Thursday, May 20, 2010

Into the Caves! by 4th grade

These are samples of 4th grade cave paintings on "rock" (no, it is not traditional clay - read on to find out the crazy material we used). Students did their artwork after learning about the paintings in Lascaux and other caves painted over 15,000 years ago.
  • First, we brainstormed about the possible materials that would have been used, since there was no Wal-Mart 17,000 years ago to buy art supplies! And we discussed possible reasons for prehistoric man to have created these greart works of art.
  • Then, we created our own hunks of cave wall for our artwork.
  • To prepare in advance of this lesson, I gathered bags of shredded paper from the school office, and poured in some hot water to soften it up. The next day, I mixed up a couple of batches of Art Paste (shown in the yellow box below), and poured a bunch into the bags of softened recycled paper. Some kids came in at lunchtime and were thrilled to be able to help squish the "dog drool" into the gloppy paper.

  • When 4th grade art class time arrived, I handed each student a bundle of "glop", and as we discussed the story of Lascaux and brainstormed for ideas, each student continued to knead his lump, breaking down the paper so it became a textural claylike substance by the end of the class. Here's my hands demo-ing kneading the lump.

  • Then, each student "patty-caked" their lump into a slab of rock wall. Before putting it away to dry, students inserted a paper clip into the top to serve as a hanger.
  • Now for the big adventure! Students had looked at animal pictures and prepared drawings in advance of "entering the caves".
  • When they arrived for art class, they found the tables either draped with fabric or blocked off with large sheets of cardboard. Their paper clay had dried out and was rock solid and virtually unbreakable.
  • The lights were dimmed, a CD with the sounds of wolves, rain, and other natural sounds was turned on, and students took their needed materials into their caves (under the tables). They used pieces of vine charcoal to draw, and I provided various neutral colors of paint. Paint was brought into the caves by placing small dips of colors on sheets of scrap paper, which also became mixing palettes.
  • Some students preferred the solitude of their own corner of a cave, while others chose to crowd into a cave together. Some used flashlights as torches, and others occasionally emerged from the cave to check out their color choices. The kids were thrilled. You would have thought that I gave them the best present ever, and not just the opportunity to sit on the uncomfortable floor under a table!

  • After the rock was painted, the kids also had the opportunity to either stamp or stencil their hand on a sheet of brown Kraft paper, which became the backing paper on a bulletin board. The 4th graders are very proud of their "prehistoric" cave paintings.


  1. What a cool experience! Music and lighting too cool! My schedule is so jam packed. I forget about some of the cool sensory projects I used to do. I have to get back there! You inspired me.

  2. I knew it!!! I knew there was another way to put all that shredded paper to good ART use! I tried making it into pulp once...took forever to get any kind of useful amount so I gave up. This, however, is a wonderful idea and I have lots of paste! I love the cave idea too, I may have to do my version of this! It is a fantastic lesson!
    Side story...we used shredded paper this year as SNOW for our kids to have a SNOW DAY at much fun in our hot southern town!

  3. Once you make the stuff, you will find other uses for it as well. It is so strong - we used it to repair weak legs on a papier-mache ant and others. I covered a 'candlestick' made from taping together a paper bowl, a plastic lid, and a paper towel roll, and it looked like it was an ancient stone artifact. You can also roll it into beads, or little stones for inside maracas. Have fun!
    As for snow days... I'll have to post a photo of our school in winter. We have plenty!

  4. By the way, Erica - I'm thrilled I inspired you,but I do totally understand what it is to be crazy-busy. I was running around at the last minute scrounging up those flashlights from science kits in classrooms etc!
    In one 4th grade, plagued by discipline issues all year (everywhere; not just the art room), the classroom teacher gave me list of 8 students who had been exemplary that week - all work complete, top-notch behavior, etc - and we agreed the caves would be a 'reward' for the 8 elite. The other kids were so jealous not to be able to see what was going on in the cave! It still makes me laugh to think about what an exciting reward it was to sit on my not-so-clean floor.

  5. Hi Phyl, thx for visiting my Georgetown Elem. Blog...just had to visit yours too! Sweeeet paper mache' projects (you brave lady you!) - haven't done any paper mache' projects in a long time, maybe I'll have to try it again in the fall after becoming inspired by your projects. I enjoy your step-by-step "in progress" photos - gives your readers a real look into how your kiddos create the projects. I've added your website to my blogroll, thanks for visiting!

  6. Hi Phyllis - I came across your blog the other day, the Cave Painting project looked SO familiar! Then I figure it out...I met you at the NYSATA Conference last fall - I presented ARTSONIA in the same room right after you! Good to see you blogging - you have fantastic ideas!
    Smiles - Susan

  7. Ooooh I love this!!!! Very Nice!!!

  8. This is so cool! One thing I want to do next school year is 3-D projects. This looks like one of the coolest I've seen. If I can just get over my hesitation to be messy. Art shirt alert!

  9. I was doing a search on Cave art and by golly, this post came up. What a wonderful experience, Phyl! I wish I could have been there. I love the sensory addition to this lesson. I'm going to re-read this post again and them give it a try with my 4th graders. Thanks!

    1. Hi Patty! Have fun if you try this! The paper clay is very messy to make, but even in years before I discovered this process, the kids still worked in the 'caves', painting on hunks of bogus or brown Kraft paper for their cave walls. If you DO make the clay, I suggest you pour a little Elmer's glue into the mix - it makes it really strong. And have the kids prepare the paper clips before everyone's hands are covered in cement-like goo. I had the kids put a masking tape flag on their paper clip, and write their name/class on the flag in Sharpie. Otherwise it is impossible to figure out what belongs to who. Good luck!