Often when I talk about how much I love bringing art (like mask-making) into the classroom, I get the response “There’s no time for fun activities like that anymore.” Comments like that used to make me sad, and while they still elicit that response, I’ve also found myself feeling a little angry. It just seems so defeatist. It’s an excuse to give up the agency that we do have as teachers, that we should be fighting to hold on to (as many of the teachers I know are). I’m not denying that the landscape of the classroom is changing. I know the amount of time it takes to do all the testing required through the year. I even added it up once–I spent close to two months worth of school days testing the last year I taught 3rd grade. I know there’s increasing pressure to cover even more material in shorter amounts of time. I’ve read about the moves to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student performance. But, it’s for all of these reasons that I think it’s even more important that we include those “fun” activities, like art, in the classroom.
The majority of us work harder when there’s some sort of incentive involved. I know how much harder my students worked when they knew some sort of project involving clay, glitter, or paper mâché was waiting for them–even better was when the math, literacy, or science lessons actually integrated those things into the assignment. Happy, engaged students are far more productive and successful. Some of the most successful companies have figured out happy employees are productive employees. Google is just one example of this. I realize there are certain non-negotiables. I can’t change the textbooks, or the hours of a school day. I can’t make the cafeteria smell better or the food more palatable, but I do have a great deal of power over what goes on in my classroom and how I present my district’s mandated curriculum. It’s up to us to make those things as humanizing as possible to the students who we are entrusted.
Now, I realize I was on my soap box for the last two paragraphs there, but I felt it needed to be said before we got into the part of this post that I most excited about: our thematic guide all about mask-making. We wrote this guide for a teacher workshop we held with Felipe Horta, a mask-maker from Michoacán, Mexico. The guide contains 8 different lessons that provide a variety of ways to make masks. We’ve included everything from the most simple to the more complex, along with lessons on how to integrate mask-making with various literacy themed activities like poetry, play-writing, and fiction writing. When we created the guide I remember thinking how amazing it would be to plan an entire year of curriculum around the theme of mask-making. As it’s still the beginning of the year, and plenty of time to think about our year-long curriculum maps, I thought I’d try and entice all of us to add a little more art back into our classrooms. Obviously, every lesson or unit can’t be tied to masks, but with some thoughtful and creative planning it could easily be done. The symmetry masks would be such a fun way to teach that particular mathematical concept, while the paper plate masks could turn into a fun activity on how to “show” all of those adjectives we use to describe human emotions. I really do believe the possibilities are endless!
If you’re interested in other beginning of the year units that integrate art and were created especially for early elementary, check out the three links below.
- En la Clase: Celebrating Differences and Similarities-Exploring Identity
- En la Clase: “Multiculturalism–Learning About Different Cultures”
- En la Clase: “Everybody is Unique–Teaching Respect in a Racially Diverse Classroom”
I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments! If you use mask-making (or any other art activity) in your classroom, please tell us about it!