I am so excited to share the culmination and process behind 5 months of hard work to create this Bottle Cap Mural! This mural project is an amazing example of how capable children are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and innovative ways. I am so proud of the 208 students who collected over TEN THOUSAND bottle caps, caps that otherwise would have gone into the trash, to create this incredible ocean mural. There were so many valuable steps involved, all of which I will discuss here. I couldn’t have done this without the help and encouragement of my boss (THANK YOU RACHEL!!!) and our school community. I also relied heavily on an incredible book called Bottlecap Little Bottlecap. I am so grateful to the author, Michelle Stitzlein, who made this all seem so doable. It really is!!! If you are a teacher looking for ways to encourage your student’s to help the environment, learn new skills, take on a challenge and build community, this is an amazing project! I hope you enjoy reading about it.
We learn about oceans as a school, so an ocean theme to our mural felt like a natural fit. First every student in our school had the opportunity to brainstorm ocean ideas and sketch them out on regular 8.5×11 paper. I kept ocean books on the drawing table to inspire kids and give them ideas. We collected all the sketches and combined them into one big ocean design. I tried to use as many ideas as I could so kids would look at the mural and say “Hey, that’s my idea!” Fortunately, my intention worked. So many kids felt responsible for each design detail of the mural.
While we designed, we also counted and sorted. Our school ranges from K-6. It was fascinating to see that the sixth graders enjoyed the sorting and counting process as much as the kindergartners. We reused plastic bags collected by teachers over the years to sort the caps. I had collection boxes for caps spread out throughout the school. The first week of the project I would lay in bed at night filled with anxiety. “What are we going to do if we don’t collect any bottle caps? I’m going to lose my job!” Then I got to school Monday morning and almost all the boxes were filled to the brim! This was in ONE WEEK. It took us two months total to collect over 10,000 caps of all different sizes, shapes and colors. If there is one thing I learned from this experience, community is a powerful thing.
Once we collected and sorted all the caps, we had to get the art onto the wood panels. I had bought three 4×7 wood panels at our local lumber yard. This was a little pricey, but it was the only cost of the project in addition to the screws. You might get lucky and have a connection to a lumber yard, or hardware store. I got a great discount at the lumber yard just by telling them I’m a teacher. Thanks Anawalt! First, we painted the panels white. Different classes got to do different tasks. Not every class got to paint. Every student did get to drill, but we’ll get to that in a bit. After we painted the wood white and let it dry, we propped the panels up against a wall and projected the kids art up on the panels. This was a little tricky, getting it to fit just right, but it was more for the experience than anything else, so I felt ok going in after and fixing any areas that needed fixing. We had kindergartners and first graders tracing the projected art on the panels. It felt so Reggio and so right. I think this may have been my favorite part of the process. I can get high just thinking about it. It was really cool.
Then we painted. We used regular tempera paint. The kids talked about what colors worked best for different areas. They stretched their bodies over the wood boards to get every last spot. They collaborated and communicated. They laughed and relaxed. Painting took us almost two weeks. At first we were going to leave the boards white, but one of our amazing parent volunteers, who is also an artist, really encouraged us to take the time to paint and I’m so glad she did. This was a really worthwhile step in the process and it made the mural really pop. Some kids wanted us to leave it just as a painting because it looked so pretty. To be honest, I was a little scared myself it wouldn’t look as good once we added the bottle caps. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Next step, and perhaps the most highly anticipated step, was the drilling. Wow, was this fun. Every student from kindergarten to sixth grade learned how to operate a power drill safely under a teacher’s supervision, as well as many incredible parent volunteers. They all did it and they did it well. There is a lot of discussion online about kids and tools. I am a huge advocate of children working with tools. I think children are capable way beyond our expectations and if we raise the bar for them, they will pole vault over it. I’m so proud of these kids. We did not have one accident. If ever a child was being silly with a drill, they were asked to sit aside, but really, it was few and far between that that even happened. They were mesmerized, excited, curious and engaged. They were also really surprised over how easy it was to do. If I’m being really honest, I had never used a drill before this project. (AHH! Don’t tell my boss!) I was really surprised too and now I am totally hooked. I am asking for a tool belt for my next birthday! (A really nice natural leather one, Ev, if you’re reading this.)
To say the mural is gorgeous, to me, is an understatement. It’s magnificent. It exudes joy, innovation and creativity. It even sparkles in the sunlight! Our nursery school classes have been taking mini field trips to our yard just to see it. They talk about perspective and artist’s like Claude Monet. They talk about pointillism. They discuss recycling. They ask questions. They make comments. They touch the mural and wonder who knows what. This is the part I didn’t think about. The part that keeps going. This mural belongs to the children. It’s theirs, from start to finish, though it’s really never finished. It keeps living and breathing in these kids and I am so very proud of them for accomplishing such an awesome task. And, if I’m being really honest, I’m pretty proud of myself too for being a part of it.