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Creating Memoirs in Elementary Education

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 4/5/2012

We are never too young to start exploring the question, “Who Am I?” Interactive lessons, allowing the child to work independently, create individual, early language memoirs to share with family and friends.

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    Elementary School Memoirs

    For educators and parents alike, the theoretical pathways between the way children learn and how they feel about themselves--and their place in the world--have been clearly outlined within early elementary education curriculums.

    The objectives of creating memoirs in elementary school are

    • to enable children to develop a positive sense of who they are in relationship to the world around them
    • inspire a celebration of self
    • explore the child's relationship to others
    • develop a sense of connectedness

    Adult assistance is needed for the following activities. Plan to invite parents to assist. Explain to the parents and volunteers before beginning that they are there to assist the children, but not to do the activity for them.

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    Creating a Me, Myself, and I Poster

    Materials needed are:

    • large brown paper
    • old magazines
    • blunt-end scissors
    • paste or glue
    • crayons
    • a variety of art embellishments (glitter, paper scraps, ribbon, etc.)

    Have the child lie on a large sheet of brown paper, while a parent or teacher traces around the child’s outline. Then, after cutting out the outline, have the child paste magazine clippings, which represent things that the child likes, onto their life-sized collage.

    Encourage, do not require, the child to adorn their Me, Myself, and I poster with additional free-hand drawings and/or embellishments with crayons, colored paper, fabric scraps, glitter, etc. Displaying their creation on a wall or door, allows the child, as well as those around him or her, to see and celebrate the vision that child has of him or herself.

    Remember, that while the child may need assistance, this is their vision of self.

    Note: This activity is an excellent segue into a unit on Flat Stanley.

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    A “Thumbs Up” Memoir

    Materials needed are:

    • art/construction paper
    • ink pads
    • crayons
    • pencils

    After a brief discussion regarding the topic of how each person’s fingerprints are unique; no one else in the world has an identical one. Demonstrate how to create an image using a thumb impression by making a print of your thumb. Create a stick figure using your thumbprint as the body. Add details that show that you are a teacher (schoolhouse, books, etc.). Write the word, teacher, at the bottom on the paper. Explain to the students that they can make their own thumb figure. It does not need to be a person, like yours, it only needs to show something about the child. The thumb figure can be a pet, a flower, or whatever they imagine.

    With the assistance of adults, have the child create an impression of their thumbprint on a sheet of construction paper.

    Then encourage the child to write and or express and have the teacher or parent record (below the image of their fingerprint) the additional things that the child feels are unique to them.

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    A Child Went Forth

    Materials needed are:

    • art paper
    • old magazines
    • scissors
    • glue

    Read the lines from Walt Whitman's poem, There Was a Child Went Forth -

    "There was a child went forth every day;/And the first object he looked upon, that object he became;/And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years."

    Discuss with the children what this means. (i.e., if the first thing we see is a bird, birds become part of our life for that day.) Brainstorm with the children various objects that might be part of them. Create a list on the board.

    Explain to students that a collage is a work of art that uses multiple images and sometimes words to tell a story or make a statement. Have students find and cut out pictures of objects and/or words that best describe who they are, creating a collage of those images.

    Hang their Who Am I? collages in the classroom or hallway for all to see.

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    References:

    • Content from author's own experience.

    Resources:

    • First Schools: All About Me Theme Preschool Activities - http://www.first-school.ws/theme/all-about-me.htm
    • Princeton Online: Self Portraits Art Lesson Ideas - http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/elem/selfport.htm
    • The Art of Teaching Writing: Making Memoir Out of the Pieces of our Lives, by Lucy Calkins, (Heinemann, 1994)
    • In the Company of Children, by Joanne Hindley (Stenhouse Publishers, 1996)
    • Teaching Memoir Writing, by Perdita Finn, (New York: Scholastic, 1999)