Resources

For Teachers, Folklorists, Academics, and Beyond

Folk arts contribute not only to students’ understanding of cultural traditions but also to their ability to think critically, gather and analyze evidence, and express their ideas and interpretations through personal creativity. Folklife and the tools of the folklorist can support learning in all subjects, including the arts. Folk arts are uniquely suited to explore the ways in which traditional art forms reflect the history, culture, geography, and values of different cultures and communities.

Everyone has folk traditions — expressive customs practiced within a group and passed along by word of mouth, imitation, and observation. Calling on the work of folklorists and the field of folklore in the classroom educates, motivates, engages, and fosters the creative expression of students and powerfully links them to their communities. Integrating the study of folk arts into existing curricula awakens self-awareness in students of their own roles as tradition bearers, their families as repositories of traditional culture and history, and their communities as unique resources.

(Text above adapted from: Local Learning: A Folk Arts Integration Handbook)

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Learning Activity and Lesson Plans

Learning with Cemetery Secrets

Cemeteries may seem unlikely fieldtrip destinations, yet they offer intriguing clues about history and local culture and opportunities to conduct primary research and practice documentation skills such as note taking, sketching, and photography.

Thanksgiving Foodways

Many people in the United States celebrate the national Thanksgiving holiday by sharing a special meal. Although there is a stereotype about turkey and dressing as the iconic meal, we all have different ideas about what foods we want on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey or tamales? Mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole? Collard greens or green bean casserole? Pecan pie or apple pie? What would your favorite Thanksgiving meal include? Who would share the meal?

Museum Observation Field Journal

Consider a museum an important text that deserves careful reading. Before visiting a museum, inventory your assumptions about what you expect, even if you are familiar with the institution. Think about where it is, how it sits on the landscape, its relationship to the natural and built environments.

Heritage Fellow Michael Doucet Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Rosa Elena Egipciaco Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Mary Louise Defender Wilson Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Eva Castellanoz Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow John Cephas Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

How We Celebrate

Face to face or distant, celebrations feature cultural elements that we find very meaningful, such as special foods, music, gifts, jokes, clothes. This activity invites you to relish the fun of celebrations by analyzing them and consider how celebrations during the pandemic are the same and different from how they usually occur.

On the Job

There is mystery in every job, even those of students, whose jobs are to study and contribute to school, family, and community life. How do we learn the secrets of doing a good job at our work? Folklife! Occupational culture is one of the dynamic areas of Folklore Studies. By closely observing work spaces and interviewing people about their work culture, we make fascinating discoveries.

Family Mapmaking

Mapmaking is a wonderful way to engage family members in looking closely at how each experiences where they live. Family members may discover that each sees their neighborhood differently, that one includes a place that the others never noticed, or that certain neighborhood spaces, such as a vacant lot, are valued by one and considered an eyesore by others.

Bread Journal

Paying attention to a cultural element like bread tells us about ourselves as well as others. Think about bread broadly—from matzo to pancakes, tortillas to crackers! Here are some activities to do on your own or with others to find art in your daily life.

Exploring Dress, Culture, and Identity in American Indian Objects and Dress

How would you feel if someone (outside your identity group) used your identity design references in a clothing line? What might change how you feel about this use?

Tradition, Innovation, and Hawai'ian Cultural Identity in Lau Hala Papale

How is the weaving and wearing of lau hala papale (hats) connected to Hawai’ian history, identity, natural resources, and culture?

Seasonal Round Lesson Plan

Use the Seasonal Round lesson plan to introduce students to your classroom or school culture, as well as their own. Students can learn about themselves, their families, their region, and the world by examining the seasonal round.

Interviewing Virtual Unit

By interviewing family and community members to document their stories, songs, crafts, and skills, we encounter deep local learning, which we can record and share in many ways. Visit our Inquiry Resources to go more in-depth!

Research and Readings

Local Learning: A Folk Arts Integration Handbook

This 24-page handbook outlines how to incorporate folk arts and folk artists into arts integration programs.

Artists as Educators

Our featured artists consider educating young people essential to their lives as artists. Their stories of sharing a specialized skill or passing on knowledge of a culture or tradition offer insights into effective practices and ways of teaching and learning that are underutilized. They collective make the case for preserving pedagogical diversity in education. Read […]

Teaching with Foodways

The study of foodways offers compelling ways to explore local and world customs and cultures through an accessible, universal, everyday practice. The foods we eat provide a firsthand, sensory experience that can build an appetite for learning in any subject and offer opportunities for active, experiential education. Read the 28-page issue of the popular 2010 […]

The Art of Work/The Work of Art: Interview with Brad Bonaparte by 4th Grade Students at PS 78, Long Island City, New York

Occupations are a perfect topic for student interviews. People like to talk about their jobs and how they learned them, what their skills are, what they contribute.

Clara’s Song: Writing Songs from Interviews

In City Lore’s Songwriting Artist Residency, students write songs inspired by their interviews with family, school, or community members. This article focuses on one interview with an immigrant teacher and the students’ songwriting process.

Discovering Community

A 4th-grade teacher in Vermont introduced her students to the concept of community teachers, people who the children learn from in everyday life. Their resulting interviews and art projects helped students see how they are part of history and a community.

Carriers of Culture: Teaching and Learning Native Basketry

This extensive project examines the contemporary state of Native American weaving in the U.S. and the ways Native baskets—and their makers—are carriers of culture.

The Power of Informal Learning

The NEA Heritage Fellows can inspire young people to investigate the masters of tradition in their own families and communities.

A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.

A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.

Welcoming a New Life: Yoruba Naming Traditions

By exploring what names mean and how different cultural groups have special naming traditions, students have a lot to learn about themselves, their families, their community, and the world.

The Life Cycle: Folk Customs of Passage

“In an age when it is easy to live vicariously through t.v. shows and other popular media, attention to the life cycle returns the focus to ourselves and our families, the arenas in which the real work of life takes place,” writes the Director of City Lore.

Cajun Weddings

Weddings are very familiar rites of passage, yet each differs. Cajun wedding traditions provide a window for researching this life passage.

Cemetery Secrets

Cemeteries may seem unlikely fieldtrip destinations, yet they offer rich possibilities for engaging students in primary research.

Rangoli: Traditions of the Threshold

Threshold traditions offer a concrete form for exploring how rites of passage help practitioners make a transition between two states, such as secular to sacred, outside to inside, child to adult, and so on.

At Home In the World

If membership and identity remain such vexing issues in our country, what can educators do to help students not only cope with the problem but also take action to resolve it? Written by Jim Carnes, editor of Teaching Tolerance, a national education project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

More Than Feathers and Casinos: Rethinking Native American Education

“….The most difficult thing to impress upon your students is that there is not one standard of Native American culture, dress, art, language, or experience. Over 400 native groups in the U.S. have very different realities. Our cultures are as different from one another as Japanese culture is from Polish culture…”

Family Maps

Luanne McLaughlin, a parent at PS 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, shares a family mapping activity that works in any locale.

Fieldwork Builds Learning and Community

Elementary school teacher and folklorist Mark Wagler shares fieldwork methods he uses with his classes. The article includes exercises and inspiration for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum. “I am convinced”, he says, “that the single most important factor for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum is for teachers to think of themselves, and act, […]

Sense of Place

“What is a ‘place?’ Is that strip of grass between the lanes on the Interstate highway a place? Is a Web site a place?” Michael Umphrey, a poet and former principal, who currently directs the Montana Heritage Project explores the many notions of place. Umphrey also provides examples for how students can learn the skills […]

Capitalizing On Diversity And Immigration

How a Virginia elementary school uses the diversity of their students to enrich their learning experience and multicultural understanding.

A Child's Salute: Iowa's Project Honors Newcomers

Information on how teachers can identify folk groups and then incorporate the exploration of these groups into the classroom learning experience.

Among Folk: Using Folklife To Build Partnerships With Students And Their Families

A folklife curriculum bridges the generational gap between students, parents, and grandparents and aids in student’s quest for their own identity.

Finding Folk Arts in Teachers' and Students' Lives

How teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experienceHow teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experience. .

Mining Values in the Montana Heritage Project

Through asking her junior English class to investigate an old building that was once a gym, Rasmussen “discovered the joy of using cultural heritage in the classroom.”

Holidays and Schools: Folklore Theory and Educational Practice, or, Where Do We Put the Christmas Tree?

How an Ohio parent and folklorist successfully engaged the issue of holiday celebrations in schools by integrating community study, family folklore and social studies curricula.

American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures

Folklife is community life and values, artfully expressed in myriad interactions. It is universal, diverse, and enduring. It enriches the nation and makes us a commonwealth of cultures. The traditional knowledge and skills required to make a pie crust, plant a garden, arrange a birthday party, or turn a lathe are exchanged in the course […]

Negotiating Pitfalls and Possibilities

Kodish and Westerman outline the steps taken toward understanding folk art and locating it within communities. They also explore how students come to understand the history, economics, style, culture and traditions of people through folk arts.

Passing it On

Excerpts from the now classic folk arts-in-education book, Passing It On which explores collaborative programs between classroom teachers and folk artists/community educators. We have excerpted four sections that map the New Jersey Main Road School’s sixth grade residency with auctioneer Andrea Licciardello. Licciardello worked with classroom teacher Glenn Christmann to present a study of auctions […]

An Accessible Aesthetic

The folk artist is very much like a curator and the community is a living museum. In unpacking this metaphor, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores how the folk artist learns various traditions and then teaches adults and children to develop strong ties to their communities and cultural history.

Folk Arts in the Classroom: Changing the Relationship Between Schools and Communities

The publication of this article launched Local Learning in 1993.