HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

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.

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 printed photo 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!