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Whatever religion you practice, you're probably familiar with art and symbols associated with your faith. From the earliest archeological records, we can see how integral the arts have been to every major religion, whether it's the style of architecture, the sculptures and adornments of holy places, or the illuminations that gleam across the pages of sacred texts. The desire to set something apart as holy calls forth the highest expressions of art; the appreciation of sacred art, in turn, can fill us with awe and strengthen our faith.
In our home, we use art as a way to cultivate spirituality in ourselves and our kids. We paint paper murals, write spiritual poems, draw Scripture-comics and even act out stories together! To my delight, art is proving to be a great way to communicate our traditions, and to allow unique faith expressions to bubble up in the kids.
Below are 9 ideas for how you can use the arts to nurture your kids' spirituality. Even if you come from a different religion than mine (we are Christians with Messianic/Jewish roots), I welcome you to explore the ideas set forth and consider how they might spark creative expression in your heart, home and faith community!
1. Make a Scripture Comic. You can choose any single sentence or short phrase that is meaningful to your family's faith. I've found it works to pick two or three options and ask my kids which one sparks an image or inspires them. Sometimes I might paraphrase a word or two. Other times, the kids will copy the text verbatim. Either way, the fun is in the fanciful drawings that emerge! You might find, like I do, that your kids shed new light, depth or humor on a familiar verse!
2. Create a Paper Mural about a Central Faith Story or Hero. Paper murals are game-changing for kids. They get to work big! They get to work together! They get to work alongside their moms or dads or art teachers or extended family! Since I began using this technique in my preK classes, I've never had a single instance of attention-deficit. My preschoolers stay focused the entire class and do not want to leave! For this mural, the theme was the Italian Saint, Francis of Assisi. I drew the main figure and birds beforehand, and the kids and moms painted in all the bright colors using tempera paint. After everyone left, I went over the painting with a few touches here and there to create unity and clear lines--but the kids were involved in every stroke of color!
3. Use Transfer Paper to Draw Something You Don't Know How to Draw. One of the biggest secrets of professional artists that most laypeople don't know is that you can use various tools to help you to draw more accurately. This drawing (a copy of Raphael's child angels from the Sistine Madonna) was created using transfer paper, which is essentially large pieces of carbon copy paper that allows me to trace the outlines of one image and transfer it onto another surface. I first made a large photocopy (printed over multiple pieces of 8.5x11 paper, then taped together to form a whole). Next, I taped the transfer paper, dark side down, onto the giant piece of kraft paper that forms the basis for this mural. I placed the photocopy on top of the transfer paper and traced the outlines of Raphael's angels. Once finished, I removed both photocopy and transfer paper, and used charcoal and pencil to fill in more details of the eyes, shadows, etc. My preschoolers arrived for their art class and got to paint a lovely sky and clouds all around the angels.
4. Fold Paper into a Nicho about an Important Holy Day. A nicho is a Central/South American art form typically created with tin or wood. Nichos are shadow boxes and are very popular during Dia de Los Muertos and the season of Advent. Here, I created a paper nicho inspired by Ethiopian manuscript art. I love the templates created by HappyThoughtUK. You can use the basic templates but add your own drawings or write scriptures to go inside the nichos.
5. Enact/Dance or Sing a Scene from Scripture/Sacred Texts. During the initial COvid lockdown in 2020, I wanted to inspire my kids with one of our faith stories about miraculous healing, and the love between siblings. We started with a set design on kraft paper with tempera paint. Next, we wrapped my son in crepe paper so he could play Lazarus, the brother of Mary (played by my daughter). Lazarus got to come out of the tomb, bursting out of his crepe paper embalming--alive from the dead! I loved how my kids grasped the total joy of reunion as Mary embraces her once-lost brother, completely healed by Jesus!
6. Create a Painting with Oil Pastel on Paper and a glued-on Quote or Scripture. For this project, I typed up a few scriptures in large font and printed them out. As a family we sat around the table and everyone chose one. We then used oil pastels on black construction paper to create an illustration for the main idea in our scripture. We had a great time of creating and conversation together!
7. Draw/Paint a Skyline of Your City to Visualize Your Prayers for the Healing of the Land and People. This painting is pretty big - 4' high and 10' long, and I worked on it during the initial COvid lockdown. As many of us grappled with what was happening, I felt compelled to turn my prayers into a painting. Although I mostly completed this on my own, I could easily see it as a faith community project. The tools are simple and inexpensive: large kraft paper, vine charcoal and pencil for the under-drawing, acrylic and/or tempera paint for the main color, and soft pastel to refine and highlight a few key areas. Projects such as this can draw the generations together as we send out prayers of love, healing and restoration toward our cities and towns.
8. Sculpt a relief or a 3D Land Form Inspired by a Sacred Place or Building. In our Land and Sea series, we teach kids how to make homemade oven bake clay in order to do a relief sculpture. Relief is simply a flattened style of sculpture, meant to be viewed from the front, but having some elements of texture, carving and shaping that go beyond mere 2D. The relief sculpture below is the Coroca Valley in Colombia, and something similar could be done for a city, region or other important site in your faith. Kids love sculpting (most adults do too). It feels great to shape something with your hands! Simply make up a batch of oven bake clay, roll or flatten with your hands, punch holes for hanging if desired, and use fingers or a pencil to dig in the desired features. You can also add found objects like twigs, leaves or shells. We like to add a light layer of tempera paint (with no extra water please) to the clay before baking. This way, the project is finished after 30-60 minutes in the oven.
9. Use TP Cardboard to Make Puppets. Its fun to create a puppet theater about an important historical event from your religion! This image is from our Passover Puppets Video+Lesson! We used the cardboard from a TP roll to make the main characters of the story. Black construction paper and pastel allowed us to make a set/background. This made for a fun prop for after the Seder dinner and during the week of Passover. Feel free to check out our lesson or adapt the theme to a different story of your choice!