Through the Eyes of a 4th Grader: A Virtual Gallery Lesson

Can you remember an amazing class trip that you loved? Imagine one hundred 4th graders eagerly waiting outside of the Blanton, ready to create cherished memories of their own. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these excited children, and join them as they journey through the museum.

The lessons and activities highlighted here are representative of real student visits and all student responses are actual comments from our K-12 visitors.

Just imagine… you enter the museum with your classmates and are immediately struck by the bustling activity and sounds.  Your attention is pulled skyward to the flood of light bouncing off the ocean-like walls. A gallery teacher motions for you to follow her, and you begin to climb the staircase to the second floor.

Greeting you at the landing is a large plane, with hundreds of scorched black aluminum butterflies effortlessly lifting the aircraft, Passage by Paul Villinski (2011). The gallery teacher tells you that this plane would fit a 10 year old. “I feel like this plane is the spirit of children, allowing us to soar!” Your friend exclaims. You wonder where those butterflies would take you. Your gallery teacher suggests flying to your next destination in the museum. You spread your wings and take off.

Children walking around the museum with their arms outstretched

Your class gathers around Summer Circle by Richard Long (1991), an object that almost fills the room. When the gallery teacher asks, “what do you see?” You hesitantly you put up your hand and say that it looks like a maze. “What a wonderful observation!” She invites the group to lie down and look into the maze. You didn’t know you could lay on the floor in an art museum. The gallery teacher brings out a box, inside are shapes drawn on a mat, and pieces of paper that look similar to the stone in the circle. She tells you that we are going to complete a design challenge, and that you are to use the pieces in the box to think about the issues that this artist might have faced. The challenge is hard at first, but after discussing a strategy with your partner you solve it and begin to feel a growing affinity with the artist.

Two children in front of Richard Long's Summer Circle working on an activity

While following the gallery teacher to the next stop, you are struck with how much there is to see. It’s interesting to see the mix of people gathering at different art works and you wonder about the many conversations that surround you.

Joan Mitchell Rock Bottom painting
Joan Mitchell, Rock Bottom, 1960-61, oil on canvas, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991.

Your group stops to look at Rock Bottom by Joan Mitchell (1960-61), and this time you feel confident raising your hand. Maybe you’re getting the hang of this! The gallery teacher asks the group if the painting reminds them of an emotion. You glance at your peers and notice that everyone is raising their hands, bursting with ideas. You think that the work shows sadness, and when the teacher asks what you see that makes you think this, you reply that it is the color and the movement of paint. She probes further, “why would an artist want to show you sadness?” Your classmate raises her hand, and offers, “it’s because she wants us to know that it is ok to feel sad sometimes.”  The teacher smiles but doesn’t say anything, her silence allows you to think about what was said, and to stay in a moment of empathy. Your friend, who is sitting next to you breaks the silence, “I have felt that way when I was left out by my friends.” Others around you begin to nod, and you remember a similar feeling. This artwork has been able to stir such emotion, and as you walk away you feel like you know the artist and yourself a little better.

Crossing the room, you come to the next stop, Cord Painting by Regina Bogat (1977). This painting is so dynamic! Or is it a sculpture? Soon you are finding patterns amongst the disorderly lengths of cord. “Are we ready to investigate?” Your gallery teacher asks, as she hands you a large envelope. Inside are colored paper and strings of all colors. “With this artwork in mind, experiment with these materials to create your own works of art”

Children work on an activity at the Blanton Museum of Art

Hurriedly you work together, discussing the best ways to approach the task. It is surprising how calming this activity is: there are no confines, no right or wrong, and when you are finished, everyone takes a turn sharing their work and thoughts.

You help the gallery teacher pick up the paper and string. The lesson is over and you can’t believe that it has been a whole hour! “I’m coming back with my family!” you exclaim, waving goodbye to your gallery teacher, as you walk out of the galleries and back down the stairs.

Education at the Blanton is a journey of discovery. Taking the time to look longer, ask questions, and empathize builds life-long, transferable skills.  We invite students to share their lived experiences and relate to works of art in new and unexpected ways.
Sabrina Phillips is a Blanton Gallery Teacher and the Administrative Coordinator in the Education Department.  She has taught at elementary schools in England, Egypt, Qatar and Thailand.

1 thought on “Through the Eyes of a 4th Grader: A Virtual Gallery Lesson”

  1. I recall going to an art gallery as an elementary student, and can say from experience that it had an everlasting effect on my education! I walked away with the thought of never being wrong, only seeing things differently. Thanks for bringing up some wonderful memories!

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