Land art 

On our first day together, we looked at aesthetically pleasing land art created by artists such as Nils Udo, Harvey Fite and Andy Goldsworthy. We noted that these artists used natural materials to build with, such as flowers, leaves, sticks and rocks. 

We also looked at work by the artists Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao. Their playful sculptures of cartoon plants inspired us to create our own natural sculptures out of clay, including coral reefs, trees, and cacti. We painted our sculptures with bright colors and patterns, using wire and toothpicks as structural supports.


Bug habitats 

DSC_0415Spark explorers took a close look at various animal habitats made by skilled animal architects.  We admired the design of beehives, termite mounds, and nests of swallows, sociable weavers and baya weavers, and considered the benefit of pollinators on the environment.  After checking out some man-made “insect hotels”, created to invite pollinators and bugs into the garden, we worked with recycled materials, such as cardboard packaging inserts, found toy stacking boxes and paper flower pots to create our own bug habitats that would draw a variety of bugs and pollinators into natural spaces.  We added natural elements such as pine needles, mosses, grasses and hay to provide good hiding spaces for insects, and we brightened up our insect habitats with colorful paints to draw in insects, some of us including thoughtful messages such as, “Welcome home bugs!”



Bowerbird Nest


Male bowerbirds, we discovered, are masterful animal architects, spending much of their time constructing beautifully designed nests filled with attractive objects in order to attract female bowerbirds.  We looked at some examples of bowerbird nests, and noted the variety of colors and use of both natural and made-made decorative objects. We took a look at some of the work of land artists Peter Dougherty and Nils Udo, who also designed nest-inspired pieces out of natural materials.  Spark artists then collaborated to create a bowerbird nest, using sticks, rocks, and flowers.


Woods walk

IMG_0153 2On our trips to the park, we ventured into some of the deeper wooded areas. We took time during one of our walks to walk in complete silence, becoming aware of all of the sounds that were around us. At the conclusion of our silent walk, we stumbled upon a chipmunk! During the week, we also learned about several common plants. Jewelweed is a plant that commonly grows in forests and alongside brooks– it has beautiful, bright orange flowers, and its leaves are coated with an oil that causes water droplets to bead off its surface, and to turn a reflective silver when submerged. We learned that it can be ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle and used to relieve the symptoms of poison ivy, another plant which we observed (from a safe distance)!  

We learned how to recognize poison ivy – it has leaves in groups of three, with two leaves opposite each other, and a third extended leaf, and its teeth are jagged and asymmetrical.  We also learned to identify Burdock, plantain, and dandelion plants based on leaf structure, and learned that these plants have medicinal and culinary uses.




We had so much fun using a traditional Japanese marbling technique called Suminagashi that we decided to bring it back again for a second day!  The kids enjoyed the meditative process of gently dipping calligraphy brushes onto the surface of water to watch marbling paint colors expand into concentric circle patterns.  We further experimented with design by blowing on the paints, drawing pine needles through them, or splattering oil on the water using a toothbrush.  



Spark song


We reprised our Spark song during our morning circles, coming up with silly ways to get around the world to the destinations that we visited as part of our curriculum. Our travel methods were a little bit unconventional – such as on a flying worm, on a friend’s head, or on magic carpets. We had a great time choosing movements to accompany the song, dancing around the room before trying to remember all of our movements in sequence!





Positive human impact on landscapes, and the Ladakh Ice Stupa project

DSC_0060Spark kids considered ways in which we can make positive impact on the environment and we looked at before-and-after images of landscapes that were restored by communities, such as the Loess Plateau of China and the Greening of the Desert Project in Jordan. We introduced the innovative ice stupa project in Ladakh.  These ice stupas harness unused water during the winter months and store it in the form of ice pillars.  During the summer months, the stupas melt into much needed waters for agricultural use, thereby nourishing the parched landscape of Ladakh.  Feeling inspired, we used colored ice to create an ice stupa in a dry region of our garden, going a step further by including seeds in the ice to promote plant growth.


Building nature structures for practical human use

We looked at different kinds of homes around the world that are constructed using natural materials: Mongolian yurts, Indian houseboats, adobe huts from the Mesa Verde, and Cree tents. We also talked about underground rooms called root cellars, which were used frequently before modern refrigeration to preserve produce at low temperatures. We drew inspiration from the book A Home in the World: Houses and Cultures by Martine & Caroline Laffon, and learned about the Burlington Earth Clock, a large sundial.  

Geodesic domes  

DSC_0217We learned about structures called geodesic domes– constructed as spheres made from a network of triangular frames, geodesic domes are extremely stable structures that can support a great deal of weight for their size. We saw examples of geodesic domes being used as homes, and, using clay, joined wooden dowels together with triangle formations to create our own structure when we were in the park! Then, we built a more permanent structure back at Spark, which we covered in cloth and populated with animals!







We ended our incredible week by learning about altars around the world, in such countries as Mexico, China, Peru, Thailand, Japan, Tibet, India, and Malaysia. We discussed the use of altars to honor and show respect, gratitude and remembrance to deities, ancestors, great masters and spirits.  After looking at some examples of offerings traditionally made by various cultures, some students shared that they had set up altars in remembrance of family members. We also took a look at some tree altars from India, Japan and Indonesia and felt inspired to create our own altar around a tree in the park to honor nature for its many gifts.

DSC_0235As offerings, we used gemstones, and beautiful items that we had thoughtfully collected during a walk through the woods and the big field, such as Jewelweed flowers from the woods, tree pods, clovers, and delicate grasses.  Each of us took turns to dress the tree in cloth and ribbon, and then added our offerings and candles to our altar. We held hands to remember our powerful and joyful week together in nature, and breathed gratitude out to our beautiful Prospect Park. 


Open indoor play


During open free play time, we stitched together leather pouches, painted letters for spark, created miniature terrariums, drew in our Spark notebooks, observed natural objects under our microscope, built animal habitats using blocks, made pinch pots, read books, and worked at our music station.



Open play in the park


Each afternoon, we enjoyed delightful times in the park, playing freely in the shade of the trees at our two favorite spots. There, we swung in our hammock, played frisbee, blew bubbles, learned to finger knit from the 8 year olds, wove with felt, grass, and with fabrics on a giant loom, and listening to Angus’ tall tales of the Littlest Pepper and Gibble the Firework Maker while we lunched.  

Music station

DSC_0082Just as we collected natural materials in the park to create art from found objects, we created a sound collage using collected nature sounds! Angus introduced us to a musical instrument called a MIDI pad, an array of drum pads that are mapped to sound samples. Our MIDI pad was mapped to recordings of various kinds of birdsong, water sounds, the sounds of leaves crunching under feet, among others. Some friends got to take turns turning these sounds into rhythmic sequences. 

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