1st Grade – Sakura: Japanese Cherry Blossoms…through a straw!

1st Grade – Sakura: Japanese Cherry Blossoms…through a straw!

Description of the Unit – (Not a unit per se, as we only spend a couple of class periods on this.) Students celebrate the arrival of spring by creating Sakura, or Japanese cherry blossoms, in the most amusing way…

A photo of Hanami is the tradition of celebrating the Sakura, the arrival of Japanese cherry blossoms
Hanami is the tradition of celebrating the Sakura, the arrival of Japanese cherry blossoms

Activity statement – Hanami is the ages-old Japanese tradition of celebrating the brief but magical blooming season of Sakura. People love to gather under the blossoms day and night, enjoying everything from picnics to festivals. Japanese artists have paid homage to the Sakura with a traditional form of painting like the one you see below.

A painting of Sakura, or Japanese cherry blossoms
A painting of Sakura

Cherry trees are magnificent all year round, as their trunks and branches alone have such curious shapes to them, especially the weeping variety. This is why our approach to forming the trunk and branches via blowing paint through a straw is so much fun and so satisfying: it really mimics the organic, meandering shape of a cherry tree’s trunk and branches. Before actually working on the trunks, students will simply practice blowing the paint through the straws on scratch paper so as to get an idea for the way they need to align the straw, how they need to blow (the first attempts always look like fireworks or sea urchins, the way they just explode out—this is caused by students both holding the straw straight up and down and blowing too hard—this delights them to no end, however); eventually, after some practice, they are able to guide the paint in the direction they want so that it looks more like a tree trunk with expanding branches. (Note: to get them started, I add a little puddle of the paint with a dropper—sometimes a mixture of ink, paint and water to make it more fluid—at the bottom of their sheets of paper to get them started.) We will observe the way the resulting lines and shapes can imply a tree’s texture, comparing smoother, straighter lines and shapes to those that come out more jagged and rambling, all while expressing how they imagine the feel of these different shapes would be.

Once this part of the cherry tree has dried, students will mix red and white paint to get a variety of pinks, experimenting with adding more and more white to the red and getting paler pinks to add among more bold spots of pink. As they do this, ask them to predict what they think will happen when you add white to red, and what will happen the more you add white. They get to choose how to “paint” the blossoms: with their fingers, Q-tips or a paint brush (or a combination), depending on the kind of texture they seek.

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • How line and shape can indicate texture
  • What adding white to color will do to that color

Know:

  • The terms Sakura and Hanami

Be able to:

  • Steadily guide paint using their breath through a straw
  • Create various shades of pink mixing red and white
  • Express different blossom textures using various tools

Objectives – Students will: Direct paint while breathing through a straw to create a tree trunk and branches, then mix red and white paint to create varying shades of pink for cherry blossoms.

Resources and materials –

  • Photos of Japanese cherry trees, both in bloom and bare, as well as images of paintings of Sakura.
  • 9×12 paper (I like for students to experiment with different weights and textures, from watercolor paper to rice paper, just to get a feel for how that guides the paint while they blow through the straw)
  • Black paint, watered down (I sometimes add ink to this mixture)
  • Dropper
  • Straws
  • Red paint
  • White paint
  • Thin paint brushes
  • Q-tips
  • Palettes or palette paper for mixing paint

Questions –

  • What happens in the springtime?
  • What do you like about spring?
  • Why do you think people in Japan celebrate Hanami? How would you celebrate Hanami?
  • (While looking at examples of Japanese cherry blossom paintings): How do you think this trunk would feel like in real life? Why do you say that? What in the painting of the trunk makes you think it feels (X) way?
  • How do you make pink?
  • What would you do if wanted a lighter pink?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand the expression of texture via line and shape?
  • Understand how to create varying shades of pink mixing red and white?
  • Practice ways in which to direct the paint blowing through a straw?
  • Use the word texture appropriately in conversation?

Informal:

  • Group discussions
  • Oral and responses to essential questions
  • At least one finished piece
This is one 1st grade student's straw-guided tree trunk before adding the cherry blossoms.
This is one 1st grade student’s straw-guided tree trunk before adding the cherry blossoms. In fact, the student liked the way the trunk looked all by itself, and decided not to add the cherry blossoms–a legitimate artistic choice!
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms (as mentioned before, I like for students to experiment with different types of paper to see how the paint glides differently across different formats)
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade - Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade – Japanese Cherry Blossoms
1st grade student applying the blossoms with her fingers
1st grade student applying the blossoms with her fingers
1st grade students applying the blossoms with their fingers
1st grade students applying the blossoms with their fingers

2 thoughts on “1st Grade – Sakura: Japanese Cherry Blossoms…through a straw!

  1. I enjoyed seeing the artistic diversity and skill in the samples you shared! Each one is so unique and a different perspective on the Sakura. Thanks!

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