Monday, March 27, 2023

Ready for the World: Recreation & Leisure ECC

Children learn an incredible amount of information about how the world works and how to do things through observation. Blindness means that a lot of things need to be taught explicitly, which is why blind students have an expanded core curriculum. These life skills go beyond reading Braille, using a cane, or cooking. They include things to help one be happy and balanced. 

My favorite Friday class to teach is Recreation and Leisure. This class could just be about card games, but my co-teacher and I believe in taking our students outside! I've taken kids hiking who have never walked in the woods before. Can you imagine? We talk about how soft the ground is, and what the trees smell like, and feel how thin the trunks are of many of the trees in the woods. We go fishing, set up tents, and learn to build fires and cook over them. We walk to the park and try to kick a ball, toss a football, throw a frisbee. We get sack lunches for picnics and explore our community. 

On rainy days, they've gone bowling, lifted weights, or played with clay. No passive activities for us. Students already know how to watch movies.

It is amazing to see the personalities soften as every student gets a chance to shine and relax. Take a minute to assess your own week or month. Are you making time in your life to enjoy your life.

Night to Shine

My students make fun of me for getting the name wrong half the time. I may call it "Night of Specialness," or  "Night to Remember," but the Night to Shine is truly something special that you won't ever forget.
I love that Tim Tebow wants to give special needs teens and adults a evening each year to feel like royalty: complete with crown. And I love how many volunteers work countless hours to put the event together at churches across the country. There is a room for girls to get their hair and make up done, limo rides out front, a dance floor, a photo booth, and a dining area.
But the thing that brought a lump to my throat was the red carpet lined with velvet ropes coming in and out. People were lined up clapping and cheering as our students came and left the dance.  It was a sweet experience for me, for my students, and even for the volunteers. 


Wall Mural

The school mural wall has been a hotter, harder, more rewarding art project than my students and I had anticipated. It took us two weeks to paint, with three hot work days, and two rainy recovery days in each week.
The first week we did the entire underpainting. You need no vision to use a paint roller on a cement wall. Students would pair up and one would do the edging while the other would work the roller. I'd come along behind with a paintbrush to blend large masses of color so that there was a gradual shift over the panels of concrete.

Students and I worked together to determine which words and which order to put them in. We decided to use verbs: command statements and tried to think of the most appropriate background colors and patterns would make the most sense with each word and how to create contrast the background with the foreground. It was the perfect way to learn and apply design principles.

We didn't have all of our ideas completely solidified when we started painting, and so we used chalk to lay in some of the wall.  We "erased" any of the patterns or words that we didn't end up using with paint brushes and water. I was impressed that some students with no vision could still draw without any tactile drawing tools.

I added Braille dots after the print words, to help fill up space and reinforce the Braille code.Students were looking for ways to include the rest of the school. I suggested that they each offer their handprint, but then there was a discussion on how the handprints could be arranged. We came up with the idea of a garden where the handprints were the flowers. We grow as individuals and we grow together.

I painted a pair of wings during a planning period. One student wants us to do a whole series of wings on the opposite side of the wall that we painted, but I think we'll save it for next year. In the meantime, I've been so pleased at the number of people who tell me they feel happier each day as they come to work and see the wall. Everyone deserves an environment that is makes them feel good.


Friday, March 3, 2023

Starting our Wall Mural

 My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there. -Jim Henson

Day 2: low vision students can add pattern
The retaining wall behind our school building has been an eyesore for at least a decade, and I've had several people ask me over the years if I would paint a mural on it. I really love the idea of making a physical space happier for people to live and work!! Unfortunately my feelings are almost as strong when it comes to my dislike for the paperwork involved with ordering paint and supplies. This is the year I bit the bullet and decided to go for it, and it goes along with our Art Movements unit in talking about American Regionalism and WPA murals.

My students and I are three days into the project and have already done the underpainting on one side of the wall, that consists of 17 eight-foot panels. We painted pattern on six of those panels, four of which were completed with large words on top of the panels. So happy!

Day 1: about 300 square feet of color underpainting

Day 2: activate the background
I started by having students write down inspiring words and filling sheets of paper with patterns and color. As a class we discussed which of these ideas would go best together and in what order, and then I did very rough sketches on how they might all work. Most of the time was spent figuring out the four panels by the picnic tables, and the six large ones around corner from the four. The last seven, we didn't have any concrete ideas about where it would go. Once we saw what colors we had finished, we thought about what was lacking. And the thing is, you never know how much paint it will take until you're mid project. Orange is yellow and red, but it turns out you need about 4 times as much yellow to make an orange, so we have to constantly evaluate how much of which color we have available. We are also adjusting the patterns and word size as we go along.

It is a lot of fun to work outside and have people stop to offer compliments and encouragement. It is not fun to work outside and have people stop and offer unsolicited advice and suggestions. The minute one sees a work in progress they make assumptions about where it is going and  share ideas about where it should go. I hope at least my students are learning to respect the process and stay true to their vision.