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Spring into Art!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

 “Spring refreshes the soul, then refreshes the creative self.” – Anonymous

 New perspectives of young learners can provide essential energy for learning. For example, look up: an ever-unfolding canopy of trees spreads across the landscape. Sometimes, in an indoor learning setting kids get used to looking across rather than up or down.

 Outside, when we look up, there are the spreading spring leaves, and when we look down, there are bountiful floral surprises.

Sometimes, quite unbelievably, when one finds a tree or plant that does not seem to fit in a particular geographical place, it is especially interesting—like a magnolia tree on a campus in the Colorado Front Range! But I found one, and passers-by can hardly believe that—in late spring—it is really a blooming magnolia tree.

To learn more about trees, why not take the kids on a tree tour? This site is in Boulder, but tree tours can be found elsewhere as well.Or, perhaps take a Denver Botanic Gardens tour so that students can learn more about plant growth, research, and perhaps conservation alongside the arts by visiting the exhibits and perhaps attending an event at the Gardens?

What about seeing spring from the perspective of a plant or tree? OK, so I am a tree. What kind of a tree am I? What kind of leaves do I have? Am I a tree that grows locally or a tree that you saw on last year’s vacation with your parents or relatives? What if I am a magnolia flower? Where do I usually grow? When I grow in an unusual place, how might I survive? What kinds of supports (perhaps protection from the winds?) would I need?

 Then again, what if I were a 200-year-old cottonwood tree and one of my friends—call him Jerry or Mary, Joshua or Laura—wanted to build a tree-house in me?

Would I be strong enough to hold a little tree-house? What if the kids in your class thought so and wanted to design a tree-house that would suit a 200-year-old tree? How big is it? How do you build a tree-house without harming the tree? Will it have enough shade to keep you cool in my tree-house in the hottest months?

 Developmental skills kids could be working on with these activities could include observation, team-building, note-taking, guided question identification, “research,” and presentation skills. If you want to add another layer in class, play Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring;” spring does indeed bring gifts! So, let’s spring into spring and let nature guide our art and our perspectives!

 Arts are us!

A Child’s Imagination Meets Spring

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

“No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” – Edward Hopper

Being on the edge of the transition between winter and spring can be a recipe for cabin fever. With opportunities for play and learning, a child’s imagination can convert cabin fever into a search for a rare piece of art, engineering mysterious inventions, a ride on a high wave in a pirate’s ship, or an expedition into a jungle. In a learning context, children’s imaginative antics can moderate cabin fever for both children and adults.

How does cabin fever give way to spring excitement? As green blades of grass or bobbing plants begin to show through the white melting snow, a child wants to know what is happening. Why does this flower bloom first? What is its name? What color will it be? If I pick it now, will it grow in a vase? What if I had a garden of my own? Yes, what if?

Why not have a small indoor or outdoor box garden in a sunny spot so that the children can identify the growth phases and be delighted by the emerging color of flowers in “their” garden? Observing, learning about, and cultivating (planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding) a garden can give children ownership of a process (gardening), and in so doing they can become stewards of it. Stewardship can bring them knowledge, pride, and experience. Two plants that are easily seen and easily grown are the delightful multicolored spring poppy flowers and crocuses.

Another early-growing flower, but one seen less frequently in the Rocky Mountain region is the poppy. In March, these begin to grow in the Colorado front range and, as I write this, our five poppy plants on the south side of our home are now eight inches tall. Children can plant these perennials one year and watch these hardy plants grow tall the next year. Orange red, shell pink, coral, and white are just a few of the poppy colors that can bring satisfaction to young gardeners. Why not spend a few dollars and buy a poppy seed kit and the children can plant them in their garden?

Or, how about planting a plot with only xeric plants? For example, the Colorado Front Range is high desert, with much less snowfall than the mountains just west of it. One way to determine which xeric plants are available so that you can select your favorites for your or your child’s garden would be to check with the experts.

Then again, perhaps it is time for an afternoon fieldtrip? From such a trip, children could learn to identify Colorado’s high desert native prickly pear cactus, several varieties of barrel cactus, and yucca plants.

What were, and are, some of the uses of these plants that we have learned from Native Americans? Prickly-pear cactus can be pickled and eaten. Yucca thread can be used to sew things together and the roots can be eaten. The name “yucca” is derived from “yuca,” a Carib Indian name for the cassava or tapioca plant and is cross-fertilized by a moth.

 Perhaps create a project by having the children take a photo of or sketch the yucca without its flowers as a “Spring-to-Summer Project.” Then, once the yucca begins flowering, have them photo/sketch it at this stage. When a yucca flowers, it’s very delicate flower is exciting to watch unfold. Once dried in late summer, these tall flowers can be picked and put in the classroom or home classroom in a vase. These can last, quite literally, for years.

Spring gardens can bring curiosity to the surface and joy to a child’s face as he or she learns something new about nearby surroundings. They allow us to experience both creation and creativity at the same time and provide a ton of inspiration in terms of projects. You might even be tempted to make a small fairy garden, for example, with a little grass seed, potting soil, random things the kids find in the garden and then some hand-fashioned housing, and so forth! So, time to have some spring fun; feel free to send any projects you have completed our way!

Thank you to Chris Runoff for your photo of children, to JustABigGeek for your crocus photo, to kretyen for your cactus photo, to Fool On The Hill for your yucca fruits photo!

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