I just finished a sandpainting project with my 5th and 6th graders and they
really turned out great!
As an intro, we looked at various Navajo sandpaintings on the web. I'd also
put together an "article" on its history and significance, and they had 10
fill-in-the-blank type questions to answer about it for homework (i.e. what
was the original purpose of sandpainting? part of a healing ritual. when did
it become an artform? early 1900s. etc.)
We worked on plain cardboard as a base. After first sketching designs that
either utilized personal or traditional symbols OR a geometric design (on
scrap paper), they then *lightly* drew their design on the cardboard (about
8x8 in size). Areas have to be relatively large--small, picky designs won't
The next challenge was coloring the sand. Actually, the next challenge was
ACQUIRING the sand--who'd have thought that places like Lowes wouldn't carry
it--white sand is considered a seasonal item! Anyhow, a parent was able to
get a bucket of it out of a covered sandbox for us to use!
We first tried mixing powdered tempera with the sand, and while we got
really beautiful colors, it was too dusty to work well. So...we regrouped
and mixed liquid tempera with it in ziplock bags. Squished it around until
it was well mixed, and then spread it out to dry.
Unfortunately (or so I first thought) it was too lumpy when it was dry--and
very hard. HOWEVER, this tied in nicely with the Navajo technique of
grinding up stones to produce sand. The kids really got into taking the big
clumps of sand and rubbing them together.
We worked with one color area at a time, using white glue and a paintbrush
to fill each color area. The kids then applied the sand of that color to
the wet glue, let it dry for about 5 minutes, and then shook off the excess.
After all areas were completed and dry, I had the kids write a paragraph or
two that had to include what they remembered about Navajo techniques,
symbolism and purposes for sandpaintings, and then about their own work--why
they chose the colors they did, what their symbols stood for, etc.
As a final step, we had a group critique. Each artist showed his or her
sandpainting and told about it, and then the other students made comments.
I was amazed and delighted with their insights and positive comments.
This all took far longer than I'd anticipated (starting with having to redo
the coloring of the sand), but I'm so pleased with the results and with what
the kids got out of it. My older students--after seeing these--have been
asking if THEY can do sandpaintings, and I might try to work it into the
curriculum. It would be interesting to see what some of the older ones
might come up with!
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