September 14, 2011

Batik and Those Tricky Natives!

We're getting ready for the first Culture Club of the new year (if you're a Culture Clubber, STOP READING AND WAIT FOR THE PRESENTATION!!!!) and we usually try to use something that fits right in with our current studies rather than finding a sort of random culture.  Right now we're in the Renaissance period where the Spanish and Portuguese are conquering the natives in the Americas to enslave them, convert the, and take their gold.   So we wanted to pick one of the native empires  from that time, but the kids can't quite keep them straight.  Based on a little Googling, I think that confusing the Maya, Inca and Aztec is a pretty common problem.  Yes, they were totally different, but let's face it.  Their art and their buildings were pretty similar and they always get lumped together in one big ole unit study by the curriculum companies, so it's our own faults (yes, teachers, moms and dads...I'm talking about us!) that there is a lack of clarity.  Our curriculum has us moving back over to Europe now to watch Islam spread some more, but I'm not letting us move on until we all know the difference between these empires.  Seems disrespectful not to be able to tell them apart. 

So we made our focus for culture club highlighting the differences and similarities between these cultures.  Easier thought of than followed through on.  I started by looking up each of their calendar's in Google Images.  That seemed like a fair first step until the exact same calendars showed up in each search.  Okay, so no one knows whose calendar is whose?  If they can, there is no evidence of it in Google images.  So I looked up a Venn diagram comparing the three cultures and came up with nothing. 

In the end we decided to make some art to kind of reflect all of those empires while we worked out the technicalities - if there's anything we could find everyone agreeing on, it's that their art and architecture was strikingly similar.  We've been wanting to try a sort of kid friendly version of batiking, so that's what we went with.  Did the ancient people of the Americas batik?  I don't think so.  But it turned out pretty anyway!  Haha!  I know they were master sculptors, so maybe that will be our next step. 

To start, I once again Google Image searched for art from each of the cultures and found an easy picture from each.  Because I can't stand to let the kids have all the fun, I also did one of the typical temple building so there would be enough for me to join in.  I markered those on to construction paper.

Next I put squares of some off white polyester fabric (not ideal, but I had it on hand so it made for a free project!) on top of the pictures and traced the images with gel glue.  I did mine and the boys' because you don't have to be psychic to know what would happen if I asked the boys to trace a picture with glue.  Bad idea.  But Hannah Jane traced her own and found it to be difficult, but doable. 

We hung them on the fence by pants hangers (have you noticed pants hangers on a chain link fence is becoming a theme around here?) to dry in the sun. 

Has Venn diagramming ever looked so fun?
While we waited for them to dry, Hannah Jane worked on a Venn diagram (you know, the one I wanted to reference, but it didn't exist yet?) for the three cultures.  I Googled and she decided what was interesting enough to include and where to put it.  Did you know the Incas performed brain surgeries?  They had a 75% failure rate, but that's still good for the 25% who needed brain surgery and it all worked out, I suppose.  They all had domesticated dogs.  The Maya and the Aztec liked to sacrifice people, but the Aztec did it nightly.  Nice.  That explains the need to constantly conquer your neighbors, right?  You wouldn't want to choose between sacrificing mom and having and angry god! 

When our fabric dried, we painted it on the porch with water colors.  Technically we were supposed to paint it with watered down acrylic paint and then wash out the glue, but the glue absorbed some of the marker color through the fabric and it made a really pretty blurry outline that we all liked, so we agreed to water color and never wash it in order to retain the glue look we were so fond of.

Hannah Jane was not happy about a form of art that doesn't let you make perfect lines and requires you to let the paint just soak in and spread.  She's so meticulous all the time and this sort of recklessness with paint offended her sense of perfection.  She wasn't sure during the process, but she was proud of the results in the end.  Phew!  That's the kind of project where I'm telling her the whole time, "Just trust me and relax.  It's the style.  It's not supposed to be perfect and in the end you'll see how beautiful it is."  If she hadn'tbeen pleased with the results, I'd never be able to get her to relax ever again!

This picture totally doesn't do them justice.  Look like messy water colors on paper.  But in the sun, flip flapping in the breeze, these are simply spectacular!  We're going to string them up and make a little bunting to hang somewhere in the yard.  Maybe on the playhouse once culture club has passed.  Hunter did the dragon, Haven did the temple, Hannah Jane did the flower-like symbol, and I did the sun.  Hunter was very proud to show Joe when he got home.  He made Joe guess which was his and when Joe knew right away, he said, "Mom, did you tell him already?"  Joe said, "She didn't have to.  You're my Hunter!  I totally know you, man!  No one has to tell me."  It's true.  That man knows those kids as if their very own thumb print is on every thing they ever touch.  So sweet!

So, we'll see what else we can come up with.  if you have any thoughts on distinguishing features of these cultures (other than their dates and regions) or tricks to keep them straight, I'd sure love to hear them!  There is a surprising dearth of information on the web about the differences (ones that kids could pin down anyway) and our sad, sad, small town library isn't all that much help.  So, I'm accepting outside counsel!  Hit me in the comments box with your best advice and I'll keep you posted on our progress!

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