What’s Your “Wonderful?” Celebrating The Experiences That Make Us Say, “Wow!”

Fifteen years. For that long, I’ve been a teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and this is the first time that I ever experienced what I did yesterday: a look at what play-based learning can really be. 

This all started back in September, when we had some sunflowers delivered to our classroom. Students shared a lot of prior knowledge about sunflowers, and we linked this flower to some of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. The more we spoke about Van Gogh, the more interested students became in his work. One child had some unframed Van Gogh prints at home that he brought in for us to explore. We moved from sunflowers to Starry Night. The children loved this painting, and all year long, they’ve been creating different representations of Starry Night.

As I mentioned in this previous blog post of mine, we moved from exploring Van Gogh to exploring other artists, including Kandinsky, Picasso, and the nature artist, Andy Goldsworthy. It was as this art interest continued to develop, that my teaching partner, Paula, and I decided to make our next round of VIP presentations about visual arts. What the children shared with the class is truly incredible. They each learned more about different artists, and they encouraged their classmates to dig deeper and create their own artwork inspired by these artists.

Not only did the children create like artists, but they thought and spoke like artists. Artwork inspired everything that they did. Students were reading, writing, and thinking more around artwork. Meaningful math also came out of these art experiences.

K. is helping prepare for the #art gallery. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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Just before the Christmas holidays, Paula and I spoke about this art interest, and we wondered about creating an art gallery, so that children could share their work with others. We decided to approach the idea after Christmas. Before we could share the idea though, the students thought about it themselves. When we once again spoke about the hard work and incredible sharing that came out of a VIP presentation, one of our SK students said, “Maybe we should make an art gallery with all of this artwork.” What a wonderful thought!  This is when we began brainstorming as a class.

This child went home and started to create some of her own plans.

It took just over a month, but the gallery plans grew from there. The children owned this learning. As difficult as it was for both of us at times, we let go and let the students take charge of this. There’s something amazingly perfect in the perfect imperfections.

  • They covered the boards to display the artwork.
  • They divided the boards so that there was enough room for all of the artists.

  • They decided where to place the artwork in the room and how to place it.
  • They hung up the artwork, and learned how to use tools such as a stapler and tape (successfully) to make the work stay in place.

  • They even chose which artwork to display and why, and ensured that all artists were well-represented in the gallery. 

Yesterday was the day of the art gallery. Prior to our visitors coming, we talked about what we might discuss and what we might show our parents, the principal, and our Arts Consultant.

Touring the room inspired a couple of students to create maps for the gallery, and once again, we had another literacy and math connection.

And then, an hour before the end of the school day, on the last day before March Break, we had our art gallery. It was incredible to see the children share their learning with all of our visitors. 

What and how much the students shared, varied, but as parents noted, their children were talking about art at home. They were even coming in with additional artwork to add to our gallery and share with the class. One JK student is determined to turn his house into an art gallery, and he wants to bring home his artwork after the break so that he can do so.

Now this wonderful experience is over, and as I asked Paula after school yesterday, “What do we do now? Do we have to take everything down?” She said that an SK student asked her these same questions. This child was almost a little sad that the gallery day arrived because she didn’t want it to “all be over” after that. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. This art gallery happened because of the children, and what happens next will be because of them as well. Maybe we will replace the gallery with something new, or maybe it will extend into something else. We have to wait and see.

Looking back at the evolution of this project, I’m reminded about what happens when we really look and listen to kids, believe that they are “competent and capable of complex thought,” and give them opportunities to show us exactly what they can do. I think back to some of my experiences from the past, and how I could have done things differently: exposing the children to more diverse experiences, developing new vocabulary, and giving the time to allow ideas to naturally develop. I can’t change what I did back then, but I can change what I do now. This art gallery was one of the most amazing moments of my teaching career. I want more amazing! What are some of your terrific teaching and learning experiences? How have they influenced your future practices? Let’s celebrate together!


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