Nick Petr is interested in space. Not the telescope and beret kind. More like the space that humans inhabit and navigate daily.

His artwork integrates subtle, beautiful wood sculpture and furniture, painting, music, architectural design, and the tendency to re-use rather than trash stuff.

And now, forts.

You know Nick loves the kids, so why not?  As a teacher with Baltimore City’s SuperKids summer program, Nick developed and tested a wonderfully creative arts-integrated curriculum around the idea of building forts with kids.

Below is an interview in which Nick shares some of the details from his experiences.

MaxMakesMusic: Who are you?

Nick Petr: Nick Petr—Generally I just make stuff. I design and build cabinets and furniture, fabricate objects for artists, architectural modification, sculptural work, lots of drawing lately—I think i’ve just always  been really into figuring out how things work, how they are constructed,  what makes them last (or not), what makes them useful. Taking things apart and putting them back together is a good way to understand your environment—I took a lot of things apart as a kid, I think I put most of them back together. I know I learned a lot.
MMM: What is your current program called and where is it taking place? For how long is your session scheduled?
NP: I worked with the SuperKids program this summer. Each teacher did 2 three week sessions at two Baltimore City schools. I worked at Walter P. Carter Elementary and Cecil Elementary. The whole thing was this big collaborative experiment as I understand it. Parks and People, School 33, Baltimore City School system, and a few others… Play Works trained the Phys Ed staff and the kids all got 4 healthy meals a day—my experience was really great and the kids seemed to really like it. I think the idea was to provide these kids with a learning environment where they could actually have fun—I hope that was the point because its the approach I took.

These kids need a way to stay engaged in the summer time. The ones who don’t have access to some kind of recreational learning environment through the summer will ultimately fall behind, but really, what kid wants to be stuck in summer school June through August? Honestly I don’t understand why this “art and play integrated” approach to learning isn’t public policy. These are kids, this is how they think, learn.

MMM: How did you come to work as a teaching artist?

NP: I had never really taught before this summer. I had been thinking about it for years but saw so many of my friends dealing with the public school system and it inability to provide teachers with so many of the basic resources they need to make a difference in these children’s lives. At this point we’re just watching our public schools disappear. We aren’t even fighting for them—well not enough of us anyway—there are some great people out there working on this, but they need more support.

MMM: Why forts?

NP: I wanted to teach what I do and what I am interested in. I tried to figure out what interests I had as a kid that were related to my work now—I built forts with my brothers and sister, really great forts. I had also helped some friends build a really cool fort for Artscape [Baltimore’s annual free outdoor arts festival] years ago, and I always thought it would be a great tool for teaching. I really wanted to create an adventure playground type of situation inside the classroom.

MMM: What materials do you use in your construction?

NP: The structural components have been primarily card board, but any number of materials could be used on top of that—no limits really.

MMM: What age group are you teaching?

NP: This summer I worked with 1st -4th graders, but shelter-building projects could be applied to any age group. It would be a lot of fun to do with high school students.

MMM: What do you hope your students will know after working with you?

NP: The whole curriculum consists of architectural vocabulary words, history lessons, exercises in building with different types of joinery, designing “kids cities”, and a lot more. All of this stuff is loaded with life lessons that make kids better risk takers and over all more confident in their understanding of the world around them. Some students really get into the actual building and they excel at that part of it really quickly. Others retain historical information really well, and some of them can just recite the vocabulary back to you after a day or two. I’m happy with all of this.

MMM: What do you hope your students will be able to do after working with you?

NP: I think the most important thing is that they get better at working together to solve problems and have a better understanding of what it takes to build a healthy community together. This is a real challenge, but when they get it, its really cool.
MMM: Have you been supported in your efforts?

NP: I was supported in my efforts this summer. School 33 really takes care of their teachers. The unfortunate thing was that it was temporary. Now I have to find another place to keep developing this thing.

MMM: How do you measure success?
NP: I can see it in the pictures.

About The Author

Max is a professional beatboxer and teaching artist. He enjoys teaching and performing for audiences of all ages.

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