• Cece King

This Online Workshop Still Gets Kids Outside

Eliana Stern started her nature art classes with sun salutations. “Hello Sun! Hello Earth,” chanted a chorus of elementary schoolers as they stretched their arms up and greeted the day. “It was so we didn't have a full hour of sitting down in front of the computer screen,” Eliana said.

Several weeks earlier, Curious Cardinals parent Carmen Tirado had been meeting with her 4th grade daughter’s principal, trying to inspire the school to create a more challenging and engaging online classroom. Then she heard about Curious Cardinals through one of our social impact partner organizations, the Association to Benefit Children. “We needed something to keep her busy, to keep her curious,” Carmen said. “The workshop came at the perfect time.”

Milagros and Carmen

Nature art was as interactive as possible at a time when the outdoors have become an immense privilege. “I was thinking a lot about which workshops would be conducive to the zoom format,” Eliana said, “and I thought, nature art was something that could be grounded in a place.” Her students lived across the country and drew inspiration from the different environments they lived in.

“I wanted a lot of the participation to be kind of outside of those Zoom hours. One strategy is using nature as art materials.”

Carmen’s daughter Milagros was so excited that she would take her mom on walks to hunt for acorns or tree bark with intriguing patterns. “We weren't going out as much, so it made a big difference,” Carmen said.

Eliana remembered that Milagros found leaves with swirly, pointy edges and used crayons to etch leaf prints into paper. “I wanted a lot of the participation to be kind of outside of those Zoom hours. One strategy is using nature as art materials.”

I asked Milagros if she wanted to take more nature walks even though the class had ended, and she announced “yes, I think I will.” But it seems like Milagros has already turned every outing into a hunt for natural treasures. “Everything looks different for her now,” Carmen said. “When we're going out or to school Milagros might show me a tree and say, ‘Oh! That's a pattern right there. Take a picture!’”

Milagros's treasures!

Throughout the workshop, Milagros grew to see Eliana as a mentor. “My favorite memory from nature art was when I was in office hours where we would do art and get to know each other a little bit,” Milagros said. Curious Cardinals borrowed the term “office hours” from our college professors who dedicate time each week to any student inspired to chat outside of class. But Milagros didn’t spend her hour going over an essay template or asking for a research position. Instead, she’d work on independent art projects with Eliana or jump around in a Zoom dance party. It seems like the memory of that relationship that will outlast the memories of a difficult quarantine.

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