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Live Animal Drawing: After-School Art with Mrs. Mitten

Categories: Auction Sponsors / Elementary Program / Events / Museum Visits / Spotlight on Our Teachers

Betsy Mitten Studios, Elementary Students, and Bats!

At Wheaton Montessori School, we’re very lucky to have a wide variety of after-school classes,  most offered by our classroom teachers.  Betsy Mitten, a WMS “Alumni Parent” and Montessori-trained teacher, offers an after-school art class for Elementary students each semester.  With a focus on observational drawing, Betsy’s art class surpasses our grandest “art-meets-nature” dreams every week!


For drawing prompts and to help students engage with the natural world, Mrs. Mitten frequently uses animal diorama’s from the Field Museum, where she has taken extensive training to be a Field Ambassador.  Students are able to inspect museum-quality dioramas of birds, small mammals, reptiles, and more as part of Betsy’s efforts to bring the natural world into her art class.  Betsy helps guide her students as they exercise their skills in observing, noticing patterns, learn vocabulary words for different textures and anatomy, and truly take in the beauty of the world around us.  On top of that, she helps them fine-tune their artistic inclinations and abilities!

Betsy Mitten, guiding Primary students in 2018 during an After-School art class. Mrs. Mitten frequently uses dioramas from the Field Museum, pictured here, to help her students practice their observation skills and learn more about the natural world.

Closely investigating skunks as part of Betsy Mitten’s Primary Class in the winter of 2019.


During her class series, Mrs. Mitten also tries to set aside one week for “live animal drawing,” when she invites a local nature preserve or animal rescue center to bring in animals for observation, education, and illustration.  In previous years, she’s hosted the Flying Fox Conservatory, Dave DiNaso’s Traveling World of Reptiles, and the Willowbrook Wildlife Center.  Of the live animal drawing, Mrs. Mitten has said, “Children have told me that live animal drawing is a favorite. The combination of observation and sketching, the hands-on opportunity to pet the animals and feel the texture of the fur, skin, or shell, and listening to the presenter makes for a very exciting and educational opportunity.”

This past week, Mrs. Mitten hosted “Incredible Bats,” a Chicago-area educational company that is specializes in… (you may have already guessed)… bats!

As part of the class, Mrs. Mitten always sends home an emailed synopsis for parents, along with pictures taken by our own Mrs. Maldonado, who assists with the class each week.  Here is Mrs. Mitten’s weekly update for the most recent class, when Incredible Bats was the presenter:



Dear Parents,

Live animal drawing was on the plan Monday. What a treat to get to pet the back of an Egyptian fruit bat, stroke the fur of a striped skunk, and feel the scales on a crested gecko! Incredible Bats visited class and brought not only two species of bats for us to draw and learn about, but also sugar gliders, an opossum, several giant prickly stick insects, a striped skunk, a Flemish giant rabbit and a veiled chameleon!

Ms. Kim, our presenter, previously worked for the Brookfield Zoo. Her extensive knowledge and love of sharing animals with children made the program engaging and very informative.

Sketching live animals takes keen observation and a little bit tricky because the animals move around! Learning about the animals while we sketched helped us look for special adaptations and characteristics to add to our drawings. Everyone did a fantastic job of observing, listening and then capturing the shapes, colors, and special details for each animal!


Ready to draw! Everyone had a front row seat.
Getting a close look at the veiled chameleon.
Veiled chameleon drawing capturing the prehensile tail and striking pattern.
We learned that the crested gecko do not have eyelids!
Getting close up to the cutest striped skunk. We all got to pet the skunk and feel the bottom of his feet! “They feel like jello,” was overheard.
Hanging out with African straw-colored fruit bats.The size of the bats made it easy to see their claws that allow them hang effortlessly.
Friendliest opossum investigates our pencil supply!


Next week is our last class. We’ll have time to put finishing touches on any not quite complete projects. I’ll have extra art materials to children to explore once projects are finished.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with your children this fall!

– Mrs. Mitten


Thank you to Betsy Mitten and Incredible Bats for offering this opportunity!