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Children and history

October 26, 2011

Anniversaries come and go.  Some are fleetingly small.  Others sparkle with silver or gold and mark milestones of time.

My children attend a school celebrating its 250th birthday this year.  The party will go on all year.  My son played the fiddle and the class danced to George Washington’s favorite party pastime, the Virginia Reel.  How convenient to mark the study of colonial history with the anniversary of the school founding! (A previous post showed you the murals and portraits of early headmasters we made to be mounted on the wall for the day’s special presentations.)

How do you get children to engage with concept of the passage of time that leads to a sesquicentennial?  

There are signs around school:  “older than the country,”  “older than television,”  “older than ketchup” that attempt to place the school on a timeline.

On display in the hallways is an exhibit of art by the first graders.  I was awed.  To make it personal, the children were asked to take an individual from a long ago yearbook and interpret that photograph as a painted portrait.  

What a personal, colorful and delightful result!  

I stood in the hall for ages, comparing the thumbnail black and white yearbook photo to the uninhibited creation on canvasboard.  

There was the dapper cute boy.  The basketball player from 1911.  The girl who looked as though she’d like to be editor of the school newspaper, but it was probably too much before women’s lib for her to have a chance at the spot.  I was so impressed that I’ve challenged my children to give my parents portraits of their parents as this year’s Christmas present.  (My thinking being that once you enter those upper decades, it seems family history has more meaning than stuff from the mall).

To see more of the first graders’ wonderful portraits, click on page 2 below left…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2009 10:51 pm

    These pictures are fantastic and what a great idea to have the kids make family portraits as gifts. I may steal this idea; the wheels are turning. Years ago, in a class all my daughters took in turn, they were instructed to make a full-body self-tracing and then paint it in. After hanging in the classroom for a while, the tattered remains were rolled up and sent home. I cut them off at the shoulders and framed them. There’s just something magical about the way children see.

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      December 16, 2009 1:46 pm

      I was informed by a third-grader that his class also had this experience of transforming a tiny “historical” thumbnail into a painted portrait so it seems the entire elementary school did this exercise. Kind of like having a “pen pal” across the ages (wow, there’s a whole new concept — if you could write letters to someone “long ago” and that person would write back telling you about their recent experiences and answer questions… )

  2. December 19, 2009 5:24 pm

    Thanks for posting more of these portraits, Sabra! Seeing them together, it occurs to me that they all have interesting backgrounds–they’re not in rooms or outside, the original subjects are posed in regular portraits but the students have chosen to add color and designs that really make their interpretations stand out. So, props to the art teacher for pointing out the need for backgrounds to start with and my admiration to the young artists who have taken the concept and run with it with so much originality!

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