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Muddy Feet and More

Muddy Feet and More: July 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nurturing Art Appreciation in Children (okay, adults too!)

By Nathan, Age 4
The development of art was one one of the first steps that mankind took on his path to civilization.  Throughout history, great value has been placed on beauty, originality, and creativity.  From cave paintings, shell beads and tattoos to modern day architecture, advertisements and photography, art is all around us, and in fact, embedded deep into our very being.

Why then, do we need to nurture it, teach it, and experience it if it is already a part of us? Because many of us have lost the ability to express what is inside of us, to open our eyes and really see the world around us, or even to admit that art is a part of our lives at all.

In today's schools, many art programs are being cut.  It is not unusual for children to have never held a paintbrush, squeezed a lump of clay, or even been a part of a class play.  Oddly enough, many schools are beginning to offer "enrichment" programs to home schooled families as a way to recoup some of the funding lost due to these children not being in school.  I can sign a home schooled child up for an art class (, but the child in public school does not get that same luxury.  Don't get me wrong, I think these types of programs are wonderful, I just wish they would be offered to ALL children.

We have a tendency to put a huge emphasis on excelling in math and reading, science and social studies, however we are telling children that art is not worth learning.  That it isn't a "real" choice as a career field.  Now look around at the world.  Everywhere you turn, there is art.  Now, more than ever.  There are billboards and advertisements that SOMEONE designed.  There are websites, buildings, landscaping and products surrounding us that have all been designed with beauty, originality and creativity.  The movies we watch, the music we listen to and the apps we have on our phones and ipads are all forms of art.
By Amairani, Grade 1

Okay, so what can we do about it?  How can we teach our children what the schools are not?  How can we add it into our home school classes?  Or, if we are school teachers, how can we add it into our classrooms?  Exposure and communication.  That is all we need to appreciate art.  Exposure is easy, it's all around, right?  You just need to look at things in a new way.  Look at everything for the art in it, listen and feel too!  Use your senses.  The communication may be a little more difficult.  We are a verbal species.  We need to learn the terms for communicating what we are experiencing.  We need to learn what questions to ask to evoke responses in ourselves and the children we are with.  Okay, that's really pretty easy when you get the hang of it too!

So where to begin?  Outside.  No, really!  Go.  Visit the ever changing multi-sensory work of art that nature provides us with, that nature IS.  For the first assignment, take a step back.  Look up.  Every day, the sky is different.  Even here in Phoenix the sky is never quite the same shade of blue.  The sunsets are never quite the same.  Even the night skies are changing, moving.  Rather than seeing sky, or clouds, or the moon, you are seeing art.  Now discuss that.  Ask questions.  Make statements.  Even get excited.  Do this whenever you are outside. 

"Wow, look at the cloud in front of the sun! It's really beautiful!
 I like the way the edge is so bright. It really contrasts with the darkness
 of the inside of the cloud and makes it stand out from the other clouds!
What do you think?"

"I really like the different cloud shapes and colors.  Which ones
are your favorites?  There are so many shades of gray in the clouds,
and so many layers.  The blue sky behind is so bright.  It isn't like
the paler blue we saw yesterday, is it?"

"Amazing! Going outside is like walking into a sepia photograph!" 
(Actual conversation last night.)  "The sun is being filtered by all
of the dust in the air, turning the sky this unusual color!"
(These photos are actual color, they have not been changed. 
They were taken with the same camera just a few hours after the ones above.)

"Isn't is amazing how many colors nature gives us?!"

Hopefully now you are beginning to get you child(ren) a little excited, a little involved in communicating about what they see.  Don't forget to ask about sounds, feelings and smells too. "Can you smell the rain in the air?  How about the dust?  Do you hear any birds?  Are the crickets chirping?  Did you know you can tell how hot it is by how quickly the crickets chirp?"  Tie in whatever might interest them.  Or you.  It's all about making connections.  There is beauty in science, creativity in math (how can you solve that equation you've never seen before?!), and originality in writing.  Art is everywhere.

What next?  Break out that box of crayons, those watercolors (get some good ones - more on that later), construction paper and create something inspired by what you saw.  YOU create.  Don't just give materials to the kids.  Don't even make it into an activity that "we'll all do together" unless you are doing it as a class activity.  Kids need to see adults participating in the creative process for it to become something of value.  Otherwise it is just "something kids do." 

This does not necessarily mean draw clouds.  This means use that blue you liked from the sky and the gray from the clouds.  Let them mix and join with each other.  Or make something abstract. Use the fluffiness of the clouds to inspire a world made of fluff.  If you want to do clouds, try out some in different colors, and try to shade the colors in rather than drawing a traditional cloud shape.  These activities encourage thinking out of the box.  We don't want cookie cutter thinking, we want creativity.  This may take time, but the example you set will inspire the children around you.

If people view art as just something pretty to look at, it will always be "extra fluff" that the schools can deem unnecessary.  If they learn instead that art awareness inspires creative thinking, originality of ideas and provides thought provoking material, perhaps there will come a day when it is considered absolutely essential.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Dragonfly Day

(Here I'm just playing with a TTV overlay.  I love TTV photography! 
More on that another time though...)

Okay, I did see one butterfly today (yay!), but overall, it has been a dragonfly day.  Several of them were hovering over our aloe plant, resting on its spiky tips and just soaking up the dappled shade.  Yes, we soak up the shade during Arizona summers, not the sun!  I can only guess that these beauties recently hatched and were just hanging around getting their wings dry.  I was very fun to watch them, and a pity that the boys were not here to enjoy (off with friends).   Hopefully this is just the beginning of their visits to our yard.  I wonder where they hatched from here in the desert...

This one didn't seem to mind me taking pictures, the others kept flying away.  Only when I got
 too close, or moved too fast did it zip away, but it kept coming right back for more!

Aren't those wings just awesome!  So delicate and beautiful!

Many of the same things done to attract butterflies will bring the dragonflies as well.  I am thrilled at what you all have done so far to help the butterflies (and other insects).  If you haven't yet entered the giveaway, there is just over a week left, I'll randomly pick a winner next Saturday!  Please spread the word on this, let's see how many people we can get to participate! 

Oh, and please visit my Etsy treasury of beautiful butterfly items that I just adore:  Lovin' the Lepidoptera

Friday, July 2, 2010

Butterfly Challenge!

Congrats!  Woolies is the winner of the Butterfly Challenge!!!
  Thank you all so much for doing a part to bring back the butterflies!

Okay, it's been a while since I posted... as usual...  Sorry about that!

For the first time in the nearly 10 years we have lived in our house, we have a caterpillars!  Perhaps it's due to our allergies keeping us from getting the weeds pulled, or maybe it has just taken this long for the property to recover from whatever the previous owners might have done or not done (like having any plants).   Whatever the reason, it has been fun to watch these guys creeping across our patio!  Just this morning, my youngest wanted to hold of on his chore of sweeping the patio until the caterpillar was safely away (too bad my camera battery was charging).

Just today, I got an email from the National Wildlife Federation expressing concern over the very low numbers of butterflies and asking for help.  This has inspired me to get a move on getting our yard certified.  It may take some time for us to set up a water feature, but it's already in the planning stages.  One of the things we would like to do is create a butterfly (and hummingbird) habitat.  I thought it would be fun to put out a challenge over the next two weeks to others to do the same!  Let's hear and see what you come up with! 

Comment with what you have done to help butterflies during this time, and you will be entered to win a smaller version of the playset above (house not included, it WILL include a fairy princess similar to above (or prince), a butterfly, a dragonfly, several "mossy" stones, some feathery plants, a pond, a couple of blossoms, and a little playmat to house it all)!  Blog about what you have done and/or this giveaway/challenge and you'll be entered again.  Get certified by the NWF (see below) and get TWO more entries!  Just leave a comment for each thing that you do! 

Okay, here's the letter from the NWF with a few of the included tips below:

Here are a few simple ideas to help attract all kinds of butterflies (as well as birds and other wildlife too!):
  • Plant native, colorful flowering plants to provide nectar
  • Provide a shallow water dish as a place to get a drink
  • Include milkweed host plants to serve as larval, or caterpillar, food 
  • Offer dense shrubs to provide shelter