Sunday, December 2, 2012

1st Grade Paper Koinobori

My 1st grade East Asian lesson for Cultural Heritage Week was based on Japanese Koinobori. Koinobori are Carp Windsocks flown in celebration of Children's Day (May 5). Why carp? While in the US carp are an invasive species and undesirable, in Japan, they are respected. Carp are thought to have qualities that Japanese families hope their children will possess- they are spirited, energetic, strong, and determined. Apparently Children's Day used to be known as "Boy's Day" but I read somewhere that it is now used to celebrate the health of ALL children. 
Our Koinobori are not authentic (obviously), more inspired by Koinobori. There are traditions of certain colors of Koinobori being flown to represent different family members, and most do not have streamers for tails. Since we don't have wind inside and I wanted the students to understand they are windsocks, I decided to go ahead and use crepe paper streamers for movement.
Some of the Art teachers in my district ordered Koinobori kits that had the paper shaped like a carp so the students could just add their designs. Since my schedule means I have to make my budget stretch twice as far, we used construction paper, tempera paint, glue sticks, and crepe paper streamers. I picked up 6 or 7 big rolls of streamers at Hobby Lobby in different colors and have enough left to be a good start if we do this lesson again next year. The pattern we used is to the left. I just experimented a bit until I found a method that worked well. The template I came up with is on the left.
On the first day, we got started by looking at some pictures of Koinobori, finding Japan on a map, talking about the symbolism, and then talking about the design elements. After the introduction, the students painted the eyes and patterns to represent scales, using whatever colors of paper and tempera paint they wanted. Well, almost any color they wanted. I let students chose any color of construction from a variety pack except black or brown and set out paint in each primary and secondary color. I gave a quick demo so I could demonstrate paintbrush care and control. We did not draw the designs in pencil first, just jumped right in with paint. I did draw the pattern really big on the board to remind the students about the eye placement. The eyes should be centered close to the top, about 1/3 in from each side. I demonstrated sort of a wavy line but the students could use any kind of line. Some really got into making patterns and using as many different kinds of lines as they could think of. Most students didn't have any trouble getting all the painting done in one class period and I was really impressed with their care in using good craftsmanship! If I noticed a student was painting a little slowly, I suggested that they use one color for all the lines and more colors for the extra designs. I also made sure to remind the students not to give their fish a mouth- in the second class period the paper is formed and the hole becomes the mouth!
In the second class period, the students glued crepe paper streamers in place. You need two short streamers for the fins, a medium streamer for the dorsal fin, and 4-5 longer streamers for the tail. We folded the fin streamers in half and used a glue stick to glue in place (look at the pattern above for placement) and glued the longer tail streamers from the back. I am so glad that one of the Paraeducators saw me measuring and cutting the streamers, though I wish she would have seen me sooner because she gave me a tip that saved a TON of time! She suggest that I tape an end and wrap the streamers around a chair back a bunch of times, then cut. This allowed me to quickly cut a bunch to the same length! I ended up using 1/2 of the loop for long streamers* and cutting the other halves in half again for the shorter streamers. Just try the chair thing and experiment until you find the right length. *Because I ended up hanging these on the top strip in the hallway, I did have to trim the tail streamers to prevent them from covering other artwork.
If a student missed the first class period, they used crayons or markers to make their design on construction paper before gluing the streamers. I asked the students to neatly write their names on the front now that the paint was dry so I wouldn't have to try to look down the center to find the names later. The next part is where an extra helper or volunteer would come in really handy. As the students finished gluing their streamers, they got in line so I could staple their fish for them. Older students would probably be able to staple their own. I experimented with changing the placement of the staples to give the koinobori a little shape. I basically just wrapped the tail end a tiny bit tighter. After I stapled, the students were given a long piece of yarn to thread through the center of their cylinders and tie in a knot. I showed how to tie the not and if a student was struggling, they got help from another student who was a masterful knotter. 
Potential "management issues" with this project
  • Where to store the koinobori? I have a giant box turned "picture frame" in my room that we used as a fish tank until I found time to photograph the projects and hang them in the hallway. 
  • Photographing the projects- if you use Artsonia, you'll definitely want to photograph these but it can be a bit tricky. When I photograph 2D artwork for Artsonia, I have a list of my roster and after checking the students' name on the back, I flip it over and photograph with the name on the roster just above the list so that it can be cropped later. With regular 3D work like clay pieces, I write names on strips of paper and set the names within the frame of my camera. For work that has to hang, my best solution was to hang it on a magnetic hook on my chalkboard and erase names when I was done with each.
  • Hanging the work- These would look awesome hanging from the ceiling... but there were potential problems with fire codes and motion detectors. Plus, moving a tall ladder to hang approximately 120 koinobori in the hallway did not seem feasible. I just ended up hanging the projects by stapling the yarn  to my bulletin board strips.
Try this lesson! The students loved making the projects and learning a little about Children's Day in Japan. Plus, if your curriculum focuses on the elements of Art, this is a fun way to cover "Line".


  1. These are so wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

  2. These are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your template too! I can't wait to try this next year.