What: A picture of a monkey, using gold doilies as a belly / focus and adding in other features.
About: Each year I’ve tried to do an art or craft activity related to the Lunar New Year festival. We live in an area that has a high population of non-Caucasians, and many of our local businesses either take holidays or hold special events for the New Year. The activities are intended to be a chance for us to talk about stuff as much as anything, setting up the beginnings of cross-cultural understandings. This year, the beginning of Year of the Monkey, happened to fall in the middle of our worst heatwave for the season. So instead of my planned very messy fireworks paintings (which I may still do next week), we went to the air-conditioned local library and did work with textas and glue and other safe-in-public materials.
How: We found a book with pictures of monkeys in it in the kids’ non-fiction section – involving discussion of how the books are grouped by category so first we have to find all the animal books, then we look at each of those books to find one with monkeys in it. Kid 6 is the one who really needs to practice categorisation, but this time they got the idea much faster than Kid 4 (who hasn’t tried to find interesting books on those shelves before). Then we looked at all the pictures of monkeys. We glued the doilies down – I’d had them in my craft materials drawer after seeing them in my local supermarket one day – and the kids drew whatever extra bits around the belly they felt like. As we worked, I referred back to some of the monkey pictures and we talked about what the monkey faces actually looked like, how drawing zig-zag lines instead of straight lines made it look more like fur, whether or not monkeys had tails. Whatever kind of came up in discussion – the point is to talk as much as anything. We also talked about the festive colours of Chinese New Year, the dragon art project Kid 6 had done in school that day, where and what Chinatown is, when Kid 6 can wear a Chinese dress – again, whatever came up out of their random thinking.
Extras: I’m thinking I might follow this up at some point with either a drawing exercise where we only use zig-zag lines, or with another trip to the library to pick a different animal to look up and work out how to draw. Both of those aspects seemed potentially interesting/useful. The other obvious follow-on is to try using a doily as a stencil, colour through the holes and then lift it to see the pattern.