CHAMPAIGN — You might think of the Krannert Art Museum as something of a quiet, somber space — unless you stop by when 45 fifth-graders are there, dancing, learning and exploring.
Forty-five fifth-graders from Urbana's Wiley Elementary are spending this week at the Krannert Art Museum as a part of its Week at the Museum program.
The students will show off what they've learned at 6 p.m. Friday at the museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C.
This week, the students are separated into four groups, which are alternating between lessons about a museum mystery, how to display their art for an exhibit, a dance using costumes of Illinois animals that they made, as well as lessons about dyes, textiles and color.
The lessons coincide with Krannert exhibits "Fields of Indigo," "Fashioning Traditions of Japan," "Egungun! Power Concealed" and "Expressions in Color: Selections from the 20th-Century Collection."
The students also read a book called "Chasing Vermeer," an art mystery by Blue Balliett, before this week.
The students, whether putting up their costumes in a room that now will be dedicated to the Week at the Museum program, or sprawled on the slick wood floors in a gallery, writing their own mysteries using photos they took of art, seemed both engaged and enthralled.
Fifth-grader David Stramecky was enthusiastic in his explanation of why he liked spending a week at the museum.
"Now you can think about art in a whole new way," he said.
He liked researching the art in preparation to write a mystery, as well as having more creative license.
"It's more, 'Let's think freely,' than 'You have to think inside the box,'" Stramecky said. "The box is limitless. There is no box."
He called it an exciting experience.
"It's not just regular old school where you're going to fall asleep," Stramecky said.
He said he feels lucky, as a Wiley fifth-grader, to be a part of the experience.
"This is the best experience for a kid that you can have," he said. "It's better than recess."
Anne Sautman, the museum's director of education, said the lessons came out of suggestions from the museum and the teachers weighed in with their interests, as well. They've been planning since the summer, Sautman said.
"It takes several months," Sautman said. They relate to reading and writing, science and social studies, she said as students learn about the art and the subjects it relates to.
This is the second year the Krannert Art Museum has offered the Week at the Museum program. Wiley was the first school to participate last year, as did Champaign's South Side and Robeson elementaries.
This year, nine local elementaries total will come to the museum for a week, Sautman said.
Even as students worked in their groups Wednesday morning, teachers from Champaign's Garden Hills Elementary observed in preparation for their own week there.
While students worked with their own classroom and fine arts teachers, others from the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, the Center for Small Urban Education and, of course, the Krannert Art Museum were teaching them during their week at the museum, as well.
And while students spend a week learning at the museum, Wiley fifth-grade teacher Marcia Richards said their exploration into other subjects through art continues throughout the year.
They'll read two more books by Balliett, and she'll even visit their school when she's in town for the University of Illinois Youth Literature Festival.
The subsequent books will tie into lessons about architecture and sculpture, and the students will reflect on the questions, "Who am I?" and "What is art?"
Students have already started those reflections, as they've written in journals each day upon returning to their regular classrooms, Richards said.
"By reflecting, they might (write), 'I wonder,' 'I learned,' or 'I liked' and give a reason," Richards said.
The experience also gives the teachers a chance to work together, and Richards credited Wiley Principal Barb Sartain for allowing them to participate in a program that takes kids on a week-long field trip.
Betty Allen, who teaches dance and drama at Wiley, said the museum brings out a side of students she hasn't seen, especially because she's able to work with them more while they're there.
"It's very hands on, very engaging," she said. "The students are able to express their ideas. They feel very safe about it."
"We call it blossoming," she said.