Parents and Students: Shared Experiences through Self-Portraits

As part of Baker’s Early Childhood traditions for the start of the school year, the students are tasked with drawing a self-portrait of themselves. This exercise teaches students to really look at themselves and encourages practice in manipulating artistic tools and methods as well as observations about the self and identity. Ms. Makagon’s first grade class participated in this activity as a way to look at self esteem and the self and to then build outward to see how the self relates to the family, the Baker community, and then the larger community in which we live.

Looking Like Me, by Walter Dean Myers, is among the books that Ms. Makagon used to inspire the children to think about all of the things that make up their persona. They looked at themselves and each other and reflected upon what makes them each who they are. Looking at what makes us the same and what makes us different and embracing these differences and accepting each other and those around us is exactly what we are trying to instill in our children as values they will take out into the world. She asked them to think about themselves and create various ways that they identify: boy; girl; daughter; son; friend; grandchild; artist; etc.

The self-portraits began as pencil and then moved to a more permanent pen. Then color was added. The students had to look at themselves in the mirror and really see what was reflected back at them: who they are. The products of their work are lovely and inspiring.

As an experiment, during her Back-to-School Night, Ms. Makagon asked the parents of these young learners to participate in the same activity. Parents, and truly most adults unless they work as artists themselves, aren’t often tasked to utilize this skillset, fearing that they have lost the ability to create because they are grownups. As a result, there was some initial discomfort, but as the parents sat and listened to Ms. Makagon read the book, Looking Like Me, they found themselves quietly focusing on their work and relishing in the fact that while they might all be uncomfortable, they were doing this together as part of a community. They celebrated each other’s work and showed pride in what they had accomplished. What better way to know what it is like to experience what your student experiences than by doing what their children do in class? These parents, if just for a half an hour, lived the progressive educational experience.

Ms. Makagon was thrilled with how well this went. She was struck by how peaceful and quiet the classroom became as the parents delved deeply into the project. It is her wish to create an environment similar to The Closlieu, a space and time for quiet art creation where individuals can focus on creation in a quiet and meditative safe space. The parents left the evening in a different mindset than when they had entered. They were not merely parents whose children shared a classroom, but human beings who shared an experience and had a greater understanding for each other and what kind of environment their children inhabited each day at Baker. The activity went over so well that she plans to duplicate this experiences for future families at the start of each school year she is at Baker.

The students were excited beyond words as they came down the hallway from music to see their parents’ works displayed on the wall. They were filled with pride and eagerly found their own portraits alongside the portraits of their parents.

The self-portraits of the students and their parents are on display on the memory wall on the 1st floor outside Ms. Makagon’s room. We encourage everyone to visit this area and take in these beautiful drawings created by our community.

By Katie Nordine

Ms. Nordine is our Communications Specialist