“There’s Animals in that Water” Installation by Bayfield Head Start

“Children don’t have to wait to be grown ups to talk about what matters.”

Wednesday, May 17 – 3:30-6 p.m.
Installation reception, live music + refreshments

This installation was created by 13 students ages 3-5 at Bayfield Head Start. The class spent 6 weeks discussing issues of water rights, water protection, and environmental activism. Along the journey, the children worked to express their learnings through visual art.

The installation features 6 water protectors made from paper mache, illustrations on paper, yarn, wood block frames, and clothing donated by the children. The black snake was constructed using recycled cardboard tubes, felt, and tape.

The water protectors are holding signs to express activism through words. The children carefully chose the messages on the signs based on weeks of discussion and learning.

Read on to join them on their journey!

Creating the Installation

The excerpts below from weekly newsletters document the class’s learning and art creation process.

Week 25 – Reading We Are Water Protectors

From: Tom
Sent: Friday, March 3, 2023 11:07 AM
To: Center 5 parents and children
Subject: Week 25 newsletter

Dear families,

This week we tackled the highly beloved (and 2021 Caldecott Award-winning) picture book We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade. The book’s evocative illustrations, brave child protagonist, and lurking sense of danger captivated the children’s attention. But what is it about? The publisher sums it up this way: “When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.” Many children were already familiar with the story.

“It’s not really a snake,” Emmi said. “It’s oil.”

When I held up the illustration of the black snake next to the pictures of oil pipelines, the connection was obvious. “This picture shows an oil pipeline, but in the story, the illustrator is using her imagination to show us how she feels about the oil pipeline. It is scary to her.”

“I think that’s scary, too,” Opal said.

We turned to the page of the book that shows the black snake passing through a stream, where fish and aquatic mammals were shown as if in x-ray.

“They are being damaged by the black snake,” Linden said. “That’s real.”

“You’re right, Linden. It is telling us about something real. Sometimes these oil pipelines break, and when that happens oil can spill all over the land and the water. And how do you think that feels for the animals who live there?”


“Yes, it hurts their bodies very much. It makes it hard for them to swim, to breathe, to eat, to drink. What do we see in this picture?” I asked, holding up a photo of a turtle covered in oil.

“Him a turtle,” Pike said. “Him dead.”

“You’re right, Pike. This is a turtle. He’s not dead yet, but he is covered in oil, and he might die. What do we see in this picture?”

“Otters!” Emmi said, “like at the aquarium. But they’re covered in that brown stuff.”

“They’re all sticky,” Opal said.

“So these pictures, what happened to these animals, this is why the oil pipelines are so scary to the person who wrote this book. The black snake is not real, but it is just this scary.”

“I will tell the black snake to stop!” Viktoriia chimed in, suddenly impassioned.

“We have to protect our water,” Opal said.

“We have to take care of our animals,” Emmi said.

“We can be superheroes,” Juniper said, “to stop the black snake.”

“Kids can be heroes, too,” Linden reminded us.

“You guys are strong and brave,” I said, “and full of good ideas. Just like the girl in the book.”

At the end of our second day with the book, I had to bring the conversation to a close so that we could get outside, but the kids had much more to say. I assured them that we will continue to think about these ideas, and that we would also be returning to the book. They were glad to hear it.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Week 27 – A Visit with Lake Superior Not for Sale

From: Tom
Sent: Friday, March 24, 2023 1:38 PM
To: Center 5 parents and children
Subject: Week 27 newsletter

Dear families,

This week’s highlight was the visit to our classroom on Tuesday by Patty Carpenter, a member of the organization Lake Superior Not For Sale, the group based out of Herbster that has worked (and continues to work) to defeat a water bottling company’s attempt to harvest local water for profit. The kids were excited to meet a real Water Protector!

On Monday I had asked the children why water is important in the first place.

Sig: “We eat the fish from the lake.”

Vikki: “We need water to drink.”

Koen: “Turtles lives in the water.”

Pike: “To wash our ears.”

Sig: “So that our plants don’t turn yellow.”

“Right!” I said. “So water is important for all kinds of reasons — for people, but also for animals and plants.”

Koen then asked the key question: “Yeah but, Mr. Tom, how do we actually protect water?”

“That is a GREAT question. Does anyone have any ideas?”

“Build a brick wall in front of it?” Koen wondered.

“Those people made signs to say Stop, Protect our Water,” Emmi said, pointing to our meeting board and the picture of water rights protestors we discussed last week.

These were both great ideas, and I said that we would bring Koen’s great question to Patty the following day to see if we could get some more ideas.

Patty read to us from the excellent Nibi Emosaawdang: The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson, the story of an Ojibwe Nokomis (grandmother) and her heroic efforts to raise awareness of the importance of water. When the story was over, Patty asked the class, “So, can kids help protect water? How can kids help protect water?”

“Working together!” Emmi said.

“Yes, I love that! My group has learned that working together is one of the most important things people can do to help protect water. We talk to lots of people and teach about why water is so important. Anybody else?”

“Not wasting water. Take just what you need and leave the rest,” Koen said.

“Exactly,” Patty said. “Take just what you need and leave the rest.”

“Patty, can I ask a question?” I said. “When you are helping to protect water, do you guys use your hands to, like, fight? How do you actually protect water?”

“We use words to tell people what we think and why water is so important,” Patty said.

“Just like those water protectors use their words and make signs,” Emmi said.

“Right!” Patty said. “Just like those water protectors.”

“And can kids use their words to teach people about protecting water?” I asked.

“Yes!” the kids replied.

“So, kids can do a lot to protect water,” Patty said.

As we move into the final weeks of the year, we as a class will act on these ideas — working together with others, using our words, and raising awareness about the importance of water.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Week 29 – Learning from A Real Kid Protector

From: Tom
Sent: Friday, April 7, 2023 9:07 AM
To: Center 5 parents and children
Subject: Week 29 newsletter

Dear families,

This week we read Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker, which tells the story of Greta, a young girl who uses her voice to advocate for the animals of the forest, whose habitat is being destroyed by the greedy Giants and their never-ending thirst for more. While in reality the effort to convince “the Giants” of our world to choose listening over greed is far from settled, the story does a nice job of dramatizing the life of climate activist Greta Thunberg, who began protesting outside the Swedish Parliament at age 15 after learning about global warming and the inaction of her country’s leadership.

We read the story twice to understand it correctly — the Giants aren’t real, but pollution and global warming are (“Cars are bad for the world,” Linden reminded us), and children don’t have to wait to be grown ups to talk about what matters (“If I were with the Giants, I would tell them to stop cutting down all the trees for the animals,” Fynn said, others quickly agreeing they would do the same). In fact, children can have a special power to convince grown-ups of basic truths about our world.

After reading the story for the second time, we watched the first two minutes of Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.

“What did you hear her say?” I asked the kids.

“She said people are dying,” Emmi said. “She said I should be in school.”

“People were laughing at her,” Linden said. “That wasn’t nice. She said, How dare you? She was feeling mad and sad.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say,” Koen said. “That means she’s sad and angry with those people.”

“Right! She almost sounded like she was about to start crying, she was so angry and sad. Can anyone think about a connection between what Greta was saying and what the Water Protectors are trying to do?”

“They both are saying Stop!” Emmi said.

“They are both feeling mad and sad,” Linden said.

“Right! And who or what are they trying to help?”

“They are trying to help that turtle,” Opal said, pointing to the picture on our wall of a turtle covered in oil. “They are trying to help animals!”

“Right — they are trying to help animals and the world, by using their words to tell people what matters.”

Have a wonderful weekend,

Week 31 – Assembling the Installation

From: Tom
Sent: Friday, April 21, 2023 10:54 AM
To: Center 5 parents and children
Subject: Week 31 newsletter

Dear families,

This week we continued to work on our Water Protector’s installation. On Wednesday, the children looked closely at the water protectors on the final pages of We Are Water Protectors, and the signs they are holding to demonstrate against the Black Snake.

What should the signs our water protectors are holding say? What would be a good message to give the Black Snake and also to everyone who sees our work when it arrives at the gallery in Washburn?

“How dare you?” Emmi said, recalling the fiery speech we watched a few weeks ago of Greta Thunberg at the 2019 U.N. Climate Summit.

“Destroy the Black Snake!” Koen said.

“But the Black Snake’s not real,” Linden recalled. “It’s an oil pipeline. We have to tell them that.”

“There’s animals in that water!” Emmi continued.

“Stop the Black Snake!” Vikki said, raising her hand in a stop gesture.

“No pipelines allowed,” Emmaline said.

The children watched closely as I drew the block letters, chiming in as they recognized letters from our alphabet study.

On Thursday we took out our big blocks and made some frames on which to assemble the water protector figures. The children were excited to sort through the clothes they’d brought, stuffing the sleeves of the shirts and the pant legs with old easel paper.

There was giddy delight as the heads we’ve been working on for weeks were placed onto the frames, and the semblance of real people was so striking that, seeing them out of the corner of our eye, Ms. Lael, Ms. Lisa, Mr. Marty and I kept thinking there were suddenly extra children in the classroom — and some of them standing on tables!

Note: We still have two water protector figures to assemble next week. If you did not send in an item of clothing last week and would like to do so (long sleeve shirts or sweatshirts, pants, hair accessories or hats), it is not too late!

Have a wonderful weekend,