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Trashgnashers: an integrated art lesson for kindergarten.

We began our kindergarten art lesson with the children gathering around the globe, the beautiful blues, greens, yellows and browns of the earth inspiring lots of questions and stories. We has sign: "The Earth, our planet." We discussed the sign's words and letters. "The Native Americans," I told them, "call the earth their Mother." In discussing why that is true I asked, "Who makes sure that you have food to eat and a warm place to sleep?"

"MOm and Dad,"came the quick reply.

"Well," I went on," a long time ago the Native Americanns didn't go to the stores to buy food or clothes, or the thing they needed to build their houses. They got everything they lived - right from the Earth. They know that the Earth takes care of them - the Earth is their Mother."

At the point there was much sharing of what the children knew about where food comes from and what lives in the woods. I taught them a traditional Native American chant: "The Earth is our Mother, we must take care of her..." All through the day and into the week, the children joyfully chanted their new song.

"Noe I want to talk about trash," I said. "What happen to your trash," after you put it out in front of your house?"

"It goes in the rubbish!"

Eventually our discussion came around to the dump, and we talked about what happens to most trash there. "At the dup they dig a big hole and bury our trash. How do you think the Earth Mother feels when we stuff trash in her mouth?"

"Sick! Yuck! She doesn't like it" were the many replies.

"The Earth likes some of the things we bury. She swallows them and uses them to make more food for the things that live on the Earth. Some things things we bury make her sick. We know she's getting sick when the ' water in the rivers is poisoned, and the trees and animals die because they don't have a clean and healthy place to live. Some things we bury are too hard for her to chew; they just sit in her mouth for years."


Meaningful Creating

This discussion led into our lesson. The lessons I teach have three phases: a focusing experience (discussion and experiment), the making of art in response to that experience, and the shating of the experience with the community. My lessons reflect an integrated approach, using other subjects to iform and enrich the creative experience.

The importance of the focusing experience in the making of art cannot be overstated. Historically, great artists have created as a result of a desire ro communicate their experience of life. Children, no less than adults, require stimulus ans support for their motivation to create meaningful expressions. Making a clay bowl, for instance, can be merely a lesson in the manipulation of materials, or it can be an act connected to a meaningful exploration of the history of clay and the implications of crafting the Earth into tools for survival. The creation of art is meant to be a method of exploration - a way of reflecting upon and commuicating about life.

The Scientific Approach

Our focusing experience spanned several weeks. We did experiment which involved burying different kinds of trash to learn about what the Earth Mother does and doesn't like to eat. Each of the three groups of seven children buried one sample each of nondegradable and biodegradable trash in labeled coffee cans filled with soil. Over the next couple of months, the student periodically investigated the soil to see what was happening to the trash. Before opening the cans, we discussed and recorded what they thought might have happened. We then investigated the soil and I recorded their findings on a large chart. Most students already knew that plastic, Styrofoan and galss would not go away, and that fruit, bugs and leaves would "get black and mushy and disappear."

Language, music and science were integrated into our creative process throughout. we practiced reading skills with the use of signs, charts and labels. Each coffee can was labelled to indicate what was inside. Music enriched our lesson through the Native American chant. The children loved the chant and often sing it even now, months after first learning it. We utilized scientific method in researching, discussing and recording. Our experiment became the center, out of which we created artwork.

Creative Solutions

After several investigation over two months, we were ready to create. We talked about and did drawing of what we thought would be done with the trach that we discovered the Earth Mother doesn't like to eat. the students were given pencils to sketch their ideas and fine-point markers to complete the final drawings. I recorded a great deal of discussion and shating during the drawing process:

"This is a machine that crushes the trash up into tiny pieces."

"After this part crushes the trash, this is where the magic touches it and turns it into food.'

"This wire gets really hot. when it touches the trash it makes the trash ger small."

"The trash gets crushed up and put into boxes. The boxes get put into trucks. When the trucks are full, you can eat only plants and animals so we don't make any more trash."

"This is where the trash gets made into paper."

"This person is washing the trash and bringing it back to the store."

We talked about what a tricky problem taking care of trash is, and that adults have as much trouble as we were having deciding what to do with the trash that the Earth doesn't like to eat. It's interesting to note that on their own, five-years-olds came up with just about every solution that society is currently using or exploring for trash disposal. They sent trash into space, made paper, recycled, crushed, ,compacted and burned - they even called upo magic. Even adults sometimes act as if magic will take care of the problem.

The drawings and description are displayed for the whole school to see, along with a record of our experiment. In the coming months, we'll explore this theme further, and the students will share their knowledge with the fifth grade. We'll be doing recycling in our classroom, and we hope to send the exhibit to other communities.

Considering Big

In planning and implementing curriculum, I try to create from the knowledge that childre are big. They are stimulated by big questions and have big responses. To the degree to which I have been enculturated to think of myself as small and ineffectual in the world, there is the danger of treating children as if they are small, and raising them to be ineffectual in a world that desperately needs their energy, their imagination, their creativity... their bigness. Devising curriculu that truly reflects the children's process of creating meaning from their experience helps us to learn from our lives, and shape our world as the resuly of our learning and growing. For what are we all here for, each with our own talents and gifts, if no to make some difference - to somehow enrich our collective living. I have no doubt that somewhere inside those fove-years-olds are the ingenious insights that we all need in order to live a more balanced life on planet Earth.

The environmental deterioration of our planet is just one of the issues young people will have to grapple with in years to come. I feel the value of ecological literacy as a goal in education is unquestionable. Perhaps children who grow up with an awareness of their connectedness with all life on our planet, will make wiser, more imaginative choices than adults of recent generations. What could a generation of ecologically aware children bring us? I dare to hope they have that chance. The least they deserve is to be prepared.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:O'Reilly, Sue
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Mother and child in clay.
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