As teachers, we wear multiple hats. We educate, nurture, encourage, and aim to inspire. When tragedy strikes, we may find ourselves in a position to educate children about facts and/or counsel children through their feelings. On my drive to school on Monday morning, I found myself anticipating the questions I would get from children regarding the attacks on Paris. Unfortunately, we live in a world where tragedies happen and I have developed a protocol to follow in the classroom:
For the younger ones (K-5th grade) I follow the lead of the classroom teacher. If the classroom teacher does not discuss the matter with his/her group of children, I don’t bring it up in art class at all. Period. If the classroom teacher has brought up the issue in class, however, I will try to lead a transformative discussion where we focus our energy on creating artwork to uplift, spread hope, and explore our emotions surrounding the topic. I never go into detail about what happened and I steer all discussion away from pointing fingers at “the bad guy.” I find it counterproductive.
My middle schoolers were very aware of the attacks on Paris, so I decided to teach my 6th graders an impromptu lesson about prayer flags. Students learned all about the history of prayer flags. In Tibet, the tradition of hanging flags began more than 2000 years ago. At that time the country was ruled by war lords who carried their banners into battles. They used colors of the five elements: blue for sky or space; white for air or clouds; red for fire; green for water and yellow for earth. They hung the flags over mountain passes and rivers to benefit all who would pass underneath. Over the next 200 years Buddhist monks began to print mantras (sayings) and symbols on the flags as blessings to be sent out to the world with each breeze. They became known Prayer Flags.Today, people all over the world (from all backgrounds and faiths) create their own prayer flags by imprinting them with poems, prayers and symbols from the great faiths of the world in hopes of uniting them in a spirit of peace and harmony.
For this project, I distributed “prayer prompts” on small sheets of paper as students walked in. Some examples included: Pray for Safety, Pray for Peace, Pray for Love, Pray for Compassion, Pray for Courage, Pray for Hope, and Pray for Strength. I asked students write (and recite) a prayer in their sketchbooks that reflected their feelings surrounding the attacks in Paris.
Next, I distributed wooden banner shapes to each student. The surfaces of these banner shapes were created by monoprinting the surface of the wood. We wanted them to be bright, colorful, and abstract. Students inscribed bits and pieces of their prayers onto their banner pieces. We used stamps, paint pens, washi tape, and string to embellish the pieces.
When they were all done, we strung them together ! The prayer flags are now on display in the cafeteria behind a French flag that we made out of construction paper. We included some information about prayer flags, the history of prayer flags, and prayer flags today for students and teachers to read.
Awesome work, 6th Grade! You came together and created something truly beautiful.