Jurnie, age 8

This is the story of Jurnie, an elementary student in the studio of teacher Jessi Ruby in LaSalle, Colorado. Here we see a single recurring theme — home– continually reappear over years of Jurnie’s work in art class. This theme was entirely self-directed, allowing Jurnie to engage deeply in what she cares about and circle back each year with new insights. Her expertise in clay slabs for building homes allowed her to teach others the technique, and gave her confidence in herself as an artist.

Clay house built by an elementary student.
Elementary student work on a clay slab house.

Age 7
Jurnie joined our TAB classroom as a seven-year-old. It was her first experience in a student-directed classroom where she would have full autonomy and choice over her artmaking. Just like a professional artist uses their own inspiration to create artworks, Jurnie’s personal idea was to build miniature homes using clay. This idea — home– was one that had meaning for Jurnie, as it carried through many years in the art studio. My pre-service educator noticed that Jurnie needed more technical skills in how to construct her slab walls and decided to lead a small group demonstration on these techniques. After the demonstration, Jurnie continued to practice her techniques and develop her ideas by creating many small clay slab structures. She learned from mistakes and persisted until she created a small clay home with small details on the outside and inside.

Age 8
Jurnie chose to continue with the idea of home, this year with a new artistic medium — cardboard. She created a quick digital sketch to help her envision her ideas and plan for what she would make. Details were important to Jurnie, and she created a shower, furniture, and people to populate the inside.

Elementary student's cardboard house.

Age 9
Jurnie continued her multi-year self-directed inquiry about homes, circling her personalized curriculum back to clay. Each of her small slab homes had differences in both the interior design and the outside architecture, showing growth from her work at age 7. Since beginning her first clay homes, Jurnie contributed to the studio community as an expert in clay slabs, successfully teaching other students how to use these in their artworks. She gained confidence in her identity as an artist while persisting and engaging in her own ideas.

Elementary student's clay house.