Arts: We integrate the arts into our daily work – they are a part of almost every topic and find their expression in so much of our thematic study. Occasionally, the arts become the theme’s focus as in our study of “The Nutcracker”. Music is increasingly a part of our program. Children learn to play simple instruments – harmonica, recorder, xylophones as part of the curriculum. Singing combined with movement is enjoyed on a daily basis in the Very Beginning and Beginning Rooms. All school singing takes place once a week, in addition to sessions of classroom singing. Children participate in performance arts in many ways, formally and informally, throughout the duration of a school year. Drawing and painting are available to all children through all the grades on a regular basis. Teachers broaden children’s fine art experiences by providing exposure to other media and methods: clay, fiber arts, collage, printmaking, etc. Each activity is carefully presented so that the child is the main creator of the piece.
The Curriculum in Action:

From Hoffman to Sendak: The Study of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite...

The following was posted on the Ampersand, Lake and Park’s school blog, on January 8th 2014.

If one were to search these pages—The Ampersand—one might find annual mention of Lake and Park’s stance toward the winter holidays.  I will repeat it here for the benefit of those new to our traditions. When it comes to the holidays, we seek to be relevant to the children’s enthusiasm for this most special time of year, sensitive to all of the children’s respective traditions, and, of course, be educationally informative.  In past years, we have studied the winter solstice, the gingerbread man and his folktale cousins, Saint Lucia Day, a Nordic tradition, Hanukkah, astronomy, the biology of conifers, and The Nutcracker Ballet.

This year, we were able to study the traditions of Hanukkah in late November and early December and still had time to explore the story of “The Nutcracker”, the history of its production, and various choreographic interpretations.   

Jordi examines a Nutcracker
Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet Company is unique in its position in that its Nutcracker, such a standard for many companies, is the only one in the world with sets and costumes designed by Maurice Sendak.  Departing from book illustration in mid-career to work on various theatrical set and costume designs, he was commissioned by PNB .  New choreography by the company’s then director accompanied the scenery. Their collaborative take premiered in 1983.  Our timing this year was perfect, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the production.

In deciding which direction to take, Sendak went back to the Hoffman tale.  (This version is now widely available in book form with the illustrations Sendak drew in response to the Hoffman narrative.) Hoffman’s tale within a tale:  “The Story of the Hard Nut “is integral to understanding the deeper motifs of the ballet.  However, it reads as a parody of traditional fairy tales.  Here is a tale in the extreme. It is too comic to be taken in the way most fairy tales are meant to be taken– believable within themselves. In preparation for this unit,  The Big Room looked at motifs and themes that are common to all fairy tales.  “The Story of the Hard Nut” was read by small groups of children and read aloud to by others.  The youngest children were told the tale in storyteller fashion, with stick puppets used to help carry the narrative along.

Most of the ballets dispense with this tale altogether.  Contrarily, Sendak went to the heart of the story as he designed his sets.   Stowell  features a vignette of the tale, while brief, in the ballet’s very beginning.  Ask any current Lake and Park student why the Nutcracker comes to life as a prince, and hopefully he or she will tell you that he was being restored to his original state, Ask why Sendak features a Drosselmeyer, the famed godfather with the eye patch who orchestrates the gift giving as a puppeteer without strings hovering over an unusually truncated threesome on a backdrop scrim: Nutcracker, Mouse King, and princess with garish features, and again that child will probably tell you that her misshapen looks are due to the fact that she was cursed and bitten by a Mouse King in retribution for what her father did to said mouse’s many relatives.  You will then be “in the know”, something that ballet-goers to Balanchine’s New York City production are usually left in the dark about. 

Lilia practices ballet positions

In typical fashion, when we study a topic we incorporate as much as we can into its curriculum, bringing in history, the arts and science.   Children saw various productions, one choreographed by Balanchine and one by Mark Morris.  They learned, in small group format, of the five elemental positions of ballet.  These mini classes were taught by Kristina Johnson, who relied on her childhood training to bring to life ballet lessons in preparation for our trip to McCaw Hall.

We looked at the soldier motif as well as at other wooden toys.  Children built castles with blocks and used nutcrackers and toy hussars and little soldiers to augment their work.  As we had been playing with tops when introducing dreidels in keeping with our Hanukkah unit., we made the connection between tops spinning and dancers spinning.  We went on to talk about the earth spinning on its axis as it travels the sun, moving us into the season of winter.  We learned to sing a beautiful song, first brought to our attention last year by Kathi Titus:

Jane working on a Nutcracker castle of blocks


The earth is round,
Its orbit’s elliptical.
When day seems lost,
It’s eventually found.
Spaceship Earth.
Turning through the nights and days,
Spaceship Earth,
Summer, fall, winter, spring.

The Downstairs class is working on making Season Wheels which will soon incorporate not only the seasons, but the names of the months, as children return to school to to study the calendar as a topic in honor of a new month and a new year.

As a prop for dancing, Quyhn Cao taught children how to make snowflake wands.  Beautifully fashioned from recycled paper, they are festooned with glitter and floral ribbon.

The Downstairs class had one idyllic morning a few days before attending the ballet.  Gathering in the Trike Room, they were seated in a wide circle on the floor, each in front of his own painting paper with an individual pallet of the primary colors.  (Black and white were offered for the children to experiment with pastel and shading.)    As the Tchaikovsky suite played, children took turns wearing ballet costumes and dancing in front of classmates.  Seated children painted their responses to the dancing.  These paintings are currently on display in the hallway outside the Trike Room and are beautiful in their use
of color and their interpretation of motion.

Teague painting as students’ dance

After a full hour of painting, we gathered to read The Little Dancer, a story about Edward Degas and one hopeful ballerina who became the model for his famous sculpture.    As Morgan Padgett read, the
children learned of Degas setting his easel r on stage in order to capture the movement of the ballerinas, doing what we had done that morning.  (Other children had an opportunity to take
part in this activity as we recreated it in afternoon sessions.)

All of the children across the grades were introduced to a musical tie-in.  We listen to Duke Ellington’s Jazz version of The Nutcracker Suite. As the children were well versed in the familiar strains of the original, they were able to pick up the modified melodies within the updated suite.

A completed

In the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production, the second act deviates greatly from Hoffman.  Instead of going to “The Land of Sweets”, the Nutcracker, now in human form, and Marie/Claire, now a burgeoning adult, go off to an exotic land peopled by the figures that were seen in the wallpaper in the drawing room where the gifts were first presented. 

Constructing a winter wonderland

Perhaps part of the 1983 production has run its course and is now passé.  It was with some dismay that I witnessed, through post twentieth century eyes, the turbaned mice, the pasha, stereotypes of “all things exotic” in a conglomeration that mixed metaphor upon metaphor.    At school, we referred back to Hoffman and the Land of Sweets as he presented it, and as Balanchine and others, including Tchaikovsky, designed it.  A culmination of this whole unit was to then create either the Land of Sweets, or the wintry forest through which the Nutcracker and Clara/Marie traverse out of, what could be better? Sweets!

Turning ice cream cones on end  to make trees, and using royal icing as mortar, snow and frosting,  the children made their winter wonderlands.  They designed on paper first and then embellished with marshmallows, gumdrops and coconut flakes.  Others imagined the candy castle, not a gingerbread cottage, but a grand structure, as inspiration for their designs.

Following Up on the Unit:

Parents were encouraged to take children to see other versions of the Nutcracker, as well as to return to this one as a family, where seats closer to the stage might be obtained and where children could explore the orchestra pits and various aspects of the theater.  Learning about more stories made into ballets is a natural, particularly Hoffman’s Coppelia, which features another mechanical doll who comes to life. Tchaikovsky will be featured again by the PNB as they present his Sleeping Beauty in late January/early February.  We may offer an option for children who are interested in attending another production to go as a school group.     Taking a dance class and attending a symphony are also wonderful responses, as is watching Disney’s original Fantasia, in which the Nutcracker Suite is the inspiration for an animated sequence that has nothing to do with Hoffman and everything to do with the turning of the seasons.

Farms and Fiber: a Comprehensive Unit of the Weaving Arts...

The following was posted on the Ampersand, Lake and Park’s school blog, on May 22nd 2015.

Student feeding alpacas at the Green Farm, Vashon Island
If you are free this weekend, consider heading over to Vashon Island to the Green Farm.  They have a herd of alpacas  (related to llamas—smaller, good for fleece) and will be shearing them Saturday, May 23rd. You can visit and learn more about the process on Saturday at Vashon Island Alpacas: 10133  SW  204th  St., Vashon, WA  98070.  
The Lake and Park School—all 67 of us—boarded two coach buses on blustery morning in May and headed to the island;  one third of us spent half the day at the Green’s;  another third went to Maggi McClure’s farm  to see sheep and sheepdogs.

Children hearding sheep at Maggi’s farm.

Yet another group moved further south to a llama farm.  ( The llamas had recently moved with their owner, Kelly Hubbell from a ranch in Montana.  The land on the Vashon “ranch” is much smaller than that of their former home, so  Kelly thought about downsizing her flock. But, because llamas operate as a social herd, they realized there was no way they could consider giving several members away, particularly after a llama died, and, as Kelly told us, the others took turns staying near the body until it was removed.)   At each venue, Lake and Parkers had different opportunities to participate in the care and enjoyment of the animals.


Experimenting with making yarn from fleece.
In teaching the youngest children, I  have often given them the task of taking a piece of yarn and weaving it around a picture from a magazine,  a cut-out of a pumpkin, or a Valentine heart,  sewing card style.  Good for finger dexterity. And, just as often, have taught children to take up two sticks, popsicle or found on the ground,  and showed them how to weave yarn around two crossed sticks—turning the sticks each time, making  “God’s Eye”, or “Ojo de Dios” something I learned to do a long time ago at Camp Fire Day Camp.  But, until this year, I have not focused on the piece of string itself.  Where did it come from?


With this unit on Farms and Fiber, we have gone back to the source. Recently, in our study of rocks, we incorporated a conversation about the making of early tools—a stone, at first on its own.  Later,  a hammer, once that stone had leather straps attaching it to a piece of wood.  When we provide our children the context in which early invention took place, we marvel at our species’s ingenuity.  For all our current technological prowess, children at Lake and Park School are coming to terms in the elementary grades with a much older, but no less revolutionary technology.   Now when we pick up that piece of string, we wonder:


Did this piece of fiber come from an animal?  A plant? 
Working with the llamas.
If an animal, was it a sheep?   Since our trip to Vashon, we have broadened our thinking beyond sheep.   A llama?   Do we use llama fleece for yarn? Alpaca?  (Do humans make yarn from alpacas?  Yes, we now know.)  But, it is most likely that this piece of yarn is from a sheep.  


Who sheared the sheep?    


We began the unit with a few families making it to a shearing event at Kelsey Creek Farm in April.  We have been reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder in several literature groups.  In it, we see an illustration of pioneer day shearing tools and learn of the deftness involved in the process.   We wonder about how a whole fleece can come from an animal if the animal is still alive? With Almanzo,  the young protagonist of the story, we celebrate how he outwits the adult shearers—if you haven’t read it for awhile, pick up a copy just to read that  chapter.


Who washed the wool?
Washing the fleece brought back from Maggi’s sheep farm.
Thank you to Cara Phillips, Rees’ mother, for bringing in a big container and showing us one way of washing—just let the dirty fleece soak in the warm water with dishwashing soap.  Let it soak all day.  At night, put it on a screen to dry.  The next days thereafter, pick away at the debris that is in the fleece: the bits of blackberry vines and grasses,  those particularly hardy seeds that like to stick onto things, velcro fashion.


Who carded the wool?
Carding wool at the llama farm.
We have all enjoyed a classic picture book by Tomie de Paola—Charlie Needs a Cloak.  Shepherd that he is, his cloak is full of rags.  In this story, he shows us the process, step by step, of moving from shearing to finished cloak.  We see his carding combs and walk over to pick up a classroom set. Children have been figuring out how to card over the span of this unit.


We were impressed by our guest speaker Linda Strykler,  a spinner and weaver.  She demonstrated her skills to us the week before our trip to the farms.  (Earlier, North Room children had traveled to the Rainier Senior Center to see her  in action , as she instructed seniors.) Linda demonstrated how to deftly move all the fiber from one carding comb to the next.  


Learning to use the carding machine.
At the alpaca farm, children got to feed alpaca fleece into a carding machine. Manually turned, the machine moves the fleece forward, with many burrs on a cylinder untangling the fleece and turning a handful of fiber into a ‘bat”, which can be used as filler in a quilt or may be spun into yarn.


Who spun the wool into yarn? 
Linda demonstrating spinning at school.
Each of the Vashon farms had an expert spinner showing us how it is done. Not easy, they say.  Easier to break the yarn off than to add another section to it.  So we watch.   At school, Cara shows us how to spin on a handheld device called a spindle.  It is a small wheel turning in her hand and we may wonder—what came first?  The potter’s wheel?  The spinner’s wheel?
Using a hand-held spindel.
Some of us remember Katrina Hawking bringing in clay as we made plates featuring mythological scenes from  Ancient Greece mythology. Hawking mentioned in her presentation that the wheel was invented by the potter.  That makes us wonder even more–  What came first?  The pot or the cloth?


We look down at what we are wearing with new eyes.  This piece of woven stuff that has been turned into something to wear had a whole long history before it became this item.  We wonder about sources of fiber other than animals—plants!  How did people ever think of it?  Taking flax and spinning it into thread.   Next we think of the miller’s daughter in the Rumpelstiltskin story.  How did her father ever come up with the idea of spinning straw into gold?  Did anyone ever spin straw into yarn?


We read that story and remember another—the Sleeping Beauty tale where the protagonist is injured by the spindle.  Where are the spindles on the wheels we have seen? A child asks about that at the alpaca farm.  The spinner tells us that the traditional wheel had a sharp metal spindle for a bobbin.  There are still some around, she says, but now people have a wooden bobbin.  We remember the fairy tale king’s decree to burn all the spinning wheels in the kingdom and realize that  people have been spinning for a long, long time.


Who colored this yarn?
We remember Charlie picking chokeberries to dye his yarn and think of a Navajo weaver in The Goat in the Rug, who dug up yucca roots and chopped them to make color for her dye.  One day at Triangle Park, Beginning Room children watch as Maudie Johnson, a substitute teacher with a background in environmental education, shows us how to dip fleece in yellow made from the tumeric spice and red from purple cabbage.  We have a different kind of success when vinegar is added.  Another day, we will put fleece in boiling water colored with food coloring.  


Now we move beyond the piece of yarn going around the God’s Eye sticks and realize that what we are holding in our hand is a little loom.  (So, is the paper project, where strips are woven in and out;  so is the cut out pumpkin, in its own way, with yarn being woven in and out the paper punched holes.


Who will weave this yarn on a loom?  


Weaving on a cardboard loom in the classroom.
Children throughout the school have been weaving on cardboard looms. Primary and Big Room children carefully designed their weavings before beginning the process of putting weft thread through the warp.  Designs and finished products are on display, some with poems,inspired by the mechanics of weaving, next to them.    There is weaving, too, on paper plates, the product at the end being a round design.  Large circle designs are made using a hula hoop for a loom frame.


Weaving at the Green Family Alpaca Farm.
Children wove on wooden looms at the Alpaca Farm.  They took to it pressing the levers in sequence, moving the shuttle through the weft fibers, pressing levers in sequence to place one color of thread and then another into the fabric.   What a step forward in technology that loom represents!   We think of the story of Spider Woman, a tale from the Navajo tradition.  Her loom had no levers to help her.  Rather, she painstakingly picks up each thread and weaves it, in and out in and out. Sister to  Arachne of Greek mythological tragedy, Spider Woman is warned not to weave too long.  But the process of weaving becomes too engrossing for Spider Woman; she succumbs to the fate she has been warned against.  An engrossing story, it was read throughout the school.  Children in the Primary Room spent two days illustrating an aspect of  Spider Woman that particularly engaged their interest.
Working with parent support in the weaving room.

We have set up a workplace for fiber arts.  Parents join children for an hour or two when they can, to teach knitting, support a five year old’s embroidery, supervise twisting of fleece into yarn on a handheld spindle.

The work that has come from this unit runs deep and touches on a taproot almost as old as humanity. 
Knitting at a farm.
Knitting at school.
Hands are involved as never before–this is really learning by doing:  picking up two sticks to weave, or two sticks to knit, or one stick to turn something soft and fluffy into something long and sturdy.  Minds are engaged in pre-designing a weaving,  in continuing a pattern.  And the scope broadens.  We look at the effort before us in wonder at the universal nature of the task.  


Camille Hayward