Art Inspiration

Looking for ways to make art and creativity more a part of your daily schedule at home or in the classroom? Check out this book called The Art Box by Gail Gibbons. It is a nonfiction book that explains common art materials, colors and more.

My daughters love to do art at home, at the local children’s museum and at play group. This book has inspired us to think about what other materials and projects we can do together!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Put together an art box, if you don’t already have one at home. We’ve used old shoeboxes as ours, but you could buy fun and more fancy baskets or containers! To get more bang for your buck, check out your local dollar store or print coupons to use at national craft chain stores such as Jo Ann Fabrics or Hobby Lobby.
  • Talk about the art materials you are using as you and your child sit down to do some art together.
  • For inspiration, take a look at my favorite art blog hosted by an elementary school art teacher. Search by age, media or theme!

For Teachers:

  • Invite your art teacher into your classroom. Read the book aloud to your students together, then allow them to rotate through stations that explore different art materials as described in the book.
  • Ask students to share their experiences working with different types of media. Take a vote on which station was their favorite.
  • Use one of these free graphic organizers to integrate art with one of your core content areas. For younger students, complete a a class.
  • Choose one idea from this art teacher for reinforcing the color wheel as introduced in the book and try it out with your class!

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of his most beautiful paintings at both the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Art Institute in Chicago. Although his work was not appreciated during his lifetime, Van Gogh’s art is well-known and world-renowned today!

The book Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt touches on a brief time in Vincent’s life and career when he traveled to a small town and befriend the postman’s family. They helped Vincent settle into his home, visited him regularly and treated him kindly and respectfully despite the other townspeople’s distrust of an outsider.

My children liked reading this book and it provided an excellent opportunity to discuss biography, art history and friendship. The illustrations are nostalgic and include photographs of real Van Gogh paintings.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Discuss how the townspeople treated Vincent and what was different about how the postman’s family chose to treat Vincent. How can we learn from them?
  • Vincent was a neighbor to the postman’s family and they welcomed him to their neighborhood with many kind gestures. Choose a neighbor (old or new) to show kindness to this week! Bring over a homemade treat, send a card in the mail or offer to shovel the sidewalk.

For Teachers:

  • Camille was sad when he took his painting to school and his classmates laughed at it. How should we treat our friends when they tell us about something that is important to them?
  • Find the country of the Netherlands (Holland) on a world map, as well as Belgium and France. Explain those were the 3 places where Vincent lived throughout his life.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, complete this art activity based on Vincent Van Gogh’s painting style with your students. Coordinate with your art teacher if desired. Display completed paintings in your classroom, along with printed copies of his most famous work as seen in the book.

The Life and Work of Diego Rivera

I have personally seen the work of Diego Rivera as painted in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City… And it is spectacular. How delightful to be able to share that with my daughters with the children’s book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuth.

Surprisingly, my two-year old liked this one even more than my preschooler!

This book is a biography of Diego Rivera but also explores themes of art. For those of you who know a bit about Rivera, he was classically trained in Europe before returning to Mexico when he was commissioned by the government. He often selected everyday people and scenes, or important events in his homeland’s history, to paint in public murals. The author ends the book by asking the reader to consider what Diego Rivera might have chosen to paint if he lived today.

Author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuth created illustrations that imitate Rivera’s style. And the back of the book contains some educational bonuses: a glossary of words and references in the order in which they appear in the book, an author’s note, a list of some places where you can find Diego Rivera’s artwork, a bibliography and a list of Rivera’s artwork which inspired the illustrator of the book.

This would be an asset to any unit on Hispanic Heritage study, intercultural unit, art, history or multiculturalism. Or simply a stand-alone for home or classroom use.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Print off a coloring page of one of Diego Rivera’s more well-known murals. See if your child can find that same artwork in the book, or if there is another illustration that is similar. Then allow your child to color in their own artwork.
  • Use an atlas world map (print or digital) to look up some of the places where Rivera’s artwork is displayed. Refer to in the index of the book! 🙂

For Teachers:

  • Have student volunteers locate the various countries that are mentioned in the story on a globe or world map. Ask students what prior knowledge they have about these places, or if any of them have traveled to those countries.
  • Use a DocuCam or projector to go through this “Inside Scoop” on Diego Rivera with your class, as published by the National Art Gallery in Washington.
  • Check out this amazing idea for creating a classroom mural based on Diego Rivera’s famous artwork! The teacher here suggests swapping with another school through the mail, but you could do it as your own grade level or with another class in your school.

Cultured Reads for Little Ones

Here are some of the latest board books our family has read that help introduce various topics to our children, from travel to languages to art.

Happy reading! 🙂

San Francisco: A Book of Numbers by Ashley Evanson

My husband and I traveled to San Fransisco once. We didn’t have a chance to ride on a trolley, but we were able to see many other sites featured in the book, including the Palace of Fine Arts and sea lions from the pier. Lovely book!

Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

As we currently live in an urban setting, my family appreciated this read. My favorite line and illustration was “Nine tasty dishes” for a multi-ethnic potluck… We have participated in and thoroughly enjoyed many of those at our diverse neighborhood church!

Sharing with Renoir by Julie Merberg & Suzanne Bober

The most delightful board book I have read with classical artwork! Beautiful paintings by Renoir are appropriately matched with rhyming text to read with young children.

DK Braille: Counting by Fleur Star

My two year old daughter loves the touch-and-feel illustrations in this book, which I find very tasteful and elegant. This book provides a great introduction to Braille and the celebration of communication through various methods.

How Gator Says Good-bye by Abigail Samoun

The “Gator” series is wonderful because it helps children learn how to say words in other languages. This particular book features 8 countries – along with phonetic clues for the pronunciation of “good-bye” in the languages of those countries. Plus, at the end is a world map that shows the location of each country Gator visited.

Best Ages: 0-3 years





The Influence of Parents and Teachers

Parents and teachers have an enormous influence on the lives of children – and some people overlap these roles as homeschooling parents. (Kudos to those of you who are doing or have done this!)

When my children and I recently read the book Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist by Lois Ehlert, I thought again of the powerful influence parents have on a child’s life. The author/illustrator shares from a child’s perspective how her own parents encouraged her to grow in her artistic talents, going so far as setting up a table for her in her mother’s sewing area so that Lois would have a place to complete her own projects (a lovely example of encouragement that ties to my previous post Encouraging Your Child’s Abilities). Lois also beautifully describes how she witnessed her parents using their hands to create, cultivate and care for their home and world. Their own modeling of creating and support for Lois’ budding talent is inspiring.

My children loved the outstanding illustrations of this book with unique page layouts. (Lois Ehlert has received the Caldecott Honor for illustrating other children’s books.) I hope that you are able to check out Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist and see the pictures and pages for yourself!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Think of what your family does with their hands. From raking leaves to baking, find an activity to do tighter with your child this week. Remind him/her of the book Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist and discuss what you used your hands to create together.

For Teachers:

  • Using fabric scraps or felt, cut out gloves like the illustrated pages in the book. Allow students to decorate their gloves. Point out that they are using their hands right now to create! (Coordinate with the art teacher for materials or reach out to parents for donations if necessary.)
  • Show students this wonderful video interview with the author/illustrator, Lois Ehlert.

Chinese Calligraphy

I find it important – and enjoyable – to read multicultural literature with my students and children.* As I stay home from work this year to be with my two daughters, I am intentionally searching for age-appropriate multicultural picture books to read with them. And this one is a winner! Liu and the Bird: A Journey in Chinese Calligraphy is written and illustrated by Catherine Louis. It has a rich and lovely story with calligraphy on each page to accompany the illustrations and text.

I love the way the story is told, almost like listening to your grandmother share as you sit in her lap. My preschooler liked turning the page to find out what would happen next as Liu journeyed to see her grandfather. We both found it wonderfully interesting how the modern Chinese calligraphy is shown on each page for a few of the words, which are also bold-faced in the text for the reader’s reference. The book creatively allows you to see how the calligraphy may have developed from a more obvious picture-like image of the word to its modern character.

*Click on the links to see two of the original novel units I created to explore Mexican culture (Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan) and Chinese culture (Spring Pearl: The Last Flower by Laurence Yep) with middle school students. These are available for purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers and helpful for either a traditional classroom or homeschool use.

Best Ages: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Ask your child what he/she enjoys doing with Grandpa. Do you travel far to see him like Liu did in the book? Or does Grandpa come to visit you?
  • Look back at the pictures and the calligraphy on each page. Discuss which modern Chinese calligraphy characters most resemble the word they represent. Which ones least resemble the word they represent?
  • If desired, choose a few of your favorite modern calligraphy characters and try to copy them!

For Teachers:

  • There are 4 excellent activity ideas provided at the end of Liu and the Bird: A Journey in Chinese Calligraphy so I used those rather than create my own! We decided to try the Bilingual Picture Alphabet Memory Game, using English and Spanish for our two languages.

Art and Storytelling

Does the name Don Freeman sound familiar? If you saw his signature on the cover of a book, like I did when my daughter handed me the small book The Chalk Box Story, you might immediately connect his name to the cover of the famous children’s book Corduroy. He is, indeed, the author/illustrator of both those books and many more.

The Chalk Box Story is interesting because the colors of a chalk box are personified and decide to work together to make a picture. But when the picture doesn’t turn out the way they expect it to, the colors all wonder if a happy ending is still possible.

My preschooler has “read” this book aloud to herself over and over again. She loves the fact that the colors talk and the picture evolves a bit more with each crayon’s addition. She also really enjoys the ending, but I will leave that for you to discover for yourself when you read The Chalk Box Story.

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Check out the interactive storybook version of The Chalk Box Story available through iTunes.
  • Ask your child: Did you expect the story to end the way it did? How would you choose to end the story?

For Teachers:

  • Prior to reading The Chalk Box Story, give students time to draw pictures of their own on blank white paper. When everyone is finished, hold up large pieces of construction paper of the following colors: red, green, yellow, purple, brown, white, blue and black. One color at a time, ask students if they used that given color in their picture. What did they use it for? (Example: blue for water, an umbrella, shoes/brown for a tree trunk, a house, someone’s hair.)
  • Compare what your students used each color to create with that which the colors in the book chose to draw.
  • Place large butcher-block paper down on tables. Set out coloring supplies for students to create a picture with their peers. Display the group artwork!