Another of my favorite ceramics lessons is done with my third graders. In third grade students learn about a variety of ancient civilizations in their social studies curriculum in general education, which is a perfect match with our grade level big idea-culture. We discuss examples of vessels from a variety of cultures including Chinese, Roman, Egyptian, and Native American. We discuss how each culture included vessels that were inspired by animals, and we explore what the meaning of those animals could have been to artisans during the time period in which the vessels were made. Next we work collaborate to brainstorm a list of animals that are culturally meaningful in our own lives including national, state, and local animals. Students are encouraged to find cultural connections to animals outside of simple personal preferences. Once students have come up with a list of personally meaningful animal idea, they sketch to plan for their sculpture. This is the first year when students are taught to score and weld to join two pieces of clay together securely, and they are very interested in the process of combining a pinch pot with animal body parts.
Students are encouraged to go home and investigate with their families to find even more potential animal ideas that might tell about their cultural heritage. Students are also working on animal adaptation research projects in science and are encouraged to select their own animal, which offers students the opportunity to learn even more about a personally meaningful animal.