Last week our elementary school hosted its annual “Open House,” a night when classrooms are open for visits and the work of students is prominently displayed everywhere.  The Open House is a chance to really get a look at the kinds of work the teachers and kids have been doing together, and to see into upper grade classes our children might have in the future, and to explore the school grounds and talk to other parents.

new raised bed vegetable garden

For my part, I put together a display of the artwork that the participants of my “Art Academy” have made in their time with me.  So far this year I’ve had two groups for six weeks each, with a total of approximately 120 kids between first and sixth grade coming to make art during their Friday lunch-recess times.  The actual art time is very short, but the kids who come are happy to be there, and in their enthusiasm they manage to get  a little bit done every week.

The Principal wanted to showcase the work we’d been doing, and the Open House seemed like the best place to do it.  With the help of some almost helpful sixth graders, the artwork got taped to long sheets of blue Kraft paper and hung on the backs of Book Fair carts in the cafeteria.  This improved the look of the room by leaps and bounds, and set a nice backdrop for the PTA meeting and parent welcome session later the same night.

cafeteria set up

The first Art Academy session in the Fall focused on drawing trees in pencil using small branches as models to represent miniature trees.  The emphasis was on seeing and drawing, and getting the kids to observe the branching structures, textures, and rounded volumes of each branch.  When the drawings were complete we looked at Mondrian’s different styles of tree painting to think about the negative space shapes made by tree branches.  The kids then painted those spaces on their own tree pictures, using wet-into-wet watercolor techniques and salt.

6th grader's paintings

3rd-4th grade

1st-2nd grade

For the second session I wanted to do something a little different–more sculptural.  Partly inspired by the pop-up Valentines we made in February, I went further that direction and designed a project that would incorporate a number of pop-ups into a cityscape.

Here are some of my pop-out-and-in prototypes in various stages of finish:

Kelly's paper cities

And here are some of my students hard at work on theirs:

painting cityscapes

I'm finished!

And when hung all together for display, they looked great, I thought.

extended cities

various stages of finish

and my two young artists at home, working on theirs:

brothers at work

look at that cool tree!

The artwork was well-received, and the Principal especially made me feel that teaching art to these kids is making some kind of difference in the school.  For that I am happy and proud, but still it seems like the drop in the bucket that makes a ripple.  With one more art session still to go for the Spring and the promise of an arts-related grant on the horizon for the school, progress is being made.  One small artist at a time.

tree, 3rd grader

garden growing