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December 10, 2013

Taan's Moons: Create

Artist Kiki van der Heiden and writer Alison Gear worked with 70 children on Haida Gwaii children for the Taan's Moons project, an exploration of the traditional Haida ways of describing the months of the year. The children are engaged in language arts activities including felt board stories, memory card games and writing exercises, as well as math exercises, movement, drama and many felting and drawing activities. Photographer Jason Shafto is documenting the process. Artist Kiki van der Heiden shares her story with us...

Read Kiki van der Heiden's previous post about Taan's Moons.

November has been a busy month for the Taan's Moons project. Alison and I went back to each of the six schools to continue our work with the Kindergarten (some mixed grades) classes. Thirteen large circular felted pieces, incorporating Alison's story of each moon, have been created with the children of the six elementary schools of Haida Gwaii.


This session had a different flow from the second session. Instead of working together with the whole class on each activity, we worked simultaneously in small groups on different activities. While Kiki worked with three or four students at a time to create the felt pieces from start to finish, Alison, the teachers and volunteers worked with the other groups of students on related activities. Rotation of activities would happen quite naturally, when children were done an exercise or when the activity would not hold their attention any longer.

Familiar activities

We brought some activities we had used in session two, like the felt board story and the memory card game, to deepen the children's understanding of the story and embedding new words. But before we started with any of those activities, we began each day with 'warming up our imagination'. As this was the third time the children moved through the story with their bodies, we could really see how much they had learned in those sessions. For example, they remembered and understood the newly introduced words and concepts like 'hibernating' and 'migrating'.

The Haida youth dance group under guidance of Tyler Crosby returned to the schools and this time the whole school participated:

New activities

We brought new activities to the classrooms this month. One of these was a creative writing exercise where the children were invited to create their own bear story. They came up with all sorts of stories, weaving their own personal experiences into the story. This is an example from one of the students in Masset, who had been surfing during the weekend: 

One winter night, in the late, late night, Taan went surfing before the sun came up. There was a big big snake in front of Taan in the water. It was actually an eel. It was surprising to see a snake in the water, even though it was an eel. Taan said, "No surfing", because he actually thought the wave was too big. Taan decided not to surf anymore. Taan decided to climb up Mauna Kea instead every day. 

And another:

That's the moon and that's the bear eating berries and fish. The bear is also eating sea urchins. Because it gets cold, the bear hibernates. Then he wakes up in a new berry moon. He eats because he was hibernating. After that the bear was eating fish.

Another activity was based on the felted berries the children had made during session two. We brought the book 'Wild Berries' by Julie Flett, a beautiful story about a little boy who goes berry picking with his grandmother. Story time is such an important part of the Kindergarten daily routine, and this book fitted perfectly into our project. After listening to the story, the children were invited to sort, count and string the felt berries.

Song and dance were incorporated into the day to release energies or when attention spans scattered:

In the afternoons we introduced the Taan's Moons felt playmat, which has each month/moon represented and is created with wet-fetling and needle-felting techniques. This was a popular play station for the children.

Creation of the felted illustrations

While Alison engaged the children in the above mentioned activities with the help of teachers and volunteers, Kiki continuously worked with small groups of students to create the felt moons from start to finish.

We based the wool designs on the sketches created for each moon, which were inspired by Alison's story and the children's drawings.

We started out by laying out the wool and creating designs.

The felt roots and squares that the children created during session two were incorporated in the design.

Once the design was complete, we covered the piece with a polyester cloth and poured hot soapy water on top and started to rub with circular motions. A lot of rubbing was required.

Once the piece was firmly felted, we rolled it in a large bamboo mat (blind) to shrink and make it stronger:

Happy with the end results!

So much fun! I will post finished felt pieces once the photos have been taken by Jason.

We're sad the collaboration with the children has come to an end. But the project is far from finished. Many more stages are to follow; from creating a process book for the teachers, to exhibits of the felted moons at the ArtStarts Gallery (from April to August 2014) and at Haida Gwaii venues in the Fall of 2014. We are also in the process of working with a publisher to create a story book, to be published in the Fall of 2014! Lots of exciting Taan's Moons events in 2014 to look forward to.

We are so grateful for the support from ArtStarts in Schools, SD50 and Literacy Haida Gwaii to make this project a reality! Ha'awa!

Read Kiki van der Heiden's next post about Taan's Moons.

Read more guest blogs about Arts Integration in Action!

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