Enjoy the season while learning about art history!
Art History with Snowmen
One way to use snowmen in your art lesson plans is to ask students to look at snowmen as famous artists might have and create their own versions of snowmen in the style of a famous artist. This lesson in art history is a good way to help students understand different artists and art styles in art history because the basic shape of a snowman can be the same for everyone—three balls of snow stacked on top of one another with black eyes and a carrot nose, plus sticks for arms. To do this activity, give students art supplies such as different colors of paper, water colors, markers, glue, and scissors.
- Show students four examples of art from different artists with very different techniques. Explain the history of each artist and the technique the artist used to interpret the world around around them, including any terms that the artist helped to define.
- Ask students to pretend to be the famous artists and create a snowman in each style as the artist might have.
- Let students be creative and create their interpretation with whatever tools are available to them in the allotted time.
- After all four snowmen are completed, ask students to choose their favorite and ask some students to explain why they chose to represent the snowman in the way they did.
Some of our favorite artists to include in this exercise include Picasso, Andy Warhol, Paul Cezane, and Henri Rousseau. You can use the following paintings to help students see the differences among these four artists.
Picasso – Three Musicians
Andy Warhol - Marilyn Diptych
Paul Cezane – Boy in Red Waistcoat
Henri Rousseau - Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo
Ask students to look at the different paintings and compare and contrast the differences. How are colors used? What about shadows? How do the artists use perspective? Do artists use thick lines or do lines blend together?
This activity is a fun one for a day after a snow day when students have had fun building snowmen and enjoying the wintery weather.
In the Netherlands, Saint Nicolas comes bearing gifts on December 5th, Sinterklaasavond, or Saint Nicolas’s Eve. December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas arrives by steamboat from Spain with his helper Zwarte Piet. Saint Nicolas rides a white horse and there is a parade from the dock in Amsterdam to the Palace where Saint Nicolas asks the princes and princesses if they have behaved well through the year. If they’ve been good, the children of the royal family receive presents.
Children all over the Netherlands leave their shoes out the night before Saint Nicolas’s Eve and wake to find that he has left treats for them in exchange for hay or carrots for his horses. In addition to the Saint Nicolas traditions, families also give gifts to one another on Sinterklaasavond but the identity of the gift giver is a secret. The giver tries to surprise the receiver by using rhymes and riddles that often poke fun at the receiver. Small gifts can be wrapped in big boxes and clues might be left around the house for children to follow to find a sack of presents left by Saint Nicolas.
The Netherlands is probably the source of our Santa Claus, since Dutch settlers brought Sinterklaas with them to America. As you study Christmas Around the World, create a chart of gift bringers and their helpers. Some of the information you might choose to capture:
- the name of the gift bringer, such as Santa Claus
- the name of any helpers, such as Santa’s elves
- the animals, such as reindeer, that help or travel with the gift bringer
- where the gift bringer comes from — Santa Claus comes from the North Pole
- the method of transportation used
- whether the gift bringer is male or female
- when the gifts are brought
- where the gifts are placed
- what kids leave for the gift bringer — in the U.S., milk and cookies are often left for Santa
Once you’ve completed the chart, sort all the gift bringers into groups: you’ll find that the most common are some version of Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, but there are many variations.
Christmas itself is a more quiet holiday in the Netherlands, and is known as Kerstfeest. Christmas in the Netherlands mainly revolves around food and family. On Christmas Eve families go to church and return home to a large feast in the early hours of the day, eating traditional Dutch Christmas foods, like kerststol. On Christmas morning, families might go to church again. On Christmas day, families enjoy sitting around the Christmas tree and telling stories to each other or catch up on missed sleep from the night before. December 26th is known as Second Christmas and many families dine out on this day and enjoy large, lavish meals together.
Some traditional Dutch foods include these:
- Kerststol, or Christmas fruit stolen
- Kerstkransjes, or Christmas wreath cookies
- Jan Hagel cookies
- Banketstaaf or banketletters, or almond paste filled pastry logs
- Speculaas, or spice cookies
- Oliebollen, or donuts
- Appelflappen, or apple fritters
Banketletter or letterbanket is the name for a special cookie made in the shape of letters. You can easily find recipes for this treat online, or you can make this simple version:
- Give students small amounts of refrigerated pie crust (the rolled type, not the type in pans) and marzipan (also available in rolls in grocery stores at Christmastime).
- Each student can roll the marzipan into a snake, wrap the pie crust around it, and form the first letter of his or her name. Get help from the kitchen to bake the letterbankets.
- Alternatively, use the Dutch tradition as inspiration for using clay to form letters. If you choose to use Model magic or another self-hardening clay, you can hang the letters on your class Christmas tree.
Twente, a region in east Holland, has another unique tradition for Christmas. Midwinter horns and ox horns are blown at different times, usually on Christmas Eve or every night as a call for residents to attend church after dusk during Advent until the Epiphany in early January. The horns have different sounds created by blowing the horns into wells or by blowing them into the air. Students can learn about how water changes instruments with our Water Drum Lesson Plan. Students can hear the midwinter horn being played here.
Fractals are fun — and they team up perfectly with a study of snow. To do this activity with your students, you first need to explain what a fractal is:
A fractal is a a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. – From Oxford Dictionaries
You can explain this definition to your students by asking them to look at a nearby body of water on a map. It probably looks pretty smooth. Ask them to imagine what the map of the body of water might look like if you only could measure with a yard stick. The edges would not be so smooth.What about a 12-inch ruler? The smaller the measuring tools, the more jagged the map would look. Since all the sides are the same length, this is a fractal.
Ask your students to draw an equilateral triangle on a piece of paper in pencil. Then ask them to divide each side of the triangle in to three equal parts and erase the middle section. Then ask them to draw two lines that are the same distance as the parts removed to create open triangles in the part that was removed. Ask them to do the same thing again. This is called a Koch snowflake.
Ask students what the shape is starting to look like. When they say it looks like a snowflake, share pictures of different snowflakes. You can use this Java applet to show students without asking them to draw the shapes themselves. Ask students to identify snowflakes as fractals or not so they understand what different fractal snowflakes might look like.
Show students different types of snowflakes and discuss whether they are fractals or not. Ask students whether the snowflakes are radially symmetrical or not and whether you can have a non-fractal be symmetrical. Are all fractals symmetrical?
Try these other fun, nerdy winter themed activities:
- Mystery of Christmas Cookies Science Experiment
- “Disaccharide J Tubes” or Candy Cane Experiment
- Chemistry of Cookies video
- Peanut Brittle Science
- Crystal Christmas Tree
- Microscopic Christmas Tree
- “Lather” printing wrapping paper and activity
- Silvered Ornaments Experiment
- Crystal Windows
Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey on the table for most families. This gives us a great opportunity to teach our students about turkeys, both domestic and wild, and to have some fun while we’re at it. This activity is great for younger children.
Thanksgiving Hand Turkey Art Lesson Objectives
- Develop fine motor skills
- Investigate animal facts
- Build color recognition skills
- Explore shape, texture, and pattern
- Distinguish between reality and fiction
- Read a Thanksgiving themed turkey story with your students. We have plenty of recommendations below.
- Show your students pictures of wild turkeys and domesticated turkeys. Discuss with students the difference between the two types of turkeys and the turkeys in the story you read. Students should look at colors, feather texture, size, and patterns on turkeys.
- Ask students to compare the real world turkeys in the pictures to the turkeys in the stories. Discuss with students how the turkeys in the stories behave and how they think real turkeys behave. Compare holiday themes to real-life animals by asking students to talk about turkeys they see for Thanksgiving and turkeys in the books and photos.
- Using paper and coloring supplies, ask students to trace one hand on three sheets of white paper. Then ask them to decorate one hand like a turkey in a story that represents Thanksgiving, one hand like a wild turkey, and one hand like a domestic turkey.
Still excited about turkeys? Check out our Turkey Lesson Plans for more ideas.
Your younger students’ study of Pilgrims isn’t complete without making hats! Dressing up in 17th century clothing would be a challenge, but you can make your own versions of their hats with construction paper.
- one 18″ by 12″ piece of white paper
- Stapler and staples or tape
- Ribbon or string
- Measure and mark with your ruler 6 1/4 inches and 7 1/4 inches from the edge on the long side of the paper on each side.
- Measure and mark 3 inches straight towards the middle of the paper from the 6 1/4 inch marks.
- Using a pair of scissors, cut straight from the 6 1/4 inch mark to the 3 inch mark above. Then cut from the 7 1/4 inch mark diagonally to the 3 inch mark.
- Turn the paper so the uncut edge is now facing you. Fold up two inches of the paper towards the cuts to form the front of the bonnet.
- To finish the bonnet shape, bring the two 6 1/4 marks together so the middle piece between the cuts folds downwards. The bonnet will create a U-shape with the folded edge. Secure with staples or tape.
- Cut two lengths of ribbon or string long enough to tie the bonnet together under the wearer’s chin and attach them to the bonnet under the folded front of the bonnet.
- Your bonnet is complete!
- Black, yellow, and white construction paper
- Cut out a hat shape from black construction paper, a two inch stripe long enough to go around the wearer’s head, a strip of white paper as wide as the top of the hat shape, a square of yellow, and a smaller square of white.
- Glue the white strip of paper to the hat on the front just above the brim.
- Glue the yellow square in the middle of the white strip.
- Glue the white square in the middle of the yellow square.
- Make a ring with the black strip of paper using the tape.
- Tape the hat to the ring.
- Your hat is complete!
You can easily add a white yoke over your shoulders out of white paper for the complete Pilgrim ensemble. It’s perfect for reenactment activities, like our Voyage of the Mayflower lesson plan.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a classic pictures book written by Charles M. Shultz, based on the comic strip Peanuts. You can read the book with your class or watch the video and be sure that you’ll have a fine seasonal experience without any scary moments.
Here are three lesson plans we like for upper elementary, to help incorporate this classic Halloween story into your curriculum.
The story has three main plot lines, each surrounding a specific character in the story. Linus, Charlie Brown, and Snoopy are the centers of the three different plot lines in the story. Most students think of a story as a single plot line, so using a plot line worksheet to examine the three plot lines of the story will help students grasp the idea completely.
After investigating the different main plot lines of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown , ask students to come up with their own plot lines for a Halloween story. Then group students into groups of three. Ask the students to write their own stories and to include all three plot lines in their group. It will make some zany stories, but is a lot of fun!
Points of view
In each main plot line, there are multiple perspectives on what’s happening in the story. For instance, in Linus’s plot line of waiting for The Great Pumpkin, Linus has one idea of what’s happening while Sally has another perspective. Sally thinks Linus is silly waiting for The Great Pumpkin but decides to go along.
When Snoopy rises up out of the pumpkin patch, Linus is convinced it’s The Great Pumpkin but Sally sees it is just Snoopy. Talk about each perspective with your students and how the different characters have different experiences of the same events in each plot line.
Divide students into groups and give each group one character from the book to work with. Let each group work out how their character saw the story, and have a volunteer from each group explain the events that took place from that character’s point of view.
Snoopy pretends to be a World War I flying ace and gets into aerial dog fight with the Red Baron. Although Snoopy’s dog house is not a real Sopwith Camel and Snoopy is not a real fighter pilot, his imaginary adventures are based on reality.
The Red Baron was the nickname of German Fighter Pilot Manfred von Richthofen, and students can learn more about him and about World War I at these websites:
Snoopy then goes to join Schroeder, who plays some WWI songs:
- “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary“
- “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag“
- “There’s a Long, Long Trail“
- “Roses of Picardy“
Use these songs to discuss the history of WWI to explain what the war was like for the young men who fought in it, starting off with the first two songs that are jubilant about going to war and leaving home. Talk about how many of these young men had never left home before and fighting was an exciting opportunity. Then play the second two songs and talk about how the war wasn’t what people thought it would be and that many young men never returned home. Snoopy’s reactions to the songs are a good visual explanation for younger students about what these songs mean.