Tag Archives: Artful Living with Children

The ARTS of Mardi Gras

In this guest blog, Rebecca Brown, music teacher at Little River Elementary School, Orlando, shares her experiences teaching the arts of Mardi Gras.  This colorful celebration is a perfect opportunity to dig deeper into Jazz music and to experience cultural traditions.  Rebecca uses ideas and strategies from Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING in the lessons that she outlines below.

The ARTS of Mardi Gras – Rebecca Brown

Come January 1st, many Americans are busily putting away holiday decorations and starting to address their new year’s resolutions. In New Orleans, however, the celebrations are just getting started. January 6th marks the official start of Carnival season, which lasts several weeks and culminates on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. For the five years I taught in New Orleans, Carnival season was my favorite time of year.

The city truly comes alive in mid-January, as people decorate their homes with the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold) and elaborate parades start to roll through town with music that energizes the crowds. Many schools and workplaces have Friday King Cake parties, where the colorful ring-shaped dessert is served. School children also partake in the celebration with lessons on the history, art and music of Mardi Gras.  Since returning home to Florida two years ago, I include many Mardi Gras traditions in my classroom.


The Music of Mardi Gras

Essential Question: How do the arts enhance celebrations?

 Learning Goal: Students will be able to describe a cultural tradition through its music and art.

Music Content Standards:

  • Performing on instruments alone and with others;
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music;
  • Evaluating Music and Musical performances;
  • Understanding Music in relation to history and culture

Materials: Photographs of Louis Armstrong, pictures of a brass band or marching band, recording of Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In, recording of Dirty Dozen Brass Band When the Saints Go Marching In, rhythm sticks, jazz rhythm pattern cards

Lesson Outline:

The most natural way to introduce Mardi Gras is through music. On Day 1, I play Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In as students enter. Students complete an Active Music Listening Experience Guide (see p. 63 TTAW) as they listen again. After listening, discuss their responses to the melody, rhythm, and mood of the music. The students usually comment on how happy it sounds and how it makes them want to dance.

Next I introduce the Jazz style of music. I show students pictures of brass bands and parades and we discuss what instruments students heard in the recording. I explain the history of the music and of Louis Armstrong. There are many helpful books about jazz and jazz musicians (some are listed below). It’s easy to tie this reading into a variety of subject areas.

National E.L.A. Anchor Standards:

Relate ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

After our discussions, I play the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording of When the Saints Go Marching In and ask students to compare the difference between this recording and Louis Armstrong’s recording.

I invite students to create a marching band along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording.  Students move through general space with rhythm sticks, marching to the beat during the instrumental portion of the music. When the singing comes in, they freeze in place and student use rhythm sticks to play rhythms from selected rhythm cards. When the instrumental portion returns, students resume marching.

Partners share their impressions of the music of New Orleans.

 Integrating Visual Art of Mardi Gras

Another important aspect of Mardi Gras is the art. In addition to decorating their homes with festive colors and tinsel, many people in New Orleans use Carnival season as an opportunity to dress up for the parades. Some even wear hats, wigs and masks. Artists spend months creating parade floats. The Krewes, or societies that organize the parades often create floats and parade themes based on mythological figures (Orpheus, Morpheus, Proteus, etc.). Students in Louisiana created shoebox parade floats, modeled after the life-size versions from their favorite parades.

Using the Read the Picture strategy (p. 11 and 70 TTAW), students build background knowledge through reading photos and art images as well as pictures of Venetian style masks. Students can make their own decorative masks with construction paper and glitter to wear in a class parade

National Art Anchor Standards:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas.
  • Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Refine and complete artistic work,
  • Convey meaning through presentation of artistic work.


Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to making music and art.

Some Resources:

Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING by Mary Palmer and Susan Rosoff (TTAW)

The Jazz of Our Street by Fatima Shaik

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxane Orgill

Mamma Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd


Reading: Make it DRAMATIC!

Take advantage of sound possibilities as you read with children. Pump up the drama in your voice to make the words exciting. Children will imitate your example.  As adults, we find that readers who speak dramatically on commercially produced “books on CD” draw us into the story in very compelling ways. At home or in school, our own dramatic reading does the same thing. Research shows that children who read expressively have greater understanding of what they read and are more interested in independent reading. Your expressive reading is a model for children to emulate.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

With its repeated (and short) refrains, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins with illustrations by Eric Gurney, has many possibilities for engagement and bringing words to life for the younger set. Written with a strong beat, the story easily lends itself to rhythmic reading. The repeated refrain     “Dum ditty     Dum ditty     Dum dum dum”   as well as multiple rhyming couplets (thumb-drum; hum-drum) invite participation. As the millions of monkeys gather to play their drums, the reader escalates the tempo as well as the volume to reflect the changing scene.

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb

In the Wild with stunning poetry by David Elliott and gorgeous woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade can build interest in poetry as a means of describing the world. We especially like the analogies suggested in the poetry. For example, did you ever think about likenesses between an elephant and a cloud? By reading the poetry with expression and perhaps even a touch of drama, you help to elevate the power of the words and the illustrations. We’ve found that that this book resonates with teachers and students alike.

In the Wild

For older students, the Carl Sandburg poem Jazz Fantasia (http://allpoetry.com/Jazz-Fantasia) offers a great link to reading with a recording of jazz music. Listen to a variety of music to find something that “works” with the feeling of the poem.

Adding Sound Effects is another great way to “up” the interest in reading. For example, as you read a train story, create the sounds of the train. Repeat in an almost whisper voice: “Chug-a, Chug-a”; add a “Whoo-oo” for the train whistle; how about a “Shhh—ooo” for letting off some steam in an old-fashioned train? Putting these sounds together creates a Soundscape that gives us a “sound picture” of a train.  Try creating a story and adding sounds to  Train in Snow,  by Claude Monet, 1875.

Monet, Train in Snow, 1875

Playing instruments to “tell” a nursery rhyme, song, or story is a great way to help children focus on the essence of the rhyme. Click here for a video of Mary and Susan performing a “mystery” nursery rhyme. Can you identify it from the sounds only? Keeping the steady beat of this rhyme allows children to “think” the rhyme as they play the sounds to accompany the words that they are hearing inside of their heads. Talk about brain development!

The Napping House by Audrey Wood with illustrations by Don Wood allows readers to choose sounds to represent the action in the story. When these representative sounds are played together, children are creating a Soundscape, or collage of sounds, that helps to advance the mood of the story. Select instruments to represent the characters in the Napping House: snoring granny (softly play the guiro or other notched instrument); dreaming child (gently “swish” wind chimes); dozing dog (scrape fingers over a drum head); snoozing cat (lightly twirl maracas); slumbering mouse (tap the rim of a tambourine); and that wakeful flea who changes the scene (crashing of finger cymbals.) As characters are introduced in the story, sounds are added until all sounds are playing together. Things get frantic (louder and faster) when the wakeful flea arrives! No instruments? Try using “found sounds” (things in the environment such as paper flapping, crumpling, or tearing) or “vocal sounds” (such as snoring, whistling, heavy breathing.) You’ll be greeted with “Let’s read it again.” Truly music to a parent’s or teacher’s ears!

Imagine going to the movies and hearing no sounds other than the voices on the screen. The result probably wouldn’t draw you into the story. To remedy this, enter the Foley artists (who create and record natural, everyday sound effects in a film), the sound designer (who produces the special audio effects), and sound producers (who put it all together in a professional soundtrack for the movie.) An added bonus: adding sound effects and soundscapes to reading can provide a unique career exploration opportunity!

Whether reading at home or at school, try videoing a reading with your own sound effects and soundscape to heighten the interest. Click here to hear a Soundscape created by teachers at a recent workshop presented by Mary and Susan. This Soundscape brings Van Gogh’s Farmhouse in Provence to life.

Sounds really do bring a story, rhyme, poem, or dramatization to life. Often children’s interest in books and reading is ignited by the opportunity to experiment with sounds to help tell the stories.

We hope that you’ll share some of your favorite dramatic reading materials with us.  Through the ARTS… read on!

Mary and Susan

Let’s Go to the Art Museum!

An art museum can provide an interactive journey into fun and imaginative play rather than an day of drudgery.  Here are five easy ways to make visiting an art museum fun and filled with new ways of looking at art.

  1. Play Eye Spy.   If you can go to the museum ahead of time (or check out the exhibit online), pre-plan your visit by selecting some art with details that will be fun to explore with your child. E11167.jpg      Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1834

With your little ones, you might want to read a little about the museum before visiting.  A delightful children’s book, You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser, provides an important tip as well as a glimpse of the inside of one of America’s famous museums.


2. Strike a Pose.  Pretend to become the person you see in the portrait. Imitate his pose in a portrait. Pay attention to details as you re-create the person.

  • Where are his eyes looking?
  • How are his feet placed?
  • What mood is he showing?

E10562.jpgGilbert Stuart, The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782

3.  Step into a landscape.  If you could walk into this landscape, what route would you take?  What would you be doing?

??????????????????????????????John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816

 4.  Create a story.

Pretend that this painting tells the middle of your story.  What happened before the scene that you see?  What will happen after the scene that you see?  Who are the characters?  What might they say?

A18254.jpg     Claude-Joseph Vernet, The Shipwreck, 1772


5.  Don’t stay too long.   Everybody gets tired feet !   Plan a return visit for another day.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Detail, Horatio Greenough, George Washington, 1840

Make Museum-going a part of your child’s life experience.  Interacting with what is exhibited helps to build attention span, attention to detail, ability to empathize, ability to see life throughout history, and lots more.  We hope that you’ll plan your first or next visit soon.  Remember that Museum exhibits change frequently, so repeat visits yield new opportunities.

Mary and Susan















Discovering Nature on a Summer Walk

photo_1[1]  Photos by Julie Blackwell, Winter Park, FL

Almost every summer there are reports about how important it is to get kids outside for a healthy life. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/07/06/doctors-ordering-kids-get-outside/fzY3ieaysvNCC9JI7TW9aP/story.html

Unstructured free play time is essential, but a summer walk can turn into an artful experience. We normally ZOOM through our daily life, but taking a little time to notice small details can enhance our awareness of the beauty around us. Have you ever noticed the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk make? Stripes in the road? Have you noticed how many different colors of green there are in the lawn? We often identify trees by their shape; how would you describe the shape of a weeping willow, a palm tree, an oak? What shapes do shadows on buildings make? Think of all the ways you can use your body to become these shapes.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s goal in her flower paintings was to make them so large that even busy New Yorkers would stop and look at them. That meant she really had to notice details like the shape of the petals. How many petals were there? Were there any contrasting colors? She had to notice all these things before she painted. Chances are your digital phone has a camera in it and that your child knows how to use it. Susan walked around the neighborhood and took close up photographs of flowers. Even the drops of water were visible in the photograph, and she had not noticed those when she was “just looking.” Blackwell

Grandparents would love to receive the kind of thank-you card that Julie Blackwell makes. She takes close-up shots of flowers and other interesting things she finds on her walks and then turns them into note cards.  The contrast of the strong vertical line of the railing and the horizontal lines of the steps really grab you. What shapes will you find that captivate you?

Blackwell stairs

Look at trees from a new perspective. We usually see them straight on as we drive by. Think about looking from a bird’s eye or worm’s eye view. Georgia O’Keeffe painted The Lawrence Tree as if she were lying underneath a starry sky looking up at it. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/okeeffes-the-lawrence-tree.html Robert Berlind paints the crooks of trees and maybe only a few branches. http://robertberlind.net/recentwork.html His point of view is more like what a bird sitting on a branch would see.

Many adults have done bark and leaf rubbings or pressed flowers between waxed paper, but have your children? You can make cool bookmarks by putting pressed flowers or drawings between two sheets of laminating paper. Collect a few things from the yard and make a nature collage.

Leaves and blossom            Plant collage

Take a collecting basket with you and toss in things like rocks, shells, or even simple sticks.  (These were courtesy of an active squirrel that was fun to watch).

mirror image sticks

Jasper Johns explored ideas of mirroring in Corpse and Mirror, 1976 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the sticks seemed to be begging to be used in a similar way.   A little thinking is involved here!(http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=70717)

Pause on your nature walk and be super sensitive to your senses. For one minute focus on all the sounds you hear and then write them down. For another minute, become aware of texture, then colors, etc. You’ll be amazed at how powers of observation sharpen awhile you help to make sure that summer days don’t turn into a bored summer daze.

Mary and Susan

P.S.  You might want to have your camera handy.  Photos of what you see on your walk are a great reminder of the whole experience.  Gather your photos in a journal to help your child remember and talk about what you have experienced.