MADISON — Kids creating their own interpretation of great artworks using materials they have on hand at home? Or a still life with cherished objects?

Well, that’s what happened for these students when schools in Madison closed in March. Then students and teachers began a journey on an unfamiliar road toward learning.

For art teacher Carissa Connell, providing a creative outlet helped her students not only weather this uncertain time, but have fun, too.

Connell, who teaches at Ryerson Elementary School and Town Campus Learning Center, quickly realized innovative lessons would be key for her at-home students.

“To do the work, I would have to think outside the box and make the lessons valuable and something we wouldn’t ordinarily do,” Connell said.

The first thing Connell did was reach out to fellow Madison art teacher Lauren Woods. At first, they weren’t sure if students had their own materials or comfort level with making messes at home.

“We sent a survey to the kids the first week to see who had paint, glue, if students were allowed to use scissors, and then we started planning from there,” Connell said.

One of the first projects presented was a portrait lesson, but with a twist. After brainstorming together, the pair thought, “What if instead of drawing the nose and mouth, we had them put a mask on, and then maybe they could even design one to wear. We were trying to give them an opportunity to not be afraid of the mask wearing,” Connell said.

As distance learning set in, Connell and Woods put their heads together to develop more inventive lessons. That’s when Connell reached out to Portland, Oregon-based artist Gary Hirsch, who is world famous for his hand-painted domino robots.

To her great surprise, Hirsch agreed to be interviewed and share an inspiring “bot” lesson via Zoom. Through the creation of these tiny robots, Hirsch aims to spread joy, courage, love, and gratitude throughout the world and hopes others will as well.

Connell also invited students to participate in the Getty Museum masterpiece challenge. The Los Angeles museum issued a playful challenge via social media to re-create a favorite art piece using objects from home.

“The things that the kids are coming up with are just adorable. They’re interacting with real artwork, learning about composition so that’s really cool,” Connell said.

Connell has discovered that in teaching from home, she gained a greater understanding of her students. Something as simple as a still life takes on new meaning because her students choose and arrange cherished objects from home.

“I’m learning more about them this way than I would have in the classroom. It’s hard because I don’t get to help them in progress, but we’re finding that it opens up other opportunities we don’t always have,” Connell said.

To help students cope during their time at home, Connell enlisted the help of her school psychologist, fondly known as the “feelings expert.”

“They’re helping us understand how you can express your emotions through art and that’s a really powerful thing. Because we’re all processing a lot right now, this is the perfect opportunity to use art for good,” Connell said.

Connecticut Media Group