Meeting standards with a crayon


photo by chantelle1113 on

This is one of those mornings where two of my favorite things, stories and crafting, came together. I have a professional blog, where I write about tools and projects for teacher-librarians, and a craft blog, where I write about the sewing or knitting or whatever projects have been refreshing my soul. This morning a post on The Crafty Crow reminded me that there’s plenty of literature for young kids that almost effortlessly suggests where young readers should go when the story is over: straight to the art supplies.

The book featured in the Crafty Crow this morning was An Awesome Book, by Dallas Clayton. It’s all about the power of dreams. Click on the link and take a look at the story and illustrations. This would be a lovely book to pair with a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr. Younger kids would be jazzed about drawing a picture about a dream that could change the world: save the polar bears! end pollution! Older kids, who have learned how impossible the dream of ending segregation seemed at the time of King’s immortal speech, would understand even better the poignant message of the book.

I love doing hands-on projects with my young students. Sometimes it’s exhausting trying to fit all the important things into 40 to 60 minutes of time with 4-8 year-olds, especially when classes come back-to-back to the library. Sometimes the next group is standing in the hall while I’m chivying the current group to the door. But some books just cry out for the crayon baskets!

Drawing, papercraft, sewing, and any other craft need not be simply a “sponge” activity to soak up the time until library is over. When properly planned, the humble crayon (or origami square, or needle and piece of felt cloth) helps meet learning standards. When my kindergarten students created “What happens next?” pictures for the story Flotsam, we were actually meeting the NYS standard that calls for students to “listen, speak, read, and write for critical analysis and evaluation,” to “actively engage in the processes that constitute creation and performance in the arts,” and to “respond critically” to works of art. When we sewed quilt squares with second graders, we were meeting ELA, Social Studies, and Art standards, and when my third graders drew life-size penguins, they were meeting Science standards. It’s like a two-for-one coupon deal at the grocery store!

Here are a few books that absolutely require the crayon boxes:

An Awesome Book / Dallas Clayton.  The children can draw their hopeful dream for the future.

Flotsam / by David Wiesner. Have the children draw the picture the mysterious underwater camera takes next. My kindergarten classes did this, and then we made a PhotoStory movie of their art work.

Swimmy / by Leo Lionni. A powerful story about what can be achieved when everybody works together. The kids love drawing their own little fish to add to the group, and watching the “big fish” grow.

Not a Box / by Antoinette Porti.  An absolutely perfect book about thinking outside the box, (ha!) the kids who read this book are immediately inspired to start imaging their own uses for a cardboard box.

Harold and the Purple Crayon / by Crockett Johnson (Would you believe it? Harold is 50 this year!)  A perfect storytime recipe: equal parts Harold, purple crayons, and a huge sheet of paper. Mix well.

There are literally (today’s the day for bad puns, I guess) thousands of children’s books with pictures that naturally suggest art projects, either through the medium of the pictures themselves, or through the subject of the text: origami (Yoko’s Paper Cranes / Rosemary Wells, or Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes / Eleanor Coerr); quilting (Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt / by Lisa Campbell, or anything illustrated by Faith Ringgold); or sewing (Joseph Had a Little Overcoat / by Simms Taback.)

Sometimes what the kids make ends up going home in their hot little hands; sometimes it ends up on the bulletin board, and more and more, it ends up on the web, particularly via VoiceThread (which I’ve written about before, and is currently my favorite medium for sharing what young kids draw, photograph, and record.) In any case, making something is the key to putting the ideas into their heads, and getting back out what their brains have processed. I work with a great art teacher who is willing to collaborate on lessons. We’re currently working on a Europe project in which the kids draw landscapes including accurate representations of famous landmarks they researched with me. Very cool!

Long live the humble crayon.


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