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.

Come Rain or Come Shine

From song lyrics to predictions, we use weather lore every day. Have you ever worn your pajamas inside out in hope of a snow day? What sayings do you use to predict the weather? Do you have stories about storms or rainbows or really hot days? This activity looks at a variety of ways we are all folk meteorologists.

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.

Folk Song Remix

This activity offers a creative way to interact with favorite folk songs. Follow these directions to tap into familiar folk songs and give them your own, unique spin by remixing them!

Music Around the Year

So much music surrounds us, we may not always be aware of it. This activity invites you to find and celebrate the music that you hear all around you—all around the year.

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.

Games and Play

Games are fun to play at any age and tell us a lot about our families, friends, and communities. There are many cool ways to think about and study games.

Song Circle

Everyone sings. This means everyone knows some songs. Singing alone or with others can make us feel playful, help us through tough times, and bring us together.

Good for What Ails You

Our beliefs about health and wellness are part of our personal and family folklore. Collecting cures, home remedies, and health sayings reveals how much a part of daily life our folklore about health is.

Dress to Express

Our clothes are important cultural elements. We use them for many reasons. They are practical, fun symbols of our identity. Let’s find some surprises while exploring how we Dress to Express.

Collecting!

Kids are natural collectors, piling up treasures like seashells and Pokémon cards. Likewise, museum curators deal with many types of collections, from paintings to train engines. Curators organize collections for public exhibits, showcasing what they have learned about objects. By thinking like a curator, how would you organize one of your collections for a home museum?

Research and Readings

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 […]

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.

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.

Cajun Weddings

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

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.

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.

From Imagine! Introducing Your Child to the Arts

Find a chapter dedicated to folk arts education in this publication, including tips for parents on the best ways to interest children in art–helping them explore connections between their own life experiences and the artistic processes of others.

Family Maps

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

How Deer Came to the Kodiak Archipelago

Josh Wood, a student from rural Alaska, writes about an unusual relationship between people, animals, and place.

La Trace du Boudin

An engaging profile of Acadiana and Lafayette High School students who prepared the “Guide to Acadian Stores and Meat Markets That Sell Boudin.” The guide, a French and English tourism brochure, explores the boudin, a Cajun sausage made and sold in small family-owned markets all over South Louisiana.”

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 […]

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.

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.”

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 […]