Activities for all ages, CCSS-ready lesson plans, and more.
1 | Colorful Elephants
Standards Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 3 (Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts); Standard 4 (Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures)
What You Need: Construction paper (a variety of colors, plus black and gray), thin cardboard boxes, glue, patterned paper, sequins, crayons, markers
What To Do: In India, elephants symbolize wisdom and power. They play a key role in many rituals and festivals, during which they’re decorated in colorful patterns and draped with ornate cloths. Laura Kim, an art teacher at Spalding Drive Elementary in Sandy Springs, Georgia, has her students emulate these designs in a collage project. Kim begins the two-day project by precutting colorful cardboard boxes (e.g., cereal boxes), construction paper, and old artwork into 1-inch strips. She shows students how to weave these strips to make the background; to hold the image together, they place a dot of glue underneath each loose end.
On day two, students trace an elephant shape on black or gray paper. They cut it out and decorate it with a variety of materials, including a piece of patterned paper as the elephant’s “blanket.” To finish, students glue the elephants to their backgrounds.
2 | Connect the Dots
Standards Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 2 (Knows how to use structures [e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features] and functions of art); Standard 4
What You Need: Pencils, construction paper, tempera paint, cotton swabs
What To Do: Hannah Mazzuto, a K–6 art teacher for Attica Central School District in New York, teaches dot painting, an art form of the aboriginal Australians. “Aborigines incorporated nature-inspired colors, symbols, and animals in their art,” says Mazzuto. She encourages her students to do the same by including a native Australian animal (turtle, snake, etc.) in their dot paintings and to use earth tones.
First, kids draw their chosen animal in pencil on a sheet of construction paper, then fill in their drawings with dots using cotton swabs and tempera paint. “It’s good practice with spacing, as the dots must not touch each other,” Mazzuto explains. After students are done with their animals, they create colorful background designs.
3 | Weave a Tale
Standards Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts); Standard 4
What You Need: Colored paper, black butcher paper, glue, paint
What To Do: As part of a unit on African art, Melissa LaCour, who blogs at colorsofmyday.wordpress.com, wove together a lesson on kente cloth, a popular textile in southern Ghana. The colorful cloth is usually made of interwoven strips of silk and cotton; LaCour’s class created paper versions.
“First, students used their fine motor skills to practice cutting strips of paper in some of the traditional kente cloth colors [such as blue, green, and yellow],” explains LaCour, an art specialist at West Ridge Elementary School in Racine, Wisconsin. She tells students the colors have symbolic meaning. Blue, for example, symbolizes harmony and love.
Once the strips are cut, students glue them onto butcher paper to create collaged patterns, then experiment with color mixing by painting additional sheets of butcher paper in bright colors. Before the next class, LaCour cuts the collaged and painted paper into strips for students to weave their kente cloth; she shows them the over-under process of weaving, allowing them to take turns interlacing the pieces until each “cloth” is complete.
4 | The Art of Song
Standards Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1; Standard 4
What You Need: Colored paper, black poster board, paint, white crayons
What To Do: When Denise Teitsma’s first-grade students study the culture of Mexico, the art teacher at Jamestown Elementary in Hudsonville, Michigan, incorporates mariachi music. Teitsma plays a recording as the class creates mariachi guitar drawings.
Teitsma explains that orange, red, and yellow are “warm” colors, while blue, green, and shades of purple are “cool.” Kids then outline a guitar shape on black paper, painting a solid-colored border around the outline and using a mix of cool or warm colors for the guitar; a black circle in the center represents the sound hole. For strings, they cut and paste thin strips of colored paper, and they embellish the head with sequins or buttons to represent machine heads, or tuning keys. Finally, as students listen to the music, they decorate the background of their artworks with paint and white crayons to illustrate what they are hearing.
5 | Be Koi
Standards Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1; Standard 4
What You Need: Construction paper (9" x 12"), tempera paint, glue, pencils, crepe streamers
What To Do: “Carp are thought to have qualities that Japanese families hope their children will possess,” explains Katie Morris, a K–6 art teacher at Pauline Central Primary and Pauline South Intermediate in Topeka, Kansas. “They are spirited, energetic, strong, and determined.” To celebrate these values and Japanese culture, Morris and her class create their own Japanese koinobori—carp wind socks flown during celebrations.
First, students hold a sheet of construction paper vertically and divide it into thirds with a pencil, adding eyes on the one-third marks at the top of the paper. They then paint a pattern to represent scales that covers the rest of the sheet. Next, they cut two short pieces of streamers, fold them in half, and glue them to the left and right thirds of the construction paper to make fins, attaching a slightly longer piece to the center to represent the dorsal fin. Longer pieces are glued along the bottom to form the tail and to create the illusion of movement. Students then roll their designs to form a loose cylinder; Morris staples them where the sides overlap, holding the bottom more tightly to create a fish shape. (The center third should be at the top, and the left and right thirds at the sides. The opening in the front will form the mouth.) To finish, students loop a long piece of yarn through the cylinders and tie a knot.
Photos: (1) Laura Kim; (2) Hannah Mazzuto; (3) Melissa LaCour; (4) Denise Teitsma; (5) Katie Morris
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