13912325_10157143362640456_64780507691308231_nI began the retreat hoping to rekindle my creative spirit and renew my interest and passion for integrating the arts in the curriculum. Art is an expression of one’s self and at the start of the retreat I was nervous to share my art–myself–with my fellow retreaters. I, however, ask my learners every single day to try something that is new and uncomfortable for them. I think it’s important to remember how it feels to be a student, to begin and complete a task that you have no mastery of. I approached my three days at the retreat as a chance to take those risks I so often ask my students to take.

As a learner, I am usually a planner. I like to know what is being asked of me, have the rules and procedures clearly outlined, and expectations firmly set. This was not always the case with the projects we dove into. The projects were open-ended and invited exploration of materials and mediums.  This workshop gave me the opportunity to let go, to follow my creative intuition and play with the colors and tools I was given. I found that I was capable of trusting my artistic instincts and going with what felt fluid and natural. As many of us so often do, I tend to compare myself and my work with those around me. Once these comparisons are made, feelings of being “less than” start to rise to the surface. I did my best to quell these insecurities and focus on my own creative journey–to let myself make “mistakes” and go where the art took me.  Often my work did not come out as I had envisioned it, but I was proud of myself for placing as much–if not more–value on the process rather than the product.

I am excited to share my experiences at the retreat with my fellow colleagues–particularly the team of teachers that I work with. I’d love to gather recyclable materials as a grade level and have the children work on recycled art. I really enjoyed making the collages. It was so much fun to play with the variety of materials laid across the tables. It was a very non-threatening way to create. Anything was possible and there was no “wrong” way to construct our collages. My students could make self-collages and create a piece that represents themselves. We could also make collages to represent a mood of a song or a theme of a story. The possibilities are endless.

lutus1I’d also like to share the breathing flowers with my students. I was really drawn to the origami lotus flowers we made with Stacie. I have a few ideas taking formation, but I think to start the year, I’d like to make a breathing flower for every student. I’d like to create a lotus garden where the flowers can detach from the garden and be used for mindful breathing. I would open the year with a promise that by the year’s end, I would teach every student to make one for themselves. Our unit on geometry and symmetry would be a great fit for teaching the art of folding. Having the lotus flowers on display would not only be useful for our breathing but would also act as a motivator for future lessons.

This retreat reminded me of how important the creative process is and why it’s so important to provide our students with opportunities to be a part of it. With the current emphasis on test taking it’s even more important that we dedicate the time to develop creative thinkers and problem solvers.Tests that focus on rote memorization don’t always measure deep comprehension or mastery. Skills and knowledge cannot be passively received.

Real learning is a creative process.

EggProcessIt must be acquired and constructed through meaningful, authentic applications over time. Integrating arts into the curriculum is critical to developing innovative thinkers that are motivated to understand and interact with the world around them. Just like I worked through the difficult process of Ukranian egg decorating, we need to challenge our children to persevere and overcome perceived obstacles or shortcomings. We need to allow our students to purposefully go through the creative process – to question, collaborate, plan, explore, refine and share. Working with and through the arts allows our thinking capacities to grow and truly deepens our learning. I want to continue to invest in the arts and grow my learning so I can reach more of my students and spark their natural curiosities and need to explore!

Ashley LaValley is a second grade teacher at the Cashman Elementary School in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Ashley believes whole-heartily in integrating the arts into the curriculum. She sees arts integration as a vehicle for reaching the diverse social, emotional, and academic needs of her unique students. Ashley holds her Bachelor’s Degree in both Education and History& Political Science from Merrimack College and her Master’s Degree in Arts Integrated Education from Lesley University. Ashley is particularly interested in using art as a way to engage children and invite them to be active participants in their learning journeys.