Owl Moon is a wonderful story of love and listening (Philomel Books; 1987). This quiet, gentle book—written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr—has highly realistic images of a father and his little girl walking through nearby woods at night. And as the pair trudge through the deep snow “to find an owl,” the message of caring becomes the central theme:
“But I never called out. If you go owling you have to be quiet, that’s what Pa always says.”
Making Learning Large When beautiful stories, such as Owl Moon are read to children prior to art making, a greater motivation for learning occurs. Knowing they will be making their own owls after the story, children have a heightened sense of curiosity. What will happen next? Will the father and his child find an owl?
Owl Moon can be part of a larger unit on owls that integrates science with art. If the reading of this book is part of a unit on owls, the art making can follow an exploration of the many kinds of owls in the United States or in the children’s own region. YouTube has recordings of the story being read aloud, and listening to the story can create a great appreciation and respect for the dominant theme of caring about nature and each other:
“We reached the line of pine trees, black and pointy against the sky, and Pa held up his hand. I stopped right where I was and waited. He looked up, as if searching for the stars, as if reading a map up there. The moon made his face into a silver mask. Then he called:‘ Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whoooooooo,’ the sound of a great horned owl.”
Digging Deeper: Listening to the Sounds of Nature Listening to the sounds of owls can seem like a mysterious and often abstract practice, but it can help children develop a great understanding and appreciation for the beauty of nature in all of its manifestations. Just like owls have many shapes and sizes, the sounds owls make differ as well.
For older children, the Nature documentary The Amazing Snowy Owl could provide a longer viewing experience of the majesty of the snowy owl’s survival in the harsh climate of Alaska. The extended experience of the film makes the encounter with nature much more real than an experience solely through photographs. The film also gives a more realistic view of the owl’s place in the circle of life in the far northlands.
Children can find their own pictures of owls using Google Images, and write or talk about the life cycles of their owls. This kind of learning gives the children autonomy and a sense of agency in their learning process. The reports on owl habitat and life cycle may vary, from detailed and highly researched, to a more casual interpretation of information—just as the children vary in ability and disposition. But it is the group process of sharing stories and perspectives with each other that is instructive in the end.
Integrating Science and Art for Deeper Understanding By combining several modalities for learning award-winning literature—sound recording, personal story or interpretation, expert video footage, and art making—the classroom is changed into a laboratory for learning. Some students will be able to pull more information from the documentary, while others will feel more empowered with the art-making process.
But it is the total package of learning over time with a theme that can be extended to learning at home and in the computer lab that makes the learning deeper and more personal especially for the more gifted students. A field trip to a nature preserve to see live birds or other animals would be much more meaningful in the context of prior exploration.
Images in Chalk and Paper Several art lessons could be created from a unit on owls. Realistic drawings in conté crayon or chalk of “favorite” owls could become a unit on techniques for rendering—with attention to the texture of the feathers. This process of “scientific illustration” has a place in the curriculum.
Yet, a more open-ended lesson could put an emphasis on creative expression encouraging the students to combine color and shapes in unique and different ways to create personal media experimentations.
Multi-colored construction paper, chalk pastels, and a group mural space were the backbone for a group mural of owls in my art class. Students seemed to enjoy the “no holds barred” approach to retelling their version of Owl Moon and then sharing their reflections on their journey.
Elementary students will …
• develop a work of art based on observations of surroundings.
• learn the important relationship between observation of the natural world and art making.
• elaborate visual information by adding details in an artwork to enhance emerging meaning.
• add patterns and textures to make personal visual statements.
• make art with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Construction paper: earth tones, gray, black and white
• Pencils, pastel-colored chalk
• Glue, glue sticks, scissors
Dr. Alice Arnold is a Professor of Art in the School of Art and Design of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
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