Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art Study: Native American Art

Our fall history study: Native American history and culture. I wrote a review of our Native American study using History Pockets: Native Americans, and promised an overview of our art studies. Finally, as promised, here it is. In addition to the History Pockets, we read a few pages from Native American Art (Art in History), whichever section dovetailed the best with the art project we'd planned.

Buckskin Painting (Pictured above)
From Native American Art (Art in History), Petra Press.

You need:
A brown grocery or lunch bag
Household wax (or an old candle, in a pinch)
Thin dishtowel or rag
An iron

Cut and flatten a brown paper bag. Using crayon draw a picture on the bag. Crumple and flatten and crumple the paper a few times to make it soft and wrinkled. Rub wax all over the paper, cover with the dishtowel and iron.

Read: The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, Tomie DePaola and Storm Maker's Tipi, Paul Goble.

Coil Pots
Internet lesson plan here
You need:
Air-dry clay (You can find this at any craft store.)
A cup of water
Acrylic paints
Glaze, if desired

Coil pots are a fun and easy project. Many Native American peoples made pots and other useful items out of clay. Flatten your clay and cut circles for the base, roll snakes of clay, and coil them into pots. Dipping fingers into the water, then smoothing the water onto the coils allows the coils to hold together better. Let the pots dry according to the clay package directions, then paint with acrylic paints. If desired, paint with gloss once the paint has dried to make a shiny pot.

The fine young gents had a fine time with this project. So much so that I bought more clay when I went to the store-that-shall-not-be-named. (Shhhhh....I went to Walmart. It was next door to another stop, so I shopped there. Don't tell anyone who knows me.) The value of the coil pots was not necessarily in the end product. As you can see, despite our reading and looking at clay art online and in our art book, the pots don't necessarily look as though we're imitating Native American clay pots. The value of the clay pots was in the experiences with clay. What an adventure! The guys dutifully made their clay pots, but were most interested in finding out exactly what they could do with the clay. Make sure to include lots of time for experimentation.

Sand Painting
Lesson here

You need:
Posterboard, cardboard, or other fairly stiff paper
Colored sand (buy it at the craft store, or color your own using play sand and tempera paint) in small dishes
Lots of newspaper and a rimmed baking sheet

Easy idea. Really really messy. And I don't usually mind a mess. Definitely look at pictures of Native American sand painting beforehand. We got the desired result: An afternoon of color, a chance to experiment with new materials, an opportunity to look at a kind of art we'd not studied before and even better, to try it ourselves.

With older children, try this: Poetry and sand painting lesson

Directions here at Enchanted Learning
You need:
A bendable twig
Thin wire
Twine or yarn
Beads and feathers

Dreamcatchers are fun and fairly simple to make. We used twigs from the back yard maple to make our hoops and fastened them with leftover wire from a beading craft kit. The fine young gents wanted to use our orange twine, but a yarn or a rougher string would probably work better, as the nylon twine was slippery against the slippery bark of the maple twig. The gents had a grand time decorating with the beads and feathers, and 3 months later, the dreamcatchers are still hanging on the fine young gents' bedposts.

Information, legends and directions for making dreamcatchers

More great directions for making Native American dreamcatchers

Dreamcatcher store, books and links

Clay bead necklaces
Lesson here
You need:
Air-dry clay
Clay tools or similar for carving lines and shapes into the wet clay
String or twine or leather laces
Glass beads (optional)
Blue paint

Make your beads out of clay-- flat, square, round. Experiment with different shapes and sizes. Once you've created a bead, etch designs and patterns into it using clay tools, bamboo skewers, or the wrong end of a cheap-o paintbrush. Let dry according to clay package directions. Paint blue. When dry, string them onto the string (with or without glass beads) using knots to hold the beads in place.

This project was our favorite. We got to play with clay again. The fine young gents were glowing over their beautiful necklaces and wore thema ll afternoon. Second-grade gent gave his away to the girl next door, and I noticed today that it's still hanging in her play space.

Foil Necklaces
From History Pockets: Native Americans

You need:
Paper and pencil
Cardboard squares
Beads or macaroni beads
Yarn or string (about 18 inches)

Another favorite. Cut a 3x3 paper square. Draw a symmetrical design onto the square and set it aside. (The History Pockets unit provides a design for children to trace if they choose not to create their own.) Cut a 3x3-inch cardboard square and cover it with aluminum foil. Tape the foil at the back of the necklace. Using scissors or a pencil, punch two holes through the top of the square. Place your paper square with the design over the front of the foil-covered cardboard square and trace the design with your pencil, pressing hard. Gently lift away the design once you've finished tracing: The design will be etched into the foil. Decorate your foil square with tiny beads if desired. To make the necklace, put the ends of the string through the holes in your foil-covered square so that the ends hang out the back of the square. String beads (macaroni or otherwise) onto the string if desired. Tie the ends together at the top, leaving room to slip the necklace over your head.

Animal Masks
You need:
Animal stories or imagination activity (optional)
Mask-making materials such as paper mache or Rigid Wrap
Feathers, fur and other decorations

We made up our own mask study two years ago. (In two parts: Masking the Masks and Designing the Masks). This fall's History Pockets study included a mask project, but it involved coloring and cutting a paper drawing of a mask. We decided to make the real thing.

We'd been reading about Native American vision quests and totems and the kinds of animals living in proximity with Native American people, so to choose mask subjects, we used a guided imagination activity from Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, by Joseph Bruchac. As I read out loud, the fine young gents imagined themselves running, leaping, flying through the forest, and when each gent opened his eyes he chose the animal he'd been imagining. We had a racoon, a deer and a black-capped chickadee. The deer changed his mind and decided he'd rather be a chickadee too, so that he could make a beak instead of antlers. The fine young chickadees were quite focused for this lengthy project, concerned with painting the bird colors just so, and begging for black feathers to glue onto the bird masks. The littlest racoon gent just loved the mess, and happily dabbed and globbed and painted and glued. The reulst was far more satisfying than a paper-and-marker project.

Native American masks as art at

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Memory Poem Books

What is Pink?
by Christina Rossetti

What is pink? A rose is pink
By the fountain's brink.
What is red? A poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? The sky is blue
Where the clouds float through.
What is white? A swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? Pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? The grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? Clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

Make a memory poem book

You need:
A poem
Blank papers
Colored pencils or crayons

Fold your papers in half to create your book. Copy one line or stanza of your poem on each page. Illustrate that page. The next day, read what you've written in your book before you move on to write and illustrate the next line. By the end of the poem, you'll have it memorized! Once your book is finished, punch holes in the fold and tie your book together with yarn or string. Voila!

Kindergarten gent memorizes his poems quickly and easily, and he ends up with a beautiful book that he's proud to share with others. Try What is Pink? by Christina Rossetti, A Apple Pie by Kate Greenway, 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe or choose another poem that you love!

Classic Poems for Children

Poetry Foundation

Explorations 4 kids: Poetry

Friday, January 23, 2009

Paint Prints

Cookie sheet paint prints

You need:
A large cookie sheet for each child

Spread newspaper over your work surface. Set out the paints and brushes, paper, and a cookie sheet for each person.

Paint a picture onto the cookie sheet. Use a moderate amount of paint. Too little and the picture doesn't quite come out clearly, too much and the paint smears and blurs as you make the print.

Press your paper gently onto the sheet without wiggling the paper. It works best if you lift your hands to press all over the paper rather than smoothing the paper over the paint. Peel away your paper carefully.

Bright colors and simple strokes make a vivid interesting print.

If there's enough paint left on the sheet, you can make a second print. Once you've finished printing, you can add more paint to your existing cookie sheet picture to create a series of similar prints, or wash and dry the sheet and start over.

Use plenty of paint, and use your print from the cookie sheet to transfer your print painting to a canvas or another piece of paper--a print of a print.
Paint large blocks of color onto the cookie sheet. Fingerpaint shapes, lines, squiggles, or a picture into your paint and print.
Use a paintbrush to paint fine details into your print once it's dried.
Paint your brother instead of the cookie sheet. (Not recommended. But fun.)

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. I forgot I'd promised an art project this afternoon. Making cookie sheet prints took five minutes to set up. The fine young gents spent nearly an hour painting and printing this afternoon, experimenting with shapes and colors, ways to paint and the process of making prints. We used an entire sketch pad and more.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I am driving myself crazy.

I see the value in structure, so I try to create a family routine and structure...And I see the value in flexibility and spontaneity, so I try to go with the flow.

I value music education and physical fitness, so my children are involved in choir and piano and sports...And I value downtime, time to rest and relax and play and daydream.

I value structured formal academics...And I value time spent pursuing our interests and learning what suits us in the moment.

I value exploring interests deeply and fully...And I value exposure to many different ideas, concepts, languages, experiences.

I value free spirits and light hearts and strong wills...and I value good manners and behavior.

I value school time, family time, work time, time to play with friends, time to read, time to talk, time to rest, time to daydream.

I want to devote my time to developing real friendships, to raising my children, to nurturing my marriage, to creating a comfortable home, to studying new ideas, to having new experiences and making wonderful memories.

I want it all. I want to have it all. I want to do it all.

The problem is that there simply isn't time for it all. We cannot spend hours watching the clouds, and still get in a good piano practice. It doesn't make sense to pay for scheduled activities like gymnastics and swimming and piano and choir, then take off for a week camping in the spring. A day spent playing with friends means a day of missed schoolwork. Creating a family routine that helps us measure the flow of our days is impossible if we drop everything at the spur of every moment in the name of spontaneity.

Living a thoughtful life, one in which we take responsibility for our choices and experiences, requires careful consideration not only of what we want to do, but of what we're giving up in order to do those things. In a sense this is the crux of our lives, for all of us who live a life that allows us these kinds of choices anyway. This is what life is all about. We create our lives through the choices that we make and the ways that we use our time, whether we choose to swing in the hammock or dig up the garden or go to a movie or drive to the beach.

I know we'll find the balance we need, and that once we do our lives will shift and shift and shift again. I am immensely grateful for the choices we've been given. Someday we'll miss these busy days.

Life is good.

Friday, January 09, 2009

True Story

I got an email from a dear friend: "I sent you chocolate chip cookies!" it said, but no link. It made me smile that she'd been thinking of me and was sending me virtual cookies. I meant to email her to tell her she forgot to include the link, but I got sidetracked and forgot.

Fast forward a few days. I suddenly wanted chocolate chip cookies. I didn't want to make them all by myself. I went upstairs to beg my darling daughter to make cookies with her mother. Alas, she said no, and I slouched back down the stairs.

The fine young gents had finished bedtime stories on the couch. One gent opened the front door to let in the cat...."A package!" he cried. "We got a package!"

Guess what was inside?

The cookies were shortly followed by dear friend herself. We hung out this afternoon, sipping tea. Not very exciting, but a much-needed balm to the soul. I met my dear friends for dinner this evening. (Minus one, we missed you and ate an extra dessert in your name.)

It's been a rough few weeks, particularly with my lovely lady with autism, and I needed that time more than even I knew. Chocolate chip cookies for the tummy and chocolate chip cookies for the spirit.

Life is good.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Last Week's (Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: 2008