Have you heard of Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist? This multicultural art lesson on Diego Rivera for kids includes a beautiful, collaborative art project perfect for classrooms and large groups! Teaching kids about famous artists can not only be fun, but can result in beautiful artwork.
We used to do these mural projects every year when I taught Spanish in high school, and the results were always stunning and eye-catching. Hanging in the foreign language hallways we would always get comments from teachers, and see students linger by. I recently tried the project with younger kids (ages 4-10) and we loved it. This is a group collaboration, and in our case half of the artists worked on it in Houston, Texas, and then sent it to our Love Books Exchange counterparts in Indiana. I imagine doing this exchange between schools- maybe even in different countries!
Learn about Diego Rivera
Before you begin, of course learn a bit about famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He was born in 1886 in Mexico and from a very young age loved to paint huge murals. He studied art in Mexico and Europe, and developed his own style. He was very interested in helping indigenous people in Mexico to have a better life, and often painted them in his murals to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage; other themes included pre-Columbian history, struggles of the working class, and the clash of nature and technology. Discuss how murals are usually found in public places, and how they generally tell a story. Diego Rivera’s murals are found in Mexico and in the US (Detroit and New York City). At the end of the article you will find books, films, and web sites that are great resources to learn about Diego Rivera.
Make your own Diego Rivera Mural
STEP 1: Choose a mural
There are hundreds of murals to choose from, but I have chosen 3 rather simple murals that don’t contain too many small details (which will make it easier to replicate). Click on the picture above to print a small version of the image.
STEP 2: On the picture, draw a one inch grid
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the squares should be even. For example, if the math works out to be 1.5″ x 1.5″ that’s fine. Try to make the grid into squares with equal heights and lengths.
STEP 3: On the back side, number the squares left to right
Because you will be cutting out the squares, this will help you re-create the picture after the kids all work on their parts. Write down how many squares wide and tall your grid is (for example, this is 4×4) so it is easier to assemble. Using cardstock (for your actual mural) cut out the number of squares needed (in this case 16) and number them on the backs with an arrow facing up. We usually do 8×8″ squares (cut from an 8×11″ sheet of cardstock).
STEP 4: Cut apart the tiny squares and assign each one to a child. They should try to replicate the square on their paper.
We talked about trying to make the edges match the edges of the tiny square. For example, if there is a diagonal line that meets up at the edge halfway down the square, try to make the line on your square about halfway down. This will be important when you are piecing the large mural together. We used oil pastels to fill in the colors.
Step 5: Gather your squares together, and send them off to the cooperating class!
If you are doing the whole art project by yourself, within your class, you get to skip this part:).
Once you have all of the pieces colored in, you can use the numbers on the back to piece them together. If you are sharing it with another school, I suggest you each work on half of a different mural, and then swap in the mail. Then each school will end up with a masterpiece to hang up!
Additional Resources to Learn about Diego Rivera for Kids
Our favorite Diego Rivera Books:
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh is one of my go-to texts because it appeals to a wide range of ages, and gets kids thinking about Diego Rivera as a young boy. The back matter at the end of the book is extremely helpful to parents and teachers for further learning- I suggest previewing that first so you can add appropriate details as you share with the kids.
Diego by Jonah Winter is a short biography of this maser muralist, with excellent illustrations. Great for elementary-aged kids! I was able to find this in a bilingual version, so if you’re looking for a Spanish option this would be perfect.
My Papa Diego and Me/Mi papa Diego y yo: Memories of My Father and His Art/Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte by Guadalupe Rivera Marín is different than the other books because it is written by Rivera’s (and Frida Kahlo’s) daughter- what a cool perspective! It also stands out with its use of reproductions of Diego Rivera’s actual paintings and art work, described and told as a story. This is also available in the bilingual version.
Lesson Plans about Diego Rivera for Kids
Crayola has a lesson plan that uses street art and current events to compare and analyze murals of Diego Rivera for kids.
The Denver Public Schools system has a detailed lesson plan they geared for 3rd grade students all about Diego Rivera, integrating reading, writing, and art.
Older students and teachers might be interested in learning more at the PBS American Masters site. Ask students to answer the following questions:
- Where can Rivera’s work be found in the United States?
- What kinds of stories did Rivera tell in his paintings?
- Do you think Rivera’s painting, containing Lenin’s face, in the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center should have been destroyed? Why/why not?
Have you ever seen any of Diego Rivera’s murals in real life? How do you teach Diego Rivera for kids? How can we teach about other famous artists from around the world?