1st Grade Maasai Necklaces

My first graders are embarking on a cultural studies unit – which includes a trip to Japan, Africa and Australia.  I think it’s just as important to discuss cultural art as it is history of art.  We’ve finished our unit on Japan (we made Japanese Folding Fans that don’t really fold but resemble them, nonetheless).

From here, we go to Africa.  But, it wasn’t just wham bam let’s move on – we played a game of imagination where I had my first graders close their eyes and imagine themselves in Japan, with busy streets and lots of lights.  We had just got done visiting with a Japan native who had taught us about the folding fans.  Now it was time to get on the plane and head to Africa! Where the air was warm and things were quite different.  We were taken from the airport to a tribal area known to the Maasai people of Kenya.  They don’t dress like we do but they seem to have an appreciation for life and nature around them that we don’t often find in the city that we are used to!

Open your eyes!  I ask the students, do we feel we are ready to learn about these people?  Yes, of course, because they just spend 2-3 minutes imagining it.  This journey really set the stage for my students and I was able to dive right in without stumbling.

We talked about the Maasai people and their fashions – they wear large necklaces and jewelery that signifies many things including age, power, job and status in the tribal community.  Beyond that, the colors mean many different things.  I had to adapt the colors to kid-friendly terms, after all I am working with 1st graders.  But the original source of my color meanings came from here. I showed the students imagery of the Maasai people and their necklaces then gave them a plan sheet (we plan first to get a better idea of what we’re thinking).

Students were reminded of patterns and lines.  We practiced a few of these ideas on the white board where I had my own practice necklace drawn.  We definitely talked about how it wouldn’t be good to scribble!  After this demo, students too their design sheet and created the patterns they desired.  I left the color codes up on the board and I was thrilled to see how many of the students took this seriously!

One student, “I am so high energy, Ms J that I should color the entire thing blue. I just like to move it, move it!”

Another student, “I am brave and when I am scared, I still try to be brave so I will use red.”

It was important to discuss how we could use multiple colors and even create some of our own codes for colors.  With this plan, students have a better idea about how we will make the actual jewelry using…paper plates! I mean really, what better circle template to use than the left over plates from the fan unit.  This entire unit was inspired by this Pinterest Board.  So kudos to all that are on that board for inspiring my students!


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