Self Portraits

Our Kindergarteners' January self portraits were inspired by the unique work of Pablo Picasso. The teachers printed out a few examples of how Picasso drew faces for the children to study.

The samples were also meant to spark a deeper understanding of what Picasso was like. And indeed it did! The children discussed how confident and secure Picasso must have been to be able to present himself in this way.

Self Portrait by Pablo Picasso at age 89
More here
Noah: "Picasso did not care to draw himself funny and he did not care what people thought about it; so he drew himself more."

Ethan: "He made the faces look weird."

Vered: "I like the way he painted the faces because Picasso loved his art."

As the children attempted their own colorful self portraits using the "Picasso method," they also reflected on what they liked about the process, see some of their notes below the portraits.

We believe that since art is subjective, it opens doors to many interpretations. Art is great tool for children to stretch their imagination, as well as promote critical thinking and overall language skills.

For our teachers it was fantastic to see with how much confidence, enthusiam and pride the children approached this project.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Identify Trees in Winter

by Preschool Teacher Susan Carton, who is studying to become a Master Naturalist

One of the best things about studying to be a Master Naturalist is that 

the more I learn, the more I see. 

I have always loved the trees in our neighborhood of Hyde Park. Now that I've learned a few things about their history, such as why certain trees flourish here, how they grow and survive, and their diversity, I am noticing even more about them. Quite fitting for the upcoming holiday of Tu B'Shvat (the New Year of the Trees in Israel), I recently participated in a winter tree ID workshop at the Sand Ridge Nature CenterWell, the take-away is that it’s pretty hard, but it is something that you can learn and study your whole life. Nature is like that!

Bark seemed the obvious place to start. 

My classmates and I learned about the distinctive bark of some trees: the almost tile-like black shingles of the cherry tree, the peeling bark of sycamores, the bumpy bark of hackberries, and the smooth reddish bark of dogwoods.

We also learned to observe the general shape and size of trees: Does the trunk split near the ground, or are there many small trunks? Do the branches form one long column like on a white oak, do they spread out in a circle like on a red oak, or do they curve and twist like a crabapple does?

Serviceberry Tree (like tree our school recently planted at Promontory
Point in memory of our school matriarch Millie Miller)
These days I’m seeing twigs and buds everywhere. Every tree in Chicago is full of buds right now. You can study the buds (are they clustered, single, scaled?), the leaf scars (are they round, crescent shaped?), and the twig placement (do the twigs grow opposite each other or alternate along two sides of the twig?).  

Twigs intrigued me the most. 

Twig illustration from the Field Museum's Guide to Winter Trees

Twig structure and formation is so specific to each tree species that you can pretty much identify it by just observing the twigs. One place to start with twigs is their placement on the trunk. Do the twigs grow directly opposite each other or do they alternate along the branch? There are relatively few trees with opposite twigs. Here’s a way to remember them:

M maple
A ash
D dogwood
Cap Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle
Buck buckeye
Horse horse chestnut

Next time you are looking at a bare winter tree, see if it has “opposite” twigs. If it does, it will be one of these trees. It’s a place to start.

As you can imagine, you really need a field guide to identify most trees, but now you have an idea of what to look for. The good news is that the Field Museum has just created a field guide for winter tree identification, and it will be on their website very soon.