Filling Empty Bowls with Care

“Ta-da!” It’s Ella Leslie speaking, as she proudly shows her painted bowl to a visitor at Crestwood Elementary School.

“That’s the sunset, that’s a bunny,” Ella explains, pointing out daubs of yellow against a purple background. “It’s pretty much Easter. And those are flowers. Those are shooting stars.”

It is a thing of wonder to see children’s imaginations at work, and applied to ceramic bowls, in Ella’s first-grade classroom. Outfitted in a Hello Kitty robe – it’s pajama day at Crestwood – Ella has just finished decorating a bowl she made to benefit hungry children.

 Camden Stump creating his bowl to help hungry childrenEach of Crestwood’s nearly 400 students created the colorful bowls as part of a school-wide service learning project called Empty Bowls. Parents purchased their children’s pottery with donations at a recent dinner. More than $3,000 in proceeds is going to Kids’ Food Basket, which provides free sack suppers to more than 6,000 students in greater Grand Rapids and Muskegon.

The art project was tied to classroom lessons, and student-made posters were hung in the halls.

“That empty bowl symbolizes the empty bowls many kids face when they go home,” says Principal Nicole Reeves. “The students have gained an awareness about hunger, homelessness, kindness and philanthropy.” 

Besides teaching pupils artistic technique, the project was a way to connect their learning to a larger reality, says art teacher Mary Penrod.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to use their creativity and talent to help others,” says Penrod, a 31-year teacher.

♥‘How Can Painting be Hard?’

The project grew from a proposal by kindergarten teacher Elice Davey, who brought the idea to the school’s improvement team. Supplies were funded by a $2,100 grant from the Rockford Education Foundation, along with donations from local businesses.

Students began making their bowls in late March, hand-crafting them from slabs, then made sketches of their designs. A week later, after their bowls had been fired in a 2,000-degree kiln, they glazed them with pastel colors and fanciful designs.

On glazing day, Penrod has students choose a table of two primary colors, which can be mixed to create secondary hues. Girls commandeer the purple table, boys dominate the green and orange. They eagerly go to work, dipping their brushes into thick paints and daubing their bowls with care.

What Children Learn from Making Pottery

  • Sensory development and motor skills
  • Self-esteem and expression
  • Problem-solving
  • Discipline
  • Calm
  • Pride and self-worth

Source: Lakeside Pottery, Stamford, CT

“This is the most terrible art I’ve ever made,” laments Lauren Wirth. “It’s really good,” Ava Matlosz corrects her. “Now I’m the paint brush,” observes Lauren, displaying a paint-coated finger.

“I thought it would be hard. It’s not that hard,” remarks Riley Humphrey, wearing My Little Pony PJs. Asks Halle Stout, “How can painting be hard?”

Charlie Hall proudly shows off his finished glazeOver at the orange table, Garrett Weipert seeks the advice of fellow glazer Jesse Lake. “Jesse, is this too much?” he asks, brandishing a brush-full of yellow. “Yeah, way too much,” Jesse replies, so Garrett reloads. “Jesse, do I need this much?” he asks. “Yeah, perfect,” Jesse replies.

The artists know their empty bowls will end up filling the plates of other children.

“I like Kids’ Food Basket,” says Camden Stump, studiously swirling his bowl with blues and yellows. “If (children) don’t have enough food, people give them more food.”

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Kids’ Food Basket

Rockford Education Foundation

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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