Ukrainian Painted Eggs and Patricia Polacco — A Perfect Pairing
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
Are you looking for a new Easter activity for your class? Celebrate spring with a Patricia Polacco author study and an egg painting celebration. This is a perfect way to embed a fun seasonal activity within a larger literary unit. No time for a full author study? Not to worry — I’ll show you how to combine a read-aloud and the egg painting activity into one fun-filled lesson. Get ready to paint beautiful Ukrainian Easter eggs!
This student's egg painting inspiration came from her shirt!
Painted Eggs and Patricia Polacco Literature Connections
We were in the midst of a Patricia Polacco author study in my class when my students began to notice that painted eggs were a common motif in many of Polacco’s picture books. We grouped the painted egg books with her books that featured geese, and we were surprised at the long list: Just Plain Fancy, Meteor!, Thunder Cake, I Can Hear the Sun, Chicken Sunday, and Rechenka’s Eggs. Patricia Polacco must be very interested in eggs and geese, we decided.
During the author study, we created a huge web of themes and ideas covered in Polacco's books.
Start With an “Egg-cellent” Read-Aloud
Whether you are planning an entire author study or just one lesson, Rechenka’s Eggs is the perfect read-aloud book to introduce Ukrainian egg painting to your students. In Polacco’s beautiful picture book, talented Babushka makes the most beautiful pysanky eggs for the Easter fair in Moscow. But this year, after Babushka adopts an injured goose, the goose upsets her basket of lovingly painted eggs. The next morning, Babushka is surprised by a miraculous turn of events, and my students always applaud the sweet, gentle resolution to the story.
In addition to reading the book aloud to my students, there is a wonderful Reading Rainbow episode featuring Rechenka’s Eggs that you can show to your class. In the movie, Polacco talks about her inspiration for the book and her love of geese. There is also a segment in which Polacco makes her own Ukrainian painted eggs and explains the entire process. This movie is the perfect lead-in to an egg painting activity.
What Are Ukrainian Painted Eggs?
Ukrainian painted eggs, also called pysanky, are a traditional art form in which raw eggs are decorated with intricate designs. Pysanky are created using a wax-resist technique. Traditionally, melted wax is drawn onto an egg using a stylus. The egg is dyed a light color, and more wax is painted over the dyed parts. The parts under the new wax will remain that color, and the parts without wax will be re-dyed. The process is repeated, alternating wax and different colors of dye.
Finally, the egg is almost entirely coated in wax. Traditionally, the artist melts off the wax using a candle, and the color patterns emerge from under the wax. Of course, this method with melted wax and candles is completely impractical for the elementary classroom, so I’ve adapted the process to make it safer and easier for young students. (See below for my technique.) There are many tutorials and videos online demonstrating traditional pysanky techniques, and I suggest watching a video like this one to better understand how wax-resist dying works before teaching this lesson. (Tip: For help “unlocking” videos to use at school, blogger Brent Vasicek has written some helpful tips.)
Egg Painting 101
What You’ll Need:
- Large eggs. You could take the time to blow out the eggs, or just use them raw. Have extras on hand, since some will undoubtedly crack.
- Crayons. I found Crayola crayons worked best for making a thick layer of wax.
- Egg dyes. I used the regular egg dye tablets I picked up in kits in the seasonal section of the drug store. You could be ambitious and make your own dyes, but my students had a blast watching the tablets dissolve. Many eggs dyes call for vinegar in the solution, so read the directions in your kit.
- Containers for the dyes, spoons or wire “egg lifters,” and plenty of paper towels!
- Newspaper to cover your tables and possibly smocks to cover your young artists.
- A hairdryer and even more paper towels.
Newspaper helped protect the tables during this very messy project.
What You’ll Do:
Step 1: Draw your first design with one color crayon on your egg. Everything under this design will remain white. Press hard and make a thick layer of wax (just don’t crack the egg!).
Step 2: Dye the egg your first color. It is a good idea to start with the lightest color first — yellow, for example.
Step 3: Take the egg out of the yellow dye and gently pat it dry with a paper towel.
Step 4: With another colored crayon, add another design or pattern to your egg. Everything under this new layer of crayon wax will remain yellow.
Step 5: Dye the egg again with another color. Then repeat the drawing and dying steps until you are happy with the final color and the design.
Step 6: It’s time for the magic reveal! I set up a hair dryer station, and only adults can touch the dryer since it gets quite hot. Carefully blow hot air onto the egg using the hottest setting of your dryer. After about a minute, have your student rub the hot egg gently with paper towel to remove the melting wax. It generally took three cycles of melting and rubbing to remove all of the crayon wax. Finally, the dyed design emerged on the beautiful painted egg!
(Tip: While students were waiting for me to help them melt the wax off their eggs, they worked on coloring intricate pysanky designs on paper eggs.)
Other Patricia Polacco Author Study Ideas
Below are some charts and activities from our author/illustrator study to give you a peek at what we worked on. There are many wonderful resources about Polacco online, including her own Web site. If your students write letters to Polacco, she will send back a lovely illustrated form letter with juicy biographical tidbits — my students loved getting the letter in the mail. Reading Rockets has an interesting video interview with Polacco that you may want to share with your students. Check out Scholastic’s rich collection of lesson plans and activities based on many of Polacco’s books.
We used a trifold board to track the books we read during the author study.
Here are some of the charts from our author study.
Do you have an Easter egg project to share with the Scholastic community? Lesson ideas for Patricia Polacco’s books? Please share both in the comments section below. Happy egg painting!