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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why Picture Study, Nature Study, and Drawing are not 'Extra'

A few years back I gave a talk at an AO conference about the riches. I told a story about my grand-daughter Lizzie and a trip her family took to their local art museum.  Lizzie was only five at the time and so most of the advanced preparations her mother made were focused on her older brother, who was school aged.  But Lizzie met a painting called The Grief of the Pasha, and Lizzie fell in love.  Those were her mother's words in an email she sent about the visit, and they are quite apt. (for the full story, you'd need to listen to the recording of the talk, information below)

Falling in love is an important key to learning.  Picture study takes perhaps five or ten minutes every other week, but it can be the beginning of a life long love affair, and the door to learning other things as well.  Picture study also will help your students improve their moods and sharpen their thinking for other studies during the day as well.

Subjects undergoing an MRI while looking at artworks they considered most beautiful showed increased blood flow in a certain part of the brain by as much as 10 per cent – the same brain area and same increase in blood flow as when gazing at a loved one.The Power of Art

Viewing art triggers higher-order mental processing The human brain is designed to enjoy art

A study from the University of Westminster found that participants' stress levels decreased after a lunchtime visit to an art gallery. Participants who came in w/ high levels, had lower concentrations of cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, 30 min. later. And the effect was most marked for those who were most stressed. Think about what this means for improving the atmosphere while doing lessons! Spend a few minutes looking at your art for the week right after a stressful lesson- art isn’t an extra, it’s a basic necessity for school.
 Normalisation of salivary cortisol levels and self-report stress by a brief lunchtime visit to an art gallery by London City workers, Clow & Fredhoi

After analyzing 15 studies that had people looking at art for different reasons, neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian explained in a Q&A that "areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and those that activate our pleasure and reward systems are also being engaged." Essentially, parts of the brain that are associated with contemplation are automatically sparked when viewing art, even if they aren't thinking about it critically
The fantastic effect of art on mind and body

Drawing is another part of the curriculum often skipped, but drawing helps with learning and memory as well. I would suggest you try this at home with reluctant artists/narratorsm but don't tell them ahead of time what you are doing.  Just during the day tell them two different stories, similar in length and interest. Have them sketch what they recall of one, just move on through your day without drawing the other. Later in the day, ask for a short narration of each and see what happens. Drawing helps you remember, how well you drew is irrelevant, Science Daily: If you need to remember something, draw it., even if you only have 4 seconds; Drawing helps memory, even if you only draw for four seconds. TechTimes

Nature Journals (and nature studies) are, regrettably, frequently skipped until people can get their schedules under control, but this is a beautiful thing in its own right, and it also, happily, well help your other subjects go more smoothly:

Karen Matsumoto wrote a beautiful article on nature journaling, published on John Hopkins’ School of Education website.  She says: “In my experience working with children, I have found that the act of drawing and writing helps students to see and know nature through attention to and expression of their feelings. Feelings are a part of learning; it is now known that feelings are essential to deep understanding and sound decision making. Because attitudinal, emotional, and aesthetic considerations are important for growth and development, journals can be a good vehicle for "starting where children are." Rachel Carson, naturalist and writer, suggested that feelings help start the process of children wanting to know (1956). "Once the emotions have been aroused - a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love - then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found it has lasting meaning."." Nature Journaling by Matsumoto

And the same day I found that article, I read this comment in one of our groups, by Rusty Parker, enthusiastic over all the new thing she was seeing in her own backyard- “It's amazing what I'm seeing now that I care!” This gives new depth and meaning to Mason's comments on what matters most at the end of our school days is not what we know, but how much do we care, and about how many things do we care, doesn't it? 

Go outside and look at the natural world.  Find things that make you all share a collective sense of amazement, of awe, things that make you go, "Ahhh!"

"...awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities." The importance of shared awe
 "we tested the hypothesis that awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, and increase prosocial behavior. In a representative national sample (Study 1), dispositional tendencies to experience awe predicted greater generosity in an economic game above and beyond other prosocial emotions (e.g., compassion). In follow-up experiments, inductions of awe (relative to various control states) increased ethical decision-making (Study 2), generosity (Study 3), and prosocial values (Study 4). Finally, a naturalistic induction of awe in which participants stood in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement compared to participants in a control condition (Study 5)." (Shared experiences of awe increase social cooperation and decrease self-centeredness)

Narration and discussion, saying things out loud, also helps with memory: John Muir Laws on saying aloud: Prompts for deeper nature observation: Saying aloud helps you remember later

Many will find the materials here to be helpful:

A few days after their visit to the art museum, a friend shared a poem about the Pasha's grief w/ Lizzie's mama. It is a long poem, written by Victor Hugo in 1827, and I would not think most 5 year olds would have cared for it or understood it. Lizzie's mama read her the poem anyway (linked here: and reports that in conclusion, Lizzie was running around the house hollering "I was right! I was right! He was sad because his tiger died!"

The riches are not extra.  They will nourish your souls and bind your hearts together, give your studies energy, life, and vitality.  Do not skip them.

You can buy the recording of this talk here.  The recording has a lot of additional material.  It is not a duplicate of this post.

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