Abstract Ant Playground

Art Appreciation

The first time my artwork was on display was in first grade.  The homework assignment was to make a collage of pictures that started with the letter h.  The teacher stapled all of the collages to the bulletin board.  Mine stood out like a giant pimple.  All the other kids had cut pictures from magazines and glued them to the paper.  I drew all of the pictures on my sheet of paper.  The kids commented on it immediately, “That one is weird!”  But the teacher said it was “unique.”  Then a mean kid said that the pictures were supposed to start with h, but he could see a dinosaur and a spaceship on the weird collage.  I quietly mumbled, “Horse and hamburger.”  The mean kid went into fits of laughter, “No way!”

The second time my art was critiqued was on New Year’s Eve.  I was maybe nine and my sister was about seven.  I decided we would each draw a happy New Year poster with a Snoopy theme.  The best one would win a prize.  I hadn’t even considered what the prize would be.  I was the older sister and I drew Snoopy all the time, mine would win.  We worked on the posters for hours.  Finally I hung them on the wall and asked my mom to judge them.  She looked at the posters and said they were both fantastic. “No, you don’t understand.  You have to say which one is the best.”  “They’re both great!”  “PICK ONE!  YOU CAN ONLY PICK ONE!!!”  “Okay, Heather’s is the best.”  It actually was.

I never considered myself an artist.  Heather was definitely the one with that talent.  But I always drew.  I wrote comic strips and doodled on everything.  Whenever a teacher would ask if there was an artist in the class who would design a poster or book cover there would always be a kid who’d say, “Ask Tracey.  She’s an artist.”  “No, I’m not.”

The first time I took an art class was in college.  It was an introduction to sculpture.  Because I had no art training, my projects were abstract and childlike.   I hated evaluation days.  The teacher would place a blank sheet of paper in front of each student’s artwork.  He instructed the students to critique each project by writing a score from one to five followed by a few words.  Man, they hated my work!  “Is it a dinosaur or a spaceship?”  After all the sculptures were scored by the students, the teacher stood in front of each one, looked at the student evaluations, then gave his personal evaluation.  He held up my sculpture and said, “Why did this one get such a low score?  I look around the room and see the same thing over and over.  This one is creative, unique, interesting.  Five!”

I decided to make art my minor.  I signed up for every art class offered: glass blowing, painting, drawing, fibers, and pottery.  I started to feel like maybe I could be an artist.

By my second year of college, I was really involved in the art scene.  During spring break, my roommates went to New York.  I stayed on campus and made art.  I also went to an art museum with my sister, Heather.  It was the first time I’d ever been to an art museum.  When I saw the Gauguin painting with all of its oil paint texture, I instinctively reached out and touched it.  Then a security guard reached out and touched me.  “Don’t touch the paintings!!!”  I could tell by the horrified look on my sister’s face that everyone knew this rule, but me.  I made it through the rest of the museum without incident.  And I was super excited to go back to college and make more art.

When my roommates returned from their trip, they blabbed on and on about all the great stuff they did in New York.  I was having trouble listening because my ears were so jealous.  Then they started talking about their trip to the Guggenheim.  My ears wanted to know everything!  They were telling about the Picasso exhibit.  But they didn’t talk about color or composition.  In fact, they were laughing so hard they could hardly talk at all.  The adjectives they used to describe the cubist master’s work; ridiculous, stupid, hilarious.  My ears began to steam!  I’m pretty sure I yelled, “YOU GUYS ARE RIDICULOUS, STUPID, AND HILARIOUS!”  Then  I stormed out of the room.  They were too busy laughing to notice.

The story I wrote for Welcome to Reading Unit 5 is based on my college experience as an artist-want-to-be.  I am the box who loves art and pretends to understand it.  My college roommates are the goofy horse and jack-in-the-box.  I laugh and feel embarrassed every time I read it.


I wish I could take credit for inventing this art project, but I found the idea in a magazine when I was teaching first grade.  I made it with my students every year.  The kids loved working on this paper sculpture project.  You can print this craft on white paper and have your students color the page (as shown above). Or print it on a variety of colored papers and have them share their color strips with one another. Click ABSTRACT ANT PLAYGROUND to get the instructions for this craftivity.

Insect Box


Click the image above to view or print the craft.


In my fifth grade classroom the desks were set up in five straight rows.  Each row was labeled with a letter of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, F.  When you arrived at school the teacher would check your homework, give you a grade, and tell you to sit in the row that matched your grade.

I was one of those kids who often forgot to bring my homework to school.  Mostly because I often forgot to do my homework at home.  I was really good at coming up with excuses, “My brother folded it into a paper airplane and he sailed it into my neighbor’s yard and it got shredded in their lawnmower.”   “My dad accidentally lit it on fire and the fire department couldn’t save it.”

She never listened to my excuses.  She just pointed her finger right at the “F Row” and said, “Sit.”

You’d think the embarrassment of sitting in the “F Row” would have motivated me to do my homework, but it didn’t.  I wasn’t a bad student.  The kids in the “F Row” were.  They were in the “YELLOW BIRDS” reading group and they had a “special” math book.  I wasn’t dumb—just lazy.   But as the year went on, the teacher treated me like I BELONGED in the “F Row.”  I started to hate going to school.

Spring finally arrived and I was counting down the days until fifth grade and my regular appearances in the “F Row”  would be over!   Our house was within walking distance from school, so we were “walkers.”  One April day as I neared the school, sans homework, I noticed a field of dandelions, bright yellow and in motion with buzzing bumble bees.  I rolled up my jeans and ran through the field, dragging my feet to stir up the bees.  I got stung three or four times and ran home crying, but it was a happy cry.  I knew my mom would mix up a baking soda paste to cover my bee stings and I’d get to spend the rest of the day at home!

Running through the dandelions became a regular thing.  It got me out of one “F Row” day each week.  It was painful, but worth it.   My mom began to get suspicious.  Why was I getting stung on a regular basis, but my siblings managed to make the trip to school without bee stings?   Eventually, my brother ratted me out.   It was back to the “F Row” for me – just in time for the big field trip.

The fifth grade field trip was a nature hike at a nearby park.  While we were there, our teacher asked for a volunteer to pick up bugs and place them in specimen jars for our upcoming science unit about insects.  I was the only kid to step forward, so she had to let me take on the task.  I knew a lot about insects because I had my own bug collection.  As I picked up bugs and placed them in jars, I told everything I knew about each one.  My teacher was impressed.  On that day, she treated me like an “A Row” kid.  I liked it!

For the rest of the school year, I did my homework.  I never had to sit in the  “F Row” again.  And I realized that doing the homework was way easier than thinking of ways to get out of doing the homework.  Though by sixth grade, I forgot that lesson.


The insect box craft is really fun to make. It’s a triangle shaped box that closes by hooking the wings together. The bow on top of the box is the bug’s body. Your kids can color the pattern and assemble it. Or they can add cut paper scraps and other craft items to make a really unique insect box. Click INSECT BOX to get the template and instructions for this craftivity.  I painfully relived this story while inventing this craft.

Rainbow Ruler

Click to view or print the ruler patterns.


Alyssa was our first born.  And as every first born she was amazing, challenging, and nerve-racking.  My husband and I had no idea what we were doing.  I kept feeling like I was in a bad babysitting situation and the parents were never coming home.  She was a colicky baby and an intense toddler.  She was crawling at 5 months and walking by 7 months.  She didn’t talk until after her first birthday.  I remember it well.  We were at our community pool.  I told Alyssa not to touch the metal handrail because it was hot.  She was a very defiant little kid.  She looked right at me and touched the handrail.  She said her first word, “HOT!”  Then came the Helen Keller moment when every word she’d ever heard made sense to her.  Within a few weeks, she was talking in complete sentences.

Twelve years later, Jack was born.  Jack was an easy going baby.  Like Alyssa, he was quickly mobile.  Talking came at a normal pace.  His first word was bus; pronounced “buh.”  Buh was the word he used to describe all vehicles.   His next word was da.  Da was a multipurpose word.  Jack used a variety of motions to indicate the meaning of the word.  Da with a chest pound meant Jack.  Da with clenched fists meant dog.  Da with a nod meant yes.  And the enthusiastic da was for Dad.  Jack was creative from the start.

Alyssa loved school!  And missing a day of school made her miserable!  When she was in kindergarten I announced, “Your aunt has invited us to an all expenses paid trip to Disney World.”  She replied, “Mom, I can’t miss school.  We’re going to learn about Obstinate O this week.”  (She was able to read chapter books, but didn’t want to miss a lesson about the short o sound.  Her teacher was awesome, but the Magic Kingdom vs short o?)

Jack hated school!  (He loved preschool, but when it came to kindergarten, he was not a fan.)  Like Alyssa, he started kindergarten knowing how to read, but he didn’t take to reading like she had.  It was hard for him.  I knew his eyes were inverting and flipping letters and numbers.  (That happened to me when I was little.)  He struggled in school.  He had trouble copying words from the whiteboard.  He had trouble counting sets of objects.  The only things he liked about school were riding the bus and recess.

Alyssa never lost her love of school.  Learning came easy to her.  She had an inner competitiveness and wanted to be the best.  Alyssa graduated at the top of her class in high school, aced the SATs, and won the National Merit Scholarship.  She went on to college and succeeded there, too.

Jack is now in high school.  He has to work hard to get passing grades in math. And science and it is very stressful.  He does fine in his other classes.  He still likes riding the bus and P.E.  He’s a smart and creative kid, and he’ll do great in life, but our public institution of learning has not been an ego boost for his future.

Our schools are filled with a rainbow of different learners.  In the past 15 years, public school has taken a turn toward elevating academic levels to appease the Alyssas while ignoring the needs of the Jacks.  The Department of Education must have thought that raising the bar would make all students work harder to achieve.  They didn’t consider that students like Jack aren’t motivated by test scores and grades.  They are motivated by great lessons.  Unfortunately, teachers are now buried in paperwork and test planning which leaves little time to prepare great lessons.

There may never be a one-size-fits-all solution to learning, but a great presentation, with a hands-on element, and some room for creativity – that worked for both of my children.  We all know teachers who make the lessons fun and interesting – the great teachers who reach the majority of their students and leave a lasting impression of knowledge.   The ones who make “Obstinate O” as appealing as Disney World.   I don’t know where they find the time in this school system, but getting rid of tests and excess paperwork would give teachers more time to prepare great lessons.  Great lessons make great teachers.  Great teachers inspire great learning!


Click here to get the template for the RAINBOW RULER craftivity.  It has a set of rules for creating a basic rainbow.  Once the rainbow is on the paper, your child gets to choose how to complete the project. They can choose colored pencils, crayons, markers, paints, or rubber stamps. Or they can choose something else.

Rainbow Craft
Make a small, medium, or large rainbow.