Teaching Spanish to kids through art
We’ve all heard it, the person who hates a language because it was impossible to learn. We’ve heard the tales of copying conjugation charts, failed speaking exams, dense textbooks, and teachers that only spoke in [Spanish] (said as if that were the worst possible thing!). Spanish classes have come a long way since the dark days of memorization and written grammar exercises. Classrooms have been transformed from silent spaces to stages where students learn to play with the language, relate to it, act it out, speak it, read it, write it, live it, and hopefully learn something about culture in the process.
The best part about being a foreign language teacher is that you aren’t limited to only teaching about the Spanish language. You can use Spanish as a vehicle to help your students explore other areas of life and help them to discover new interests through Spanish, all while taking the pressure off by shifting the focus from producing the language correctly, to exploring a new topic that your class hopefully has an interest in. With teenagers this helps relieve some of the pressure and self-consciousness that the students feel when speaking in another language, while for younger kids it helps make the language memorable because it’s related to something they like or want to explore more.
So, the question becomes, what subjects can we successfully teach through Spanish? Some of the best complements we’ve found to teaching the Spanish language has been through art and music. If you’ve seen our Spanish teaching materials for kids and beginners, you know how much we love making the Spanish language memorable to young learners through unique songs and thought provoking images. However, today we’re going to talk about going beyond our materials and into the diverse world of art to hopefully help you make your classroom a fun and productive Spanish speaking experience.
Art is the perfect medium for language learning because it’s flexible. You can bend it and mold it to fit practically any topic or language focus that you want. You can practice listening skills by giving directions and having your students follow them, math by measuring and cutting, shapes, colors, and you can use it to explore different themes depending on the artist you choose to focus on. It appeals to all ages, it gives conversation a starting place and after being looked at and studied it can be physically done with your own hands.
While you're students are creating artwork it's always a good idea to have Spanish music playing in the background. You can browse our free Spanish songs for kids here!
Teaching Spanish through art to young and very young learners
With very young learners it’s a bit harder to dissect a painting or sculpture than with older students, especially in a foreign language. For many it could be the first time that they are being exposed to something and for extremely young learners they might have never even spoken or heard about art in their own language let alone in another alien tongue. Our advice: keep it simple. Stick to themes they can relate to and make it hands on. The idea of using art to teach Spanish isn’t to make it so that your kids can talk about art in the language, but instead to give them language input in a natural way while exploring another theme or topic. Even if they can’t produce the language they are interacting with it in a way that we once interacted with our own mother tongues, through doing something else.
Geometric Patterns: Piet Mondrian
Composition by Piet Mondrian, 1929
One of the easiest painters to focus on with young learners is the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. His artwork is simple and his use of geometric patterns is interesting, without being overwhelming. He uses a reduced spectrum of colors making it easy to go through the basics with your kids in class. It’s also a great starting point for a multitude of activities that involve distinguishing shapes and colors, and creating your own Mondrian-esque artwork in the classroom. Here are some ideas of how you can use Mondrian in your young learners Spanish classrooms:
1. A step-by-step project idea to do with your students
2. A short video explanation about the painter and the different ways that you can use his art in your Spanish classroom with young learners
3. A free book that can be downloaded and used as inspiration for your class or read in class depending on the level
Short stories about artists and their artwork
One of the best ways to introduce your little ones to art is through short stories. Here’s a long list of different stories that focus on famous artists (we love the book about Dalí!) you can be read and used as inspiration for a whole class art project.
Sculptures: play dough and clay sculptures
Mano by Fernando Botero
Play dough is without doubt the most adaptable resource we have access to. It’s almost viewed as a reward or play time for the kids and yet, is educational. Kids love it and it can be used for all themes (we dare you to name one topic that you can’t find a use for play dough).
Depending on where you live or your own interests you can decide on which sculptures to focus on in class. If you live an area with a particularly famous sculpture, you might consider using that. If not, browse the internet for one that fits your needs. Start by introducing the class to the sculpture. Ask your students what they can see?
¿Es grande o pequeño?
¿Qué colores hay?
Here you can practice any language you’d like before helping your class to create their own version of the sculpture. Once they’ve created their own version you can put them on display in the classroom or if you’ve made them out of clay you can put them in the kiln and send them home. Here’s an example of a class of 4-year-olds that made their own version of the sculpture “La Mano” by the Columbian artist Fernando Botero. Find the directions for this art project here.
Reading and painting: El Punto (The Dot)
Through this book your students will discover the different colors in Spanish, how unique artwork can be, that art is a personal journey and that inspiration is different for each person and comes from all different directions. After reading and working the langauge you've chosen to focus on, try having your class create their own varitions of the dot.
Make your own "El Punto" wall and cover it with student artwork
Another idea that could be combined with the book is the idea of creating an image with only little dots of color. Through this activity your students can explore color mixing, shadowing and dimensions made by using darker or lighter colors, and how such a simple technique can be used to create a vibrant and lively piece of art. Check out some ideas on how to use puntillismo para niños here.
Monet: Create your own water lilies project
Monet water lilies examples from Projects with Kids
Using the famous water lilies paintings by Claude Monet introduce your students to the painter. Depending on the level you can give a brief introduction or go into depth about his life and work. Remember the younger the learners, the more visual it needs to be, especially if you're teaching in a foreign langauge. Once you’ve talked about the painter, talk about the artwork. Talk about the color scheme he chose, whether they like it or not, his inspiration for his artwork, and you can even use it to talk about nature or springtime vocabulary! Once you’ve studied the painting give your students a chance to play artist. Go over the list of materials they will need practicing the useful language you’ve chosen and give them instructions in Spanish for how they will create their masterpieces. Once the students have painted their own pieces you can hang them around the room and discuss them. For older students you can have them choose to tell you about one they like and why and for younger students you can circulate while they are painting asking them about the colors they choose and what they are doing.
For step-by-step class on water lilies click here.
Thanks for reading our blog post on how to teach Spanish through art. We'd love to hear how you combine teaching Spanish with different subjects in your classroom either in the comments section below or on our Facebook page! In the future we'll do another post focusing on the use of art in the Spanish classroom for older students so stay tuned and happy teaching!