Drawing with the Buddy System

I have posted about this before, but we had such a great time in drawing class today that I wanted to share about it again.  I modeled with students the idea of conducting a drawing conversation between two people. To begin I  draw something on the shared paper. Let’s say it’s a leopard, then I’ll ask my “partner” to add a drawing. The student might draw something similar such as a tiger or something completely different like a robot. Now I go around the group and ask them what they would draw next so they practice thinking of what they could draw next. As each person contributes a new idea to the drawing, a story as well as a drawing are created. Today a parent assistant and myself took dictation as the students worked together. I only wish that I could write as fast as the students can talk!  I often have to ask them to wait to tell me a detail until I have finished writing the prior one! I have some drawings and stories to share with you.


(In the beautiful blue castle, in bunny wonderland there lived two princesses: Alivia and Emily. They were trapped in the top of the castle by a scary beast. A knight on a horse tried to rescue them and the beast poured bunny potion on the knight, but he was still able to rescue the princesses by hopping up to the top of the castle with his bunny powers. By A. and E.)

It’s also fun to see how a drawing conversation evolves. When I can, I like to take several photos over the drawing time.

(On my visit to France, I got some croissants. And I saw two Eiffel Towers. One was a blow up one and the other was real.  A girl named Athena was walking her dog named Cassina. It was thundering and it was windy, and there was a floating heart cloud. And then her friend Amina came to walk with Athena. And the girl saw two people staring at each other eating their croissant. The two people walking were looking at three houses on a hill, and a public pool on a mountain. By E. and E.)

I have a student this semester that is quite quiet and introverted as well as more practiced in her drawing skills compared to some in the group. She is very precise and detailed. She likes to draw animals with colored pencils and they are about 3″ x 2″ in size. When other students were scribbling with abandon as part of an introductory activity on line she was carefully drawing her animals, and incorporating different types of lines. As I see students respond in individual ways to my prompts, I allow students to pursue what’s most compelling and important to themselves. I want each child to feel their ideas and creativity are important and valued, not wrong because they approached the activity differently.  Divergent thinking is important to support!

Today I was wondering  which student she would partner with, because I think that a flamboyant and loud artist would not be the best partner to engage with her. Luckily a friendly and fairly quiet boy that also enjoys drawing animals ended up partnering with her. They came up with an imaginative story and both contributed verbally which was exciting to me, especially since she isn’t one to contribute much, at least at this point early in the year.


(One day a leopard walked up on a cliff looking for a meal. He caught sight of the duck and decided that would be his lunch. But then a tiger pounced on the duck instead! The leopard decided to eat the goldfinch instead. Then the leaf fell distracting the bird, and the leopard missed. So the leopard followed the ants, but the ants scurried away into their hole. The frog leapt onto a branch which kicked off the leaf of the bud. He leapt at the hummingbird which was fast enough to fly away from its flowers, and catch the ladybug. The leopard ate the mushrooms and fell asleep from the poison. by A. and A.)

I had another student ask if he could make a comic with his partner. I encouraged them to go ahead and they wrote their own story about Kaco the cat and the Baby Bee.



The amazing thing about the art classroom is the opportunity for individuality and discovery. The discoveries empower the individual as well as the group, bringing a richness to the experience. It was a fun sharing time at the end of class when each drawing partnership could share their story and their drawings. I look forward to next week’s drawing adventures!


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Playdough Provocations: Emojis! — The Curious Kindergarten

Are your students interested in emojis? Mine are obsessed! We stumbled upon this interest after setting out some loose parts for the children to explore in the first few weeks of school. One student created a “winking emoji” with his loose parts which, when shared with the class, created an uproar of excited children all […]

via Playdough Provocations: Emojis! — The Curious Kindergarten

Play dough is one of the wondrous materials of childhood. Combining emojis and play dough is brilliant! Young children are in a huge learning time for understanding and recognizing emotions on a cognitive, psychological, and visual level. Plus it’s fun, and a form of literacy that children may have already been exposed to through cell phones and computers. Fine motor skills and creativity are also developed, so I say Bravo to the Curious Kindergarten!

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Fun with Portfolios

I haven’t posted to my blog for over two years. I got lost in a haze of teacher exhaustion and two different teaching jobs which were just not the best fit. I’m back teaching at the homeschool program and loving every minute of it! If I’d had the ability to predict the future I would have stayed there and not dipped  my toe in the water anywhere else! Oh well….I pushed my boundaries, and I can honestly say, I am so happy to be back at my best job ever.

This week I made cardboard portfolios for my drawing and painting students. I collected cardboard from Costco. They have large flat pieces of cardboard that they lay between layers of things like laundry soap. I have used them for so many art classroom projects and things the last six or seven years. I brought the portfolios to school along with some rainbow colored sharpies. I asked the students to personalize their portfolios. My only requirements were that their names were visible. We had such fun drawing and listening to music. some students decorated both the front and the back.

Today at my painting class one of my students drew a silly face on the back of her portfolio. I was taking photos of the portfolio art and she held it in front of her face. Soon  all the students in that class were drawing silly faces so they could also hold their art up, and look like blockheads.  The next thing I knew they were adding more details and wanting additional photos. It was one of those moments where student engagement was high and everyone was happy to be at school. Play is such an important part of the art classroom, and being open to it makes for memorable moments, and incredible learning opportunities and discoveries !

Here are some additional photos of the  portfolios!


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Full-day kindergarten impacts Grades 1, 2

This is the most exciting news I’ve heard from the world of education in years! Please read the article not just the headline! Perhaps I should relocate to Ontario, Canada when my current job ends! Only hitch….I’d have to hope Canada would be interested enough in an American educator to issue me the equivalent of a green card!

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September and the Scent of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

I’ve been working in my classroom cleaning out cupboards and drawers. Last year when I was hired I never had enough time to  do this, with all the other things I had to do before school started. It’s amazing the things I didn’t know were in my cupboards. I wish I had known about some of the things that were lurking in there, because they would have been nice to use last school year. Of course there’s been plenty to toss too. My predecessor in the classroom always seemed so organized and tidy.  I guess she was good at clearing the decks, but she sure didn’t have any qualms about stuffing things in cupboards!

Now my classroom is ship shape and my house is a mess as I’ve been dumping boxes of stuff I don’t currently need into my car, bedroom, and garage. Maybe I’ll get things put back together this weekend.

The past few weeks I’ve taken a few online refresher courses on guiding student behavior, and I am looking forward to starting out this school year on a more positive note than last year!

I’ve also been reading some wonderful blogs about Reggio inspired kindergartens and I found that the province of Ontario has a wealth of information on emergent curriculum for kindergarten. Ontario seems very progressive in their support of playful learning. The only thing I’m wondering is what happens when kids get to first grade in Ontario or elsewhere that play based kindergartens are supported?  My experience of first and second graders is that they would thrive in a play based learning environment as well. I guess I need to contact some teachers or the education ministry in Ontario to find out!

I think the time immediately before school starts is a bit scary. I have a zillion things to do to prepare my classroom. I have meetings to attend, I have lessons to plan, and I face a class group which is enormous this year. I’ve got 14 students in the morning and 23 in the afternoon. Now that wouldn’t be so daunting but from 11:00 to 12:00 all 37 will be together! Thankfully half an hour of that is lunch, but the half an hour before lunch is what stresses me out!  I may be able to take the group out for recess or I may have a choice of centers such as drawing, Legos, and a movement activity. I found last year that movement activities were enjoyed by most of the children, but I had some that would rather be engaged in seated activities such as drawing. The kids in the morning group often wanted to rush up to the afternoon group, and chat which wasn’t so great when we were trying to have a group time at the rug to sing, or play a game.

I have been looking at pinterest for teaching ideas which is fun, but I also find it a bit like having ADD switching from one category to another as I see a math idea, and then an art idea, and then a reading game, and then a science experiment, etc….

When I wrote the first part of this I hadn’t started teaching yet, and I was really feeling overloaded with all of the things I was trying to accomplish before school started. I did rearrange my classroom furniture to make the room have more of a feeling of a variety of places to learn in smaller groups. But the big thing that was really making me nervous was having a much larger group than last year.

I met my students yesterday and they are really a sweet group of children! And though I have ten more than last year they are ten times as cooperative! Last year was the year that made me think maybe I was “past it” and needing to retire. I definitely know now that it was the unfortunate mix of challenging children I had that made last year the most difficult of my career to date.

Today as I surveyed the room and observed the children engaged in a variety of activities, I  had to pinch myself because it seemed like a dream, it was so harmonious and relatively quiet.

One child took a clip board from the writing center and created a sign in sheet for his veterinary office. Then he solicited children sitting at the writing center to bring stuffed animals over for appointments to treat the animals various “boo boos”. He started cutting strips of paper to create bandaids and wrapped them around the cats’ and dogs’ legs. I suggested the children create money from paper too, so they could pay the vet and they had fun cutting up colorful paper and writing numbers on it. Soon the vet was rolling in dough!  In another area children were making a long line of counting bears to see if they had enough to cross the room. They were counting and informed me they had counted 69 bears and they still had a long ways to cross the room. Then they found  three dice in the tub with the counting bears and started rolling them to see how many more bears to add onto their line. They really enjoyed counting three dice! Another group was playing a guessing game with my assistant identifying alphabet letters as they walked around a path on one side of the room. The kids came up with all kinds of new rules and ways to play the game, including holding the letters upside down and sideways. Another group was stringing beads on pipe cleaners to make bracelets, necklaces, and crowns. There were  nine children around the table totally absorbed in creating jewelry (as they honed their fine motor skills).

It really gave me hope that I can facilitate a play based/emergent curriculum across the curriculum and not just in the art studio! I think one of the biggest things that I noticed last year on art studio days was that infrequent sharing and the reflection at the end of studio time  (because clean up time took so long and we ran out of  class time) resulted in less creative products and student to student inspiration than I’ve seen in other years. The blogs and Ontario Ministry of Education materials that I’ve read have really emphasized the importance of student reflection after playful learning activities, and today when we reflected on our activity time before recess I heard some really interesting comments from the children. In the past I’ve taken a lot of photos to document student work, and I’m interested in reading about and trying a variety of additional ways to document student work and engage children in the documentation process too.

I was really nervous about my new class and thankfully those jitters turned out to be much ado about nothing!






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I’m Feeling the Luck O’ the Irish!


One of my students helped write a list of words for our class during X week. I really like her fancy way of writing the letter S! It’s amazing how fancying up that one letter creates a font-like effect. Love her accompanying illustration too! Her dad noticed the sign and immediately recognized her personal artistic voice!

Exciting news!  I found my camera! It had been missing for two months, and last Friday I asked a coworker if he had seen it, and he had it in his office!  He told me that someone found it in the parking lot and turned it in to him. I knew I had grabbed it from my classroom, but I assumed that it had gotten misplaced in the shuffle at home. I had searched my classroom, the art studio, the main office, and my house. The memory card is missing, but I had a spare!

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day today, and I made green smoothies today with my students. We used spinach, green apples, pineapple, banana, and green grapes as well as some almond milk. The kids absolutely loved the smoothies. We went through about five quarts with 18 children! I tested it out on my own personal teenage sons at home tonight. Sadly…they aren’t as adventurous as my kindergarten students! (And I didn’t even tell them it had spinach in it!)

I also set up some precut rainbow colored paper strips, black cauldron shapes, shamrock shapes, yellow circles for gold coins, star stickers, and tempera paint. My morning students got the idea to make cauldrons they could put coins in by stapling two cauldrons together. They also decided to make leprechaun hats and beards.  This meant doing some problem solving to figure out how to create hats. We ended up deciding to make headbands and then staple hat shapes to the headbands. The bright orange paper beards were quite a sight!

The sticker stars were a big hit. I had a child that made a face on the cauldron using stars. I had another write his name and surround it with stars. I had another cover the handle of the cauldron with stars. In the afternoon one of my students painted a cloud and rainbow on her cauldron. Another student cut a different colored square for each letter of her name making a rainbow across her cauldron. Though I have to admit….that I prefer studio time when kids generate their own topics, it was nice to see how many different ways the children explored the St. Patrick’s Day theme with the available materials.


Last week was Z week and one of the prompts I put out for the students was zigzag shaped paper strips. I was able to use up some interesting scrap papers as well as some colorful construction paper. One of my students  even created her own Zentangle style designs on her zigzags. She was justifiably proud of the way she wrote her name with zigzag letters too!


Here are some additional pieces of Zig zag art:


The one below is made by a little boy that’s crazy about the Seahawks and for the past two months all of his art work has been Seahawks green and blue. I like how he created some three dimensional zigzags!


Hope you enjoy your Saint Patrick’s Day! I’m toasting mine with a Guiness as well as a green smoothie!

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My Message to the Badass Association of Teachers

When learning is truly meaningful to students they do not resist, complain of boredom, or count the minutes until they can leave. Students will stay past the end of the school day, students will beg for more time, and they will be proud of their accomplishments. As an educator I have experienced both sides of the equation. In positions that I have truly been able to support student learning I have left work on cloud nine. In positions in which I was under pressure to “cover” the material and prepare for tests, I have left work ground down and exhausted.
If students are to truly achieve their potential, their individual interests must be supported in the classroom, because that is what motivates them to become lifelong learners, innovators, entrepreneurs, and successful, happy people!
The bottom line is that more teachers, mentors, and caring adults are needed in children’s lives to help them achieve their potentials. Our current system of education is like most businesses. Everyone is expected to do more with less. American workers in the past few years have been touted as being even more productive than ever recorded previously. At the same time most workers are making far less proportionally when you compare the cost of living than Americans did 50 years ago.
It would be expensive to hire more teachers and assistants, but not only are our nation’s children the most important investment for the future we can make, but I feel assured the results would surpass our highest expectations.
In my humble opinion, children should be supported in learning through play not just in preschool, but all through elementary school. In middle school and high school they should have opportunities to work on special projects they are truly interested in where they can problem solve and use skills like reading and writing and quantitative analysis to effectively communicate their learning to their peers.
The factory system of education where we churn large groups of children through the schools, and force them to sit doing meaningless paper tasks for hours on end, give them a pitiful amount of outdoor recreation time, and for the most part extremely abominable school lunches is criminal in a nation which is one of the wealthiest in the world.

Diane Ravitch's blog

I was uneasy with the name , but I got over it.

The reality is that the Badass Association of Teachers fills a need. Teachers have been beaten up in the media, and have seen state after state strip away their academic freedom, their rights, their status in the community.

I was invited to join and to write an address to the BAT. This is it.

And here it is in full (by the way, I am uncomfortable with the name lie many others, but our struggle requires militants and BAT is the point of the spear):

Message of Support from Diane Ravitch to the Badass Teachers Association

Dear Members of the Badass Teachers Association,

I am honored to join your group.

The best hope for the future of our society, of public education, and of the education profession is that people stand up and resist.

Say “no.” Say…

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