Friday, October 30, 2009

Art and Culture: A Natural Connection

Art is a primary tool for helping kids think and express themselves creatively. My research also shows that art plays an important role in making kids feel happy, engaged and comfortable in school. Providing opportunities for kids to see, experience and create many forms of art is a way to open a door to learning across disciplines and about cultures.

Making art is fun, it can relax, stimulate, change the way we look at things, provide new ways to do things. For some kids (kids like I used to be) there is never enough art in a day.

Here are some strategies that teachers and mentors (especially in after school programs) to integrate art, and many cultures, into the classroom or program. All of these ideas work for parents as well.

Bring samples of art into your space.
Bring objects, slides, photos, posters, fabrics. You get the idea. For example, a unit on African art might include masks, wood carvings, beadwork, jewelry, fabrics and more. Any of these can become a starting point to open a conversation about both the art, and its uses in its culture.
Talk about what you see, ask:
- What are these things used for?
- What materials are they made of? Where do these materials come from?
- Are they part of everyday life or are they meant to be displayed in a museum or a temple?
- Who made this?
- Have you ever seen anything like this? Where or when?
- Is this art or a useful item? Is it both?

To encourage kids to think about what they are seeing, have them pose some questions as they would like to know about.
  • Ask kids to brainstorm a list of places they might find answers to their questions.
  • TIP: though the library, books, art sites on the internet are all good ways to learn, encourage kids to talk to family and community members to find out what they know about, e.g., African art.
Encourage kids to share what they’ve learned, in whatever medium they like, - in words, music, or by creating a piece of art.

There are many wonderful resources to help you bring Art and Culture into your classroom or program; you may find your biggest challenge deciding where to begin. Here are two really good ones:

Global & Multicultural Resource Center The centerpiece of the World Affairs Council’s statewide K-12 program is the Global & Multicultural Resource Center. Housed at Portland State University, the Center enhances international and multicultural education in both schools and the community. Our resources and programs are available to teachers, students, parents and organizations in both Oregon and SW Washington.

Be sure to check out the Culture Boxes provided by this program
“Our Culture Boxes on over 90 countries are brimming with maps, lessons, and hands-on treasures from musical instruments and traditional clothes to toys, games and easily transportable props."

A typical box or set of boxes contains:
Books, lesson plans, maps, audio/video tapes, posters, CultureGrams, files, newspaper clippings, AND hands on items in the following categories: food, shelter, daily life, arts & crafts, dress, beliefs, toys & games, music & dance, language, and more…”
For more information on our Culture Boxes, Reference Library and programs please see the website:

NOTE: Donations to the boxes from your travels are more than welcome!

Oregon Art Beat at School
OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) - A collection of over 100 video profiles, selected from the OREGON ART BEAT television series, featuring musicians, dancers, writers, photographers, and visual artists. Each profile includes arts-focused lesson plans with related activities, resources and projects to help teachers bring the arts into their classrooms and get kids engaged in learning and creating. This is a great resource for lesson plans (written by teachers) that combine art and culture, and make it easy to engage kids in a variety of learning styles and activities.