Give each group of children a bowl of dirt and a small cup. Encourage children to mix just enough water into the dirt to hold it together. (Remind them that they aren't trying to make mudpies!) Once a stiff clay is formed, use small square or rectangular containers to mold it into blocks. Milk cartons and ice cub trays work well. Put bricks in a warm place and allow them to dry for about 10 days. Once they are dry, encourage children to build with them.
If you happen to have plaster of paris on hand, a couple of spoonfuls will make the bricks hold together much better. A couple of tablespoons of white school glue also aids in binding, but makes the project messier. Neither is essential, however.
Though not necessarily "art" in the most familiar sense, creative play certainly has artistic overtones and can serve as a bridge to a variety of art and craft activities. For this activity, encourage children to roleplay various occupations.
Baker -- Bake bread, cookies, (if an oven is available) or pretzels (can be done in some toaster ovens).
Builder -- Construct buildings from wooden blocks, Lego bricks, Lincoln logs, or whatever other materials one has on hand; work with friends and build a community.
Candlemaker -- Before the days of electricity, candles were an essential part of life, and not everyone had candle molds at their disposal. Make your own candles by dipping cotton wicking in melted wax, allowing the wax to set, and repeating the process again and again. Add a few drops of coloring and/or essential oils to the mix if desired. Fashion designer -- Fashions seem to be in a constant state of change, but who makes the changes? Fashion designers. And now you can be one. Pull out a sketch pad and a set of colored pencils and draw the clothes you'd like to see on store shelves.
Florist -- Use real or silk flowers to create various floral arrangements. (I prefer real flowers because they're well, REAL. Silk flowers can be used and reused many time over, however.)
Journalist -- Brainstorm a list of upcoming events, current issues facing your school or family, and interesting stories involving those you know. Research, interview, write stories, take pictures, even draw cartoons. Then, turn copy into a class or family newspaper. Photographer -- Research the elements of a good picture. Find a camera (digital or non), learn how to operate it, and go to work. Choose your best photos and challenge your friends or classmates to a photograpy contest. For an added hands-on challenge, take pictures using a pinhole camera you've built yourself.
Printer -- Today printing is largely an automated process, but in years gone by, it involved painstakingly setting blocks of letters and graphics, inking them, and duplicating. Try your hand at print-making by carving images out of potatoes, dipping them in paint, and stamping designs on paper.
Divide students into groups of four to six. Give each group a sheet of poster board. Direct each group to plan a town. Each town will be at least half an hour from neighboring towns, so students will need to make sure their town includes all necessary services--doctor's office, gas station, grocery store, hospital, mechanic, police, post office, schools, etc.
Ask each group to draw a map of its town on the posterboard. On the back of the board, students should list the workers they will need to keep their towns running. More advanced students should include demographic information about their towns. (A town with 1,000 people, for instance, may need only one doctor's officer; but a city with 100,000 will need more than one doctor.)
After each group completes its town, it can create a informational brochure on its town. The brochure should include drawings of the town's main attractions. It should also tell what kinds of jobs are available in the area.
When all groups are finished, each group may present its town to the class. Students should vote to select the best town. (Encourage students to be practical. An amusement park in town might be nice, but it the town lacks a fire department or a high school, it's probably not the best place to live.) If desired, you might add other awards such as most attractive town, most interesting town, largest town, quietest town, etc.
History of Labor
Research the history of labor in the U.S. or another country. Make a list of events that had a major impact on the common laborer (i.e. end of slave labor; restriction of child labor; standard eight-hour work day; rise of unions; minimum wage law; equal pay laws; etc.). Create a pictoral time line using these events.
Variation: Research conflicts between workers and management. Illustrate the most severe of these, label each picture with a sentence or two explaining what is happening, and place events on timeline. A good place to begin research is http://www.nitehawk.com/alleycat/labor.html.
Occupation Big Book
Write an occupation and paste a picture of someone engaged in that occupation on a large sheet (A3 or 11" x 17") of heavy paper. Ask each students to think of one or more items a person in the selected vocational field might use on the job.
After students think of an item, ask them to write one or two sentences explainig how a person in the selected vocation would use their item on the job. Students should make sure all words are spelled correctly. Students may engage in peer editing for grammar and content. When sentences are in final form, students should print then neatly in their best handwriting on a sheet of lined paper.
Give each student a large sheet of paper. Ask students to paste draw or paste a picture of the item they selected on the top two thirds of the page. On the bottom third, ask them to paste the related sentence.
Gather collected pages. Assemble into a book. Read as a class.
"When I Grow Up"
Ask students to draw pictures of themselves doing what they want to do when they grow up. If students' English is very limited, write the name of the occupation pictured on the page in English. If students' writing skills are more developed, ask them to write a sentence about the picture or a paragraph explaining why they are interested in that career.
Let each student present his or her drawing to the class. (The presentations of students who are just beginning to learn English may be as simple as, "When I grow up, I want to be a/an ________.")
Post all pictures on a wall of the classroom to form an career goals "quilt." Invite the school administrator, parents, and/or other classes to come look at students' work.
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