Since one of my most fundamental goals is to increase children's self-esteem through art, I always ask my students where their family comes from, where their family lives, and, if all else fails, what places they'd like to travel to in the future. From there, I design art lessons that are authentic to that classes heritage (or at least their interests).
By authentic, I mean that I make sure to stay as true as possible to the following aspects of art:
- Subject matter
Entire classrooms often have their first contact with a country or society different from their own in this way, and I am able to ensure that they come away with an appreciation and respect of this culture. Becoming acquainted in this way is amazing, because although the lesson may only last two class periods (1 1/2 or 2 hours total), the children really delve deeply into the culture.
Plus, I learn a lot, too, which is always my own personal goal.
This painting is based on a traditional Mexican art form called Amate, or Mexican Tree Bark Painting. The paintings are done on a specific form of tree bark (although here we used paper bags that I specially treated before-hand), and use bright inks. When I found neon acrylics, I just knew this project was meant to be. Traditionally, Amate painting are very detailed and stylized. Representations of animals (especially birds) are common, as are scenes of everyday country life. In our class, we learned about the history of the paper itself, which touches on ancient history, colonization, indigenous religious beliefs, and modern day ways to keep tradition alive. You know, briefly, because we only have a short amount of time. It was, however, enough time for the children to become mesmerized and to start asking questions that had nothing to do with art. So, please have a few resources available to hand over for out-of-class exploration. "Great question! Would you like to borrow this book and read all about it? Maybe you could report back to us next week?"
Once we got into the actual art, the fun really began. The kids loved creating designs of their own based on the traditional themes used in Mexico. A few kids turned the theme on its head and purposefully drew pictures of urban life and machines. Whichever way they did it, all learned valuable lessons about Mexico and traditional Mexican culture. Since we did this at a camp, a parent made some Mexican food and brought us all lunch! It was a beautiful and delicious way to celebrate our classroom's heritage and I even overheard a few kids talking about sharing their own culture (aka food), as in, "When we do the (Islamic) mosaic art, I'm going to ask my mom to make tabbouli! You'll love it!"
Although I'm sure I could simplify this lesson to do with my younger kids, this lesson was done with my 3-5th graders.