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Environmental aesthetics: recreating the rain forest.

ENVIRONMENTAL AESTHETICS: Recreating the Rain Forest

STUDENTS AS WELL AS ADULTS OFTEN learn more quickly when they experience learning through multi-sensory stimulation. Imagine walking into a dimly lit room with a canopy of green leaves above you, three-dimensional trees standing in front of you, and gigantic butterflies flying around you. Primitive music with birds and monkeys chirping in the background makes you feel like you are in a different world thousands of miles away--a tropical rain forest.

This sensory experience is part of a cooperative project between the art education program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Elm Creative Arts School. Elm is a K-5 Milwaukee Public School with emphasis on the arts in the curriculum. The Elm School art specialist carries out a different educational gallery theme four times during the school year. The school has a classroom-sized space devoted to this gallery. It is a visual focal point of the school as well as a learning environment. The theme approach aims to integrate many kinds of learning and erase the boundaries dividing traditional school subjects. The themes span the arts, sciences, social studies and literature.

University students from an Art Theory and Curriculum class formed three committees to make the gallery an exciting learning space for students. A research group gathered background information and pictures that would be appropriate for instructional displays. A writing group produced the posters, labels and a teacher's guide. And an implementation group obtained the art materials, and constructed and arranged the rain forest props.

As you walk quietly through the gallery--like the Yagua Indian hunting with his blowgun in the tropical rain forest--you can't help but be impressed by the sensory stimulation around you. The huge broad-leaf trees in front of you have air plants and climbing vines that twine in and around the tree branches and trunks. A large world map pinpoints the location of the worlds' rain forests in Central and South America, Asia, Africa, Madagascar and Australia. A native "hut" built out of natural bark, palm fiber and straw offers a temporary shelter for protection and rest. Peeking out from the camouflaged foliage next to the hut are dozens of student-made clay masks, expressions of human emotion in natural materials. Under the over-head canopy of large tear-drop shaped leaves one sees an array of rain forest animals and insect life from the orangutan, sloth and howler monkey to the anteater, parrot and walking stick. One wall called "Tropical Images" displays related paintings by Henri Rousseau, Mori Sosen, Edward Hicks and Milwaukee's John Colt.

From the art teacher's point of view, there is much cross-cultural understanding to be gained from the Rain Forest Gallery. Students view primitive masks and photographs of faces painted for festivals, for mourning and for battle. They realize the universal desire to adorn and change the human face, whether the substance comes from tree bark or from a cosmetic counter. They learn about utilitarian vessels made from available and easily-formed material that is much like the red clay they mold with their own hands. After studying a painting that reflects Henri Rousseau's love of the jungle habitat, they sit and lie on the gallery floor, surrounded by a similar habitat to create their own rain forest images with oil pastel on large paper.

Our classroom teachers use the gallery as a motivational force for their own teaching. The fourth graders study climatic regions of the world in social studies. What better way to make the experience real than to visit our own tropical forest habitat and respond to it? Another class enters the gallery with clip-boards and pencils to search out answers to questions regarding animal and bird life and map-reading skills. Small children listen to fables from Brazil and Papua New Guinea that teach basic human values through imaginatively animated stories. A drama class plans an expedition to the rain forest and pantomimes encounters with animals and problems with equipment. The rain forest touches the children's learning in multiple ways, creating a holistic experience.

Elm students are continually adding to the gallery: butterflies with brightly colored wings are clinging to the tree trunks. Large papier-mache birds are being constructed, painted and hung from the tree tops. Bead necklaces made out of dough represent native ones made from seeds, bones and teeth. Air-plant orchids grow in tree branches. Dance students improvise movement to the sounds of native percussion and original chants by the music students. Students and staff from other schools tour the rain forest to complement their own studies and enjoy this multi-sensory experience of a tropical rain forest.

PHOTO : Children entering the forest.

PHOTO : Exotic flowers of the rain forest.

PHOTO : Painting the wall murals.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:elementary school art education
Author:Samolyk, Vicki
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Words:780
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