The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has graced Norman's community for more than half a century. It has undergone architectural additions and notable increases to its collection.

It also has committed itself to award-winning educational programs for Norman's schools. Staff and volunteers also have provided tours and even studio time for hundreds of Norman fourth-graders over the years.

About a year ago, Susan Baley, curator of education at the museum, wanted to implement a new program to target an older demographic: sixth grade students. It would be a creative writing program that would combine writing and working with art. Baley presented her idea to the new director of the museum, Ghislain d'Humieres, and found immediate support. After receiving a generous gift from Oklahoma's Harris Foundation, the program began in fall 2008.

Nathan Brown was selected to lead the program. Brown is an award-winning poet, musician, a writer of musical lyrics and a teacher. The children's response to Brown was instantaneous and magical.

Four schools joined the project, Alcott, Irving, Longfellow and Whittier middle schools. Each school picked about 15 students who had expressed an interest in writing and art. Each group meets with Brown twice a semester at the museum.

As part of these lessons, each of the students was given a blank journal. Brown encouraged the students to learn the art of journaling. This journaling was not just to be a record of activities, but a reflection of what they thought about what they did, and how they felt. The children were given some practice in this writing technique, along with some important attributes of good writing: describe and be detailed; include the basic questions of journalism: who, what when where and why. Furthermore, they were asked to incorporate the five senses into their entries (seeing, hearing, touch, feeling and smell). The children found these exercises entertaining and each competed to improve and enliven their sentences. The inclusion of the "smell" detail was greeted with particular enthusiasm by the sixth-graders.

Turning to the museum's collection after these exercises, the students were asked to look around the museum and choose a painting or a sculpture that especially appealed to them. Once chosen, they were to turn to their journal and write about their favorite work. In another exercise, they were asked to look at a painting with a figure in it, and to create a story from that character's perspective. They were encouraged to draw the painting in their book.

Adding to these narrative skills, Brown encouraged them to write a poem about their painting. To ease them into this project, Brown shared basic ideas of poetic writing and emphasized the fundamental rule of brevity in poetry.

As an observer, it was enlightening to see how enthusiastic the sixth-graders listened to their teacher and their earnest attempts to complete their writing assignments. Brown encouraged each of them to read out from their journal, and to each of them he was able to offer praise.

Susan Baley, curator of education, can be contacted at the Fred Jones Museum of Art at 325-3270.

Nathan Brown has a Web site at He can be reached at

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