From the art room..., From the classroom...

Old And New…

Some time ago I had a last minute idea that involved students making art to decorate the gym for a concert.  Last minute ideas often end up being executed with last minute supplies, and this one stayed true to that rule…


I rummaged through the art room cupboards to find, in a dark dusty corner, some old forgotten rolls of mismatched wallpaper samples, ends of gift wrap rolls and some odd shaped scraps no one else could find a use for. What could they become?

I had two weeks and over 100 students (ages 6-10) to work with.  Some of them were eager to be artists, and others came at the process with great reluctance. What, and how, could we create?


In the end I chose a different theme for each grade, gave them basic instructions for shapes, and let them create their pieces using the materials at hand. 


The end results were as creative and diverse as the students themselves. No two were alike, even with the simple repeated constructs, and every  picture captured the personality of the artist. Amazing. 


None of these materials you see was originally intended for the purpose of “art”. They had all been relegated to the back of the closet as relics of another time, unable to fulfill their design destiny (brown floral wallpaper anyone?), but with a little bit of imagination and the right tools they became not just one but many new things…


Going in to this activity we didn’t have a picture of what our efforts would produce, but we had curiosity and enthusiasm for sure. The “doing” part was messy. The “engagement” part was awesome. And the end results were as unique as the sticky fingerprints all over my resource room floor. Hmmm. 


Thinking about the explore-connect-create process in this context reminds me of an artist’s quote that caught my attention at the Vancouver Art Gallery this past summer: 

“The possible does not have to be justified by the known.” (Wolfgang Paalen)

In other words, we might not know where we are going. In fact, we probably don’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and doing as we discover what possibilities await…



Looking back at these pictures of the creative and highly individual found-art project, I am seeing them with the eyes of an “old” teacher exploring the “new” curriculum. For me they make an interesting metaphor: familiar materials, imagination, open ended exploration and guided structure to create something new and ultimately more personal. Is that kind of what it looks like to you?



The teachers here in BC are well into the implementation of the “new” curriculum by now, but we are still really only at the beginning of understanding the shift in thinking, teaching and learning that is required of us as we move towards discoveries in a world that is evolving faster every day. It feels unsettling, to be sure, but we shouldn’t forget that we already have many of the essential tools in our supply cupboard…



Watching children create is the thing that inspires me most as a teacher. It reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm that set me on this path to a life in education so many years ago. It encourages me, especially on the difficult days, to remember what is really essential in education. 



Curiosity, creativity, opportunity, affiliation… 

These things we must have, regardless of what the current theme of the curriculum may be. If children love learning and playing and making – if they have the opportunity and the encouragement and the guidance – then they have everything they need to do great things. 

Wherever you are, I hope these things are part of your daily life too…

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.…”

(William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence)

From the art room...


I was busy thinking about Ted Harrison’s landscape pictures yesterday, when it occurred to me that they might be more accurately described as skyscapes…  I went searching through the archives for other pictures with the same theme:


Our Grade Two class makes these Starry Night tributes every year and I am always mesmerized by how simple but striking they are…

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star!
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
When the glorious sun is set,
When the grass with dew is wet,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle all the night.
In the dark-blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
As your bright and tiny spark
Guides the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star!” (Jane Taylor)


“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)



From the desk of...

Remembrance Day…


If you are in Canada this week you know that it is a very solemn time. You will have seen the poppies on every lapel, and probably you are planning a moment of reflection for 11:00 on November 11th. We hold our peacekeepers in great regard, and I am grateful for their dedication and sacrifices daily as I watch my children enjoy so many freedoms and opportunities…


If you have spent any time in Canadian elementary schools you will have heard the story of Canadian military doctor and artillery commander John McCrae and the heartfelt poem he wrote in 1915 when called upon to bury a friend and fellow soldier:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

That incredible poem has brought a level of humanity and empathy to the enormous faceless atrocity of war… It touched the hearts of people all over the world and cemented the poppy as the symbol of peaceful remembrance…


“Poppy, poppy what do you say?
Wear me on Remembrance Day.
Poppy, poppy what do you tell?
Many soldiers in battle fell.
Poppy, poppy what should we know?
That peace on earth should
Grow, grow, grow!
Poppy we are but children small,
We are too little to do it all.
Children you may do your part.
Love each other is how you start.
Play without fighting.
Share your games and toys.
Be kind and thoughtful,
To all girls and boys.”
(Shel Silverstein)


I have spent some time over the past week reciting the poppy poems with my children and talking with them about peace – about Canada’s role and our own role in the world. It is not enough, although it is very important, to be peacekeepers – we have a greater responsibility to be peacemakers.


“We are all going to die… All of us! That alone should make us love each other.” (Charles Bukowski)


And yet the crazy vulgarity of war carries on in more places than not. The very humanness that should unite us divides us instead. And so the need for remembrance, for empathy, and for forgiveness most of all. I hope you are finding a way to bring love into this great big world. In the end, it is the greatest and only thing.




Your challenge today is to make peace. Find a place in your own world that suffers without it and work to make it real, even in a tiny way. The same human failings that so easily divide us are ready to unite us – ours is just to find the way to begin! Wishing you joy, and love, and peace