Akiba-Schechter “Little Architects” showcase 2nd Annual Gallery Opening

Preschoolers at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, 5235 S. Cornell Ave., built their own version of the Willis Tower as part of their summer program learning about architecture and buildings in Hyde Park and Chicago. Their grand creation was displayed during the school’s Second Annual Summer Gallery Opening on Aug. 2.
Gabriella Cruz-Martínez

Contributing Writer

Preschool students at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, 5235 S. Cornell Ave., hosted a gallery opening on Aug. 2, displaying a series of sculptures and drawings inspired by the architecture and building sites in Hyde Park and Chicago.

The second annual summer gallery opening was titled “A Study of Building and Architecture,” and served as a culmination of what the children enrolled in the school’s summer program have learned. This year, the young scholars had the unique opportunity to view their topic of interest first hand right across the street from their playground as construction workers broke ground and began building the 26-story apartment tower on the corner of 53rd Street and Cornell Avenue by MAC Properties.

“At Akiba, many or our instructors have been trained in reggio inspired learning,” said Akiba Parent–Toddler and Preschool Director Carla Goldberg. “It’s a unique approach to teaching our young students about their community by observing what is around us, finding out its meaning, and allowing students to form their own ideas creatively. The construction site across the street was a perfect opportunity for them to learn.”

The students had a unique hands-on experience delving into their interest point – architecture and construction – by taking walks with their teachers around the Hyde Park neighborhood, observing construction workers making repairs on the street and playing with construction toys at the school’s playground.

Throughout the summer session, students had a series of special guest speakers come talk to them about all aspects of construction: from what a landowner was, to how blueprints were made, how supplies were gathered and how buildings were created. Speakers included architects and construction workers from the site on 53rd Street.

“It’s important to encourage children to think creatively,” said Mary Beth Uretz, who taught the ‘Green Little Explorers’ group (ages two and younger). “We built everyday using Magna-Tiles, Play-Doh and many materials. Students used their hands to build their own work and learned to collaborate with friends, by sharing, taking turns, and communicating. They were just happy to play, figuring out how to make structures before they came tumbling down and perhaps a bit of physics!”

The Green Little Explorers station at the gallery showcased their proud work: a really tall tower of magnetic building tiles and materials they glued and stacked together representing buildings and swimming pools.

Other groups like the “Adventurers” built a flower bed by taking the steps to draw out a blueprint, getting the materials and assembling their project with the help of parents and teachers. A few plants were already sprouting.

In the “Big Kids on the Go” gallery room, children that were five and six years old displayed sculptures using homemade paper, clay and other plastic and creative materials.

Using the story of the “Three Little Pigs” to give construction skills a try, students built their ideal homes and put them to the test of the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ by having teachers try to blow them down with a fan – to everyone’s relief the buildings stood tall and sturdy. Before building, all students had to create their own blueprints to follow in the process of construction.

The big feature display at the gallery was the cardboard Willis Tower. Students learned what a project manager was, how to make a stable building, and that it takes many people to build one building. The Willis Tower project had two student project managers and plenty of construction workers.

As students built the Willis Tower, the teacher served as “someone who helped construction workers work together and help them build sturdy buildings,” said Zoe Levin, who led the class. “We really wanted them to have this be something they created on their own. It was incredible.”