Teach art & music using the environment

Sights and sounds - interweaving art, music and environmental education

Throughout history, the environment has been a powerful source of inspiration for visual artists and musicians. From the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, France, to Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, to a modern-day kindergartner drawing lollipop flowers beneath a puff-clouded sky, nature had long found expression in sounds, shape, texture and color.

Art and music inspire environmental awareness and appreciation, too. "America the Beautiful," Vivaldi's Four Seasons symphony, an intricate sculpture, or a simple sketch all focus attention on the natural environment and inspire us to nurture and care for it.

You can make art and music part of your environmental education efforts in many ways. Drawing or painting helps children see and internalize detail in the world around them. Music evokes mental pictures of scenes in nature and reinforces the link between the outdoors and positive, uplifting feelings. Both art and music reinforce knowledge by helping embed concepts in young minds through the use of multiple senses.

Some ideas for weaving art and music into environmental education (and vice versa!):

  • Use nature as a model for art concepts. Go outdoors on a bright spring day and talk about the different greens you see. Take crayons and paper on a hike and capture the textures of bark, stones, leaves or twigs.
  • Explore how various orchestral instruments mimic sounds of nature: timpani as thunder, a harp as flowing water, a flute as a bird.
  • Use natural objects-grass, bits of bark, twigs, sand, seed pods, and so on-to create art project rich in texture and form.
  • Play music and have students draw their mind's scene. Invite individuals to share their creations. Talk about how the music made them feel. Does nature make them feel that way? What does that say about the role of forests, water and fields in our lives?
  • Hold a nature concert. Make a shaker from stones, tap two sticks together, use a grass blade for a whistle, find other ways to make music with other natural objects. Put them all together and listen to the results!
  • Intertwine lessons on color and nature. Talk about how color is used in art: to create mood, to highlight, to obscure. Talk about how color is used by animals: to hide, to attract mates, to regulate temperature and so on.
  • Meet a master. Visit an art museum or local exhibition of art exploring the environment..
  • After studying an environmental topic, choose a common tune and have students rewrite the lyrics to reflect their new-found knowledge edge.
  • Try fish and/or leaf printing. Paint one side of the object with tempera paint. Lay art paper or newsprint over it, pressing to transfer the image to paper. As you work, talk about biological structure and function.

(From Winter 2001 Interconnections)