Erin's curriculum revolves around an artist highlighted for the children each month. Posters on the wall highlight the artists the children have studied—including a few who are pretty obscure. "I really like that," says Erin, "when a parent calls and says, 'My kid says she's learning about somebody, Käthe somebody, Käthe Kollwitz. My kids are coming home and teaching me things!' That's when I know I'm doing a good job." The month of March focused on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. "We organize into three groups. One group is in art, one is in movement, and one is in literacy. After about 20 minutes, we change groups. They are also separated by age, and the older group (4- and 5-year-olds) are like college kids in the things they can remember." "We did five projects in the van Gogh unit: a The Starry Night collage; a sunflower still life after reading the book Camille and the Sunflowers [by Laurence Anholt (1994)]; we went outside to look at flowers before drawing them, just as van Gogh had done—from that we did a class sunflower." (The class painting is a poster-sized picture of a sunflower, with hand-prints making up the petals of the flower.) "Our fourth project was the Wheatfield with Crows finger-painting. We looked at his brush strokes and saw how we could make them with our fingers. We made the crows out of clothespins. At the end of the month we found out that van Gogh's birthday was March 30th, so we had a birthday party for him and made birthday cards from his self-portraits." Jeff's literacy curriculum for March was also designed around the van Gogh theme. "Of the artists they are studying, van Gogh is one of the more interesting people in that we know stories about him and his life. And there is so much literature, even children's literature, about his life and not just about his paintings. So I decided to focus on biographies with this unit—showing what biographies mean and bringing some non-fiction into it. Most of what they see [at this age] is fiction, and rarely has a lot of historical significance. We learned about how people write a biography, we learned about autobiographies, so they were all getting this great vocabulary. We did writing, although writing for many of them right now means a lot of pictures." Jeff also points out the basic skills involved. "I'm working with them on things the whole time: pencil grip, posture, and so forth. We also start each day with a morning meeting where they have to say how they are doing, so that we practice the oral language. For this unit, they had to write a biography of a friend, so they would each have to interview the friend. I would take notes, and then they would draw a picture that would show what they had learned—just one thing. And this is a very big stretch for them. Most pictures they draw have to do with themselves, because they are still so egocentric." Liv's integration with the van Gogh unit involved several activities. "We played 'pin the band-aid on van Gogh,' [where the kids, blindfolded, had to place a band-aid on van Gogh's ear." The van Gogh unit occurred at a time that provided a unique opportunity for Liv. "March was a good time to begin planting a garden. We planted sunflowers to go along with the van Gogh theme, but our garden has much more than that." The sprouts have begun to appear in Liv's garden boxes, and May should provide the students many more opportunities to explore and learn from the things they have planted.
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