Name that Kid

I’m sometimes asked, with more than 900 students in our school, how do I remember all the names? Out of context, like at the mall, it’s not always easy (no comment on whether it’s easier or not to remember the kids whose names you have to say the most: “Bob, this is not a splatter paint lesson!” “Bob, hands are for helping!” “Bob, stop eating the clay!”)

With kids representing more than 40 nationalities, there are many unique and uncommon names in our school. Happily, I’ve never once seen a kid teased for what they’re called. A few in particular give me a kick: I’m proud to say that Raphael, Leonardo, Rodin and Monet are all dedicated art students of mine (not to mention a girl who goes by Squid). But going over the class lists, I have to say the three new incoming students whose official names I like best are:  Sky, Poet, and – my new personal favorite – Spock.

Live long and do your homework, kids!

Happy New Year!

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A couple weeks ago I introduced the next project: “Kids, this is going to be very special: a tile mosaic mural created by the entire fourth grade that will be permanently mounted for display in the front entrance way! Amazing, huh?”

“Uh, sure, Mr. Roth. Whatever you say.”

“Of course, first we have to collect old ceramics, like tiles and mugs and plates. You’ll all remember to ask your parents for donations, right?”

“Is this, like, art homework? Because you never give…”

“And then we’ll have to break it all.”

Suddenly, a glint appears in their eyes. A glint! “Wait, did you say…break, Mr. Roth?”

“Into thousands of tiny pieces. With hammers. Of course, you’ll have to wear safety goggles. In case, you know, sharp shards go flying.”

The students’ jaws drop open. “How do we sign up?!”

“Don’t worry about that. They’ll be plenty to break for everyone. And once that’s done, we’ll finally get to the fun part: the mural design and implementation of the design!”

“Oh, right: the design. Yea.”

Because there’s one thing I know about kids: they love to create.


Yellow Snow (Not THAT Kind)

It’s fun to play with kids’ minds. Every winter, I read first graders the gorgeous Jan Brett book, The Mitten, based on the Ukrainian folktale . “What color is snow?” I ask, and they all shout “White!” Of course snow is white. That’s why Baba tells Nicki not to drop the white mitten she made him; in the white snow it will be lost forever (at least until Spring…) Nicki drops the mitten within seconds. Probably had to text something on his phone.

After that, I have the first graders design colorful mittens that will stand out in the snow. And all is well. Until second grade, that is.

In second grade, we again we read a Jan Brett book: The Three Snow Bears. In this story, Aloo-ki enters the three bears’ igloo while the bears are out for a walk. She tastes their soup, tries on their boots, and slips into their beds – until she finds one that’s just right.

After closing the book, I again ask the students, older and smarter all, “So now what color is snow?” They shriek the predictable answer. And that’s when I reveal the true, but shocking truth: snow isn’t white, it’s blue! And purple! And gray! Okay, it’s sometimes white, but if you really look at the Snow Bears’ landscape, most areas are rendered in cool colored shadows. For the non-believers, I then take them to the window and point out the many shades of snow on the playground. They begin to sense the second, shocking truth: Art class is as much about learning to look as learning to draw.

Of course, some kid then squeals, “That snow is yellow!” “The slanting rays of the golden sun,” I point out. “The sun is behind a cloud, Mr. Roth,” the kid continues with folded arms. Guess they like to play with teachers, too.

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere…

An occasional parent will peek in my Art room and be amazed. Not by my awesome lessons, or the kids’ dazzling artwork, or my great collection of books, but by a far more jaw-dropping sight: kids cleaning.

Clean-up is one of the most important, if not the key, objectives I try to teach. Anyone can make a mess (especially in the Art room). But leaving the room in as good or better shape than it was left for you, that’s a true art. It’s about respect. It’s about helping. It’s practice for how to treat the world.

Or maybe it’s just a fun chance to play with sponges and brooms. I put out 8 sponges, three brooms, and two dustpans, and kids want to use them so badly I often have to switch twice. Some kindergarteners are sometimes in tears if they don’t get to suds up the tables. Parents, try this at home.

For five minutes it’s absolute chaos (as opposed to the previous forty-five minutes of pandemonium), but then their teacher shows up and they’re lined up like angels (angels who talk and try to cut, but still).  Child labor at its finest.

Gustave Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”