The logo for Project 64, or Drawing Children into Reading, which has been implemented at elementary schools in Forest Hills.

The logo for Project 64, or “Drawing Children into Reading,” which has been implemented at elementary schools in Forest Hills.

Picture This: Project 64 Draws Children into Learning

October 1, 2015

In fall of 2011, Thornapple Elementary learning consultant Sue Laurie picked up a copy of the Michigan Reading Journal and saw something that sparked her interest. She had an idea to submit a grant.

I wrote the initial grant that taught the initial teachers in the district in this project. That was 4 years ago,” Laurie said. “Originally at that time I was working at Thornapple Elementary as their reading consultant and so I wrote a grant for the kindergarten teachers at Thornapple to be trained in the project.”

The project she is referring to is Project 64 or “Drawing Children into Reading,” an initiative that teaches kids many aspects by simply drawing. Project 64 includes daily warm-up activities and weekly 70 minute lessons, where teachers bring drawing instruction to their students through step-by-step lessons.

The initial grant Laurie wrote was just enough to get the program started at Thornapple and then, if they saw positive results, she would write another grant to continue on with the program in other elementary schools within the district.

“More and more teachers became interested,” said Laurie. “I wrote another grant that provided 11 more teachers with the necessary training and tools needed to be a part of this project. Following that I did another grant. Currently all of our kindergarten teachers have been trained and using the program.”

One of the first teachers that participated was Kim Fowler. Both Laurie and Fowler expressed that they saw a huge improvement in the kids that participated in the project in the first year compared to students who didn’t participate.

At the end of the first year of implementation, we compared my class’ district writing assessments with a similar class at Ada who did not receive Project 64 instruction,” Fowler said.  “There was a significant difference.”

Specifically, they saw better handwriting, the ability to write both letters and numbers, spacing in student writing, appropriate pencil grip, and planning for space on the page. Fowler was very happy to participate in the program.

“It really is a great program and I feel fortunate to be able to implement it with my students,” Fowler said.

Director of Project 64, Wendy Halperin, is happy that the project has impacted so many young children’s lives. She also said that it has spread just as fast everywhere else as it has in Forest Hills. She attributed that to all the new ideas and help they have gotten over the years.

“It took two years to find the right school and the right teachers to implement the idea. As the project grows there are continually new ideas we weave into the project,” said Halperin, who is also an award winning author and illustrator. “I call these ideas the WE in Wendy. Many, many people have contributed to where we are now. Just yesterday in a webinar with 2 educators in Texas we came up with many new lessons in math and science based on their curriculum needs.”

When she tried to start this project she admits that she didn’t really know what she was doing but she had an idea in her head and she followed that.

She officially started her project at the Dollar Store when she purchased 44 boxes of Crayola brand crayons and two kindergarten teachers, Sandy Weiss and Jennifer Jarvis,  allowed her to bring in a document camera and draw for seventy minutes once a week with their 44 students.

What began as a Dollar Store visit and a 70 minute class session quickly turned into an empire that spread across the country, and Halperin isn’t done there. She wants to continue to add new ideas and better approaches to the project.

“My next challenge is to tie together the happiness children have when they draw science, math, engineering and language arts with the books and articles by hand surgeons and neuroscientists about the benefits of fine motor development and those connections or pathways to the brain. The best time to intervene is between the ages of birth to nine years old,” said Halperin. “I am convinced of the benefits and am working hard to weave together an argument to demonstrate these advantages for children. A documentary film, a nonprofit organization, teachers and students together will help us to tell this story and convince educators to join us in this effort.”

Halperin believes with more help and resources they can continue to grow this program and hopefully help more students develop their writing and drawing skills.

“Drawing Children Into Reading is a vehicle for young people to develop an approach to work, organization, and the development of skills that will last a lifetime as they are all transferable,” said Halperin. “The Project also reinforces the idea that development of skills takes place over a period of time with practice. This is important as we live in an age of immediacy.”


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