A simple project like using colored pencils to draw their favorite animals could turn into a lifelong lesson for 5th graders in Mrs. Morris' art class.

The point of the art project at Wilmington's Baltz Elementary School was to help students think about how they connect with animals. "Helping the kids to think like they are artists, contemporary artists and to think about their environment," said Yolanda Chetwynd, a Delaware artist who works with schools through the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education.

The 5th graders were first taken to the Delaware Contemporary in Wilmignton to view an art installation that centered on migrating elephants. The kids were given a tour of the exhibit and were able to ask questions about the art and the artists. Those lessons were taken back to the classroom and put to work.

For Cindy Morris, the Baltz Elementary School art teacher, these lessons were especially important. "Art is not just making something, but there's a purpose to it, there's thought behind it." Through this program with the DIAE the school has been able to bring in local artists, letting the kids meet, see and hear about their artistic process and- more importantly- ask questions. "So for me, that like really important connection for my students, it brings it to a higher level for them," Morris said.

The children were told to pick an animal that inspires them, for whatever reason. "Try and make a deeper connection with art than just, 'I like to draw something.' It's a powerful experience for them," Morris said.

"We had to draw the animal in different perspectives," said Rosita, a 5th grader at Baltz Elementary.

Once they chose their animal, the kids had to learn to draw it. "First we would practice, then we would write it on a piece of paper and then trace it on the tracing paper," said Alexandria, a 5th grader.

The animals and the reasons for picking them were as diverse as the kids themselves. The students were passionate about their chosen animals and the reason they chose them.

"I chose the bald eagle, it's a very majestic creature and I really like it because it symbolizes the American flag and it's just beautiful when it's flying," said Jacob, another 5th grader in Mrs. Morris's class.

Rosita had a much different reason for choosing her animal, "I like the condor because I think it's free. My parents, they're from Ecuador and that's why I chose the animal."

I was really surprised in talking to the kids about the project and their choice of animals, not just in how well spoken they were, but in the thought process that lead them to their choice. "I'm really proud of how they are connecting to the animals and thinking about their environment," Chetwynd said.

The environment wasn't the only consideration for some of the kids when choosing their animal. "I chose a penguin because they are cuddly and they're so cute and because it would look nice on the paper if they were both holding each other's fin," Alexandria said.

Marcos likes dogs, but was concerned for them. "I like dogs, they're cute and because this is weird but I don't know why when they are loose they run away, and they go to the dog pound and they cannot find their owner."

Brianna was concerned with something in the news recently: the loss of Arctic ice and how that is impacting the wildlife there. "I picked the seal because I care about the Arctic and how its losing the ice, and I don't want the Arctic animals to die so I'm trying to support that."

Remember, this was an arts lesson too. The kids were not just learning about the plight of their favorite animals. They were learning to express their concerns for the animals, or just love for them in art. They had to learn how to make a finished piece of art. (You can see samples of the finished work in the video below).

"What I would really hope they learn is one how to draw animals, how to make patterns and then how to integrate them using lots of different elements like texture, line, shape," Chetwynd said.

Art has no rules and kids don't like rules anyway, so this was a perfect lesson and opportunity for the kids to really express themselves. "I learned that art could be anything, it's just all your own style and there aren't really any rules to it," Jacob said.

Teacher Cindy Morris said she was very proud of her students' performacne. "They are hard working and it's a long process." To get a passing grade in the class, the kids need to finish their work. It doesn't have to be the best, but they need to put in the work and be able to show a finished piece of art.

"I just think there are so many different aspects they learn about their life and about people, just by producing art."