October 01. 2013 9:51PM


Londonderry elementary students: The nature of learning through art

Union Leader Correspondent

South Elementary School first-graders, left to right, Brianna Foltz, Noah Antonellis and Isabelle Robinson use natural materials like twigs, pine cones and acorns to create their pieces of nature art in the school's outdoor courtyard on Tuesday. april guilmet 

LONDONDERRY -- South Elementary School students are exploring the natural world with a little help from resident artist Cynthia Robinson.

Robinson, a Moultonborough resident and member of the state Council on the Arts' Resident Artist Program, is spending time enjoying the sunshine and students all this week as part of the traveling program.

The local elementary school hosts artists annually as part of the statewide program, according to art teacher Marcia Connors.

Fully funded through grants by the state Council on the Arts, the program has been a fixture at South School for the past decade. Previous artists have included tile designers, weavers, painters, poets, folk singers and landscape artists.

The children at South School are working on two separate projects with Robinson this week.First- and second-graders are making collages of trees using natural materials Robinson found in her back yard."We're discussing the whole idea of a tree and taking a closer look at them," she said.

Each child's small square collage will later be made into a large installation piece that will be unveiled during the school-wide art show this spring.

"It will be one, great big 'communi-tree'," Robinson said with a laugh.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders are being asked to form personal relationships with the natural world by keeping their own nature journals.

Each notebook has spaces for the youngsters to sketch scenes from the school's outdoor garden and courtyard area, while jotting down their thoughts, poems and prose.

"This week we've been simply reflecting about how different we feel when we're outside in a garden," Robinson said. "We're basically teaching them how to engage with their own space while tapping into both the scientific and creative aspects."

As an eco-artist, Robinson regularly visits schools around the state, where she uses her artistic ability to teach lasting lessons on ecological awareness, social responsibility and a strong sense of place.

Her own artwork offers similar themes.

"It's based on the idea of making connections to the natural environment that we're all a part of," she said. "So it's art with a message."

It's a message that's easily translated to students of all ages, from preschoolers to senior citizens.

"All of us have the ability to get in touch with their natural spaces," Robinson said. "Hopefully, with this new understanding they'll learn to respect nature as we encourage future stewardship."

Connors said students look forward to working with real-life artists each year, and fundraising efforts in the school community help match the state grant funds to keep the program going.

This year, South School is conducting an "Art To Remember" fundraiser where parents and relatives can purchase magnets, mugs and other items bearing images of their child's artwork.