Family Game Night


Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Families (Pastimes), Careers

Language Arts – Story Telling, Retelling, Fairy Tales, Science – Recycling, Light

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Es Devlin

Art Careers – Illustration, Set (Stage) Designer, Art Media – Printmaking, Drawing


In an effort to get the family’s faces out of their electronic devices and be more present, many parents are initiating “Family Game Nights.” I even saw a family game night event organized at our local mall. A game night is usually comprised of playing board games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary, etc., but what of families from long ago?  I recently discovered toy theaters. In the 1800s, children played with these miniature reproductions of famous theater plays.

Theater, ballet and opera were popular forms of entertainment in this time period, like our blockbuster movies are today. It follows that some Impressionist painters, who painted images of everyday life, created works of the ballet and opera. Examples by Degas and Cassatt can be seen below.

Edgar Degas, “Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers”       Mary Cassatt, “The Loge, 1882″

The emerging print trade hopped on the bandwagon and would also send several artists to the opening night of each show. One artist would draw the actors gesturing, another drew the sets, and yet another drew the stage itself. Still another person would write a short synopsis of the performance.  All the different sketches and a script would be printed out on sheets of paper. Customers could buy the sheets plain for a penny or hand colored for two pence. Colored sheets were then glued onto cardboard and cut out. The pieces of the stage were then assembled onto a wooden base and the characters could then be slid in and out by the children. Youngsters would practice and then put on shows for the family on their version of “Family Fun Night”. To learn more about these toy gems, whose popularity lasted about 150 years, check out this post from Jane Austen’s World Blog, here or at Craftsmanship Quarterly here.

So, if you’re looking for a new method for retelling a story for a book report or a creative evaluation tool, building a toy theater might just do the trick. Students could build a stage from a cereal box as shown on Kidspot here. Students could also create stage-like tunnel books like those found  here and  here. Do you study fairy tales? If you do, you can find a printable toy theater version of the Pollock Company’s Cinderella here.  Students could get the true experience of building a toy theater just like the children of the 1800s. For easier cutting and to eliminate the step of glueing the images on cardboard, print the sheets onto card stock. Make this a class project and divide the sheets among students to color and cut out.  Assemble the theater and students can take turns retelling the story.

Earlier in the post I was talking about seeing toy theaters in different places recently. One of the places I saw one was on Netflix’s Abstract Series’ episode on contemporary set designer, Es Devlin. (If you have not seen this series, it is a must see. The shows are as creative as the people they highlight.) Devlin built a toy theater with her children in the show. Before this , I had not heard of Es. Since then, as so often happens lately, I’ve discovered Devlin everywhere. I found out she designed the sets for the opening ceremony of Great Britain’s Olympics and Katy Perry’s recent performance on the Grammys.  She designs sets for plays, operas and even rock shows.  Structures, light and projected images are important elements of her work. If you don’t have Netflix and want to know a little more about her look here or here. For a mind blowing  example of Es’ work which can be shared with students look here. Devlin could be discussed in class for a career unit or when talking about story tellers of today.

I would love to hear what you think. How do you teach retelling in your classroom?Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!


Imaginative Trees

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Trees (Purpose, Structure)

Social Studies – Countries Around the World (Canada), Language Arts – Literature, Journaling

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Jay Dart, Dr. Seuss, Gustav Klimt

Medium (Drawing, Illustrating, Murals, Mosaics), Color (Tints), Art Careers (Fine Artists, Illustrators, Painters)

While listening to a podcast from my latest blog obsession, The Jealous Curator , I discovered Canadian self proclaimed drawist,  Jay Dart.  Dart has created a series of drawings about an imaginary world called Yawnder. In these drawings, a woodsman named Jiggs and his trusty dog, Floyd, venture through this fantasy world.  Yawnder has many trees, but not quite the trees you’d see walking down the street. One tree might have many different pastel (tints) colored blossoms or trunks. Other trees could have a rainbow of different colored saps and their cross sectioned rings are also colorful.

In my last post, I talked about the purpose of trees. Jay Dart’s trees make a perfect addition to said post. He illustrates a logger here, a tree related job. Also, in the top drawing here, he shows Jiggs gathering colorful sap from trees. Students could guess the flavors of these colorful saps. In his Field Guide to Yawnder, Jay also shows the structure of his imaginative trees. Some of them actually grow from planting colorful beards. As a review of a tree unit, students could compare and contrast the characteristics of real trees and Yawnder trees.

His work would also be a welcome addition to a Canadian past times unit. (logging, fishing)


Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life”

Jay’s fanciful trees remind me of some other imaginative tree’s in literature and art.   How about Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’s colorful truffula trees. I’m also reminded of Gustav Klimt’s stylized Tree of Life. Writers like J K Rowling have made up entire imaginary worlds like Jay Dart has done. Who can forget her whomping tree. Younger students might identify with Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Wouldn’t it be great fun to brainstorm with students where they might wander if given the opportunity? Students could construct their own guidebook or journal like this, this, or this. In this journal, students could draw their world and add written descriptions. What would the trees in their imaginary world look like? How are they the same and different from trees in the real world?

So, what do you think? Could you use Jay Dart’s work somewhere in your curriculum? I wish that I were still teaching. I would so love to make an imaginary world with a group of kids. I’d love to hear what you think. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!