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This Art and Social Studies lesson is on Navajo Sand Paintings


Art, Social Studies  


3, 4, 5  

Title – Navajo Sand Paintings
By – Jamie Rettke
Subject – Social Studies, Art
Grade Level – 3-5

Time available for this lesson: about 60 minutes

Web pages originally used for this lesson are no longer available (but may not be needed).

Subject matter: Navajo Sand Paintings

Media: 1. Colored sand2. Cardboard w/natural colored sand

3. Pencils  4. Glue

5. Paint brushes 6. Paper plate/blank paper

Possible Integrations:

Psychology – Navajo Indians used sand painting in order to heal the sick and mentally ill.  We will explain how psychology involves the mentally ill and how we can help cure them with sandpaintings.

Mathematics – using geometric shapes.  Discuss the different shapes with their names.

Geography – use of a map to show New Mexico and the reservation in Shiprock.

Reading/Poetry – read a short story, Arrow to the Sun and/or poems.  Use large Indian Artwork book to show other examples.  Have available for children to look at, at a later time.

Music – while children are doing the sandpaintings, traditional Navajo chants and songs will play in the background.

Writing : Allow students to write a short story or paragraph about their sandpaintings and what it means to them.

How will you use a map? A map will be used to show that Joe Ben Jr. is from Shiprock, NW

Vocabulary words: 1. Sandpainting 2. Navajo Indians

3. New Mexico 4. Joe Ben Jr.


1.                    The students will recognize traditional sand paintings from other Indian artwork

2.                   The students will be able to use and explain some symbols and geometric shapes

3.                   The students will have some knowledge of the history of Joe Ben Jr. and sandpaintings

Motivational Activities:

1.                    Visuals – Map showing New Mexico, examples of artists works; examples of other sand paintings

2.                   Musical – Traditional Navajo chants and songs

Looking At and Taking about Art: (about 15 minutes total)

à Organization – have students gathered around bulletin board

  1. Visuals

a.        Small pictures of sandpaintings by Joe Ben, Jr. and other Navajos

b.       Map of US showing New Mexico, where Joe Ben lived on the Reservation. Have a student find New Mexico.

  1. Open Ended Questions

a.        What are traditional sandpaintings used for?

b.       Describe some of the symbols and shapes used in sand paintings.

c.        Where else would you find symbols?

d.       Tell me something you learned about Joe Ben Jr.

e.        What other ways can you use sand in art?

Steps of passing out and making Activities (about 30 minutes total)

  1. Steps to Sandpainting

a.        draw a picture first on a piece of paper then on the sand covered cardboard

b.       with a paintbrush, gently dab glue onto one color’s surface area

c.        sprinkle colored sand on wet glue

d.       tap cardboard lightly to knock off excess sand; replace sand into bowl

e.        do this for each color separately

  1. Steps to pass out materials  (in groups of 4)

a.        Have helpers come collect materials for their group

b.       Teachers pass out colors to each group of 4 children at a table

Clean up (about 5 minutes)

  1. Have a teacher’s helper from each table collect brushes and bring up extra sand. 
  2. Throw away plates and papers.

Assessments (about 15 minutes or possibly next day)

  1. Show various Native American Sand Paintings, traditional and modern.  Have students compare and contrast the works
  2. Have students explain the symbols used in their sand paintings
  3. Have the students tell us something they learned about Joe Ben Jr.
  4. Use of open ended questions


Sandpaintings Points

Student Name:

Spelling of vocabulary words 1  2  3  4

Neatness – organization  1  2  3  4

Recognition of sandpaintings   4

Creativity  1  2  3  4

Know facts about Joe Ben Jr. 4

Use of symbols in Sandpainting 3  4

Use of the sacred colors (yellow, blue, black, white  1  2  3  4

  Total Points:

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