The Season of Sunflowers

Sunflowers are in various stages of splendour around the city. Some are in full bloom. Some are drooping. Some are going to seed and their petals are drying and falling off. We brought in sunflowers and filled our room with sunflower books and captured this beautiful moment of fall in our artwork. Our sunflowers were also inspired by the gorgeous Vincent Van Gogh sunflowers on the blog For the Love of Art.

Follow our process step by step:

First we drew sunflowers in pencil and outlined our completed drawings with black sharpies.

Students thought about petal size and shape and showed flowers in various stages of vitality. Some students added insects or other details to their pictures.

There were no rules about size and shape of flowers and so each picture turned out to be very different.

On Day 2 we painted our blue backgrounds (gave students choice of just two blues), vases and tables (again colour choice was limited to orange, brown or red.)

Students chose to use a smaller brush when painting close to their flowers and stems.

Everyone was very excited about how wonderful the first colours looked together.

Day 3 was all about paining the stems and all of our blossoms and petals. We used browns, yellows and oranges for the flowers. Students snaked their paint brushes up the stems between vase and flowers.

Painting the sunflowers allowed us to get very creative.

Students blended colours and spent the entire art class on task and talking about their work. Just lovely to observe!

If your class has done any sunflower art this fall, please share by providing a link in the comments section!

Happy Sunflower Season!

We imagined some gardens . . .

This gorgeous book written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher was our inspiration for some beautiful flower art. The Imaginary Garden tells a story of grandfather and granddaughter who paint a lush garden mural when a real garden is no longer possible in Poppa’s new apartment.

Just as little Theodora and Poppa created flowers from bright green stems and blobs of paint colour, the students used dabs of paint to create beautiful imagined gardens, each one unique.

Students began by adding dibs and dabs, blobs and swirls of bright coloured paint to their papers.

Adding the blooms

Some chose to make huge blooms. Others, a mixture of shapes and sizes.

Then with vibrant green paint, stems were added.

Carefully snaking the stems up to the flowers

We let our pictures dry overnight with plans to add details the next day with felt markers.

When we were ready to add more detail to the flowers on Day 2 we used two books by Lois Ehlert for inspiration.

Planting a Rainbow takes us on a garden tour colour by colour.

Waiting for Wings tells the story of butterflies flitting flower to flower in a garden in full bloom. Both books are gorgeous.

Each student approached this step very carefully creating a variety of interesting effects. Markers were used to add details to blossoms and stems.

Adding details

Finished pieces are stunning. Come check out our display in the hall and walk through an imaginary garden or two or three . . .

Can you pick a favourite flower?

We were so pleased with how these pieces turned out that our Mother’s Day cards are painted in the same style!

Another one just because they are that beautiful . . .

 Tempted to come visit our display yet? They really do look beautiful all together!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms, Grandmas and important women who love us!


Have I mentioned lately how brilliant my little reading group happens to be? Or how much I enjoy our morning lessons? It is such a pleasure to learn along with these students! We have been working on strategies to use when we come across an unknown word or concept using the wonderful story by Thomas F Yezerski: Meadowlands – A Wetlands Survival Story.

This book takes us back in time hundreds of years to when the Meadowlands were 20,000 acres of swamps, marshes and bogs and home to many different plants and animals. Over time human interactions had a very detrimental effect on this wetland habitat. Much of the wildlife fled or disappeared. Pollution and gargbage threatened to destroy the area completely. In the 1960s only 11,000 acres of wetlands survived in the Meadowlands.

However, many things worked in the favour of this ecosystem: the daily meeting of the river and tide, laws that alterted chemical dumping, reintroduction of different insect, fish and bird species as the habitat improved, etc. In 2007, a young osprey was spotted taking flight from a nest built in the Meadowlands. This young bird of prey was a symbol of recovery and hope for this precious ecosystem.

As we read the text and came across a word we didn’t know, we collectively tried to figure it out and charted our thinking. We filled an entire chart paper with strategies!

An example might help. The text read:

The Meadowlands is an estuary where the Hackensack River empties into Newark Bay. Much of it is wetlands, with a mix of freshwater and salt water soaking the spongy ground.

We didn’t know what estuary meant. We needed to use some of the strategies listed below to determine what the word meant (especially reading on to the next sentence, inferring and referring to a reference page that included a map) We figured out that it probably meant a boggy, wet area where the fresh water mixed with the ocean water and that maybe it would support unique ecosystems.

What do you do when you come to an unknown word? 

The list the students came up with:

*hold a question in our head and read on to find out

*re-read a section and think carefully

*read the previous sentence or next sentence for clues

*does the word sound like another word? have a root that we recognize?

*check the reference pages like maps, glossary, pictures

*connect to other texts or our background knowledge

*use the reading power strategies like connect, visualize, question and infer

*think about whether you are understanding. This is worth it even if it might be slow going and very tiring!

*ask, “Does this make sense?” and then “Does what I am thinking make sense?”

So I did mention the brilliant aspect of these kids right? What was wonderful was that as we read, we found there were fewer unknown words or confusing concepts because we were gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Now we can engage in this active engaged reading independently with various non-fiction texts. But, we continue to practice with a weekly book we can share together.


Beautiful birds

Division 5 continues to study birds. This week we enjoyed Robins: Songbirds of the Spring by Mia Posada.




We enjoyed learning how these birds make their nests, care for their young and about how the fledglings learn to fly. Posada’s robins are lovely – and it sparked an interest in bird body parts. We spread out bird books on all of the tables and students made lists of all the important parts of the bird: beak, breast, feathers, wings, talons or feet, etc. Students then drew and coloured their own birds. Our bulletin boards are now covered in gorgeous birds designed by the students and inspired by a variety of real birds in nature.

First students made pencil sketches.




We then added colour using crayons, oil pastels and pencil crayons.



Finally we shaded around our bird’s outline and cut them out. Some finished pieces:







An Egg is Quiet and so Much More

We are studying birds but I am very mindful of student interest as we decide on what to learn more about. Last week we read a book about birds and their nests and students were fascinated by the stunning blue of a robin’s egg. Most students wrote about it when asked to write about something new they had learned. So. . . I decided that Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long‘s exquisite book An Egg is Quiet was a must read.


Students were fascinated to learn many new things about eggs – including that many creatures hatch out of an egg, not just birds (reptiles, insects, fish, etc). Sylvia Long’s gorgeous illustrations had everyone mesmerized. With many pages we just gazed at the pictures and chatted to our neighbour about our observations and questions. Sharing was fascinating and we all learned to look at eggs a little differently from each other.

Colours, specks, stripes! Eggs can be so different! We saw eggs that looked like chocolate (a paradise riflebird), eggs that looked like they were covered with sand (a scarlet tanager), eggs that shone (Atlantic salmon) & eggs that looked to be entwined in vines (a common murre). Then . . . fossilized eggs and tubular eggs and eggs that are perfectly round (Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle).

After sharing the book together, students completed a modified sheet from Adrienne Gear‘s Reading Power Non-Fiction book: connecting new learning to what they already knew (New-Knew Connections)

This is Catriona‘s completed sheet:


Carmen shared what she already knew.


Markus shared his new learning:


What I love about this activity is that sharing on the Knew/New sheet allows students to honour prior knowledge, acknowledge new knowledge and start from anywhere. There are no right answers or essential facts – just a sharing of a knowledge base being extended. We spent over an hour with this book and doing our writing and everyone was very engaged. Later, I saw students reading the sheets posted up on the bulletin board and talking about what other students had chosen to highlight. An exciting afternoon learning about how unique, beautiful and fascinating eggs can be!

A wall of learning shared!

A wall of learning shared!

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?

Our BLG reader this week was Bill. He read us Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree? written by Jennifer Blomgren and illustrated by Andrea Gabriel.

evergreen tree

There was lots to learn from the text of this book: all about nurse logs, the life cycle of trees, the amazing creatures that inhabit the forest and the wonder of every layer. The book ends with an invitation to come into the forest and discover more for yourself. But it is the illustrations that pull you deeper – the lush vibrant greens, the dripping rain, the spotted wingspan of the owl . . . Wow!

Such a gorgeously illustrated book. Students also kept referring to the pictures and how beautiful they were.

Would love to use this before a forest walk. Or after and connect our learning . . . .

Our student reviewers report:

Catriona: Its illustrations were very very interesting because they were probably painted and they looked real. I could easily connect to it.

Truman: I like the drawings and the rhymes and the details. I like the page that has the pine martin on it because of the snow and how the pine martin is jumping.

Khai: The illustrations are great because they were nice and colourful. They reminded me of another book about a forest.

Deandra: It was really cool. I saw a squirrel gliding to a big tree. I liked it so much I loved it.

Owl Moon and inspired Owl Artists

One of my favourite books to read aloud in the cold dark days leading up to winter is Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. This book fits in with our theme of Courage that we are exploring through various picture books but also allowed us to have a wonderful springboard for some gorgeous owl art.

A little girl goes owling with her father for the very first time and we, the readers, get to creep along with this pair over hard packed snow illuminated by the moon. We breathe the cold air, feel our own cheeks burn and marvel at the wonderful sound of crying out “Whoo-whoo-whowho-who-whoooo,” and then feeling the silence (heavy and full of wonder) surround us. Yolen’s text is poetic and the illustrations magical. A treat for the senses! When an owl is finally discovered, all of us gasped at the huge wing span and bright yellow eyes depicted in the pictures. A gorgeous book and one I never tire of reading with a class.

We discussed why the little girl in the picture was so courageous even though she was out on a dark night deep in the forest. Some insightful suggestions from the group:

  • She was too excited to feel fear
  • Being with her Dad made her feel safe and secure
  • Watching and listening for the owl distracted her
  • She pushed her fear away because she was doing something (going owling) that she had been waiting a long time to do

After the story, Ms. Gelson led a mini “how to draw an owl” lesson inspired by this wonderful blog post from Art Lessons for Kids.

And wow, did students get engaged with making beautiful owl scenes to fill up our room!

First we drew owls on plain paper and added details and colour. Hailey did a lovely job of filling up her whole page with an adorable looking owl and baby.


Catriona drew her owl in flight!


Some owls seemed to be waiting to jump into a picture book as the main character of an exciting story. Purity‘s owl is very dramatic.


Students then cut out their owl (s) and glued them to black paper making a scene. Khai made a whole family of owls perched on a branch.


Carefully positioning owls on the page.


Sergio was very clear that his owl was pregnant and put an awaiting nest on the branch. Many debates began whether an owl could be pregnant if it lay eggs. Some people thought an owl should be called “ready to lay eggs” and not pregnant. Sergio made it clear he liked his idea best and made a label on his picture pointing to the owl’s belly “pregnent” 🙂


Truman made lightly grey owls with beautiful ear tufts. Striking against the black background and yellow moon.