Rollicking Rodents by Hallie Cirino

One day, a student shared an exciting story about a mouse visiting her kitchen. Another student chimed in that his family had recently experienced the same. Afterwards, we went out to recess, and, as if on cue, a squirrel scampered by carrying a large brown nut. We all watched in fascination as it ran across the playground and stopped to dig a quick hole for its prize. Before we knew it, the children were running around outside, “foraging” for nuts, and a rodent study had begun.

Maria, my co-teacher and I, collected both fiction and non-fiction books about rodents, including many by Leo Lionni. Next we scoured the Yale Center for British Art website, seeking paintings that may portray rodents. We found this great one, entitled “The Seven Ages of Man: The Infant” by Robert Smirke.


The children needed to study the painting very closely in order to discover the mouse. They began to discuss why the mouse was there.

“Maybe it smells food,” mused Esme.

“I think it wants to be comfy and cozy,” stated Cassie.

“It might be their pet,” noted Harleaux.

“It wants to see what’s around and get a little crumb,” reasoned William.

“There’s a cat”, noted Jack before adding, “It would definitely grab the mouse if it saw it.”

The children also developed questions about rodents and did visual research—“reading” photos in books— to find the answers. They marked the pages with post-it notes and shared their findings.



Many of the children also created rodent sculptures from river rocks.

river rock mice


Tessellations are starting to appear in their journals now, and we are wondering where this will lead…

A Fall Visit by Hallie Cirino

One day last week, I invited two students, who were in my class last year, to come in a share a sketch journal page with my new class. The two graduates (who happen to be twin brother and sister) are currently in Kindergarten. Each had looked through their journals at home and selected a favorite page to show and talk about with the new students. I’ve never done this before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Hudson showed his revised owl, which happens to be a topic I covered in a blog post last year.

Hudson's revised owl

Sienna shared a “trail to a tree”.

Sienna shares
Sienna shares

With incredible grace and aplomb, both talked about how hard they worked on those journal pages. They asked my new class for feedback, and students made comments such as, “I like how you filled your whole canvas”, and “That’s a really good owl”, and “I like the colors that you used”. The comments were a bit cursory, but it is only the beginning of the year with children who are mostly still four years old, with little experience.

After our visitors left, the children went to work in their journals. As I circulated around the room, I asked the children about what they are drawing/writing. One little girl, Esme, said, “I’m making a path to a rainbow circle.” I asked where she got her idea, and her response was, “From the girl that came and shared her journal. She did a path to a tree, but mine is to a rainbow circle.”

Esme path to a rainbow circle Esme with journal

A simple visit from an “expert” can be all of the inspiration our budding artist-writers need.