1st Grade – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portraits

1st Grade – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portraits

 Description of the Unit – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portraits

Students will explore Frida Kahlo’s iconic self-portraits and, using their observations of her work, create their own, including at least one “spirit” animal in the portrait with them.

Self portrait with Bonito, 1941

Relationship to life –

Frida Kahlo was a prolific painter whose most painted subject was herself. She often painted herself with various animals by her side, such as monkeys, parrots, hummingbirds and deer. Some of these were her real life pets, others were animals she identified with. If students had to choose animals that they personally identify with, what animals would they be, and why?

Activity statement –

Students will observe and discuss Frida Kahlo’s many self-portraits with animals. Discussions will center on her use of animals, and what they might symbolize. Students will also explore and discuss Frida’s life, and her resulting fascination with painting herself. We’ll also consider reasons an artist might have for creating a self-portrait in the first place. A good resource to start the discussion with is Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra.

You might be thinking that the terms symbolism and metaphor may be concepts too sophisticated for a 1st grader to understand, but this isn’t so. One way I like to introduce symbolism is to start with emojis, and ask students what we want to express if we use a heart emoji, a smiley face or a thumbs up. We might work our way into thinking about flags that symbolize different countries, to seasons, and how spring can symbolize newness or birth, and winter old age or death. There are many more examples that can help crystallize the concept of symbolism. Metaphor compares two things, or words, to each other using is or are, such as “a beehive is nature’s golden lantern” or “a dragonfly is the last dragon left on earth” (actual student metaphors). See what kinds of metaphors your students can come up?

1st grade Kahlo-inspired self-portrait

Goals –

Students should…


  • Reasons for creating a self-portrait
  • Ways in which an animal could be used as a symbol or metaphor


  • The meanings of the terms: symbolism, metaphor

Be able to:

  • Describe a symbol and a metaphor
  • Choose one animal or more to represent oneself
  • Articulate their choices to their peers

Objectives –

Students will:

  • Create a self-portrait with at least one animal
  • Make deliberate choices about the animals they choose to be in their portrait
  • Describe their choices and process to their peers
1st grade Kahlo-inspired self-portrait

Resources and materials –

  • Exemplars of Kahlo’s self-portraits with animals
  • 11” x 14” Bristol paper, white
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Oil pastels
  • Chalk pastels
  • Colored pencils
  • Watercolor pencils
  • Paper towels

Questions –

  • What animals do you notice (in each portrait)?
  • Why do you think Kahlo painted herself with these animals? What could the animals in Frida Kahlo’s painting symbolize?
  • What is a metaphor?
  • Could the animals in her paintings be metaphors for something? What?
  • Why would an artist create a self-portrait?
  • Knowing a bit about Kahlo’s life, why do you think she created self-portraits?
  • How will you arrange the remaining images around the focal point?
  • Why would you want to make a self-portrait?
  • What animals so you identify with, and which would you choose for a self-portrait?

Evaluation –

Did students:

Thoughtfully choose one or more animals to place in their portraits?

Did students thoughtfully develop their own appearance in their self-portrait?

Did students clearly articulate their choices?


  • Group discussions
  • Oral and written responses to essential questions
1st grade art - Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait with animals
1st grade art – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art - Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art - Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art - Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait
1st grade art – Frida Kahlo-inspired self-portrait

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