Story Quilts

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 4 (Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures)

What You Need: Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold; blue construction paper; glue sticks; wallpaper or collage paper cut into 2-by-2-inch squares; markers; oil pastels

What To Do: Faith Ringgold was an active member of the civil rights movement who portrayed the conflict and camaraderie of the 1960s through her art. Ringgold is best known for her narrative quilts, but she is also a children’s author and an arts educator.

Rebecca Keller, an art teacher at Halls Ferry Elementary School in Florissant, Missouri, honors Black History Month by creating story quilts inspired by Ringgold’s work. Keller, who blogs at Splish Splash Splatter Art, begins the lesson by reading aloud Ringgold’s Tar Beach, the story of a young girl who flies over Harlem in 1939 claiming chunks of New York City as her own—even places her father is not allowed to go. The class discusses African-American family life in that time and place by pulling key details from the story. “I have students share ideas about other things that Cassie Louise Lightfoot could fly over to claim as her own,” says Keller. “We also imagine our own city, St. Louis.”

Next, students create story-book pages inspired by Tar Beach. Kids design a quilt-like frame around a piece of blue construction paper by collaging squares of decorative paper. Then, they use markers and oil pastels to draw a city in the center of the page, focusing on shape and color. As a final step, students draw themselves flying over their city, just like Cassie did.

Ribbons in the Sky

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts)

What You Need: Little Stevie, by Quincy Troupe; drawing paper; 2-inch strips of construction paper in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple; glue sticks

What To Do: Stevie Wonder has made an indelible contribution to the cultural and musical landscape of America. Blind from a very young age, Wonder epitomizes what it means to overcome adversity. Share his story with your students by reading Little Stevie, explaining that Wonder uses his music to paint pictures with words and sound.

Demonstrate that talent by playing an excerpt of Wonder’s song “Ribbon in the Sky.” Have your students close their eyes while they listen and ask them what they notice: Do any images come to their minds? Explain that the song tells the story of two people whose love makes a rainbow appear in the sky.

Share a picture of a rainbow with your students and have them name the colors they see in the order that they see them (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple). Next, hand each student drawing paper, a glue stick, and one strip of construction paper in each color. Have them glue the strips of paper in the correct order, name someone they love, and write his or her name across their rainbow. Display your “ribbons” around the room, lining them up to create one long rainbow.

Alma’s Art

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 4

What You Need: Watercolor paints and paper, palettes, brushes, small cups

What To Do: In the 1960s, the artist Alma Thomas broke color and gender barriers. To commemorate Thomas’s contributions, Hope Hunter Knight, a K–5 art teacher at Dolvin Elementary School in Johns Creek, Georgia, has students create paintings in Thomas’s signature style.

To get started, Knight shares background information about Thomas, including that she was born in Georgia and that she liked to paint colors and shapes in nature. “We look at examples of her simple and beautiful paintings of falling leaves, radiating suns, and curvy rainbows,” says Knight, who blogs at Mrs. Knight’s Smartest Artists. (Visit or to view Thomas’s work, such as Autumn Leaves Fluttering in the Breeze and Aquatic Gardens.)

Once students have a sense of Thomas’s style, Knight gives each one a sheet of watercolor paper. After they complete their drawings, Knight hands out watercolor palettes, small brushes, and cups of water. They paint over their drawings with watercolors, using colors they see in Thomas’s work.

Let Freedom Ring

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4

What You Need: Various picture books on Martin Luther King Jr., plastic cups, pipe cleaners, jingle bells

What To Do: In introducing Martin Luther King Jr. to her kindergarten students, LaNesha Tabb, a teacher at Snacks Crossing Elementary in Indianapolis, gets creative. She begins the lesson by sharing a selection of books on Dr. King and inviting kids to read in pairs. “I decided I wasn’t going to lecture or read a book up front,” says Tabb, a blogger at Another Glorious Day. “I wanted to see if they could get the gist through their own research.” After 10 to 15 minutes, Tabb -asks students to select a page that caught their attention and share what they’ve learned. As they report back, she charts their findings. She then shares the first verse of the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” which Dr. King quoted in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

To complete the activity and connect with the lyrics “let freedom ring,” Tabb suggests creating “freedom bells.” Cut or poke two small holes in the bottom of the plastic cups, and thread a pipe cleaner through each hole to create a handle, leaving the ends of the pipe cleaner untied within the cup. Thread a jingle bell through the pipe cleaner and tie the ends of the pipe cleaner together to keep the bell in place. Recite the first verse of the song while letting your freedom bells ring!

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Photos (Clockwise From Top Left): Courtesy of Hope H. Knight; Rebecca Keller; Lanesha Tabb