At the beginning of the school year, teachers want to send a message to their students: “We are a community of learners, together we will challenge each other and share with one another.”
We have a variety of ways to go about doing this and for some, they try to do it through the arts. In infusing my beginning of the year activities with the arts, I am hoping also to say to my students:
(1) “I value your creativity and individuality.” and
(2) “I want you to grow as an individual and as a part of our community.”
These two messages are key to a SEAL teacher!
In previous posts, I have blogged about ways to build community throughout the year with music making and listening and through a communal piece of art. But at the beginning of the year, I do some quick activities that are based in the arts that help to establish our class as a community that values each other and the arts. Here are a couple of activities I do:
Names and Movement
This activity is great for learning names and giving insights to your students. It celebrates their unique qualities through movement. Your reactions to each student’s contribution in this activities role models how much you appreciate the diversity of your students. ALL through movement! A perfect SEAL activity.
Have the class stand in a circle and one by one have the students say their names while doing a movement. The movement can be a simple arm wave or an elaborate, dramatic gesture. The key is not to think too hard about it when coming up with it. The rest of the class then repeats the name and accompanying movement three times back before moving on to the next person.
This simple activity is a must for my first day of school but also is fun to do throughout the year. You can really get a handle on personalities, interpersonal relationships and how students are feeling at that particular time. Not to mention it REALLY helps me to connect new names to faces for a the new school year.
First Time Doodles
In my fourth grade classroom, I have students make “My First Fourth Grade Doodle”. It is a mostly blank piece of paper with a simple, nondescript mark on it. The students are asked to create whatever they want with that mark for a period of time such as at the beginning of the day, beginning of the class period or during any free time they may have. You can also carve out some time in your schedule if you so desire. Sometimes, I will assign the doodling on one day and tell students it is due in a day or two giving them ample time to return to their work and fill up the paper.
The true SEAL part of this activity occurs when it’s share time. Students are able to see (with the guidance of the SEAL teacher) that even though everyone got the same mark on the paper, there were so many variations. Sometimes you’ll find that a couple of kids drew something similar. Note that as well! Guiding conversations around the art that students created is a wonderful way to build both social awareness and relationship skills.
Understandably, this can be seen as an elementary activity, but it is really good for the middle and high school years too. It builds oral skills as students are encouraged to share what they have done with you, a small group, or the whole class. You may discover a hidden talent. It can also become the inspiration for a story or poem. You can search inside the doodles for patterns and symbols, lines and colors. They can become the topic of a descriptive essay or the springboard for vocabulary work with your ESL students.
This year I intend on having students keep their doodle for some time, going back to it for various other integration opportunities. We’ll see what comes about from that. There are many possibilities!
Enter to Music
This is so simple to do and can be so effective. Set the mood for your classroom by playing a piece of music. Classical works, big band is great and even contemporary music can invite the kids into your room and get them focused. It’s amazing what a room filled with music can do to draw people in. My choice for the first day with kids: Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls played on a loop. It is chill, yet invigorating; not too slow, not too energetic; just right for getting kids in and getting them ready for the day. Here’s a link where you can learn more about Soundtracking Your Classroom.
Creating a classroom culture that accepts a variety of art forms AND accepts and encourages good social relationships is important to do from the start of the school year. Never underestimate the power of the arts in ALL kinds of learning!
What types of community builders do you use with your students?
I had several reactions to this post about starting the school year in an artful way. As a preschool teacher, I feel that arts are regularly infused in our daily activities. Because so much of the preschool “curriculum” is focused on the social arena, as well as language and motor development, the arts are a natural fit, and can be connected almost continuously. Personally, as I reflect on my own practice, I see a need to be more purposeful, in defining clear arts-related objectives.
I almost feel that much of the work in arts integration needs to be done with the upper grades, maybe even first grade and up, because as the students get older the arts are less a “part of the plan”…or if they are planned they are used as an outcome rather than having learning and “process” objectives of their own. The demands of the “content” areas are sometimes seen to preclude incorporation of the arts. The arts are not necessarily viewed as a “content area” needing to be incorporated by the classroom teacher. I have a daughter going into fifth grade and would be so excited if her classroom set the tone for valuing creativity and exploration of various art forms from day one.
I also have used the Names and Movement game. Often we encourage incorporation of the number of syllables in each child’s name. In this way, each syllable has a separate – but simple- motion. Before rest time, I often use stretching, relaxation and breathing activities with the group. Each child is given the opportunity to share a pose/gentle movement of their own making. They each get a chance to be the leader while we all try out their ideas together.
A communal art project I tried this year was attaching a large banner size paper to the underside of a table and inviting my preschool friends to lie down and draw – a la Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. It gives them a chance to feel grounded – literally and figuratively – and create artwork in a very different way than they are accustomed.
Julie! I love the Michelangelo idea! That must have been so fun. I bet older kids would like that too. I may have to think about that one… 🙂
These seem like wonderful activities to do at the beginning of the school year. In some ways they have the feel for some of the activities one might use as part of the morning meeting of Responsive Classroom which focuses on community building. I like the way these activities focus on the arts. Sending an early message to students that all forms of art, at all levels, is to be appreciated, valued and respected is wonderful. I like that you save some of their work and revisit it during other points in the school year.
YES! Morning meeting and Responsive Classroom activities and ideas certainly have a similar vibe to these. Sending this message of the arts being important is a great way to open up the idea that the people individuality is accepted as well. These are things that we will need to be more an more aware of in coming years as SEL is adopted in schools.