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Teachable Moments: Art Start 2014 (Part One)

May 19, 2014

Again this school year I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach in several District 97 Elementary School classrooms through the Oak Park Education Foundation‘s Art Start Program.   I have lost count of the number of times I’ve taught with this program over the years, but each time I find it more rewarding than ever before!   The Art Start program pairs professional artists with a classroom to come in over several weeks and create an art project that ties in to the subjects they are covering in their regular studies.  It is a creative way to reinforce what they are learning.  I worked with Ms. Amber Mabry’s 2nd grade classroom at Beye Elementary and with two Kindergarten Classrooms at Irving Elementary over the last few months.

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Ms. Mabry and I worked together to develop a project that tied in to her student’s studies of the 50 states.  I’ve done the 50 state quilt project in the past, but each time I refine and improve the process.  Over 5 sessions with me the children dyed wool fabric and yarn, ironed on the state shape cut from the fabric, stitched and embellished two “quilt blocks” each.  They were required to locate the state capital by stitching on a bead or button in that location and to add details like the state two letter abbreviation, and the state flower, bird or tree.  It was so enjoyable to see the process unfold with the students.

Several moments stand out with this class.  One of my visits to the classroom was on St. Patrick’s Day and they were all dressed in the color green.  I was wearing one of my own creations, a tunic made of salvaged cashmere sweaters cut apart and re-pieced.  It had a few blocks of the color green, but I quizzed them as to why my sweater was completely “green”.  Without skipping a beat, they knew that I meant it was “eco-green” and not the color!  One of the students inquired as to how long it had taken me to make that tunic.  I replied, “over 45 years!” This surprised them.  I explained that I had been learning skills from the time I was about 5 years old that had helped me in the creation of it and all of the practice and study of those skills count as part of the time it took to make it.  In preparation for my final visit to the school for a celebration and “artist reception” with family and friends, I ask them how long it took them to create their quilt.  They replied, “about 8 years!”  Smart kids!!!    The quilt blocks were tied together, hung on display in the school cafeteria.  A lovely and unique learning tool.  Each student will be able to un-tie and take their own creations home after the display comes down.

I also worked with two of the Kindergarten classrooms at Irving Elementary School in Oak Park this spring.  Ms. Parkinson and Ms. Heaphy worked with me to create a fun fiber and fabric learning experience for their children.  Please visit Art Start Part Two for more on that project!


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