OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s hard for me to believe that January 2014 is almost over, and I’m wondering if you feel the same way?

Believe it or not, Valentine’s Day is coming up fast, so I thought I’d share some easy-to-implement art lessons that would be lots of fun to do with your students. With a minimum of supplies and no art background or art teaching experience necessary, these lessons really are a must-try for virtually any grade level. (Just modify to best suit the age and ability levels of your students.)

IMG_2538The first one involves making little three-dimensional pop-up cards or books. If you have your students make cards, they would make wonderful gifts to people in retirement homes, senior citizen residences, or even hospitals in your community. And what about servicemen and women? Think how much a handmade card of caring and gratitude would mean to them. The real-world connections here to language arts and social studies are both meaningful and profound. Making little pop-up books would be fun too, it just depends on how involved you want to get. You can read all about this fun lesson here.

IMG_1659The next lesson idea takes you step-by-simple-step through the creation of Giant Stuffed Paper Hearts, and you can get all the details in a previous post by clicking here. Not only will the resulting hearts make fabulous decorations for your classroom, school site or even district office if they’re so inclined to let you decorate, but you will have helped the environment by cleaning up trash or by recycling paper that might otherwise have ended up in a landfill.

IMG_1649And finally, how about having your students create some fun little Valentine heart bouquets? Read all about this lesson here. Again, these would be perfect for your students to make for someone special. This could be one of the community groups mentioned above, someone at your school site, their student buddies, or even someone at home. In my experience, students LOVE making things to give away and will likely extend even more effort than usual on a piece that they know will be a gift, so be sure to determine the recipient(s) ahead of time and let your students know who they’re creating their artwork for. The excitement this generates is inspiring! Have fun with these, and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it if you use one or more of these lesson ideas in your classroom.

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IMG_2439Hello 2014 and congratulations to my third Art Kit winner! Justin G. will be receiving his free art kit in the mail from me soon, and will enjoy all of the fabulous goodies you see pictured below. (The kit also includes a lesson plan designed to use the supplies in your kit.)

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I’ve only got one more kit like this to give away, so click here to find out how easy it is to be included in the drawing scheduled for April 1, 2014.

If you’re a teacher looking for affordable, convenient, self-paced professional development, click here to register for one of my user-friendly art classes offered through Fresno Pacific University, and you might just win an Art Kit! (As you can see from the tag, Justin signed up for my class ART 902: The Magic of Paper. (He also signed up for my class ART 900: Drawing Magic, but that registration didn’t win him the kit.)

So resolve to bring some EASY art lessons into your classroom this year — no muss, no fuss! Let me show you how fun and powerful art can be.

IMG_2355With the holiday season upon us, what better way to decorate your classroom, or another location at school, than by having your students make some festive, one-of-a-kind holiday streamers?! This idea can be used at any grade level, and materials can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be.

MATERIALS: You will pre-cut one long, thin strip of butcher paper for each child in your class, plus a few extras in case of any “disasters”. 🙂  A good size for these strips would be about 6 inches wide by about 5 or 6 feet long. Decide what materials you’d like them to use to decorate their banners. Depending on your time frame, the age and skill levels of your students, and how involved you want to get, materials can range from crayons only to things like, construction paper and glue, cotton, buttons, brads, tissue paper, and more. You might consider limiting their color choices, so that all designs will be created using red, green, and black for example.

MOTIVATION: Before distributing the banners and supplies, tell your students that they are each going to decorate their paper strip with a vertical (tall) design. This means that they will work from top to bottom and not from left to right as they usually do. Talk about all the possibilities for holiday images including things like designs, lettering, and symbols. Time spent brainstorming before you distribute supplies will pay off greatly once everyone gets to work. In fact, you might consider making a list of things during brainstorming, so that students have something to return to if they feel stuck. (Great language arts connection opportunity, too!) Be sure to stress that the decorations for these streamers need not only be “representational” art. (Art that looks like something.) Images of pure design (nonrepresentational art) can be fantastic here, too. (New vocabulary words!) This will help alleviate stress for those students who might be insecure about their drawing skills.

Once everyone starts working, you might get questions about how to draw this or that. The way I handle this is to “talk them through it” without solving it for them. Ask them questions about the thing they want to draw or represent, leading them to create something themselves. Depending on your students, you might make little pieces of scratch paper available, so they can work out some rough sketches before committing their idea to their banner. This kind of thinking and decision making is a vital part of any meaningful art experience and distinguishes it from merely being a “craft project”.

Once completed, the streamers can be suspended from a line stretched across your room or will even look spectacular if they are taped or stapled to the walls. If you don’t have space in your room for display, perhaps you might consider hanging them in the front office, library, hallway, or cafeteria? If time permits, invite students to describe their streamer decorations and talk about why they did what they did with the class. (Oral language!) Or perhaps you might have them write about their streamer decorations and their decision making during the creative process. (Written language!) If you really want to try something fun, consider introducing the idea of a “critique”. This teaches students how to be careful observers, and how to speak respectfully to each other about the work that has been done. A thoughtful critique also shows students how many other creative solutions there are to any given art problem. When the time comes for winter break, the streamers can be simply rolled up and held with a rubber band or paperclips to be taken home for family and friends to enjoy.

For more ready-to-use art lesson plans, consider registering for my affordable, convenient, self-paced classes here.

IMG_1320Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Be sure to check back next week for an easy and fun holiday art lesson…

IMG_2268In the spirit of this most spooky time of year, I’m giving away a free book! This National Audubon Society field guide features insects and spiders with so many gorgeous close-up photographs you’ll be certain to feel creeped out! But seriously, this book would be a fantastic addition to any classroom’s reference library. This field guide is valued at $19.95 and will be sent free to one lucky blog reader.

IMG_2270The photos are clear and crisp, and will provide wonderful visual references for anyone wanting to draw virtually any insect or spider realistically. Click here to read a previous post about how you can easily set up your own visual reference files.

To enter this free giveaway, just leave a comment here on my blog anytime between now and midnight PST on Halloween, October 31st, 2013. One winner will be drawn at random from the names of those who leave comments, and will be notified via email on Friday, November 1st, 2013.

COVER-226x282.ashxI recently came across a terrific little article in the September 2013 issue of California Educator magazine. (Click here to view the digital edition of the magazine and read the article that starts on page 9.)

The article is entitled, “5 Reasons to Bring Back the Arts”, and it’s the magazine’s cover story. I urge you to take a look at this piece because it’s a nice summation — a very quick read, written in a sort of “bullet point” style — about why the arts are essential, and about what they bring to the educational table. Statements like “the arts help students express themselves”, and “the arts make you smarter”, are explored and backed up with studies. If you don’t already see the value of a thoughtfully planned and implemented art program, this short but persuasive article might just make a believer out of you.

If you’d like to start bringing meaningful art experiences into your classroom, but don’t know how to get started, click here for information about my affordable, convenient, and self-paced professional development courses that you work on from home on your own schedule.

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I love this time of year! This season of magnificent color presents an exciting opportunity for students to notice and record what they observe happening around them. If your students aren’t already keeping “art journals”, I suggest that now is the time to have them start! You can read my earlier posts about the ease of setting up and using art journals here, here, and here. There’s also a post here about observational drawing that you might find helpful.

My proposal is simple. Have your students observe leaves, one at a time — over time — as they change colors throughout the fall. While many different approaches are possible, I would suggest that you begin by simply having them each select one leaf to bring into the classroom. For this first observation, I would encourage you to suggest that they look for leaves that are primarily green. You might say something like, “We’re going to go outside (to some specific area) and spend just a few minutes while you each find one green leaf to bring back inside our classroom.” This sets a few basic parameters as well as your expectations: A) we will all be staying in the same area together, and B) we will be spending a very short amount of time doing this.

Once back inside, the process of carefully observing their leaves can begin. (Having each student set his or her leaf on a small, pre-cut square of black or white construction paper will help simplify the background, and will make each leaf seem “special” as if on display.) I would not have any pencils or paper out at this time to help focus their attention on their leaves only, and on LOOKING. Oral language and sharing would be great here… what do they see? Students can share their observations with a neighbor. Perhaps you could make a list of class observations. Vocabulary words like line, form, shape, color, and texture can be introduced or reinforced.

When it’s time to draw, journals/paper, pencils, erasers, color pencils, crayons and anything else you might make available can be distributed and the drawing can begin. You might encourage your students to draw one large image, or perhaps you might encourage them to draw several smaller images — or “studies” — of the same leaf from different angles. (This is great for those students who always finish at light speed! Ask them to move their leaf and take another look at it from this different angle.) Most of all, encourage them to take their time, to slow down, and to really look at what makes their particular leaf special and unique. The trick to observational drawing is to actually draw what you see in front of you, not what you THINK you see. Every child in your class has seen a leaf, and generally knows what leaves look like, but today you want them to do the best drawing they can of the particular leaf that is right in front of them.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might attach a writing component to this activity, having students describe what they see, or perhaps how they felt looking at their leaf and trying to draw it, or maybe even compose a poem about it. This writing could be as structured or as “free form” as you want it to be. The writing and drawings can be shared aloud with a partner and/or with the class. Another idea is to have everyone leave their journal open on their desk (or their paper out) and everyone moves around the room doing a “journal walk” or “gallery walk” to enjoy everyone’s work. (If this type of activity is new for your students, you might need to spend some time talking about how important it is to value all efforts, and to stick to constructive comments.)

As you notice the leaves changing colors over the next several days or weeks, explore this same process all over again, but this time you will encourage your students to select leaves that are say, yellow. Maybe a few days or weeks after that, everyone will select red leaves. Reinforce for your students how amazing it is that while you are returning to the same area over and over again for leaves, they have changed color dramatically.

This simple, multi-step journaling practice can be repeated using a multitude of subjects, some of which include growing plants, trees budding out in the spring, or something rotting like a small piece of fruit — kids LOVE the gross-out factor of this last one! Once kids get the hang of what you expect from them out of this process, this type of drawing can even be something that your students can do independently like at a station or center, or perhaps when other work has been finished. When practiced frequently, observational drawing is so much more than an art exercise for students, but rather it becomes a thoughtful, meaningful way of viewing, thinking about, and of understanding their world.

IMG_2245Hello October! In addition to being excited about this new month which brings such lovely fall weather… I’m also very excited to announce my second Art Kit winner!

Congratulations to T. Leonard who earned her entries by registering for my distance learning class ART 900: Drawing Magic. (If you need affordable, convenient, self-paced professional development, check out the information here.)

Each Art Kit is loaded with terrific art supplies, and a lesson plan ready for use in your classroom or homeschool setting. Click here to learn more about this fabulous kit, and to find out how easy it is to be entered into the drawings to win one.

I hope your month is off to a great start! I know T. Leonard’s is… she can look forward to receiving her Art Kit full of goodies very soon!

IMG_2204On a purely personal note, today I’m celebrating my little sister’s birthday on my blog.

When Ginger came into this world many (MANY!) years ago, my life changed forever, and I’m grateful every day for the beautiful gift of my sister. Her much anticipated arrival made our little family complete, and her lovely, creative spirit inspires everyone she meets to this day.

Happy Birthday Ginger!

Perhaps you too might take a moment to think about a person who has inspired you, and has helped mold you into the person you are today.

IMG_1778It’s back to school time once again, and with it comes all the mixed feelings of sadness that summer is winding down, and of excitement and anticipation for all the promise a new school year holds.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the website We Are Teachers was promoting some printable teacher quotes today on Facebook, and that one of them was something I said. (Pulled from this very blog!) Click here for a link to this printable quote called “Take Another Look”, which I hope will inspire you to include more art in your classroom this year. Research shows that children involved in the arts benefit from it in innumerable ways. But most importantly, it’s fun… and your students will love you for it!

Best wishes for a successful and art-filled school year!