Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
CELEBRATING EARTH DAY IN THE ART CLASS
by Heidi O’Hanley
Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, which marks the anniversary of the start of the environmental movement in 1970. On that day, we find ways to take care of and replenish our planet. Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.
There are many ways to recognize Earth Day within your classroom, as well as ways to conserve your materials and give your part in helping the earth. No matter how to try to help the planet, you can be an advocate for Earth Day!
1. INCLUDE RECYCLED PROJECTS IN YOUR LESSONS AND CLASSROOM. There are plenty of project ideas you can find in blogs, Pinterest and online forums that incorporate recycled materials. Think about what materials are easy to collect yourself, or use materials that have been donated to you. Bottle caps make great murals, and they also make great bug sculptures for spring projects.
If you plan far enough ahead, you can have letters send home to parents asking for materials, such as paper-towel tubes, newspaper, unused paper plates, washed out containers, 2-liter bottles, and more! You can also collect recycled materials to use in the art room for water cups, plates, containers, and storage bins. As beautiful as the room could be with color-coded, purchased storage bins, recycled containers will achieve the same purpose.
2. DESIGN GIFTS THAT CONTINUE TO GROW IN THE CLASSROOM OR AT HOME. There are many projects that can be designed in the art room that can continue to bloom at home! Ceramic projects (pots, cups or vessels) can hold plants and can grow seeds (chia seeds, grass, etc.). If you do not have access to clay, you can always use milk carton containers to design, or any other vessel that can hold seeds and plants.
You can also have students document the growth of a plant from seeds by having them sketch the stages of growth from seedling to full flower, which ties in science.
3. EXPLORE THE WORLD OF EARTH ART. One of the most popular “Earth Art” lesson ideas is inspired by the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who is known for his artworks created from natural elements. Earth art is also known as “Land Art” or “Earthworks,” where artists use the natural landscape to create sculptures. Earth art comes directly from the source, such as stones, water, dirt, and tree elements (branches and leaves). Other Earth artists to study would be Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Richard Long.
April would be the perfect time to take classes outside to create individual or collaborative earthworks within your school grounds. If you receive permission from administration, you can use any collected leaves, branches, rocks, soil or water. Creating a collaborative Earthwork would be a fun project and a beautiful addition to any school or community!
4. CREATE A COLLABORATIVE OUTDOOR ROCK GARDEN. A very popular collaborative school-wide project that’s been successful in many schools is the rock garden, inspired by “Kindness Rocks” or the book Only One You by Linda Kranz. Rock gardens make a beautiful addition to any school and leave a lasting memory. The project can include all faculty and students within the school.
Although rocks are a natural element of the earth, rock gardens are created with painted images on each rock, along with an acrylic spray coating to help the colors last longer. If you’re ever interested in creating a rock garden of your own, first bring the idea to your administration. When approved, contact local landscaping companies for possible donations. Many would be happy to donate pebbles needed for your garden! Because it is against the law, please instruct the children to not collect rocks from state and national parks.
5. TEACH STUDENTS TO WATCH THEIR WASTE. Do you have students who want to throw the paper away after one little mistake? One of the main rules I share in the beginning of the year is to watch the waste with paper, paint, and other materials used. Students are shown how to turn their papers over if a mistake is made, as well as how to save space with colored construction paper when creating collage projects.
The best way to have students watch their own waste is to follow by example. Make sure to remind students to watch what they use, especially when it comes to paint and construction paper
6. RECYCLE! If your school has a recycle program, make use of it! Create a recycle bin and guide students to watch where they place their waste at the end of class. It will help them to remember to recycle throughout the day! Even with all the consumable materials we use for lessons, we can still teach our students how to be aware of their waste and help take care of our planet. One step at a time!
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.