Peu à Peu

I find myself remembering in bits and pieces. The peeling paint of an ancient wooden door, the crunch of toasted bread smeared with butter, the gears of the glass elevator in our hotel lobby. My grant trip to Paris was an intense whirlwind that ended as quickly as it began. My family and I left on a Friday night and caught the red-eye from ATL to CDG. Fighting jet-lag and work-week exhaustion, we landed Saturday morning intent on making the most of this amazing opportunity. Each day packed with tours, tickets, and best-laid plans, the week flew by so quickly that I have trouble remembering the whole.

Back at Trinity, I stand in the semi-darkness of morning carpool duty twiddling the metro ticket still in my coat pocket.

A small memory comes swimming forward:

My brother Jack and I hop off our bus tour early so that we can catch the Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich game. He had been looking forward to this match the entire trip and it just so happened to fall on his birthday. We dash to the nearest metro station only to come to a complete halt. I should rephrase that: I come to a complete halt. Jack, on the other hand, is bouncing on his heels waiting for me to translate the enormous rail map that glows ominously in the underground station. It is agonizing for him to wait while my brain decodes the French. Three days into our trip and I am slowly squeaking back into my language skills.

Another memory surfaces, sparked by Jack’s anticipation:

My dad, my step-mother, Jack, and I are in the basement of the Louvre. We have somehow made our way to the Egyptian antiquities wing and we are so far from the beaten path that the museum placards no longer provide English descriptions alongside the French. Jack points to a mummified head whose face is coated in gold leaf and asks, “That’s real, isn’t it?” Day four and I still have enough younger brother patience to keep from snapping back, “Of course it’s real, this is the Louvre.” Instead, I lean in to translate the long caption out loud to him. I speak slowly, reading each word carefully. Admittedly, I stumble over the complex museum terminology and completely skip the French version of the Egyptian words, but nonetheless, I am proud of my ability to wade through the paragraph. Finally, I stand up straight to meet his eyes and ask what he things about the mummy, but Jack has walked away in boredom: my translation too slow.

By day five and six I am proud to say had several successful all-French conversations. I cleared things up with the ticket-taker at Gare du Nord when our TGV tickets hadn’t been printed correctly. A French waiter and I discussed the aperitif my step-mother was looking for on the menu at a brasserie. I was even able to make a disgruntled taxi driver laugh when I explained that I often get my left and my right mixed up, no matter the language.

Little recollections edge back into my mind while I shower or walk the dog. A slow trickle that surprises me each time a family member calls to reminisce or a co-worker asks if I got to see their favorite spot. These become daily reminders to keep sacred my interests. Interests in art, language, and travel that help nourish my creativity and fuel my teaching. I look forward to welcoming every little memory as it resurfaces.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves the Trinity School community as the EED art teacher.

Slow and Steady

I am new to teaching art in the EED. (That’s Early Elementary Division for all you non-Trinity folks.) Being new, I have spent most of my first few months figuring out the inner workings of our youngest learners.

Lesson planning for the little guys has been a tightrope balance: what works for one Pre-K class may not work for the other. Some groups of kids experiment for much longer than others. Some groups do NOT care about what you’re going to be for Halloween while others would rather spend the entire class talking about what they ate for breakfast last Tuesday.

As such, most of my lessons this year have been intimidating experiments with outcomes yet undetermined. This is especially the case for the “turtles” I tried to teach the Early Learners how to make.

Did you notice how the word “turtles” is in quotation marks?

Keep that in mind.

We started the lesson by introducing ourselves to the real live turtle that lives in the EED art room. (His name is Tom.) We talked about his important body parts: one head, one tail, one shell, and four legs. Together, we read a book about where turtles live. We talked about the colors found in a turtle’s shell. We counted his legs. We counted his legs again. And then we counted his legs one more time. (Early Learners LOVE to count.)

So when I gave my students a small piece of Model Magic and showed them how to carefully pinch out four turtle legs I was expecting them to follow my lead.

As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

Some kids pinched, some kids pulled, some kids coiled and smashed. Our little turtles were definitely NOT turtle-shaped.

Repeating the art teacher mantra “process over product” I continued on with the lesson as if my students had made the most beautiful turtles ever created. We covered the turtles with green and brown paint and then added some final decorative dots using their color of choice. Once the class was finished and the students departed I stood alone in my room amongst forty colorful lumps.

You know what I did?

I glued googly-eyes on them.

I glued googly-eyes on the lumpy blobs of Model Magic so that my adult eyes could see what my Early Leaners already knew: those little creatures really were the most beautiful turtles ever created.

Sometimes, when we are wading through a puddle of self-doubt, we simply need a few googly-eyes to brighten up our lesson plans.


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves Trinity School as the EED Art Teacher


Middle of the Pack

Alone at the dog park, Emmett becomes thoughtful.

Recently, I’ve been spending many of my afternoons at the dog park. My backyard is not fenced in and though I love to take my 6-month-old hound dog on long walks, his young mind also needs a more playful outlet. At the dog park Emmett gets to play with all sorts dogs: tall dogs like the Great Dane, small dogs like the Dachshund, dogs who love to run fast, dogs who love to catch Frisbees, dogs who stand near the fence and watch squirrels, and even grumpy dogs who just want to relax on the bench with their humans. In his own time, Emmett has tried out all of these activities, but he has never been as fast as the fast dogs, he has never understood the point of fetching, and the squirrels never seem to mind his barking.

For months Emmett played comfortably in the middle of the pack, never shining with any bright ability. Until one afternoon I noticed he had ventured to the far end of the dog park, nose glued to the ground as he trotted around the perimeter of the fence. The more I looked for this behavior the more often I saw it; nose down, tail wagging, as the little dog sniffed the ground in search for treasures. And Emmett always seemed entranced by whatever wonderful mysteries he smelled.

Soon, Emmett was finding all sorts of things on our walks. He could sniff out a new chipmunk hole in seconds, fallen crabapples and walnuts buried under the soft ground were easily unearthed, and even our family of backyard rabbits could not hide from his nose. Emmett relishes in finding new things and I am glad to have a happy dog with a talent that gives him purpose.

I feel all students also have hidden talents just waiting to be discovered. Being a teacher really means helping those kids in the middle of the pack discover what makes them special. Once we help those students find that special ability we can help them hone in and develop that talent until they relish in all of their accomplishments. Students who are proud of their work are happy students with a purpose.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves Trinity School as an Associate Art teacher.  You can follow her on Twitter @MakeSomeArt

“Is that a mammal?”

I thought I fancied myself a knowledgeable fan of animals; I read “Ranger Rick” magazines as a kid, I rejoiced in visits to the Zoo Atlanta, and I watched VHS tapes of National Geographic’s “Really Wild Animals” relentlessly.

So when I started to compile an animal image encyclopedia for the 4th graders to use in their printmaking project, I thought I was well prepared—I thought I was MORE than prepared. I mean… my image file was so well fortified it included animals like the kinkajou and the hoatzin.

Do you know what a hoatzin is?

I was positive I would be ready when the kids were told they could choose any animals they wanted to draw for their project.

At least, I thought I was.

One student in particular came up to me and asked, “Do you have any pictures of a binturong?”

“A what?”

And that wasn’t the end of it…

“Okay, Ms. Chamberlain, what about a nautilus?”

“Does that live in the ocean?”

I ended up adding more than 10 new animals, all of whom I had never even heard:











I have been inspired to continue expanding my animal file instead of resting on knowledge from my childhood. The file now contains 334 species of animals. I owe its constant growth and my continued interest to one student and his remarkable expertise.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves Trinity School as an Art Teacher.