Category Archives: elementary & up

{PBL} Scattering

There have been some seemingly one-off random things going on this week, but you never know where things will lead. My 4yo has been interested in bones for a while now, although I’m not sure I even posted anything about that interest here. Recently she’s developed an interest in coyotes, too, but that’s not necessarily a separate interest. We visited the local NWR visitor’s center a week or two ago to look at the bones they have on display–they have many, out and available to touch, and among them are many skulls.

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Coyotes have skulls too, you know. And skeletons. She was delighted to make this connection between her projects. (Yes, she identifies them as such. As a never-schooled preschooler, she signed on to this style of learning with full joy, quickly realizing the gravity the word “project” bestows upon her interests.)

Here she is drawing and then painting a picture of a coyote, using some reference pictures.

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This is such authentic work she is doing. She is working hard there, choosing to try to draw a coyote, noticing its colors and how many ears and legs it has, and where they are. She asked me where its nose was, and I showed her the snout and we talked about how the shape of the snout is one of the ways a coyote is distinguished from other dogs, and she worked at getting it right, at the same time understanding that she could make as many paintings as she wanted to try and get the coyote to look the way she wanted to.

This all makes me happy, not because my child is doing this but because I have created the space in which my child knows she can do this. She is not being kept distracted with “age-appropriate” busywork but instead allowed to choose her own work.

Also this week, all three of the kids made light straws.

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Someone on Twitter–I can’t remember who, unfortunately–posted a link to an article about diy.org. I checked out the site and sent the link to my 11yo because I thought he might find it interesting. He decided he wanted to make Light Straws, so he bookmarked the video instructions and wrote a supply list. All of us went to Radio Shack and tried to figure out which LEDs were super bright if none of them said super bright, and realized he’d spelled “ohm” incorrectly, but we managed to find everything we needed. I helped the 4yo but he and his brother made their own while we watched the video. Don’t they look super cool? And once they were made, they tinkered with the design, deciding they’d like the switch to work differently.

Later that day, my 4yo looked up at one of our light bulbs and excitedly announced that inside, it had wires that looked like the ones that connected to the LED in her light straw. My 8yo, who is building a pretend machine out of various block-type toys, is explaining how the “wires” should connect. All these scattering activities and interests…they connect in such interesting ways.

Animal Classification: Amphibians

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification Booklet; Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish; Animal Classification: Birds.}

amphibian page, filled in

amphibian page, filled in

I find the common practice of discussing reptiles and amphibians together both annoying and mystifying. They are wholly separate groups of vertebrates. There is perhaps a superficial resemblance, in that some salamanders (amphibians) remind people of lizards (reptiles). That’s my best guess. They are nothing alike. Lumping them together only leads people to confuse the two groups. So of course I am addressing them separately for my co-op class.

Resources:
Amphibian/Reptile poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set, folded over so only amphibian portion is visible
Assorted books on amphibians
Life cycle of a frog sheets

Activity:
From Polliwog to Frog: Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Frog sounds, using an Identiflyer; you could probably also search for an app that would supply amphibian sounds

Handouts:
Word searches, found through Google

We began by talking about what we knew of amphibians, making sure to discuss the most important characteristic, their metamorphosis from aquatic creatures with gills as juveniles to adults that breathe with lungs and live on land. The session’s activity was craft-oriented, with coloring, cutting, and assembling; this is part of my desire to offer various types of activities. As with other classes, we discussed the information on the poster and wrote the group characteristics in the animal classification book.

In our final session (coming up), we’ll discuss reptiles and compare the characteristics of all five groups as a whole.

Animal Classification: Birds

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

(This is the third in a series of sorts…the PDF of the animal classification booklet can be found here. Teaching plan for Mammals and Fish can be found here.)

Resources:
Bird poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set
Assorted books on birds–the kids really enjoyed DK Eyewitness Books: Bird

Activity:
Birds, Beaks, and Adaptation: PDF activity found at the teacher resources page of the National Park Service’s Mississippi (Minnesota) National River and Recreation Area.

Handout:
Bird word search–Googling will bring up many choices. One of my students asked for a word search to bring home each week so I am trying to accommodate!

For our third session, I began by asking the kids what they knew about birds. I realized after the fish class that I need to do lots less talking with this group. They are so eager to share what they know, and they know plenty. We went around the group and everyone shared something about birds–they lay eggs, they have feathers, they fly, they have beaks, etc–and we compared those things to mammals and fish. This was a great way to review the previous two groups we’ve covered, especially since it had been two weeks (instead of one) since we last met. I only put up the poster after we’d discussed what we knew of bird characteristics, and we checked if we’d missed anything, and we had! We’d all forgotten about warm-blooded or cold-blooded, so we reviewed that too and then talked about the groups of birds shown on the poster.

While the kids wrote in their booklets, I set up for the beak adaptation activity. Early finishers looked through the selection of bird books I’d brought. Some of the youngest kids aren’t reading yet, but I noticed older kids explaining and reading the information–I love these opportunities that naturally arise in a mixed-age group.

We had eight kids in class, so I separated them into four pairs for the beak adaptation activity. Each group was given one tool and a recording sheet, and they went around the room trying their “beak” at the different “habitats.” More than one tool will work for some items, so I told them this and asked them to find the beak that worked best. When they’d finished, they traded tools with other groups so they could try more out.

It’s impossible in an hour to cover everything about a group of animals! But focusing on one area (beaks) through a hands-on activity worked really well.

Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish

As promised, to go along with the Animal Classification Booklet download, here are my plans and resources for the first two groups we talked about in co-op, mammals and fish. Again, this class is for ages 5-8.

mammals copy

Mammals page from the booklet, with characteristics filled in

In our first class, we covered mammals but began with the idea of classification itself, discussing the two big groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and how scientists make that first divide (by whether they have a backbone). We found our own backbones.

Resources:
Vertebrate Teaching Poster Set; I’m using the appropriate poster for each class, starting off our discussion of the group by talking about the information and animals on the poster.
What is a Vertebrate? by Bobbie Kalman, to have on hand for pictures and to refer to.

Activities:
Dichotomous key: We did this together, keying out most of the included animals, to show how scientists use differing characteristics to place animals in smaller and smaller groups until the species has been identified.
Mammal matching: Each student had a copy, but we did it together as a group. This demonstrates how mammals are divided into smaller groups.

We also filled in the pages of their books as a group, with each student writing in their own booklet.

Take-Home:
Mammal word search

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

We began our second session by reviewing the characteristics of mammals before moving onto fish. In this way we could compare the groups (which are very different!). Again, we discussed the poster and wrote in the booklets.

Resources:
What is a Fish? by Bobbie Kalman
Various field guides/books of fish

Activity:
Fashion a Fish from Aquatic Project Wild: I received my copy many, many years ago by going through the Project Wild and Aquatic Project Wild training; this remains the only way to obtain this curriculum. Google tells me some folks have scanned in this activity and posted it online, but you’ll have to search yourself, because I’d feel uncomfortable linking. However, that link above includes a link to the state coordinator page for this program. Training is, as far as I know, still free, and you get an entire book of resources for free, too.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will be upcoming as we cover them!

{PBL} Projects + School

One of V's scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of V’s scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of my biggest frustrations with school is how much time it takes up. My oldest chose to remain in school, and I haven’t managed to support him on any self-led projects on nights and weekends, which fly by so quickly. The school describes its curriculum as “project-based,” but their definition and implementation is somewhat different than mine. Recently, my son completed a school project on organic farming. The curriculum is pre-planned, and my son chose the topic from a pre-set list. The projects had certain requirements—for instance, each student had to interview someone local pertaining to their topic, asking at least five questions. Interviewing somebody is great—if the student decides that’s the best way to get information that otherwise is unavailable. But assigning an interview takes away so much of the learning process…What do I want to know? How can I find it out? What resources are available to me? Instead, it seems like somebody else decided fifth graders should interview “experts.”

Several weeks ago, my son and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I think I want to make a movie for my project representation.

Me: That sounds cool. None of us have experience with that. Can Miss [x] mentor you as you figure out how to do that? [Because that is what is supposed to happen in project-based learning; the student has a mentor.]

Him: I don’t know. I think there’s a video camera I can borrow?

Me: That’s a start. Do you have an idea of how you want your movie to be?

Him: Well, I want to start with a scene of fields, you know, with the crops.

Me: Okay. It’s December, though. You won’t be able to film that here, unless you’re okay with, you know, dead-looking fields.

Him: But that’s not what I want.

Me: Could you draw a background for that, maybe? Or perhaps try stop-motion? I can show you some examples.

Him, beginning to sound frustrated: I don’t have a lot of time to figure all that out! Maybe I’ll just do a poster.

Me, after a long thinking pause: I can understand, given that you have a deadline for this, why you would want to do a poster. I won’t think less of you if you do. But it makes me sad that you have an idea and don’t feel you have the time or support at school to see it through. I’ll do whatever I can to mentor you, if you want to try a movie. I hope, if you don’t do a movie for this project, we can come back to it when you have more time to dig into it.

And we left it there, for the most part. It seemed my son had decided on a poster. He let me know the materials he’d need (my role in his homework is mainly procuring supplies when necessary). For Christmas, we gave him the book Unbored, which I’d hoped to look through myself, but I can’t get it out of his hands! After his first day back at school, he told me he was going to do a movie after all. Unbored has a chapter on stop-motion, he told me, and now he had a better idea of what he needed. Awesome, I said. Make a list, and a storyboard. A storyboard? “Draw out each scene—figure out what you want to show and say. Then you can figure out what props you need.”

And this he did, in detail. After looking at his storyboard, I pointed out that it didn’t seem stop-motion would work, but perhaps a series of photographs? He brainstormed props. I thought I remembered a Duplo farm set…we checked his sister’s LEGOS and yes, indeed, she has not only a bus and a mailman but a farmer with flowers, a chicken, a pig, and a tractor. He received her permission to borrow her farm LEGOS. He figured out solutions for his other scenes—he transformed a bottle of spray fixative into a pesticide bottle by drawing a new label. We added an acorn and butternut squash to the shopping list. He painted grains of rice black, to represent harmful insects on the plants. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday afternoon, he set up each scene in natural light, took multiple shots, and chose the best ones.

Shooting film for his movie.

Shooting film for his movie.

I’d have liked to set him loose to figure out Movie Maker on his own, but given the time constraints, I tried to figure out the basics ahead of time so I could help him. Together, we added his photos, edited the duration of each shot, and recorded his narration, which had to be matched to each scene just so. He typed up the title and credits, and we strung it all together. It is amazing. If this were a home-based project, more time would have been spent on figuring out the program and investigating different methods of movie making. It’s hard for me to accurately describe what I see as the difference in school projects and home projects, but I’ll try:

School is more interested in showing what was learned about the assigned topic. The movie is a means to prove he learned about organic farming.

I am just as interested in the learning going on to create the representation. Learning about a topic is one part of the learning; acquiring skills to share information in a chosen way is just as (if not more) important. He drew a storyboard, wrote a script, arranged his scenes, photographed them until he was satisfied. He had a vision and manifested it. He struggled with the computer program, worked through that, we figured it out, and he created a finished product which pleased him. All of this is more important to me than the facts he acquired about organic farming.

I still hope he returns to this interest when he has more time to dig into it for the sake of digging into it rather than as a means to fulfilling a school requirement. I will nudge, and I will mentor. And I am so glad he chose movie over poster after all.

Language Arts

That’s not exactly the right title for this post, but I’m not sure what is. We read all the time here. My older kids read voraciously to themselves; I read out loud every day. My 4yo will sit with a book and “read.” Because I have my younger two at home and my youngest cannot actually read yet, I read many of my 8yo’s homeschool-related books aloud. That way, my 4yo doesn’t feel left out. Usually we start the day with me reading from whatever chapter book we’re in, and we move on to history or science or project books, as well. (If I get laryngitis, our entire homeschool schedule will fall apart!)

So I have no worries whatsoever about my 8yo’s reading skills. He loves to read, he reads a variety of books, and he can tell me about what he’s reading. We talk about the books we’re reading together, and we’ve compared different versions of the same story (such as with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, now that I’m writing all of this, I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do anything additional with language arts. The main thing that’s missing is writing. My son doesn’t like the actual, physical act of writing. So I’m not forcing it.

Yet, I did feel like adding in something additional, so I thought back to my previous homeschooling experience, with my oldest during his first-grade year. We used Enki curriculum that year. As it turned out, I needed to supplement it quite a bit, because he wanted more in some areas (specifically science and math) than that curriculum offered. But I really enjoyed the storytelling sequence, of telling a story and working with it over a few days, and I decided to add something similar into our schedule when we started up again after the holidays.

In our history readings, we’re up to Roman times (and just past Greek), so I thought we’d work with myths. We have books of Greek and Roman mythology, but I wanted a version without illustrations–you’ll see why. After poking around Amazon a bit, I borrowed Classic Myths to Read Aloud from our local library. And this is our process: I read the myth aloud. The next day, I read it aloud again, and I have my 8yo tell it back to me. And then we each draw a picture related to the myth. I’d like him to add a sentence describing the illustration, but I got some resistance to that idea today. We’ll work up to it.

Meanwhile, he retold the myth beautifully. He remembered so many details. And we all love to draw, so working with the story in that way was fun for all of us. And we will have a collection of our own illustrations for various myths.

Illustrating a myth

Illustrating a myth

I don’t need him to write a book report to prove to me that he is comprehending what he is reading and is able to summarize it in proper narrative order. Without the distraction of the physical act of writing, he can focus better on what he’s doing. And did I mention how fun it is to sit on the floor together and draw?

So that is our “language arts.” We read… a lot. We talk… a lot. And we draw, too, because we like to and we can. And yes, he is still working on his monster book, which entails reading, researching, note-taking, and even…writing.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Three}

(Part One, Part Two)

Part Three: Realizing a Vision

In Part Two, I said that if someone hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. Learning new skills is both exciting on its own and a means to an end; sometimes it begins as one of those and progresses to the other. Do you want to re-create somebody else’s vision, or know how to express your own? I want to do the latter, and I want my kids to be able to do the latter, too. I learned embroidery because I wanted to embroider poetry on my jeans, but in the process it became another way for me to express myself, and while I embroidered some commercial patterns at the beginning, while I was learning, I can’t see doing that anymore, because I’d rather use embroidery as part of my own artwork.

Practicing embroidery

Practicing embroidery

My 8yo, who already knew embroidery’s properties so well from having watched me, and already knowing how to sew, decided to learn how to embroider so he could make his aunt a snowflake ornament, based on his own vision of the finished project. I helped him with the angles of the snowflake and transferred it onto the felt for him, but the idea was all his. And we didn’t have an example of “this is what your felt snowflake ornament should look like,” either. It was all his own thought process and design.

Following directions give us the skills to re-create somebody else’s vision. There is nothing essentially wrong with that. I have no problem with knitting a sweater somebody else designed if I like it and want to wear it. It saves me the trouble of doing the design work myself. But if I have an idea in my head, I appreciate having the ability to make it a reality, rather than trying to find somebody else’s vision that sort of approximates my own. Following directions is certainly a useful skill to have, and prevents any of us from having to re-invent the wheel. But exposure to process-based activity is essential to gain the skills and confidence to realize our own unique vision.

“Just messing around” with materials allows the space for accidents to happen, for unexpected results, for discoveries, and that is when we learn. If something unexpected happens when the goal is to re-create a predetermined end product, it can be perceived as a disaster. If it happens during a process-focused exploration of a material or technique, it is a delightful discovery, leading to knowledge that is filed away for future use. When and if we have an idea that requires that particular effect, we know how to obtain it. Process-based art is not pressure-filled. It is fun. It is play. It is essential, for children and adults.

We cannot expect children to be creative, original thinkers if we only present them with so-called “art activities” that involve following directions to reproduce an end product. They deserve (as we all do) the space and time to develop the confidence and skills to determine their own end product, and then figure out how to get there. When I said, “I’m going to knit a stocking,” having never knit before, nobody was around to tell me I couldn’t. When my child says, “I’m going to make a snowflake ornament out of felt and embroidery,” even though he’s never embroidered before, I’m not going to say, “You can’t do that.” I don’t even say, “Let’s look and see what patterns you can follow.” My response is: “Let’s practice embroidery so you know how to do it. Sketch out what you’re thinking. You can totally do this.”

The process of looking for an already-existing project that meets your criteria versus creating the project you have in your head is so very different. Children who only have experience in following directions to produce a version of somebody else’s vision may not ever make the leap into realizing they can create the steps to produce their own vision. It takes more work on the adult’s part to mentor a child’s individual vision. It is harder to have a room full of children interpreting new materials or techniques in different ways, rather than following directions all at the same time. I see my job as facilitator, and I am on my toes when we’re in the studio, especially if we’re doing something new. But this sort of mentoring is essential, because the ability to have an idea and realize that idea is essential. And one way to raise children who have the confidence and skills to not only realize their ideas but to have the idea in the first place is to provide plenty of exposure to process-based art.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Two}

(Part One)

Part Two: Knowing the Materials

When a child (or adult) has an idea and a specific end result in mind, if he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. I can’t stress this enough. It seems so basic, but I see so many people going about it backwards. Until we learn how to use various materials, we have no idea which one is best for the task at hand. If we have a vision in our mind but have a limited number of techniques from which to choose, we may never reach our vision.

When my children come into the studio with an idea, they have a vast array of materials from which to choose. They learned how to use these materials not by following step-by-step directions to reproduce a project designed by someone else, but by experimenting with the materials in a controlled way. Parameters are, I think, necessary when learning a new material or technique. I didn’t just give them watercolors and leave the room. We used, at different times, watercolors wet on wet, wet on dry, pan watercolors, liquid watercolors, watercolors from a tube. The different methods and materials yield different results, and we learned what they were by doing. In the same way, watercolors are different from acrylics and gouache and tempera. So when my kids say they want to do X and they need paint, I can now ask them, What kind of paint? And they will think about their desired end result and decide what they think they need.

The same thing is true of every material in our studio.

Non-representational creativity is often difficult for adults to understand. They think kids are just “messing around,” the painting is “random,” the activity is “aimless.” If it’s not a picture OF something, an adult often doesn’t see the point. Firstly, if the child is enjoying himself, is another point necessary? But beyond that, quite a bit is going on—or can be going on—when someone is “just messing around” with a material. The first thing I did when I bought new watercolor pencils was scribble with them and add water to see what happened. It would be frustrating to try to use a material for a specific end result if I didn’t know what the material could and couldn’t do.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

In the same way, a child learns quite a lot while “smearing” paint around. He’s learning how paint moves, how much to put on the paintbrush to get different effects, what happens when wet paint touches. If it’s quality paint, he learns what happens when different colors mix. When my middle child was about five, he spent weeks investigating different paint colors, a couple at a time. He learned about tints and shades and secondary colors while he moved the paint around on large sheets of heavy paper that I’d pinned to the wall. Limiting the color palette meant that he could see what happened when just those two or three colors mixed. This is, again, about setting parameters to help a child learn about the materials in a useful, meaningful way.

During this time, he happened to be painting while an adult relative was over, and that adult stared at the non-representational paper that held all that exciting information about tints and shades, and instead of asking my son about it (and he would have eagerly explained what he’d done to get that range of color), she stared and stared until she found something that sort of looked like a flower and pointed it out. “You painted a flower.” No. But now, when he does want to paint a flower, or anything else, he is confident that he can mix any color he needs or wants, in a variety of paint types. In fact, like me, he’d rather have just the primaries, white, and black in his palette, and mix his own colors.

For more on this sort of sequential introduction of materials (as well as how to talk—and NOT talk—to children about what they’re doing), I highly recommend Susan Striker’s Young at Art.

Next: Part Three—Realizing a Vision.

Why Process Over Product? {Part One}

Part One: Discovery vs Following Directions

Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, has a terrific forum area of her website, and currently it contains an active thread on process vs product art for children. If you’ve dug around on this blog of mine at all, you know I’m passionate about allowing children the opportunity to explore process-oriented, open-ended art. This series of posts grew out of the thoughts I shared in that thread; I encourage you to join Lori’s forums, if you haven’t already.

Playing with monotypes

Playing with monotypes

In process-oriented art, the DOING is what is important: the PROCESS of making, exploring, and discovering. Product-based art is focused on the end result. In an open-ended activity, we don’t know where we’re going to end up, while in a closed activity, the end result has been predetermined by someone else. My elementary school “art” classes were exercises in following directions, with the (teacher’s) stated goal being 30 projects that looked just like hers. Sadly, this is still true in many schools. There is no room for creativity there, for amazing discoveries and delights.

One example given in the forum thread as a possible support for product-based “art” experiences for children is that of a new knitter following patterns until she knows enough to design her own, the connection being that children learn skills by following directions rather than by process-based exploration. I taught myself to knit because I wanted to make something specific, a Christmas stocking for my first baby. I decided upon a specific skill, knitting, which I needed to learn, so I did. And yes, I followed the pattern for the stocking. Taking a class wasn’t a possibility, so I didn’t “learn” that a new knitter’s first project should be a scarf. There was nobody to tell me, “Oh no, you can’t start right off knitting a tube with four needles. New knitters don’t do that. You have to progress through this predetermined sequence of easy projects before you can attempt anything like that.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured I could do anything. That is the confidence I want for my children. I taught myself to knit in October and had a hand-knit Christmas stocking ready in time. Sure, I struggled, and the argument can be made that I persevered because I had a specific end product in mind. But—and this loops back into the goals of authentic project-based learning—I was committed to learning a new skill in order to realize my own vision and goal (and even with that first pattern, I changed it to suit me). The next item I knit was the sweater sampler from Jacqueline Fee’s Sweater Workshop. This project didn’t result in anything recognizable or a useful “thing,” but the process taught me a variety of skills. Then I either followed patterns, or not. Or I began with a pattern, but modified it to suit me, because I understood what I was doing.

I can tell you with much assurance that only following patterns doesn’t teach a knitter much except how to follow patterns. It is the same with any other skill. Only following somebody else’s directions only teaches you how to follow somebody else’s directions. If you don’t truly understand your materials and how they behave, you won’t recognize when the directions are wrong. Or if you do, you won’t be sure how to fix it. Learning how to design knitted items doesn’t come from knitting a whole lot of them, following directions slavishly. It comes from experimenting with different stitches and techniques, different weights and needles, and comparing the resulting fabrics. It comes from playing with the materials.

And that will be Part Two: Knowing the Materials.
Part Three: Realizing a Vision

{I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important a mentor is, even for adult self-taught learners. My sister, an accomplished knitter, loaned me several of her books, including The Sweater Workshop and Knitting in Plain English. These are not pattern books. They are think-for-yourself knitting books, and I’m sure being exposed to that sort of philosophy right from the start helped shaped my attitude towards knitting and every handwork skill I added thereafter.}

Mapping The Land of Oz

Around Halloween–a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy stormed through, when we had our power back but the library didn’t and we were all a little not-knowing-what-to-do-with-ourselves–I loaded up The Wizard of Oz for the kids to watch. They’d never seen it, and I thought it was high time they did. Of course they loved it, all three of them. When the library finally opened again, we borrowed L. Frank Baum’s original book version. My boys also found a graphic novel version based on the book. I began reading the book out loud to my homeschooled kids (reading aloud is part of our day, even though my 8yo can read to himself).

You can see where this is going, yes? The book and the movie are very different. The kids picked up on all the differences, and then we added the graphic novel to the mix (my 8yo read that to himself, and I read it aloud to my 4yo). The graphic novel and the book are very similar but not exact. Through discussion, my kids were comparing and contrasting different versions of the same story–fantastic stuff! Then we thought we’d try to map the Land of Oz.

To do this, I read the relevant parts from the original book, and my son (age 8) and I each made our own rough sketch, tracing the friends’ path.

N’s sketch of Oz, in progress

While we sketched, G (age 4) made her own drawing with colored pencils.

G’s drawing

When his sketch was completed, N used nicer paper and watercolor pencils to make a more finished version of his map.

Using watercolor pencils, in progress

G requested paint to make another map. Can you see the yellow brick road in this version?

G’s painted map of Oz

To finish, N added water to his watercolor pencil drawings. He was pleased with his final result.

N’s finished map of Oz

This is not just an artistic exercise–this is about processing what is read in a different, visual, spatial way. How do events connect in a story, both in time and in space? This is a great story to use for mapping, because the characters are traveling through Oz on a path, and Baum gives good cues on how things connect. (I’m tempted, myself, to try to map the story in time, too. Are there enough clues for me to figure out how long Dorothy spent in Oz?) My instincts tell me that going through the process of translating the written words into a visual map will help my children become better readers and to process information better. But my main impulse behind suggesting we do this is simply that I thought it would be fun. My kids like maps and were (as I suspected they would be) both excited to try mapping the Land of Oz.

Have you mapped a fictional land from a story book or novel? Do you have suggestions for other imaginary lands for mapping?