Renew, recycle -- decorate! -- at Montessori school

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Butterflies more than 2 feet tall, large, colorful flowers more than 4 feet tall and round posies bigger than a small child.

Those are among the items featured in a yearlong recycled art project at the Montessori Centre Academy in Shaler. The project began last summer when Mary Roche and Gina Roberts, both academy preschool teachers, recycled discarded items to decorate the campus.

"It all started when they decided to create a more whimsical campus for the children," said Yolanda Sweenie, director.

According to Mrs. Sweenie, teachers searched the storage unit for items the school no longer used but hadn't discarded.

"Mrs. Sweenie saves everything," Mrs. Roche joked.

Using legs from tables and paddles from ceiling fans, Mrs. Roche and Mrs. Roberts fashioned the bodies of butterflies, attached baseballs for heads and painted them in bright colors.

The butterflies were then hung in trees along the long driveway leading to the campus,

They transformed an old wading pool into two large posies by using metal snippers to create petals.

They then painted the flowers and attached them to fences lining the play yard.

They also used discarded garden hoses for daisylike flowers.

"We just spray painted them, shaped them into flowers and attached them," Mrs. Roberts said.

Muffin tins were painted and added for flower centers, old-fashioned soda shop chairs had the seats removed, were painted and are now used for potholders.

A tree that had toppled on campus was converted into a low, child-friendly bench.

"We kept coming up with ideas and played off of each other," Mrs. Roche said.

As the two led a tour of the garden, they pointed out simple items turned into garden decorations.

"We wanted to focus on the reuse, recycle aspect that we teach," Mrs. Roche said.

The two also placed old wooden door frames on a hillside to hold sun catchers.

"We used old, plastic beads and melted them into tins, then strung them up here," explained Mrs. Roberts.

In addition to searching the campus for unused items to turn into art, the teachers purchased items from thrift shops to complement their creations. Mrs. Roberts' father also participated when he brought an old, wooden screen door to campus.

"He said, 'Can you use this?' and I grabbed it right away," said Mrs. Roche. She used the door as a frame for plastic fish made of melted beads to help decorate her classroom.

As the two teachers created their works of art, students in the summer program helped them. Other teachers also became involved, and art teacher Natalie Grandinetti incorporated some recycle, reuse ideas into her curriculum.

Elementary school students last week created bird feeders using plastic soft drink bottles and items they gathered from a nature walk during a recent art class.

"I'm painting mine red to make it look like a brick house, then using the bark for the roof," said Thabit Shafer, 8, as he worked on his feeder.

"I want to teach the kids to creatively reuse items that we had," said Mrs. Grandinetti.

"I think it's really cool," said Thabit.

The two teachers plan to keep expanding their recycled gardens as they find other items.

"Montessori education teaches ingenuity," said Mrs. Sweenie, "I think this falls right into those teachings."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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