Thinking Through Representation

Our fourth graders’ stop motion animation and their artist statements will be projected outside the main office during the week of the solstice.  Please take a look!


Our 4th graders have become especially close knit this year.  They spent the first few weeks of school talking with Ms. Meehan and Mr. Loftis about their hopes and dreams, what it takes for a classroom to be a space for everyone to be successful, and establishing shared expectations for the group.  Although the children are assigned to separate homerooms, they are united as one, whole group.

Mr. Loftis shared with Ms. Meehan and me a recording he had from his class discussing why the process of coming together was important.  What the children had to share was powerful.

At the beginning of the year we had some new students and when we worked together I think we got to know each other more.  Then since we got to know each other more, things ran more smoothly because everybody has friends and they’re not getting into fights with other people.” –Sylvie


The act of reflecting on process slows us down, and notice what we are already learning.

“I might have forgotten other people’s things– their drawings, their writing– and looking at them again was actually very educational, learning more about people when they were in their past and what they might be in their future.”



I asked the students in the studio, “How can you show the process of how you came together as a 4th grade whole without using any words?” Since it was a process, their work needed movement, and I thought stop motion animation would be an appropriate form for their work. Their challenge was to work as a small group using one material of their choice to show the process of how the two second grade classes came together as a cohesive grade.

The groups planned and rehearsed their pieces, thinking through how they would represent their ideas using limited materials.  Some groups used paper to draw plans, while others acted it out.  They had to grapple with the challenges associated with different materials.

When recording, the children faced new challenges.  Who would be the “director” and who would move the materials?  How could they make subtle enough movements to create nearly 100 pictures for their animation?  How could they resolve issues of camera focus and hand movements?


Groups were drawn to bottle caps (I laughed hearing, “We need more Flying Dog caps!” across the room), glass beads, tiles, and plastic caps.  Whatever material they used, the challenge was to think of how to represent the process without actually creating pictures or scenes. What resulted were abstract movements that could actually be used to represent many other ideas. The final piece is below!




Two Spaces, One Project


This year, we are trying something new at SWS in the elementary grades.  Instead of students regularly coming to the art studio in 45-min blocks once a week, the work that the children do in the studio is often directly connected to the work happening in their regular classroom.

For example, the second graders in Ms. Scofield’s homeroom have been studying monarch butterflies.  During the first weeks of school, Ms. Scofield brought in milkweed with live caterpillars, which quickly became a centerpiece in the classroom.  The children have watched each day as caterpillars walked around, formed chrysalis, and evolved into butterflies.  And the children have asked questions like:

“How do caterpillars get their stripes?”


“I wonder how they know where to go when they migrate?”

“Why do the eggs have bumps and lines all over them? I wonder if they egg hatches in spring or summer?”

“Are the green specks on the chrysalis breathing holes?”


These same students (as first graders) shared the same hallway as the second graders last year. They watched the paintings, drawings, books, and presentations the older students made as part of a project on honeybees.  Now, as the older kids on the floor, they are interested in hosting their own “Butterfly Day” to show what they have learned.

During project time, children are scattered in clusters.  Some work on a large mural in the hallway.  Two others read a book together on the rug.  A group of four chatted as they color in the yellow and black stripes of a monarch caterpillar.

At the same time, in the studio, the children worked on watercolor resist paintings of different stages of the life cycle. 

Their paintings began with a pen tracing of their chosen picture using a projector.  Using a projected image to make an initial sketch is a technique used by many artists.  For children who lack confidence in their drawing, it is a way to practice making controlled lines and to use judgment in whether they have included enough detail to represent their subject.

After making the initial outlines, students used watercolors to add color to their images, using an original picture as a guide.  After the watercolor dried, they went over the image with a sharpie to add areas of black and to accentuate lines. Now these paintings will be used as a teaching tool during their Butterfly Day.


From here, children will continue their research in the classroom– soon moving on to a unique species who they will research on the computer.  In the studio, they will create drafts of drawings of their chosen butterfly, eventually working up to a scientific drawing in colored pencil.


What do children worry about?

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized all I had been missing. For years I avoided experiences I feared I wouldn’t be “good enough” at and that my identity as someone who was “good at everything” would crumble if I tried something and failed.


I would like to say that there was a time when I didn’t worry. I wish I could say that I lived my childhood with all the liberty to express myself freely and didn’t worry about what others thought, but it isn’t true. If I ever did feel that way, I lost that feeling pretty early on. Continue reading “What do children worry about?”

A New Space

The elementary atelier at School Within School has a whole new look!  After countless hours spent this summer by teachers and volunteers, the studio is a materials-rich, collaborative space.


Center tables can be moved into different layouts, depending on the kind of collaboration required for a project– all together for a large mural or broken into separate stations, for example.


Continue reading “A New Space”