Arts and crafts are an invaluable part of a child’s education. Innovative projects can effectively introduce the concept of different cultures. They reinforce a child’s understanding of different ways of life, religion and social traditions. There are a variety of simple ideas that children will gain so much from by enjoying the projects and learning about other parts of the world.
A Dragon for Chinese New Year
After the excitement of Christmas and the flurry of craft projects this brings, it’s fun to look at alternative celebrations across the world. Hot on the heels of Christmas is Chinese New Year, celebrated in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar. The New Year is often marked with colourful dancing dragons in the streets and this is a great cultural project for kids.
Start by making two templates from card, one of a dragon’s head and the other of the tail. If you are uncertain of your drawing skills, small hands make good outlines to adapt into a dragon!
Attach the head and tail to a lolly stick or thick drinking straw with some sticky tape. To create the body of the dragon, use a length of bright, thin card and fold it concertina-style so it looks a little like an accordion. Fix either end of the ‘body’ to the head and tail. Finish the dragon by decorating with sequins, felt pens or crayons and small lengths of ribbon.
Lights for Diwali
Children really enjoy the wonderful traditions which surround the Hindu celebration of Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. Diwali is a time when the Hindu goddess, Lakshmi, is welcomed into houses which have been filled with light. A traditional cultural craft is making ‘diyas’ or small clay lamps which burn brightly with tea lights at Diwali.
Diyas are very simple to make. Children can ‘cheat’ a little by painting acrylic paints and patterns onto readymade terracotta pots of just the right size. However, it’s easier, cheaper and more fun for them to start from scratch. Take a small amount of air-drying clay and show them how to make a small dent using their thumb. Don’t forget to check the size is just right for a tea light. Now, they’ll need to make sure that the base of the diya is flat enough to support the candle safely. Finish the diya by painting with acrylic paints and dotting it with lots of ‘gems’, mirror beads and sequins. Allow the clay to harden and dry fully before using a tea light. Don’t forget children and unattended candles don’t mix!
Patron saints are a particularly effective way to learn about new countries and cultures. Use each saint’s day to explore the traditions and histories surrounding each nationality. Afterwards, make good use of cultural projects and arts and crafts to add interest and fun to the topics covered.
March 1st, for example, is the special day to celebrate St David, patron saint of Wales. Children can learn that on St. David’s Day, the people of Wales wear either a leek or a daffodil in their buttonhole as a way of celebrating! It’s really easy to make these with some simple arts and crafts.
For the leek, roll and secure a small cylinder of card. Cover half the cylinder with green paper which overlaps above the top of the tube. Now cut the excess paper into fringes to create a leek-top effect. Cover the rest of the tube with white paper. Finally attach a small safety pin to the reverse of the leek and wear with pride!
To make a daffodil, cut out an ‘egg cup’ from a cardboard egg carton. Colour the cup a rich orange or deep yellow. Cut the template of a traditional flower shape from some yellow card and glue the daffodil trumpet to the flower shape to complete the daffodil. When the flower is secure, glue a small safety pin to the back and add a small length of green drinking straw to make a stem.
These principles can be adapted to suit other national celebrations throughout the year.
Kids are far more likely to remember facts and want to learn about their world if the lessons are backed up with fun. The easiest way to do this is using arts and crafts to promote new skills and create lasting reminders of valuable lessons.