Invent and learn

Children in Casey Fertnig’s inventor’s workshop learn to solve problems by designing inventions

CANDID FORM BOUTIQUE in Port Washington recently hosted a fashion art show led by Casey Fertnig (back right). Students holding their illustrations of clothes they designed from left included Anastasia Carlson, Kale and Ava Claerbaut, Felicity and Hope Morin, Salema Pena, Kaitlyn Angeles, Zoe Fertnig and Estelle Behm. Store owner Nikki Dudei is at back left. (Lower photos) Casey Fertnig unleashes children’s creativity through classes such as reader’s theater at the North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton. she suggests children come up with a way to solve a problem in her inventor’s workshop classes and lets the children’s minds go from there. Photos by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Casey Fertnig of Port Washington admits that teaching the first class in a series of art enrichment classes she calls Kids’ Community Classes of Ozaukee didn’t go exactly as planned.

Actually, that reader’s theater class at North Shore Academy of the Arts in Grafton, designed to teach reading fluency, went way better than she imagined.

“I was really nervous at first that nobody would come,” she said.

“However, the kids were having a lot of fun and so was I. Some parents told me their child looked forward to my class all week. That was rewarding to hear and   encouraged me to offer more classes,” she said.

That was last September. Fertnig since expanded her Kids’ Community Classes curriculum to include an inventor’s workshop using recycled materials and fashion design for children in first through eighth grade. Classes are held for homeschool students and as after-school sessions for anyone.

Fertnig’s key in unlocking student’s creativity is employing a technique called growth mindset, which views challenges as ways to learn.

“When kids experience difficulty learning a new skill, or frustration in my class, I take the time to give them strategies to build resilience so they can move through those hard feelings and continue being creative,” Fertnig said.

“It helps them refrain from their feelings of fear or challenges. I’ve seen kids not speak at all to me at the first class because they were so nervous, and by the end they were on that stage with 20 people in the audience.”

Most of the students in her inventor’s workshops come in eager to start.

“A lot of them are so excited just to use glue guns,” Fertnig said, “just using the tools and materials they might not get a chance to use, and the parents are happy to not have the mess at their house.”

Fertnig provides guidance and lets the kids go.

“I always let them know one thing about inventions: Have a solvable problem, start with yourself, your family, then your community, environment, state and world,” she said.

“A lot of them end up designing something for their families, thinking about how to make mom’s or grandma’s life easier.”

Some of her classes are offered for eight weeks, and she recently did one two-hour session with the Cedar Grove-Belgium Recreation Department.

Classes usually range from about 20 to 25 students. Her 9-year-old “outgoing” daughter likes to help with the younger children, and Fertnig brings along an adult helper for larger classes.

Fertnig showed an interest in teaching when she was growing up in Waukesha County, inspired by her mother, who taught grade school for 25 years.

“I remember using her old teacher’s guides and classroom materials to play school and teach my younger siblings,” Fertnig said.

She also developed a passion for art. Her mother allowed her children to explore different mediums of art, and Fertnig continues the tradition with her daughter.

“I was a kid who liked to create. The thing I appreciate most about art is that it can be as limitless as the imagination,” she said.

Prose turned out to be Fertnig’s favorite medium. She crafted a student news column in the local newspaper as a child and wanted to become a writer. She was also fascinated by different cultures and how the world works. That led to earning a degree in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

After college, Fertnig found her happy place halfway across the world. She went to South Korea to teach English to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It was a very different culture than I was used to,” she said, adding “Having blond hair, I really stood out.”

But everyone was friendly and wanted to practice their English all the time, she said.

Fertnig had worked at a preschool throughout college and worked with after-school organizations, but this was different. She was instantly the expert in the room on everything English and was aware of that level of responsibility. Fertnig doesn’t know Korean but picked up enough survival phrases to get around. The friendly culture, she said, helped.

Her fellow teachers witnessed her newfound passion. They only had to arrive 10 minutes before class started, but “I was showing up an hour early planning all these elaborate games,” Fertnig said.

She stayed past her one-year contract to work at the school’s headquarters, developing curriculum for teachers’ workshops.

She also met her future husband in South Korea. Chris is an American who taught English because he wanted to explore the world. He became a chemical engineer.

Fertnig came home, got married and worked as a substitute teacher and taught summer school in Waukesha County.

“They let teachers do fun classes,” she said.

So Fertnig dusted off her creative curriculum she developed a decade ago that she knew worked and redeveloped it for her classes today.

Fertnig taught until she had her daughter. Then, she created digital art and ran a small Etsy shop online, selling custom-designed invitations.

Two of her hobbies – yoga and writing – led her to take classes at the North Shore Academy of the Arts, which connected Fertnig to its founder, Sheri Bestor.

Fertig said she wanted to offer a reader’s theater class, and Bestor let her use the theater room.

Fertnig held a fashion art show at Candid Form Boutique in downtown Port, and owner Nikki Dudei led students design her storefront window.

“Middle school students who shopped at her boutique now saw their art in her storefront window,” Fertnig said.

Fertnig plans to build on her success and may add a cartooning class – something students have been requesting.

“The feedback from students keeps me going – the smiles, the engagement,” she said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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