Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Byzantine Art

This was a lesson on Byzantine Art that I presented to my class.

During this lesson I focused on icons and mosaics of the Byzantine era.  I presented this lesson two different times with a different story and slightly different project each time.  I will explain both.
Here is a brief explanation of Byzantine Art and a timeline to give you some background info.

For the story portion I read a children's version of the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria from the book Christina's Favorite Saints by Maria Khoury.  You could read any children's version of the life of St. Catherine or read a little about her yourself and retell the story in terms a child can understand.  I showed the children an icon of St. Catherine from the book.  You could show an icon from the internet if you do not have one on hand.  I chose St. Catherine for this lesson because I wanted to focus on mosaics and show children many of the beautiful Byzantine era mosaics from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai.  St. Catherine was martyred in the early 4th century under the Emperor Maximinus who was carrying out a persecution of Christians.  According to tradition, St. Catherine's body was carried to Mount Sinai by angels where a monastery and church were later built by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The site where Catherine's body was found is also believed to be the site of the burning bush seen by Moses.  You can read more about St. Catherine here.  Explain to the children that Justinian was an Emperor of the Byzantine Empire.  He had many churches and monasteries built during his reign.  He also attempted to restore the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries and was able to reconquer much of that land including Italy.

Alternative Story:  Another time I presented this lesson I read a story of St. Constantine and his mother St. Helen from A Child's Paradise of Saints.  There is also a story of Sts. Constantine and Helen in Christina's Favorite Saints.  You can read any children's story of St. Constantine and St. Helen or retell the story for the children focusing on Constantine's conversion to Christianity and St. Helen's finding of the Cross of Christ and the importance of the Cross to the Church.

I showed the children many photos of the Monastery of St. Catherine from the booThe Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai: The Church and Fortress of Justinian. I showed them a few photos of the monastery grounds themselves and of the precious art work that is preserved there. I focused mainly on the mosaics. You may be able to request this book on inter-library loan or simply show photos of the monastery and mosaics from sources online. I explained a bit about icons and that they are a sacred and spiritual form of art that include many symbols to convey a deeper spiritual meaning. They are paintings or mosaics of the Lord Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, of Angels and Saints. Read here and here for a further explanation of icons. The book Pictures of God: A Child's Guide to Understanding Icons is also helpful in explaining icons to children.
(See bottom of this post for more info on Byzantine Icons)

I explained that a mosaic is a  picture or pattern made by arranging together small colored pieces of stone, tile, or glass.  Some of the tiles in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna were set at a slight angle to reflect light and cause special color effects.  Mosaics were sometimes used in churches instead of fresco paintings because they were not as susceptible to humidity.

This website has some lovely photos of Byzantine Art including some mosaics from St. Catherine's monastery, Hagia Sophia and Ravenna.  You can also search for Byzantine art books at your local library for examples of icons and mosaics to show the children such as the Larousse Encyclopedia of Byzantine and Medieval Art.  I also used the book Art History, Vol. 1 by Marilyn Stokstad as a reference.  There is a chapter on Jewish, Early Christian and Byzantine Art.  

You can show the children mosaics of Emperor Justinian and his wife the Empress Theodora from Ravenna, Italy.  Khan Academy has a helpful video with photos of the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna.

For the project I had the children create a mosaic picture with squares of colored paper.  I cut the paper out ahead of time and placed it by color in bowls.  I included some special shimmery gold colored paper since Byzantine mosaics and other types of Byzantine art often included gold tiles or gold leaf.  I purchased the special paper at Hobby Lobby where you can buy paper by the sheet.  I used construction paper and other colored paper that I had on hand for the other pieces.  I let the kids trim their pieces if they wanted to make their picture more precise.  They glued their paper pieces onto poster board with glue sticks.  I cut the poster board small enough that it would fit in their notebooks.  You can use any size, but I've found that most kids are intimidated by a larger piece of paper when trying to fill it with small mosaic pieces.  

Alternative materials:  When doing this project previously I used dried beans for the mosaics instead of paper.  I used black beans, white beans, red beans, kidney beans and green split peas to give the kids a variety of colors.  We glued the beans onto a piece of poster board using tacky glue.  That was the lesson during which I read the story of Sts. Constantine and Helen.  We had focused quite a bit on the cross and I had showed them different forms of the cross used in art so many of the children included a cross in their mosaics.

HANDOUTS:  I gave the children a list of terms related to Byzantine Art.  I used this handout for two lessons.  The second lesson focused on Byzantine Architecture.  I will post that lesson next.
I also gave the children a map of the Byzantine Empire around 565 AD at the death of Emperor Justinian.  I had them color in the area that was included in the Byzantine Empire at that time.  I used the map from this website.  I copied the image and pasted it into a blank document so I could enlarge it a bit.


Christina's Favorite Saints
A Child's Paradise of Saints
The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai: The Church and Fortress of Justinian
Pictures of God: A Child's Guide to Understanding Icons
Larousse Encyclopedia of Byzantine and Medieval Art
Art History, Vol. 1

Byzantine Art Vocabulary Handout

Byzantine Art Timeline - http://www.huntfor.com/arthistory/medieval/byzantine.htm
St. Catherine of Alexandria - http://orthodoxwiki.org/Catherine_of_Alexandria 
 St. Helen
Byzantine Art images  - http://www.proprofs.com/flashcards/cardshowall.php?title=chapter-4-byzantine-art-before-iconoclasm
Explanation of Icons - http://www.iconsexplained.com/iec/byz_about_byzantine_icons.htm
Video about Byzantine Art (San Vitale Mosaics) - http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/byzantine-justinian.html

Additional Info on Icons:

When teaching kids about icons I like to show them a few examples of icons (I have quite a few on hand, but you can print off copies from the internet) and I explain some of the symbolic details of these icons. Children really like looking for these details. Some examples are the color of clothing used. The Theotokos (Greek for God-Bearer) wears red outer garments and blue inner garments. The red is the color of humanity. Blue is the color of divinity so her inner garments are blue since she carried God (Jesus who was fully God) inside of her. Jesus appears inicons wearing blue outer garments and red inner garments - the opposite of Mary, the Theotokos. The divine person of Jesus put on or took on our humanity. Another symbol used is a cloth draped across the background objects. This signifies that the scene is taking place indoors. You will see this often in the Annunication icon. Also in the Annunication, Mary is usually depicted holding some yarn. This signifies that Jesus is already being knit in her womb. In some icons Saints are often shown with objects that are associated with them such as St. Katherine and a wheel that was supposed to be used to torture her, but which broke apart when she touched it. There are lots of interesting symbols to point out to children in icons. I usually talk about icons in a lesson with Byzantine mosaics and show the children some painted icons, but also mosaic icons in famous churches- then we do the mosaic project. Children could also color in a line drawing of an icon of Jesus or Mary and be instructed to pretend to be an iconagrapher and color it in very carefully and reverently using the correct symbolic colors. You could talk a little about iconographers and how they need to have a good relationship with God, attend church regularly and pray often and before they begin an icon. The artist also adheres to very strict criteria when creating the icon. The facial features are often enlongated, everything looks very 2-dimensional, etc. This is to give the icon a feeling of something spiritual with a deeper meaning instead of depicting the objects and people more realistically and earthly. I like to use the children's book Pictures of God by John Kosmas Skinas as a guide when teaching children about icons.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Early Christian Art

This is an Art History lesson I did on Early Christian Art.

I focused on the catacombs of ancient Rome and the Christian symbols found painted and carved there since this is one of the earliest known examples of Christian art.  The lessons are generally broken up into three parts.

I read this story to the children that I wrote which tells about a Christian boy from ancient Rome walking through the catacombs with his family.  If I have a small group of children I like to sit in a circle on the floor while I read the story.  If we are in a more formal setting then the children sit around a table while I read to them.

Next I showed the children examples of art from the catacombs.  This is a good time for discussion and questions from the children.  I mostly referenced the book The Catacombs of St. Callixtus: History, Archaeology, Faith.  I also showed some examples of Christian symbols from an Art History book I got on PaperBack Swap and some examples I printed off from the internet.  I only own Volume 1 of Art History by Marilyn Stokstad, but it has been really helpful and I highly recommend it.  I've used it as a resource for many of my art history lessons.  Volume 1 covers pre-historic art through the art of the middle ages.  My local library has a larger volume of the same book.  I have the 1st edition, but there are many newer editions available used online.  There is a page of Christian symbols and an explanation of different Christian crosses in the Stokstad book that I showed to the children and gave them copies to look at while doing their project.  This website has some good links to early Christian symbols also.

The Christian symbols listed in the Art History book in the Early Christian, Jewish and Byzantine Art chapter are the Dove, Fish, Lamb (Sheep), Four Evangelists, Monograms (alpha and omega, chi rho) and the Latin, Greek, Tau, St. Peter's, Russian, Papal and Maltese (Crusader's) Crosses.  You can find some of these symbols on the handout link below or on the internet.

I gave the children a handout which explained various terms and gave examples of several Christian symbols.  You can find that document here.

I also gave them a map of Ancient Rome to keep in their notebooks.  I used a map from Olde World Style Maps which can be purchased here.  I have used these maps for various lessons and I sometimes use maps from the Story of the World Activity books for whatever time period we are studying.  The closest map I could find in the the Olde World Style Maps for the early Christian time period was a map of Ancient Rome 40 BC which is a little early for this lesson, but close enough.  There is also a map of Rome at the time of early Christianity in The Story of the World Activity Book that you could use if you have access to that book.  I had the kids shade in the area on their map that showed the extent of Ancient Rome at that time.

We moved to the table and I gave the children blank paper (I used regular copy paper) and colored pencils and markers so they could draw some of the Christian symbols themselves.  I asked them to imagine themselves as an artist decorating the tomb of a Christian in the catacombs.  My 8 year old daughter drew a number of different symbols while my 11 year old son decided to draw all of the various crosses I had showed the students from the Art History book.

I also have a very simple line drawing that I made of the area around a tomb in the catacombs.  You can print it out and have your child decorate it with Christian symbols.  It can be found here.

This was a fairly simple project that any age child could complete at their own ability level, but it gave the children a good introduction to early Christian art and symbols.  Unfortunately I didn't take many photos of the projects the students completed the day we did this project in class.  You can click on the photos included here to see them larger.

Side note on 3-ring binder notebooks:  This project was the first of a ten week session on Early Christian Art and Art of the Middle Ages.  I had 8 students in the class ranging in age from 6-12.  I asked each child to bring a three-ring binder in which to keep their handouts, maps and art work.  Some projects were three-dimensional and wouldn't fit in the binders, but overall the binder system worked well for a longer session like this.  For the shorter sessions I didn't ask the children to bring binders, but I still often gave them handouts.  If you are going to do art history for an extended length of time it is a nice idea for the student to keep a three-ring binder to keep each week's materials.  One semester I also took photos of the projects that would not fit in the binders and made a couple of simple scrapbook pages with those photos for each child to put in their binder.  It makes a great memento of what the children have learned and the projects they have completed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I have been teaching art history classes for children for about 2 1/2 years now.  I first offered a basic drawing class for children and then I was looking for ideas for a different type of class that I could do with mixed ages.  I came across this book (Art in Story) at my local library and well, the rest is history!  I was inspired by the author's idea of using stories to teach art history in her elementary school classroom.  Children love stories because they can be so interesting and engaging.  Stories bring history to life for children by making the events and people more real.  So I was inspired to begin a new class for kids involving art history.  I also happen to love history (that was my major in college) and I love to continue to learn new things.  So I've found preparing for the classes to be a great motivation to learn more myself.

The basic format the author of Art in Story uses is reading aloud a story to the children about a particular time period or a particular artist or people group, showing the children examples of art work from that time period, having the children write a journal entry and then doing a hands-on project.  I followed this format initially, but eventually dropped the journal portion especially as I began to do shorter sessions of classes.  I have had kids mostly ages 7-13 in the class.  I have had a few younger kids whose parent stayed to help them with their projects.  Most of the kids seemed to really enjoy the classes and the projects.  At first I followed the stories written in the book, but sometimes I would substitute a story from the history book I was using (Story of the World) or read a picture book for that lesson.  I have also expanded some of the subjects in the book to make more lessons on a particular era and even written a few stories of my own in the style of the author.  I use mostly books from the library to show examples of art work and I sometimes order books on inter-library loan.  I wanted to share this great resource here and how it has inspired me to offer these classes.  It can be used in a classroom setting, a homeschool co-op or within a family.

I will be sharing some of the projects I have completed with my class on this blog including photos of our projects, the books I used in class, the types of materials I used, etc.  I will begin with a series of projects I did last fall on Early Christian Art and Art of the Middle Ages.  So check back here for updates.  I will try to post a project each week.  Hope they inspire you too!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St. Euphrosynos

One of my favorite Saints - St. Euphrosynos the Cook whose feast day is celebrated on September 11.

This year I read the story of St. Euphrosynos from the Children's Garden of the Theotokos curriculum.  I really love this version of his story as well as this beautiful curriculum.  Another story you could read to children is the book The Boy, A Kitchen And His Cave.  More information about St. Euphrosynos can also be found at orthodoxwiki or the OCA website.

Children find the story of St. Euphrosynos especially interesting and full of wonder.  It's a great way to help them learn about humility, patience and striving for continuous prayer as they learn how a simple cook attained such spiritual heights and closeness to God that he was allowed to walk in Paradise.

As I read the story from the Children's Garden of the Theotokos I used some props to help tell the story.  I used very simple wood peg figures that I made for St. Euphrosynos and the Abbot of his monastery, red glass beads to represent the apples and a few other items I had on hand to represent St. Euphrosynos' work in the monastery kitchen (a barrel), the trees in Paradise and the chapel.  These seem to help my kids pay attention and remember the story better.

After the story we made an apple sun catcher to hang in a window.  I adapted this craft from another one I saw for the Fruits of the Spirit.  That craft involved a garland of smaller apples with one Fruit of the Spirit written on each apple.  I chose to simplify and just have each child make one larger apple.  I used clear contact paper, a black Sharpie marker and red tissue paper.  Just a few simple supplies needed - my favorite kind of craft!

I drew freehand an apple, 6 - 8 inches wide, on a piece of contact paper.  Then I peeled the back off and let each child place pieces of torn tissue paper onto the sticky side inside the outline of the apple.  You could cut the tissue paper into small pieces instead of tearing them.  This was a simple project even for my youngest child.  When they were done I placed another piece of contact paper on top to seal in the paper and then let each child cut out his or her apple.  Make sure to leave a little edge of contact paper around the tissue paper to keep it sealed together.

Then we talked a little about the Fruit of the Spirit and other virtues that St. Euphrosynos attained and I asked each child which they would like to ask God to help them work on in their own lives.  My kids chose generosity, patience and self-control.  I thought I might have to help my 4 year old a bit with choosing something for his apple, but he quickly chose self-control.  I wrote each virtue that the children chose on their apples and then we hung them in the window.

They came out very beautiful and will hopefully be a good reminder for the children of character qualities they would like to work on.

Here are some other great craft ideas for remembering St. Euphrosynos.

I had hoped to make a yummy apple treat that day to help us celebrate, but I ran out of time so we had to settle for plain apple slices (which were pretty yummy by themselves!).  The sweetness of the apples reminds us of the sweetness of Paradise and of God's great mercy.

Troparion for St. Euphrosynos the Cook
You lived in great humility, in labors of asceticism and in purity of soul, O righteous Euphrosynos. By a mystical vision you demonstrated the Heavenly joy which you had found. Therefore make us worthy to be partakers of your intercessions.

Owls for Story Time

This was a recent project I did with 5 and 6 year olds for story/craft time.  We read one of my all time favorite children's books, Owl Moonand then made this sweet owl craft I found in the current issue of Family Fun magazine.  The craft instructions are not on their website yet, but I will post a link when it becomes available there.  The craft was fairly simple, but the moms did help a bit.

The supplies needed are:  toilet paper tubes, paper muffin liners (in colors such as white, brown, black, yellow or orange), scissors, tacky or white school glue, white card stock, black marker, construction paper.

Step one - fold over and tape down the top of the toilet paper roll to form ears

Step two - cut a muffin liner into 4 parts, then cut away the flat portion to leave only the ruffled parts

Step three - begin gluing the 4 pieces of ruffled muffin liner overlapping, beginning at the bottom

Step four - cut another muffin liner in half, then trim until desired size and shape of wings is reached, glue onto the back of the toilet paper tube

Step five - cut out circles for eyes, use marker to draw eyes and dots, glue onto a matching circle of construction paper to outline the eyes, or for the white owl glue onto a circle of muffin liner as the eye background, then glue eyes onto the front of the owl

Step six - cut out an orange beak from construction paper or card stock and glue to the owl (or if you are making an orange owl, cut out a tan colored beak - courtesy of my 5 year old who realized an orange beak would blend in too much with the orange owl)

You will end up with a super cute owl!  The kids were pleased with their results and the craft wasn't too difficult for them although the moms helped with some of the cutting and directing where to glue.  I also did some prep work ahead of time to make it less frustrating for young kids.  I already had the toilet paper rolls taped down, the eye circles cut out and the beaks cut out before we began.  I used tacky glue in a small container that the kids could dip a Q-Tip in to apply.  This method has always worked great with younger kids to keep the gluey messes to a minimum.

For more owl fun check out this link:  http://www.kcedventures.com/blog/owls-for-kids-crafts-for-kids-owl-books

I hope to try the owl finger puppet craft soon!