For as long as 2nd-grade teacher Haley Curfman could remember, there hadn’t been an art class offered to lower grade levels in her school. But that all changed two years ago, when she decided she wouldn’t let that stop her class from having a little fun and expressing themselves.
And so, for the second year in a row, Blackwell Elementary School teacher in Oklahoma has brought a plain white dress into school and asked her students to draw on it in colored marker. The only rules? To draw whatever makes them happy or write kind words. She also tells them they can’t do cross-outs (2nd-graders often like to “X” out their work and do it over, she explains). Instead, Curfman tells them to “turn their mistake into something beautiful.”
And beautiful, it is! Curfman shared the photo of her latest dress project on her Facebook page February 11, where it instantly got rave reviews — and quickly went viral.
Curfman tells Babble that she started the dress project because she feels all students need a creative outlet, and don’t often have one. Doing “hands-on” artwork not only helps them absorb teachings more deeply, she says, but getting the chance to be creative just makes them feel good, too.
“You can see it in their faces,” says Curfman. “They light up when they have those opportunities. The dress is just one of many little projects I try to incorporate throughout the year to help inspire them.”
The project also teaches the kids about kindness, and Curfman says she absolutely adores the drawings and sweet messages her students have put on her dresses. But while she’s gotten many “I love you’s,” she says the funniest drawing was left by a student last year, who drew the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the entire back of her dress.
We gotta say — it’s pretty spot-on:
“There’s not much you can do after that, but just laugh and wear it with pride,” Curfman says with a laugh. “I tell them to draw things that make them happy … well there you go!”
The Oklahoma teacher says she debuts the finished dresses by wearing them to a school party. Last year, she wore it to their Christmas party, and this year to their Valentine’s Day soiree.
She also proudly displays the dresses after the parties, and even entered last year’s dress into their county fair’s student category. Unsurprisingly, it won first place!
“My students were able to go look at their artwork and blue ribbon all week,” says Curfman. “They loved it and were so proud.”
Curfman says she does lots of other things to inspire kindness and creativity in her classroom, too. During Blackwell Elementary’s Kindness Week, she brings each of her students white T-shirts with the word “kindness” printed on them and tells the kids to write nice messages on each other’s shirts. And, when she took a trip to Walt Disney World recently, she gave them the ultimate treat by getting characters in the park to record these special messages for them.
As for the future of the dress project, Curfman says her goal is to keep it going for as long as she can. “I hope to make one every year,” she shares. “Who knows, maybe I’ll wear it at their high school graduation one day!”
(OMG — how adorable would that be?)