Newton residents taking a walk outside their houses to get some fresh air during the coronavirus pandemic may notice a bright new addition to many windows in their neighborhoods -- colorful paper stars, shamrocks, animals, and other decorations that make up the Newton Neighborhood Art Walk project.
The group is run through Facebook events by Newton residents Maren Coniglione, Rachel Schechter, Betty Ly Grabauskas, and Erwin Chuk. Over the past several weeks, the project has gained over 150 participants over more than half of the Newton villages, including Newton Corner, West Newton, Newtonville, Auburndale, Nonantum, Newton Centre, Waban, and Newton Highlands.
Originally, it stemmed from and was inspired by a nationwide “Shamrock Hunt” for the week of St Patrick’s Day in March, but the initiative has continued as the group leaders and neighborhood participants stayed interested.
“When Maren and I finished the week with the shamrocks, we both agreed that we wanted to do this every week for as long as schools are closed, for as long as kids are home,” Schechter said.
The art walk has featured several new themes since then, including “suns and celestial objects” for the most recent week of April 8, “letters,” and “butterflies.”
Schechter, who is Vice President of Learning Sciences at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said that while kids are at home, she’s continuing to think about how to engage with children -- and that this project is one way to keep kids busy and continuing to learn.
“Right away, I'm trying to figure out how we can learn from things that we can do every day, and how we can leverage things we’re already doing to enhance and extend learning.” Schechter said. “My children were counting, and making tally marks, and I’m sure there were so many other children who learned something while doing the art walks.”
The survey for the shamrock project culminated in an infographic for children to interpret. It showed average numbers of shamrocks found, average group size and age of participants, and included feedback from families who went on the walks.
Schechter said the shamrock week began while her family was personally dealing with the novel coronavirus -- her husband was self-quarantining in their guest room after coming in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. While he ended up testing negative, the ordeal took a toll on her, and made it hard to plan.
“I was struggling with everything at that time,” said Schechter. “My brain was just cloudy for days.”
Participating in and continuing the Art Walk project was a way to keep herself and her kids, aged 6 and 2, busy.
“We had notebooks to write down how many shamrocks we found, and I thought it would be so fun if we created a little survey for families to fill out how many they found,” said Schechter. “So Maren got into it, and I got into it, and she messaged me and said hey, do you want to do this together and keep it going? And I said, definitely!”
The original setup for the Shamrock project had been a spreadsheet, where families could mark their location on a long list. To make the process easier to use, West Newton resident Betty Ly Grabauskas helped arrange the Art Walk onto a Google Maps page where families could drop pins.
“I first put it on a map just for personal use, and then I shared it,” said Grabauskas. “We do it in layers, because not everyone is participating every time, so we’ll add a layer each week, and each week we can delete the older ones.”
Grabauskas has found the project to be fulfilling for both the kids making the art and the kids searching for it.
“We have stopped by houses where we see the artwork and the kids who made it will wave out the window,” she said. “And I think that that’s just nice for both parties, where the kids feel like their artwork is being appreciated by other kids, and likewise, we’ve looked out our windows and seen other kids taking pictures.”
Schechter also said that the project helped break the monotony of quarantine for children.
“One of the participants said in the survey that ‘it gave our walk a purpose,’” she said. “That’s so true, when you’re going outside twice a day with children who are used to playing with others and being on play equipment. Having a purpose really motivates you.”
Julia Maruca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.