On Thursday, Bluebell’s light was first spotted, flickering along the wall near the ceiling.  Blue, tinged with violet?  Or was it tipped in a soft shimmery turquoise?


The first Thursday of our school’s existence proved to be a magical one as inquiry and imagination unfolded and became the bedrock of our fledgling dream.  The afternoon set the tone and the context for much of the lore, and many of the strategies, that would become hallmarks of our community.

The children’s attention refocused on the picture book that was interrupted with the unexpected flash.  Suddenly, there was another burst, along the upper portion of the back wall, flitting along the ceiling cove molding of the old theater building room.  All eyes darted and fixed on the splits of dancing lights.  “What was that?” became “Who is that?!” questions and vigorous search for her whereabouts could not be satisfied.  They had plenty of ideas!!!

And then… the coveted fairy wing was found and saved in a plastic baggie to avoid damage.  Perhaps it had been caught, broken in a tree branch… a theory confirmed by putting our new microscope to good use.

A series of letters were written, trying to coax Bluebell out of hiding.

Light sightings were mapped and fairy dust was found in the carpet and lifted with clear tape.  A popsicle splatter with blue paint was labeled and submitted for evidence.  After all, no one had yet used paint of that particular color!

The children found a bit of fabric… It must be a bit of her tiny dress!

Abby was quickly on the scene to offer an expert’s lesson on using the microscope she had donated to the class. As for the wing… Would the fairy be able to grow a new one?

One child lifted a sparkle off Susan’s cheek with tape.  Even bits of thread and frayed ribbon were very carefully examined and proclaimed to either belong to the fairy or simply be rubbish left from a project in the studio.

Tom even took the microscope to the park at lunchtime… “just in case.”

In the park, Lux found a cluster of tiny mushrooms at the base of a tree, suggesting the presence of fairy life.  She had read about this!  And a white butterfly flitted past the picnicking party of children.  Zach was concerned that the fairy was responsible for the missing corners of his corn chips; he kept the damaged ones and took them back to the school for examination.

All of the evidence was taped onto the “evidence chart.”  Lexi, the eldest, held a session with eager youngsters to recap what they had found and to wonder what to do to entice the fairy to stay.

Johnson made a flower for Bluebell, but he left it colorless with a message to the fairy, asking her favorite color.  He planned to color it, hang it high out of the way, and let the fairy use it as a perching place from which to observe us all at work.

Zuzu made a brightly colored card and chose a fairy book to inspire her next steps. Caleb suggested that we all sit very still and listen… “We might hear her fly by us.”

During studio time, Lexi and Lux gathered natural materials to make fairy houses the following week.  “We want them to come be with us.  They’re magical!”

Johnson’s original worries, having “never seen a fairy in my whole life before,” were treated solemnly by children who offered that fairies were small and more afraid of him than he was of them.  He had curled up on the couch, tucking his feet tightly up under him, off the floor where the fairy might sneak up and startle him.  Tears welled in his eyes.  With Susan, he watched the others, toting clipboards, making notes, exclaiming with excitement.  His concerns persisted until he cautiously ventured off his base to join the hunt.  “It does look like they are having fun…”  All of sudden, we heard Johnson shriek as he crouched behind more adventurous investigators…

…”I found MORE evidence!”  he called triumphantly.  It was yet another bit of colorful ribbon that elicited more excitement and a round of admiration for the finder.  “It must be!  Yes, part of the fairy’s coat!”  The declaration was met with rousing cheer.


At departure time, Johnson summed up his day’s revelation… “Now I know real life is magic. Fairies are real if you use your imagination.”  We wondered what would happen next.

Well, the theater, like life, is full of magical elements… things that come into our existence and offer us new inspirations and insights… if we are paying attention.

On Friday, a log was hauled into the school and placed near the front door, to be used as a mailbox… Abby had made a lovely fairy pop-up card the evening before.

Notes taken earlier were left on the atelier table… But what was the green ink and the strange handwriting added in the margin?  Were Milo and Otis involved in mischief?  What did we know and what new questions were arising?  How would we ever piece together the information and find out from the clues?  There certainly were gaps, plenty for theories to grow and critical evidence to be found.  What did our reference divulge about fairy life?

We began writing stories about our encounters with Bluebell.  Starting with blank cards and a felt pen, each of us wrote words and simple phrases that caught our first ideas, one idea on each card.  We put those cards in order and then used another color of pen to add more ideas to fill the gaps.Then we used ANOTHER color the next day to make changes— to add details, combine sentences, and create interest by changing words to more vivid image-painters.  Our stories became more, “colorful,” thicker, fuller, as we added different elements over the next few days.  Transition words, first words (usually, “I” or “We”), verbs, and number of words in a sentence… each was charted to see if we had become too predictable and uninteresting.  Changes were made with gusto to capture our growing excitement.  We could watch our stories grow more powerful.

“We read our work to others for response.  Friends’ questions help us rethink and rework our writing.  Each time we read our stories aloud, we found places to smooth and details to add.”

We taped the “train” of cards together in order (horizontally) and then added a beginning to snag our audience, to “drag them into the story.”  As we kept learning more about Bluebell, we included more in the fairy’s tale!  Some of us even added more cards vertically, as “side cars” to the horizontal train, extending the original ideas further!  The more “color” we added (different pens for each stage of our writing), the more we could see the story change, getting deeper and more interesting.  “It is a picture of our learning!”  “Yes!  Evidence!  You can see  it there where I crossed out a whole bunch and made one sentence.”

We wrote letters and shorter stories as drafts in our journals… refined and edited our original work… and we wrote our final copies on clean paper with lined paper underneath, on the light table.  The lined paper shows through so the work on the white paper was tidy.  “We take time to make it look good so that people will take time to read what we have to say!!!”  Taking time to add details in the illustrations, matting, and layout means using measuring skills, understanding color and symbols, and experimenting with shapes and texture.

We practiced drawing the human body, believing that Bluebell might present herself as a smaller version of ourselves and we wanted to be ready to capture her likeness in drawing.  One of the lads stood very still as we used him as a model to learn about proportion.

A fairy house made by an artist became our next inspiration.  “Can we make one, too?  Can we each make one?!”  (The youngsters were concerned about Bluebell living in the pipes and sewers of the old theater building!)

Each of us chose our tree-round pieces (a thin slice of tree trunk or sturdy tree branch) to support the basic structure of the houses. We kept records of our plans and progress.

Because we planned to add lighting for our fairy houses, children had a need to investigate electricity.  Drawing circuits, taking notes, labeling the essential elements of a working circuit all helped us understand how we would light our fairy spaces and control the energy flow with the use of a switch.  Working out the electricity in a real house was a challenge!  Some of us wanted to have more lights and switches, so we learned how to run parallel circuits off one battery!  Thinking ahead, we left spaces for wiring and made sure there was a place to secure the switch, hiding it amid architectural embellishments!  We learned to make press pads and key switches to serve different functions.  Some fairies would flick a switch, others would simply land or push a button to produce light.

Using two strategies for writing helped us express complex ideas!  We used the 5 w’s (who, what, when, where, and why) and challenged ourselves to invert sentences to make them more interesting.  “In the fall, at A Renaissance School, friends of Bluebell planned and built houses to attract fairies and keep Bluebell safe from a life in the air ducts and sewer pipes.”  We also used a “challenge chart” to help organize our thinking about “how,” the gnarly things that really made us think.  “When I was working on the circuit, I cut the wires too short.  I tried adding wire and changing the wire’s path.  I finally changed the wire out completely.  I learned that it is important to measure first!”

Johnson was there with the new digital camera to document the first lighting.  A very special event!  Success!  “It really works!  Do you think Bluebell will like it?  She will be able to read in the dark and find her way home at night.”

We had a great day out in Forest Park, collecting treasures.  Caleb reminded us to watch our feet, keep our voices soft, and respect the fairies’ forest.  Now, what would a fairy like in her new home?  A bit of moss that dropped from its home-tree, an alluring clump of rotting bark, an oddly-shaped seed pods… perhaps a twisted bit of twig still holding fast its pinecone lantern?  Prior to our woodland trip, we practiced drawing natural objects, like the ones we would collect and use in the fairy houses.  Observational drawing requires looking carefully… and capturing what we see.  Another layer, another stage, to be captured in our house-building project.  The weeks culminated in the development of design and planning skills, writing strategies, drawing techniques, increased observation abilities, imagination, collaborative efforts, and pride!  We had also grappled with “evidence”, “theories,” electricity and testing essential elements of a circuit, proportion, structural balance and building, along with text-supported fairy life!  We had begun to build a cache of Renaissance tales and methodology that carries through to this day.

And what colors did Bluebell like?  Dragonfly shimmer and buttercup brilliance… YES!  But what do they look like?  As Johnson reminded us, “Bluebell said to close our eyes and think of a summer day and the light on an insect wing… that is dragonfly shimmer.”   Lux sighed and recalled, “It is a magical and memorable sight.”

Yes… but just what is “buttercup brilliance?”…