Cynthia Van Frank

3rd year, Art Education Specialization

Playing in Art Class: The Butterfly Unit

Written Work

Children learn autonomously and deeply when they have a desire to fulfill their vision. Well-organized lesson plans that progress from directed teaching to self-directed play help artful play to develop organically. I teach at the developmental stage using a top down, Socratic questioning method; at each stage of the creative process, students’ critical thinking skills are encouraged to evaluate their ideas and creations. Throughout this process, students become more self-directed. The physical result eventually looks like a chaotic classroom but actually is a hive of purposeful work and learning.

For best results, is it important to have clear learning and teaching goals; however, it is also essential to remain flexible and open-minded during the later parts of this unit plan. This involves taking cues from the students who set the course of play and art making in order to realize their ideas. The teacher naturally assumes a more supportive role helping students’ problem solve and find source material. Expert student/artists become peer tutors and social models. Art making spontaneously begins from the individual to the collective.

A favourite unit that I do with grade 3 and 4 students at The Study, a private school for girls in Westmount, Quebec, involves the creation of a butterfly using 3D Model Magic and tissue. Students ultimately use the hand-sized butterfly as they would a doll or puppet. As they develop play scenarios using the 3D butterflies, they feel free to ask and discuss complex questions. The students develop characters based on their life experiences, and they role-play perceived adult scenarios. I overheard in one class a discussion of the pros and cons of same-sex marriage and about traditional marriage roles for women. One student asked if all butterflies had to get married. Thus the class decided to create a butterfly wedding; the students became event planners, caterers, invitation designers, DJs, and band members. The students created using mixed media the wedding hall, dance area, bathrooms, furniture, and a menu of food for the event. All the butterflies assumed roles for the wedding party including two officiants, a butterfly priest and a rabbi. A wedding video was recorded at the event. The students were reluctant to end this part-play, part-art project and enjoyed reflecting on their experience.

Another class developed a butterfly town with a government. Butterfly candidates made speeches with platform promises. One butterfly was even elected as mayor. Students organized a town, fully equipped with a main street of shops, homes, parks, gardens, Model Magic currency, a hospital, a school and roads making all elements connect. Deep learning occurs during the art making, play and discussion during reflection. Students seem to be figuring out views on key social issues as well as working on key aesthetic tasks. Self-directed play combined with art making can stimulate real life artistic practices. This results in genuine learning and creativity.

Butterfly Project Photograph Collage (From the Wedding Album)