Poetry, Art and Monsters, Oh Yes!
Integrating seasonal elements – with generous measures of creativity and imagination – into first grade curriculum
One delightful, learning-filled way to spark the engagement of young students includes incorporating a seasonal, monster-themed curriculum. In recent weeks, my Mount Madonna School first graders have written poems, created oil pastel monster drawings and begun to learn a choreographed dance. The students listened with rapt attention as I read monster story books aloud to further inspire their vibrant imaginations, individual creativity and to explore first hand some of the biological concepts being taught in the classroom.
It’s always interesting to see how they “digest” our lessons about body coverings, anatomy, and biological adaptations in designing their original monsters. While all students show creativity and imagination, some choose to incorporate features of real animals into their work, while others are more make-believe and fanciful.
Although we haven’t yet begun our science unit on animals, in reading the monster books we focused a lot on various body parts, body coverings, and how those parts serve the animals in helping them protect themselves and obtain food. This will segue beautifully into our upcoming study of animal adaptations and our biological study in which each student chooses a native animal to research and present about.
On a recent warm afternoon, first graders gathered at their shaded outdoor classroom, to listen to each other’s themed poetry; some students chose to read their poems themselves, while I shared others with the class.
It was clear from their descriptive writing that students used their imaginations and growing vocabularies to describe the temperaments, physical and social characteristics of their monster creations.
Arya drew two colorful monsters, and said one was inspired by the Super Mario game character, Yoshi.
“It has a Yoshi head and a hamster body with dinosaur spikes,” said Arya. “My other monster has a frog head with a snake body.” For her poem she wrote “my monster has a nose like a frog, a mouth like a hippo, a tail like a hamster, is as clever as a brain and loud as a motorcycle.”
A colorful Mexican-style hat rests atop the head of classmate Liam’s monster. Liam said he really enjoys drawing, and that he usually draws “very fast,” but in making his monster, he slowed down and took his time to get it “just right.”
“My monster is a happy monster, with bat wings, spider legs and three eyes, but it’s blind,” he said. “Instead it uses its belly button to signal and sense its environment.”
“My monster has eyes like night, a nose like zig zags and a mouth like an owl,” wrote Chloe.
Leo’s “Cy-Whale” or cyclops whale, combined elements of a massive marine mammal with whimsical aspects drawn from his imagination. Leo demonstrated his creature’s distinctive “mating call” and said it was used for communication with other Cy-Whales.
Orion described his monster as having “eyes like a pumpkin, a mouth with lips, as clever as a jackal and as smelly as gasoline.”
“My monster has eyes like thunder, a mouth like a tree, and spit as thick as goo,” shared Katherine.
Kailani, meanwhile, said she was inspired by the monster books that I read, including One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer, in creating her detailed representation of a monster family. “My monster has eyes like jewels, hair like soft velvet and is as smelly as soap,” she wrote.
Weston said he got the idea for his giant monster from thinking about sharp-toothed dragons. “My monster has a tail like an alligator with a wrecking ball on the end, wings like a dragon and is as frightening as death,” he wrote. He embellished his drawing with witches, zombies and jack-o’-lanterns.
Rhiannon drew a colorful, four-legged, dragon-like monster with a spiky tale, scales across its back and large, bright red wings.
“My monster has a mouth like a crab, is as clever as an elephant and as smelly as lavender,” shared Lyra.
On another day, and with a goal of more fully utilizing the surrounding outdoor “classroom” space, students gathered comfortably in front of the front porch of the farmhouse building, and then one by one, students took to the outdoor porch “stage” to share their completed colorful drawings.
I want my students to have many chances to showcase their art and other projects. With our enhanced focus on outdoor learning, our classroom front porch is a great stage and allows them to practice their public speaking and presentation skills in sharing works with their classmates.
Students gain inspiration from one another, they share compliments, and seem to appreciate knowing that their work isn’t going home right away; that it will be shared on our classroom walls or shared in person, from our porch stage. When they know their work will be “seen,” students feel encouraged to try their best.
Cassia Laffin, B.A., First Grade Teacher, Mount Madonna School – As a first grade teacher, I strive to make learning fun, exciting and meaningful. I do this by teaching thematically and infusing a great deal of music and art throughout our curriculum. Teaching first graders to read and write is not only a huge responsibility, but is extremely rewarding! I care deeply for my students and fostering meaningful relationships. I hold social success in as high esteem as I do the academics.