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Art with a fishy surprise

Forest Hills — What you see at first isn’t necessarily the whole picture.

Some second-graders know this firsthand. More than 40 in-person learners and three sections of virtual students in Orchard View Elementary teacher Melissa Ennis’s art classes created “folded fish” that reveal a surprise underneath.

Their water-dwelling works of art, done in marker and crayon this year so every student had their own supplies, were inspired by a lesson on Art for Kids Hub, a family YouTube channel. Ennis said this is the fourth year she has led the lesson, which can include other animals, vehicles and more.

Carter Daniels with his folded fish drawing (courtesy)

Students start by folding a piece of paper in half, then folding one half again before making a drawing with pencil — half the drawing on the top of the fold and the rest on the bottom. An eye, mouth, gills, tail and fins can also be added and colored.

When the paper is unfolded, what was originally a modest fish is revealed to be so much more.

“I try to start by teaching them the basic skills,” said Ennis. “Then, as they build their confidence and get comfortable with what they create, I build in choice that allows them to be creative.”

Hadley Beemer drew a colorful rainbow fish on the outside of her folded paper. When she unfolds the paper to show what’s underneath the fish, seaweed drifts back and forth with the current as smaller fish swim nearby.

Carter Daniels drew a solid red clownfish he named Joe on the outside of his folded sheet of paper. When the paper is unfolded, Joe turns into a gigantic underwater beast with lots of teeth. The fish is so big he dwarfs a nearby submarine and a shipwreck on the ocean floor, as well as a floating chainsaw Carter added — creativity at work.

Ennis said the project is a practice in dexterity and hand-eye coordination, as well as a springboard for second-graders to learn about the color palette. She added that she often ties in discussions about natural resources.

What’s more, she said, “there’s that social-emotional piece — what’s on the outside doesn’t always speak to what’s on the inside — and how artists create multiple solutions to a visual problem.”

Her own biggest take-away from the project “is how much joy they get starting with one piece of paper. They get really excited, and they are really proud of what they create. I think that’s the main point of my job, that art looks different for everybody and they should be proud of what they create.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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