Outside the Classroom Door
By Beth Wise, Music Specialist and Head Teacher
As a returning staff member to Bing School, I was struck by the beauty of Bing’s environment: the atrium blooming with flowering plants and bushes, the renovations underway all around, and the enchanting original artwork selected by Helen Bing. I began to see the potential for field trips right outside the classroom doors that would increase children’s awareness of the school and provide an occasion for discussion and authentic work.
The stage for appreciating the environment is set in many ways throughout a child’s experience at Bing School. Children take note of the trees, flowers, and plants in bloom in their own classroom yards. They overturn garden soil, add new plants to gardens, and observe insect and animal life. This spring a red-tailed hawk nesting in the tall pine tree in the Center Room yard became a focal point of many children’s outdoor experience at school. By extending such observations beyond the classroom, they can see their school and the environment from other perspectives.
In early spring, I began taking children out to the atrium to notice the plants in bloom at that time. There is a rope surrounding the plants for protection, graced with children’s drawings and words. The drawings were beginning to fade, so we observed the plants and flowers and made new flower signs to laminate and hang. On one particularly rainy day, we sat under the roof of the atrium watching the rain fall on flowers and leaves, pooling in drops before making a slow descent down the stem to the ground. At tables set up with watercolors, Cray-Pas, colored pencils, and scissors, the children began making drawings of what they were observing. One child drew the following sign to serve as a reminder for all.
This activity started a conversation that illustrated the children’s compassion and their awareness of how we can help to maintain and protect this beautiful area.As spring progressed, we also noticed that the tree in the center of the atrium was blossoming. The abundant white blooms inspired us to sing “The Popcorn Tree,” as taught to us by Nathan Alldredge, assistant teacher of the West Room. Observations can be expressed kinesthetically, too, and as the children danced and sang around the tree, they were becoming aware of the cyclical nature of the seasons and how our tree was transforming. We spent time talking about how spring was approaching and when the tree would bloom each year. Just a few weeks later a child pointed out to me, “Look! The popcorn flowers are all gone. We’ll have to wait again for them next year!”
With the children enjoying and anticipating our trips outside the classroom, we turned our attention to the beautiful pieces of artwork throughout the school. Teacher Paula Smith took interested children into the staff seminar room to see Pamela Glasscock’s watercolors of flowers and do some observational drawings of the flowers. I continued this with other children throughout the school, with the intent of sending a card to Pamela Glasscock herself. The children challenged themselves to sketch flowers and dictate words of wisdom to Pamela. “Dear Pamela,” one child said, “This is a bulb that we have at home. This is the stem part and the flowers are in the middle. Flowers can be from bulbs, at the store or in pictures.” “Dear Pamela,” another said, “Your flowers are beautiful! I think that flowers are easy to draw.”
Some children experimented with putting the flowers on different ends of the stems, making observations such as “This picture is different because the flowers are on top of their stems. They stayed on their stems a long, long time. Somebody picked them and it takes forty years to die when you’re a flower.”
We sent the letters to Los Angeles, and in a few months a letter arrived from Pamela Glasscock.
Dear Jeanne, Jennifer, Bing School Children and Staff,
I was much surprised and delighted to receive the package of drawings, photos, and your kind notes. I am honored to have my paintings hanging at your school and will certainly come to visit someday when I am at Stanford. As an occasional art teacher with a particular fondness for younger children, and as an obvious believer in observational drawing as an enlightening experience, I am happy to know of your projects in drawing with the children, and to see their work. Thank you for the thoughtfulness in getting in touch with me and I look forward to meeting with you. A special thank you to all the children who wrote notes and sent their drawings to me. I love them.
The next time you wait in the atrium for class to begin, stop to read a library book, or visit the seminar room, notice the world through a child’s eye, and be your child’s guide to maintaining our beautiful environment. Start a lifelong appreciation for what lies right outside our door!