Scandinavian Motifs With Grade Fours

It’s February and elementary art teachers are scrambling to create something with their students that connects with the seasonal event, Valentine’s Day, quickly approaching on February 14.  Red, pink and white lace begin to appear in all sorts of shades, tints and forms, as does the heart motif.  Popping up are paper weavings, rainbow bracelets and hearts growing off of trees…all sorts of projects, Pinterest or otherwise.  I think it’s important, regardless of the timeless tradition of thematically moving through the seasons with elementary students, to continue to deliver a strong program including, if possible, all strands of the curriculum; reflective practice, depiction, composition and expression.

I’ve painted tempera valentines with elementary students before, with a focus on repeating pattern and the introduction and development of painting techniques.  Primarily, these have been expressive lessons, with a short discussion about line and repeating pattern.

This year, I decided to incorporate a reflective component by examining Scandinavian motifs, having seen such designs on plastic Ikea ornaments during last Christmas season.  A tradition of clean edged linoleum prints in crisp red and white, these motifs lend themselves well to an activity such as this one.


First, I showed the students a map of the Scandinavian countries and then a collection of motifs where they might draw their inspiration for a valentine.



For the purpose of depicting (studies or plans), I gave the students a piece of small 8 x 10 red construction paper and a piece of chalk.  They proceeded to observe the projected motifs and incorporate some of the patterns and designs discovered onto their own red hearts. At this point, I talked to the students about what it means to arrange pattern, line and shapes symmetrically over a line of symmetry.  I also demonstrated that an outline for a heart can be created by folding paper in half for perfect symmetry or drawing freehand for an approximation.

The students planned out their designs for the large compositions, to be completed on 18 x 24 construction paper, following a similar sequence of steps as was explored in the smaller format.  I chose purple as a background colour because of the approaching season of Lent, beginning next week, with the observation of Ash Wednesday, next week.  Other colours that might work successfully would be pink and black.

Again, with chalk, the students followed similar steps in larger format, in preparation for paint.  I had formally arranged the student desks so that they were all in partners.  I had 24 students, and prepared 12 buckets of paint, 6 white and 6 red.  I placed two brushes in each bucket.  The students traded off red and white, as they needed, making certain that whatever pattern, shape or line created on either side of the line of symmetry, needed to be reproduced on the other side of that line.


Let the ‘wild rumpus begin’!  Paint happens!

Every Day is an Opportunity

This is a role I didn’t ever imagine filling…a Home Economics (Career and Technology Studies) teacher for Junior High School.  Awesome!  I took Marilyn’s classes for four days, an opportunity that saw me teaching Health, Sewing Room Safety, Textile Arts, Sewing Buttons and Junior High Drama!  WHOOT!

I shared with the classes in Home Economics the fact that this was my single opportunity to inspire them and so, of course, spoke to them for fifteen minutes about my mother and her abilities in the kitchen as well as in every possible act of needle work.  At the end of the classes, I showed them some images of Mom’s masterpieces.  The students were all so receptive and appreciative.

Sewing Room Safety was great fun and here, as well, some personal narratives helped to illustrate the importance of preventing unnecessary accidents.

For sewing two types of buttons, I sought our a few Youtube videos. (there are A LOT of really bad Youtube videos)  My favourite video was from the Art of Manliness, demonstrating the sewing of the sew-through style of button.  I liked that it included the spacer and while it didn’t show the back stitch tack onto the front of the garment, that was easy to demonstrate after the fact.

I liked this one because it demonstrates how a tight button looks, given that the woman did not use a spacer.  Dolphin down and dolphin up actually became a bit of a fun bit of terminology once we got sewing.  (Initially, this was annoying.)

The first REAL challenge was threading a needle!

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Back tacking on the front of the garment.

DSC_2403Placement of a spacer…

DSC_2406Great effort and willingness from the students!

DSC_2408Knotted on the back, instead of the front back stitch.

DSC_2409DSC_2412In textile arts, in preparation for Valentine’s Day…the students created three stuffed hearts, edging with blanket stitch.  So fun!

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Drama is something that’s really in my comfort zone, so I did a lot of skill development with both classes on Focus, Self Control and Posture, both from the stand point of being an audience member and a performer.  The grade eights and nines will be auditioning for parts in the up and coming spring performance, so as well as reviewing their audition selections, I showed them 5 Minute Acting Classes: How Not to Audition.

What awesome students!  And, Marilyn, excellent planning and organization!  I don’t know that I could teach them how to make an omelette.  This was an opportunity to do something really different and I dedicated it all to my mentor in most creative endeavors, my mother.  I love you, Mom.  Thanks to my neighbour, Todd, in the shop, for his support throughout my four-day visit!

Post Script: Did I mention that I got to supervise a school dance?  Blast from the past!

Calm Can Be Found in Ashley’s Classroom

Monday morning, I wasn’t at my very best.  I knew I was coming down with something…head aching…throat, sore.  I hoped, from the onset, that I would have the energy to give these grade four children a lovely day and a bit of a painting experience.  I was already tickled to be welcomed by beautiful office and instructional staff.  These guys always rock!

I stepped into Ashley’s classroom and immediately felt a sense of calm.  I think that there has to be some sort of link between productivity, learning and an ordered space.  Is it possible to be creative when there is order?  I guess I’ll check out the psychology of that aesthetic as I think of Ashley’s work space.

Hmmm…the Psychology Behind Messy Rooms.

Tidy Desks and Messy Desks..

K…so I’ve wandered a little on the world wide web, sipping grapefruit juice as I go and what I can surmise is that our living and working environments need to be constructed/designed/maintained in a very individualized way, to suit our very personal way of functioning and creating.

On Monday, this ordered space was absolutely what I needed.  I have Ashley’s permission to welcome you into her space.

Love is in the air…first of all, it’s February!  Gracie was my #1 assistant all day.  Thank goodness for her efforts.  She really took up the slack!

?????????? ?????????? I just really like the philosophy behind these seven habits…language that grade fours can understand…but, ideas that we might all put to good use.DSC_2258A sense of space and order as I entered the classroom…I think I actually vocalized…”Ahhhhh” as I breathed out.  The new buildings are so wonderful because the flooring allows for spills, building, exploration and easy tidy-up.DSC_2257Winter art was cheerfully displayed.  I think that mats, while very inexpensive, somehow emphasize the individuality and the special nature of each creation.  Once the display comes down, the other side can be used for the next piece of art…so reuse!

DSC_2256 Light…so wonderful and necessary for a peace-filled day.  I like the touch of personal objects that give the children a sense of home and community.  A place for those teacher’s gifts.

DSC_2255 Storage buckets with a sense of humour.  These make me smile just looking at them.

DSC_2254A nook for spirtual objects contributes to a sense of calm.

DSC_2253 Ideas for daily physical activity!  Good stuff!

DSC_2251 Students like to know how they’re doing.

DSC_2249 DSC_2248 DSC_2247 DSC_2246I liked how every thing had its place.  I felt in control, even in moments when I would typically be feeling anxiety.  The desks were in such an arrangement that it made very quick work to move them into pods of two students for easy access to the paint station.  The how-to of this lesson can be found here.   Here are just a few of the students’ creations.  Thank you, Ashley, for a day with your class.

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Other Classrooms…

Elisa’s Classroom

Carli’s Classroom


Anakin Skywalker and Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day…and all it entailed.

Wednesday night at Gorilla House, Andy gave me my only Valentine card…well, that is if I don’t include the few I received from students at school the day before…green suckers attached…a melted and squishy chocolate kiss wrapped in foil.  But this…this was a real valentine!  Hmmm…the image…Anakin Skywalker (Ani).  (Does he become Darth Vader?) Does this mean something?  Andy tried convincing me that “No…no…he wasn’t the bad guy…do you know the story?  The reference isn’t bad.”  Sad to say, I have no recollection of the Star Wars story.  Time to get the PACK out and watch them again…now, that will be a way to spend Family Day!  Let me know if you wish to join me.  I’m one of the few people around who still has a VCR plugged in.

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I attended Teacher’s Convention…and there, met Margaret Atwood.  This was a profoundly moving experience, as I’ve written. (A second valentine.)   I attended Off the Beaten Path at the Art Gallery of Calgary.  There, I wept…and yes, thought a great deal about love and what love means.  Love means, above all things, safety…and freedom…freedom to be true to yourself, to have your own ideas and to be able to speak.  (A third valentine.)

I ate a sandwich in the shop directly across from City Hall and situated myself so that I was looking out on the street, an opportunity to people-watch. The sandwich was wonderful…grainy bread, ham, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, mustard.  I drank cold lemonade.  As Valentine lunches go, it was yummy.

A group of smiley people were directly across the intersection…waiting on the other side for pedestrians to fall into their arms, surrounded by red shirt greetings, FREE HUGS!  The pedestrians lined up on the far side of the walk, shielding themselves behind one another, strategies floating around in their heads. “How can I avoid hugging these happy people?”  Refusals to hug just seem like such defiant, unwilling refusals.  I watched with interest and in the coffee shop, we began to share our observations.  A lady sitting some distance from me at the bar, got up from her stool and came over and hugged me. ( A fourth valentine.) Five people from one table, having sipped their last bits of coffee, announced that they were going to cross as a group and give every FREE HUG candidate a hug…and they did.

After lunch, and on my way to the train, I stopped and hugged each one as well.  One young lady passed me a peace rock wrapped in cellophane.  (A fifth valentine.)

At home, I was greeted by my pooch and enjoyed the mild weather while I walked him.  I looked forward to my skype date with my parents…always at 5:00.  At 4:30 the doorbell rang and Max barked furiously.  On my step, a box.  There were those few minutes where I imagined all sorts of things and from all sorts of people…it’s so easy to fantasize yourself into a scenario of any kind.  I’m particularly good at that.  In fact, my father insists that my childhood memories are so vivid as I write them, that they can not possibly be true.  I disagree.  As I dug through the box of flowers and wrapping and vase, I finally came upon the message from Mom and Dad, computer generated on a packing slip.   I stood at the kitchen counter and cried.  (A sixth valentine.) The kitchen filled with that “fresh from the florist smell” as I clipped the ends of the flowers and arranged them in one of my blue pieces of glass.

P1090560P1090578My mother was dressed in her white long sleeved top, the one with the sparkling three snowflakes on the front,  when finally we had some connection on Skype.  I had the flowers sitting on the desk in front of me.  I told her I loved her.  Moments later, Skype failed and we stared blankly at the dark screen…her in Belleville…me in Calgary.  I phoned her three times, but she could not pick up.  My mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

My father passed the telephone to her when he called back.  We visited.  Her voice felt so small.  I missed them both.

Sitting at the computer anyway, I checked Facebook for messages…a message from my daughter in Vancouver.

“Happy Valentines Mummy! You always did such nice goodies for us in the morning. Feelin the love! Xoxoxo” (A seventh valentine.)

I thought to message my son and daughter…shortly after…

“Love you too mom, merry vday.” My son. (An eighth valentine.)

“How are the wee bubbies?  We were imagining their faces when the food thing spun round at 5pm and there was no food!  Happy Valentine’s mom, we love you! (A ninth valentine.)  I opened the gift bag my cousin had left and said an audible ‘awe’.  (A tenth valentine.)

It was getting dark as I headed out the door for my dentist’s office and my hygienist appointment.  YES!  You read that correctly!  I booked a teeth cleaning appointment on Valentine’s Day!  Who does that?  I have extreme anxiety over dentists in general…cleaning, worse.  I had packed my camera in order that I have a photograph…but the fear dissolved the possibility and you need to just trust me…I spent an hour listening to tooth picking, tooth scaping and tooth polishing and left, breathing a huge sigh of relief that once again, this procedure had passed. (An eleventh valentine.)

On the way home, I stopped into my daughter and son-in-law’s place to feed their cats.  Gabby and Mason immediately circled my legs…meowing incessantly…rubbing their slick bodies again and again, against my legs.  I felt warm.  I felt needed.  Their food was essentially inhaled and then I got to hear the sound of my own voice as I spoke to them and for them for as long as I remained in the house.  It was good to hear my voice.

I turned off the lights, locked up and headed for home…my Max-man and Peanut-meister…warm bed and good book.  Valentine’s Day 2013.