Thursday, February 10, 2011

Art and Culture: A Natural Connection to Build Understanding

What better way to encourage kids to learn about and appreciate the values, skills and practices of another culture than to look at the art produced by its people?

Art has always played an important role in shaping and recording cultural history and lifestyles. Art also plays an important role in making kids happy and comfortable in school. I know that for lots of kids, the opportunity to create art can help engage him or her in school, and open a door to learning across disciplines.

Recent visits to some schools in Portland make it clear that art is happening in the schools, but for some kids (kids like I used to be) there is never enough art in a day.

Here are some ideas for strategies that teachers, instructors and mentors (especially in after school programs) can use to stimulate interest in other cultures, while also providing opportunities for students to see and experience many forms of art.

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? Can these materials be found in a store?
- Are they part of every day life or are they meant to be displayed in a museum or a temple?

Teachers may want to pose some questions as research. Invite kids to visit the library, explore books and art sites on the internet, and talk to family and community members to find out what they know about African art. Then, encourage them to share what they’ve learned - in words, or by creating a piece of art.

Mentors (and of course, teachers too) may want to take advantage of parents or other community members to take part in the conversation, and share some of their favorite art as well.

In the course of a conversation about African art, kids may learn that in most African cultures art is used to express religious beliefs, to teach behavior, to communicate history and to proclaim an individual’s status in the community. What about art in other cultures?

There are so 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 our website: to the boxes from your travels are more than welcome!

Multicultural Lesson Plans Art based lesson plans written by teachers. These are great recipes for success.

TELL US:What do you do in your classroom or program? Share your ideas for projects and resources on this blog?