This week I will complete a five week artist-in-residence program at an area school. The program has involved working with four fourth grade classes on a large wooden display case with objects inside created from recycled materials. Each class was assigned a different season, with the goal of constructing not just a typical seasonal display, but one that is reflective of their experiences in school during their assigned season. These display boxes will be installed in a new school being constructed over the next two years.
Before the first day, I wasn’t exactly sure how I would be able to work with 25-28 children at one time. Each would have to have something to work on, and the project would need to be completed in about a total of five hours time.
I decided to present the project as a “story” each class would tell, using three dimensional objects. When someone looked at the box years from now, what would they learn about this particular class and what memories they created during spring, summer, winter and fall.
We started the first day with a planning session. Each student was given a folder to write down ideas, make a list of materials to bring in, and paper to do a rough sketch or two of what they thought the display should look like. Next, each student had a chance to present their ideas to the class. About two or three similar themes seemed to emerge with each class such as the Halloween parade, the winter music concert, the last day of school, or the spring carnival. After a vote was taken on what theme the class wanted to work with, we proceeded to break up into five groups of about five children each.
I assigned each group a different portion of the display to work on. We had the “background painting group,” “the nature group,” “the structure group,” “the people group,” and “the hanging elements group.” The children were then responsible for dividing up tasks. I met with each group each week until all the separate parts were completed and the display assembled.
This same project could be applied to any number of 3-D storytelling assignments. An original story, a favorite picture book, an event in history or even a poem could be illustrated using found objects and a little paint. Displays could be worked on individually using shoe boxes, or on a larger scale as a group with a larger display case. After the projects are completed, have individual students or groups observe their classmates work and write about the “story” depicted in the display.
It will be hard to say goodbye to these wonderful fourth graders as we complete our work this week, but nice to know their stories will be shared and enjoyed by many in the coming years.