Browsed by
Author: artteachersmile

Hi! I'm Emily, an elementary art teacher ten years and counting. I studied fine arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but found a real passion in visual arts education. I am excited to be sharing my experience with you and hope that you can share your own great ideas with me in return!
Update on Voices from the Land, 2017

Update on Voices from the Land, 2017

I am excited to share that I was able to do Voices from the Land with my Pre-K (four year old) students this year.  If you missed my previous post about the Voices experience, you can find it here:

* A further update, you can now find Voices from the Land programs in your own area by visiting the group’s new site:

With the help of the awesome Mrs. M and her para, Mrs. T, we first had the students practice indoors.  Here I was able to use my art period to show the students examples from the Voices catalog, provided when you take the workshop, and then have natural materials available for creating at each table.  Slightly different materials were provided at each table and after about eight minutes, the groups would switch to a different table.

Each time a group switched they were encouraged to talk more, to work with one another on the same idea.  This comes naturally to some children and is difficult for others.  The adults were present to prompt more language and teamwork from the children.

By the third round, the children were spending longer on their constructions and communicating with their team much more effectively.  This practice really helped prepare them for their experience out in the garden area.

The following session, we brought the children out to the school butterfly garden area and split them into groups. Their first task was collection.  When you are able to do Voices at a wholly natural site, the students can go off with their buckets to collect from the land around them.  In this case, we were on school grounds, which is mowed land except for our garden area.  To make up for this, some natural materials were brought in, such as pinecones, daisy flowers and sticks.  Some items I actually just brought around from the front of the school, so only minor relocation was needed!

Students chose their materials from our available piles as well as from invasive species in the garden (like clover) and brought them back to their building site.  From there, they knew what to do!  Students still needed to be prompted to talk with one another, but overall they were great teams.  They built upon each other’s ideas and allowed everyone to contribute.

One adult per group was assigned the role of recorder to take down the language of the children as they were building.  This language along with what they said during their short presentation of their art is what’s used to craft the poetry.

The poetry happened back in their classrooms with Mrs. M this time.  The one year I did the poetry with the students, I had all the words of the students on paper strips.  Working with one group at a time, I helped the children to arrange the words and phrases the way that pleased them.  This becomes their poem!

See a couple more of our finished posters from this year below. The artworks can be incorporated into photo books or instagram/twitter graphics or simple posters like we opted to do this year.

We were squeezing this in at the last possible moment this year- ha! I was working on the last of these on our final day of school so we could share them with parents digitally.  For expediency’s sake, I used a pre-formatted Microsoft Word poster file.  I was able to just change the color the scheme for each poster.  They are a nice little collection for our 2017 Voices experience.  Thanks for reading!



Art Unit on the House with Special Needs and Pre K

Art Unit on the House with Special Needs and Pre K


The House

I am always trying to come up with engaging  and meaningful theme units for my special needs art students.  This year I have a class of special needs students with very low fine motor capabilities as well as two preschool classes with a mixed population.

This art unit on The House has been creating excitement and interest with my students week after week!  I have also been able to incorporate books into each segment of the unit, which makes an important literacy connection.  It ties in great with pre school classes, who focus on buildings through one of their creative curriculum studies.

In this post I’ll outline the books and projects I used throughout the unit.

  1. book: Vincent Paints his House. by Ted Arnold

The book is a great little pattern book that focuses on color identification and a fun play on Vincent van Gogh.  As I read aloud to students I adapted their level of participation asking students to either vocalize the new color or identify different shades of that color.

My Pre K students really enjoyed calling out the new color on each page.  While my special needs students were prompted to name or just repeat the color.  Using speech in class is one of my goals with that group.

Art Activity: collaging collograph plates

For our art project we created the collograph plates, although I didn’t tell the students that’s what they would become.  We began with a house outline in pop sticks on our paper. Then talked about texture as corrugated paper and burlap were added to fill the house frame.

In the special needs group I really stop to focus on the texture of each piece.  Children are encourage to  pet the materials and really feel the texture. I also ask them to repeat the description of the texture- bumpy or rough, etc.

Next we spoke about features a house might have, such as doors and windows.  Students were given trays of loose parts to create these.  Then art was put on the drying rack until the next week.


  1. book:  Building our House. by Johnathan Bean

In Building our House, we watch a family go through the steps to build their own home beginning with mining rock for the foundation and ending with moving in the furniture.

Students enjoy spotting all the construction vehicles in the illustrations as well as pointing out tools they know.  I used the opportunity to ask the special needs class to repeat the names of the tools. If you have toy tools, it would be great to incorporate them into the experience.

Art Activity: Printing the Collographs

In this class I print the collographs with the students by working in small groups.  Now you should know that my pre K classes come with one aide and the special needs class comes with four aides, so I am all set on extra adults! Anyway, I pull two to three students at a time, allow the kids to roll black paint over their printing plate and then lay the paper on top of the plate, instructing the kids to rub the paper.

While the children are rubbing, take the opportunity to review vocabulary by stating, we are making a print of your collograph.  Can you feel your printing plate through the paper? I feel the texture of the sticks and burlap through the paper.

When they peel up the paper, it’s like magic for them!  What great fun to watch their faces.

While I’m printing with small groups, I have the other children acting as architects, building with blocks. They can select a house photograph to “replicate”.  When I have a moment or two in between I ask the builders about their creations.  Where is the bedroom?  How do the people get in? etc. Children love explaining their thinking!

  1. book:  The House in the Night.  by Susan Marie Swanson

This book has beautiful scratch board illustrations with yellow additions that pop out.  Kids can work on speech by identifying common items inside the house or naming the items that are emphasized with yellow.

There is also a video of this book that I really think is well done. I enjoy the extra sound effects added into the story.  You can find that link here:

Click here for a You Tube video read aloud of book by “One More Story”:

Art Activity:  The Night House artwork

We are adding to the collographs today, but going back to the printing plate rather than the print.The printing plate is all black now from our activity in the last class.  I mount the printing plates on 12×18 black construction paper.

sequin or foam stars from a craft supply place make this next step easier. After reading or watching the read aloud of the book, students will make their printing plates their nighttime house by adding stars and moon in the sky.  I use scraps of metallic paper to create a border design.

Depending on the class’ capabilities, students can cut smaller squares off of long strips of paper to collage a border or they can use pre-cut shapes.

As an extension activity, students work on scratch art paper to mimic the illustrations of the storybook. With my special needs class, we used star shaped cookie cutters as stencils and scratched inside the shape.

  1. book: Roberto the Insect Architect. by Nina Laden

This is one of those books that entertains the adults reading it as well as the children listening! With the references to famous architects and styles from the canon of art history, the book puts a twist on each name, morphing it into a bug name.  Roberto draws up blueprints for a bug city to house all the displaced bugs of the world!  It’s a good story for the last art project of the unit, a blueprint. 

Art Activity: “Blue prints” with plastic play blocks.  

This is done on large navy blue construction paper with carboard pieces and blocks dipped in white paint.  I used megablocks, because I have a ton of them and like that they are so large and sturdy. The edge of a piece of newsboard or cardboard makes a nice line.  I introduce the lesson and show an example before doing a quick demonstration of the printing.  It is useful to emphasize that students can build up the printing from the bottom just like one would do with real blocks.  Start stamping shapes at the bottom and go up.


Students can go back into the middle after they have the structure outlined.  You can prompt more work or responses from them by asking, Where would you put the bathroom? Where will the bedrooms be? This activity echoes the work they did when they were “playing” with the blocks in the class when we printed the collographs.  It is an extension of that activity and allows students to approach the same idea in 2-D.


If you have enough adults in the room, it would be fun to label the parts of the blueprint!  

Just for fun, here is a link to a musical number from the Nickelodeon kid’s show, Phinneas and Ferb, all about blueprints!  My special ed students were old enough to recognize the show, but I don’t think the pre school kids will know the show! 


Final Thoughts

Although I’ve never approached the special ed classes or pre K classes with a unit before, I am anxious ot do it again.  I’ve displayed the whole unit together and it is a beautiful culmination of work!  I really enjoyed extending the theme out so far and felt that each class was a meaningful addition to our experience.  It is for sure something I’ll repeat next year and I hope to add more art units to my repertoire for this level.  I’m thinking something about shadows next…

Miró Creatures

Miró Creatures


This Miró inspired art project reviews and incorporates the concepts of organic and geometric shapes as well basic color concepts.  Second grade artists create these painted masterpieces by combining shapes into a Joan Miró style creature, identifying and imitating the artist’s use of line and color.

The paper is first prepared with dry brush strokes of gray tempera to mimic the sized canvas of Miró’s famous compositions.  The natural texture of the canvas creates a beautiful backdrop for his art.  Students view artwork by Miró, taking note of the kinds of shapes and colors they notice again and again.  

This lesson is filled with great art vocabulary. Here are some main points covered in the lesson.

Students learn that:

  • Miró’s art is surreal (I emphasize dream-like or from the imagination) and abstract.
  • Abstract art is not meant to look like real life, but can remind you of something from real life. In this case, creatures!
  • Geometric Shapes have straight sides.
  • Organic shapes are blobby, natural forms.
  • Miró used line to divide his shapes into pieces.
  • Miró used a limited color palette (the primaries plus black and green).
  • Each section of the shape was filled with a different color.
  • A shape or line can be a symbol and Miró had a collection of symbols he used repeatedly in his art.
  • Pictures can become personal symbols to an artist.

We discuss and practice organic and geometric shapes on scrap paper as part of the introduction to this project.

Drawing our Creatures

After preparing the background students are instructed to use pencil and follow these directions.  First draw a geometric shape for the body. Fill up your paper!  

Next, draw an organic shape for the head.

Add Arms. They do not have to be the same on both sides.  Keep the arms abstract.

Now create legs.

Use two or three lines to divide up the body into sections.

Would you like to draw lines for hair?  Keep it simple.

Then we go back to Miró’s art and point out his repeated line and shape symbols creating a ‘visual bank’ for students to use.  Second graders pick three to five symbols to draw around their creatures.

Then their work is traced in sharpie.  We note that Miró used black as a color not just an outline, so if students choose they color in a few of their shapes with the sharpie markers.

Adding color

When it’s time for painting, I prep the trays with all the colors they can use and review painting procedures. Students become concentrated artists! They paint all their shapes carefully and learn to keep their colors clean.

When they are complete I ask them to reflect on their work by filling out an exit slip, which asks for information on the artist then two things they like about their art and one thing they’d change.  I use one of those 3-2-1 exit slip forms, but any form would do.  While I’m handing out these exit slips, we talk about being specific in our reflections.  Not just saying, ‘my art is awesome!’. -Not that it isn’t!- But the point is to encourage higher level thinking!  I have been impressed with my students’ ability to apply their knowledge of the artist as well as work towards critiquing their work.  These are big steps for little artists.

Modifying this Lesson for Special Needs Students

To modify this lesson I create a bank of shapes for each direction.  This way students have a few choice in front of them and can more easily organize their thoughts.  So one paper for possible body shapes, then flip to the next paper for possible head shapes, etc.  Depending on the student I might also expect less elements in the drawing.  Sometimes tracing is a problem for my special needs friends and so I will pre-trace their work before class and have the students get right to work on painting.  presenting one color of paint at a time can also prevent kids from feeling overwhelmed.

I have also used the Roll-a-Miró game for this lesson with good results. So that is always an option as well.  If you have any feedback for me, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Maybe you’ve taught this lesson in a different way and would like to share? I always like to hear from my art teacher community!

Kindergarten Cities

Kindergarten Cities

A quick post for a quick project- these cities are a simple, but pleasurable art project for Kindergarten students.  The use of shape, line (design), overlapping and composition work as an building block for future elements and principles projects. Drawing on personal experience or connection is also encouraged as the kids add all their individual details.

Starting off

I had students begin in pencil, drawing a horizon line.  We then talked about cities and the terms, cityscape and sky scrapers.  Instead of just drawing bunch of rectangles for skyscrapers, variety was recommended and so you see students changed up the shape of the buildings to add more interest.  Various patterns were added inside the buildings to suggest windows or different facades. This was a neat “trick” to share with my young artists and also allowed me to informatively assess their how their line skills and sense of design are progressing.  As always, I give examples of line designs- call it the ‘line bank’, but allow students their own choice.

The fun comes as the kids begin to add their details. Their additions of flags and trucks, cars and clouds are what really make these city scenes charming.

Pair it with a story…

Have enough time to add a storybook to this lesson? You know I love that! Try, Iggy Peck Architect, by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.  Alphabet City, by Stephen Johnson is also a favorite of mine.  I like to use storybooks to add more depth to my lessons with young students as well as make all important language arts connections for those developing readers.  When you’re on day two of a lesson and it the art-making and reflection won’t fill up the whole period, a storybook is the perfect start (or end) to the class.


I did not have cause to modify this lesson this time around, but if I was looking to modify it for my special needs population, I would have step by step process examples to be able to provide visual goals in bite sized chunks (always good).  My advice is to draw out these examples on copy paper and then make individual copies for each student.  Then you can write notes for certain needs or highlight information if you think that’s helpful.  I put my ‘directions’ sheet in a box lid with all the modified supplies the student(s) might be using and quick go over it with the aide.


Thanks for visiting! I love to share my projects with you. -Emily

Voices from the Land: more than the typical Nature Art

Voices from the Land: more than the typical Nature Art

Pre K students are gathered at the edge of a small stream watching the water trickle over the pebbles and rocks in the riverbed. Look at that leaf go! Little objects hitch a ride on the current and float on down.  Other children are engaged in collection.  We’ve given them buckets to collect their nature items and they are busy filling them with dandelions, leaves and sticks of all sizes.  Another group of children are working to haul a branch over to their selected site.

These students are all working on creating ephemeral art, on site.  Their observations and process language is being recorded by adult onlookers.  These teachers and parent volunteers are documenting the children’s work by taking photos and writing down short phrases they hear from each group busy at play.  This documentation will later be used to craft poetry about the natural artworks displayed side by side with photos of their art.

I have happily guided four and five year old Pre-K students on this exploration with my dear co worker, Pre K teacher Mrs. M, but I want to point out that it is a phenomenal program in which every age level, including adults(!) find value and joy.  Brian Hayes and Eric Mollenhauer led the amazing workshops I’ve attended, This was previously through the organization, EIRC, host of the Monarch Teacher Network, but is now in a transition phase.

There is an upcoming Voices from the Land workshop in Hillsborough NJ, if you are in the tri-state area, at Duke Farms on Friday June 9-Saturday June 10th. You can register for the workshop (cost of $50) at this link .  The workshop will give you amazing resources as well as the hands on experience of being a participant.

Why choose this process over other ephemeral art projects that you see all over pinterest?

  • Voices connects children to the Earth.  It advocates going into nature, rather than bringing natural materials inside.

  • The program is a fantastic interdisciplinary experience.  The process of exploring a site, crafting the art and poetry along with a performance brings together many ‘subjects’.  It’s a great thing to brag about to your admin and even better to be a part of it.

  • Collaborative art-making creates wonderful bonds.  Want to bring your group together? Join them through imaginative play and discovery.

  • Although the art is natural and ephemeral, the documentation is fantastically digital and therefore, sharable! You can make photo books for the whole class, posters or digital graphics. Put it on your website, tweet it, instagram it, the whole sha-bang!

Begin with sharing the objective, yes, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and other art pieces are the jumping off point! But there is so much more, specifically on the poetry/prose end and on the documentation. There is awesome opportunity to delve into all manner of Art elements and principles within this project. I itch to try it with older students myself.  Students then go to a natural site where they can create the work, choose a specific installation site and materials and begin to work.

One of the best parts of the voices process is “appreciations”, which we art teachers know better as the critique.  Consider the word, appreciation as it is the essence of the response.  Students are not only learning to listen to nature, but to listen to one another.  Each group is given the chance to talk about their piece and share their process thoughts.  (This is another opportunity for the recorder to take down pieces of language) At the end of the share, positive feedback can be shared and most definitely applause.  

In the training for Voices, one does this workshop with other adults and it’s lovely to hear adults explaining their art, sometimes bashfully, because they are reaching for the memory of play, which used to come so easily to us as children!  Conversely, when you listen to children share, they’re so definite in their explanations.  As in, ‘This acorn man is traveling down the leaf stream to his home. It has booby traps’.

After our field trip to a voices appropriate site, we return to the classroom to craft the poetry.

With pre K students we’ve found the best way to write poetry with them is to have a few things prepared.  One, photos of their ephemeral art so that they may be reminded of their creation and two, strips of paper with the words and phrases they expressed during building. Remember that an adult recorder was working to capture the process thoughts and ideas of the students as they worked. These words will become an integral part of their word work.  It may seem crazy to write poetry with four year olds, but actually, it comes pretty naturally to them.  Thoughts expressed in fragments and onamonapia are perfectly comfortable for a child this age.


An adult sits with the group and we read the words aloud and ask the students what to start with.  Sometimes I’ll suggest connecting words for the poem and sometimes the group wants to add on a thought they hadn’t expressed during building, but which fits now.  

Combining the photos with the poems creates a magical artwork.  Many groups create shutterfly books that combined the whole class’ efforts.  You can devote pages to photos of the students at work, the artwork and poems and the children sharing their art as well.










Thank you for reading!  I hope you get the chance to take this workshop at a site near you sometime soon! Remember in the NJ area, you can catch it this June.  If you are planning to attend- let me know, I’d love to see you there!