A Happy Accident

A Happy Accident

By Hallie Cirino

5’s Teacher, CHT Preschool, Westport

“I ALWAYS start journals on the first day of Kindergarten.” I have proudly asserted this many, many times over my 15+ years of teaching 5-year-olds, as I felt this was somehow indicative of how ready my students are and how important this process is to me. However, this year, a happy accident occurred.

We ordered the journals late, and they did not arrive until the ninth day of school, which was the first time the children had an opportunity to use them. Sylvia Grannan, my co-teacher, and I had all of the children gather together on the rug. I held up one of the journals and asked, “What is this?”

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“A book!”

“A journal!”

“A folder!”

“Well, it’s a book that we will call a journal,” I explained. I then opened it to reveal the blank pages and asked what was missing.




I told the children that their job was going to be filling the pages with pictures, letters, and words. Sylvia explained a few of important rules… You may only write on one page per day, you must work hard, and you may only write in your own journal. “No scribble scrabble?” asked one of our students. Sylvia answered this question by explaining about abstract art and demonstrated an example of “scribble scrabble” vs. intentional marks that may not be representational. The children then eagerly dug into the writing tools which we provided (markers, crayons, pencils), and got to work. Here are a few results:

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This was the first time that no one struggled to begin writing, no one “copied” the idea of the person beside them, and no one resisted sounding out words with us. We attributed this to the fact that the children have already had the opportunity to get settled in our classroom, understand our expectations for doing serious work, and have developed a self-assured sense of confidence. We were also pleased to see that all of our artist/writers filled their canvasses– No “postage stamps.” We are so thankful that our journals were not waiting for the children on that first day! We are excited to embark on this new year of art, writing, and learning with our students.

Portrait of a Summer Teacher


Just a couple of months ago, the auditorium at the Yale Center for British Art was speckled with torn paper, art cards, paintbrushes, cups of water, scissors, glue sticks, items to smell, feel, hear, and see. It was also speckled with teachers – teachers painting, tearing, gluing, drawing – and it was very quiet. The Summer Institute for Visual Literacy was under way. Out of the silence, from the floor between two rows of auditorium seats, comes a voice: “I’m sorry to break the silence, but I just have to say – I could not be happier!”


Carol worked on a collage inspired by the phrase in the text doorway: “Calm Morning.” She finds collage “liberating because it doesn’t require perfection.”



Sabine smelled lemon at the smell doorway, then found an art card to help her picture a place she’d visited. She used chalk to evoke a “blurry memory.”


In the Doorways workshop, everyone found themselves in their own stories. Lindsay was back on a crowded train. Juliet was back in South India with the smell of coconut and Gaugin colors. Joe went back 30 years to share coffee with his brother in Texas. We left behind our fast-paced, distracting lives that week. We slowed down. We paid attention. We relaxed. And like a vacation, we knew it was going to be hard to take it with us.


As the first weeks of school are under way, I hope that teachers have found a way to harness this kind of deliberate, deep thinking and take it with them into the  year. Whether it’s altering everything you do just a little bit by bringing visuals into the classroom, or just keeping a journal for yourself for a while, the end result is better learning – and happier teachers.