One of the most exciting things about teaching social studies is the ability to bring it to life in the classroom! Fifth graders love learning about Native American groups and their unique cultures, distinct languages, beliefs, traditions, and dress. They are often amazed to learn that even though they learn about pre-Columbian Native American regions, many of the tribes they are learning about have ancestors who are still practicing these traditions, and these Native American groups are very much alive today.
One of the tribes we learn about is the Navajo tribe in the Desert Southwest region of the United States. Students learn about the Navajo nomadic way of life, clothing, food, spiritual beliefs, and above all, the importance of art and storytelling within their culture. Stories are passed down from generation to generation as a way to keep their culture and traditions alive. Shonto Begay is a nationally known Navajo author, poet, children’s book illustrator, and fine artist. Shonto is a born storyteller, who grew up listening to his father, a Navajo Medicine Man, tell the ancient stories of his people. Shonto tells these stories through his paintings, which are featured in museums around the country - including our very own James Museum. We were unable to go to the James Museum because of Covid-19, but that didn’t stop us from bringing Shonto Begay and the James Museum to us!
"Shonto Begay is someone who can make you feel happy
no matter what you are feeling." -Carter Irvin
Our 5th and 7th grade students were able to meet Shonto Begay in his home in Arizona through a Zoom meeting set up by the James Museum. Shonto is a kind, gentle soul who shared with us the inspiration behind his paintings, which are largely drawn from the beauty and nature around him, his Navajo upbringing as a sheep herder, as well as the harsh reality of modern reservation life. Shonto gave us a sketch demonstration and explained his techniques, showed us the cover of this next book, and also spent time answering our questions. His message to the kids was simple - Art Saves Lives. Life can get complicated and hard, especially in these uncertain times. Pick up a pencil and draw something - you never know where it will take you!
"I love how there is meaning behind every piece of art he makes,
I thought that was really cool." -Addie Oakes