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Mask Making at Reed Elementary

November 23, 2011

By Laura Slotkoff, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Reed Elementary School

Glitter, feathers and markers flew around the room as they all shouted excitedly, “Mine is blue and purple! Mine’s going to be all red!”  These were my second through eighth grade students in the photography after school program, all having a great time as they decorated their own masks. It is challenging to find a project that is appropriate and enjoyable for all ages, so I was thrilled by its success. Every student was absorbed in the creative process, chatting with each other, comparing techniques. Students walking by were even drawn in by the excitement and wanted to create their own.

I showed them some example photographs of people in masks, and one student commented on how not being able to see someone’s face adds an air of mystery. I had them try to incorporate that into their own photographs. Once the masks were dry, they took them outside and ran around with them, photographing each other and swapping masks.

I did some research which led to one of the most fascinating aspects of the project. I asked where they thought masks came from and why they were worn. “New Orleans for Mardi Gras, of course,” said one fifth grader, looking at me as though I was crazy for not knowing. “Actually, masks are worn in all parts of the country and the world, and were worn long before New Orleans even existed!” I told them. “It was brought to New Orleans by French settlers, because at that time it was really popular for the French to have big dances called Masquerade Balls where everyone wore masks. They used to be worn to guard off ghosts and spirits, which is why we wear them on Holloween.” Their reaction was that the stories I told them about masks were much too interesting to be real “history.”

I was also surprised by their answer when I asked, “How long ago do you think the first mask was ever worn? Think really far back, it’s a long time ago!” “10 years?” came the response of a sixth grader. “No, think way farther back than that!” “Fifteen years? Twenty?!” The disbelief on their faces when I said that, “The oldest known mask dates back to 7000 B.C. That’s thousands of years ago!” It really struck me how small their world is. It is wonderful to see them open up to new ideas and places they’ve never thought of, and how it relates to them and their world.  Every moment is a teachable moment, and I love those chances to expand on their world and see their interest in something new unfold.

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