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Hands on History

Customs and traditions connect cultures, peoples and families. This art piece celebrates the connective fibers of our families as students explore what interests and traditions they share generationally.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Engage and excite students by gathering them together to read “Hands” by Lois Ehlert. Have students explain to each other how she used images of mementoes to tell the story of her family, not photos of people. Ask students to discuss why she told her story this way. Next, show students the image “LA Sky with Spring Heart” created by Betty Saar. How is it like the story they just read? What can you learn about this artwork from the clues she created in this piece?
    2. Explain to students they will be telling a story of a family tradition or custom as Lois Ehrlet did in her book. Clarify understanding of family tradition. Ask the class to list several on the board. Have each child identify an older family member whom they share a common custom, interest, hobby, trait or tradition.
    3. Using a pencil to draw lightly, students first place and trace their own hands on a piece of 12x12 inch (30 x30 cm) white poster board. Remind students this works best when pencils are slow, upright and tight around fingers. Next, students select the placement of an adult hand and make it slightly larger then their own. Students should outline the pencils lines in Crayola® Black Crayon.
    4. The outer edge of paper is used to write (in pencil) the narrative for this piece. First, students create a border by using a ruler touching edge of paper, draw straight edge on inside using black crayon. Repeat on all four sides- creating smaller square inside. Narrative can be written between outer and inner squares. For this element, have students explain on one side who (is part of the picture or tradition). On the next side, what they do (what is the tradition/interest/ hobby or commonality?); the third side explains why this is special to them; and the fourth explains where or when they do the activity. Remind students to write large and clear. When complete outline in Crayola Construction Paper Crayons.
    5. The above two steps could be sent home with students. A simple note for parents explaining the project encouraging dialog and basic instructions with due dates would increase parental involvement. Students can trace their hands and the adult hands they share a common interest with. They could also add details and trace in black crayon. The writing portion could contain both adult and child voice about the shared custom/ tradition/ hobby.
    6. Gather students and demonstrate the “magic” of a wash technique with Crayola Watercolor Paints. Wet the paper only where you will be painting (background behind and around hands). Before wet paper dries, paint a color close to all outside edges. Paint a “friendly color” (neighboring color on color wheel) inside touching but not overlapping. Have the class notice how the colors mix beautifully-without interference. Remind them if they pick up vertically to show you or a friend the colors will run together. Work should be set aside to dry after this step of the lesson.
    7. Next, students will paint, using Crayola Washable Paint-Multicultural Colors, the hands of themselves and their adult. Students will apply an apron and push up their sleeves. Then using the color they feel best represents them, begin to paint their own hand first; next their adult hand is created.
    8. Students again use watercolors to paint over narrative, this time selecting a singular color to repeat on the parameter of all four sides. Encourage students to use a much different color than they originally selected to write with in construction paper crayon.
    9. To add dimension and character to the piece, demonstrate shading using Crayola Multicultural Crayons one shade darker than the skin tone previously painted. Press hard with crayon next to edge on one side of finger or forearm and pick up pressure coming towards center.
    10. Have students draw 3-5 small clues about their tradition (i.e. they could draw cupcakes if they bake with mom). Encourage repetition of objects throughout background to show movement and unity. Draw on the background using a pencil and tracing with construction paper crayons. Small mementoes from home can be glues onto piece on from home for the conclusion to this lesson.
    11. Celebrate student work by instructing them to create a hallway ready piece. Once dry, glue finished art piece onto dark colored background slightly larger on all sides. Encourage students to share the stories of their work with others in the room as they finish. Now celebrate with a display of the many traditions, customs, hobbies and interests of your school. This is what weaves families and generations and cultures together!
  • Standards

    LA: Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

    LA: Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.

    LA: Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expression of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Identify and describe ways family groups and community influence the individual's daily life and personal choices.

    SS: Explore factors that contribute to one’s personal identity such as interests, capabilities and perceptions.

    VA: Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.

    VA: Make art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.

    VA: Determine messages communicated by an image.

    VA: Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.

  • Adaptations

    Use related paper objects such as maps and newspapers to create a collaged background for piece that ties into meaning of piece.

    Have students explore traditions that are unique to their region. Create a class piece with all the hands in the class sharing in a local celebration or custom.

    Challenge students to describe similarities and differences between their work and the work of Betty Saar.

    Make visual cues of various steps for students that succeed better with prompting.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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