ART TO ACTION ON CODORNICES CREEK WITH
CHILDREN OF THE URSULA SHERMAN VILLAGE
The Open Circle Foundation
and carried out in partnership with
Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS)
and Friends of Five Creeks
May-June, 2008; April-June, 2009; May-July 2010
The Ursula Sherman Village, a project of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS)
in West Berkeley, California, provides housing and a comprehensive program for homeless families. Children residing in the village are served after-school, evenings, and weekends by the Children's Learning Center.
I visited the Children's Learning Center in the Fall of 2007, and learned from the lead teacher, Taaj Avery, that she and her staff had never brought the children to Codornices Creek, which runs about 100 yards away from the village.
Restoration of the section of Codornices Creek nearest to the Ursula Sherman Village began in 2004 (left). Volunteers with Friends of Five Creeks helped with weeding and planting (middle). Lush vegetation now lines the creek (right).
With financial support from the Open Circle Foundation, I facilitated three art-with-nature outings along the creek in 2008, and six outings in 2009 and 2010. Our groups consisted of children from the village, parents of some of the children, Village edication staff staff, Susan Schwartz (President of Friends of Five Creeks) and me.
My primary goal for the project was to connect the children with the natural environment close to the village through education, exploration, and art making. I also sought to provide opportunities for creative expression and to deepen the connections among the children, staff, and parents through personal and collective action in nature. I wanted the children to not just feel more comfortable being in nature, but also to feel firsthand its ability to inspire and to bring people together in community. I also wanted to stimulate the children to care about nature and to inspire them to act on behalf of the environment throughout their lives.
At the start of many of the outings, we took a walk of exploration along the creek. The children had plenty of energy even though our outings took place in the early evening; they often ran ahead to make discoveries. The children shared their discoveries with each other and with the adults. After smelling a fennel plant near the creek, one girl explained me that she knew that smell from the fennel plants near her bus stop. Susan Schwartz's knowledge of the creek was helpful in guiding the group. She told us about the history of the creek and its restoration; she also advised us on how to ensure that our art making activities were beneficial or at least not detrimental to the environment.
Many sessions began with a walk and exploration of the creek.
Looking for life in the creek...
We were fortunate to have parent volunteers participate actively in our outings. Like the other adults, they not only helped the children, but also learned from working with them.
Having a snack in a "house" made from pruned willow branches.
One child shows two others what she learned: the stigma of the sticky monkey-flower closes up when you tickle it with a blade of grass, pretending to be a bee.
Artwork made from materials taken wet from the creek.
Many of the sculptures made were dwellings, such as this nest (middle), and tepee (right). Several children also worked together to make a house for a caterpiller they found.
No ideas were imposed by the adults concerning the form of what was created, and we did not assign tasks.
The adults modeled creative collaborative action, supported the children in their work, and helped foster productive interactions. The adults and children enjoyed playing and working together, and sharing our ideas. The adults were inspired by the energy and creative intelligence of the children.
Because of bad weather in 2009, we spent two sessions creating with nature in the playground of the Ursula Sherman Village. In this photo, a boy is working on a 'hut' that was built upon the playground climbing structure.
Some of the participants in 2009 had also participated in 2008, and their comfort with being in nature served as a model for children who were less comfortable. In this photo, two of the 2-year participants are joined by a newcomer for a pretend 'nap' inside a 'house' made from branches.
An outgrowth of this project was the creation of a permanent Create-With-Nature Zone in the Village, adjacent to the children's housing.
Making art in the new permanent Create-With-Nature Zone in the Village .
At the end of most sessions, we gathered in a circle to recall our experiences of the day. Between sessions, and at the conclusion of the project, I gathered feedback from the children, parents, and staff. I used this feedback to tailor the subsequent sessions, and to plan next year's activities.
Each child was given an album of 24-48 photos from the project, as well as a mounted 8 by 12 inch enlargement of one image chosen by them or their parent. The photos are intended to help reinforce the children's and parent's memories of the project in the years ahead. Several mounted enlargements were also made to decorate the Village's Children's Learning Center
Special thanks to Taaj Avery, lead teacher for the Children's Learning Center at the Ursula Sherman Village; Parvin Seaver, Families and Children's Program Specialist/Coordinator; Village staff Zeine Gamal and Rosa Boshier; Susan Schwartz, President, Friends of Five Creeks; and the Open Circle Foundation.