It was once believed that mathematics belonged to a rational, “left-brain” and art was in the realm of emotional, “right-brain” activity. The latest research, however, shows that brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. The pathways in the brain connect and overlap in complicated ways and there are many activities that integrate both cognitive and affective areas of mind.
According to an interesting article I found on the American Psychological Association website, in mathematically gifted children two sides of the brain work better together. For me the most important implication of this study is that better integration of the whole brain can be beneficial to all of us. This is great news because there are so many wonderful ways to merge math and art, if only you remember that math is more than manipulating numbers and art is more than painting, music, literature and dance.
In this fun activity I decided to concentrate on the subject of symmetry, which is not only one of the core mathematical concepts, but also a thoroughly fascinating area of exploration. Honeycombs, sunflowers, butterflies, your puppy, spider web, snowflakes are all examples of beautiful symmetry in the natural world around us. Once you talk with your kids about symmetry, you will open your child’s eyes to the natural beauty of the world around us.
To start with symmetry read a couple of children’s books and practice designing symmetrical objects. For my Star Wars crazed kids, I printed out a couple of Star Wars characters, cut them in half, glued them on a piece of paper and asked the kids to draw the other half.
Since the natural world is always a great source of inspiration, I decided to incorporate some nature into our study of symmetry and art. The first time we did this activity it was right after the winter was over and our backyard was filled with all kinds of beautiful nature materials. Twigs, branches, dry grass, dry leaves, pine cones, tree bark, …
Right now it’s the end of May and our backyard is all “beautified” by an extensive spring cleaning. We couldn’t find a twig out of place, so we went on a nature walk to collect as many materials as we could find. Even though there are many beautiful flowers in bloom right now, we decided not to pick any flowers because we wanted to create a collage that would last forever.
Teach Symmetry with Backyard Nature Collage
Strong glue, like wood glue
Shoe box cover, sturdy piece of cardboard or an old picture frame
Leaves, twigs, mulch, pine cones, grass, etc
(optional) puffy paint, fabric scraps, colored paper, scissors…
(optional) magnifying glass
Go on a nature walk with kids and pick lots of beautiful nature materials.
Shake the bounty out in the backyard and study it (maybe even with magnifying glass).
Talk about symmetry. I didn’t want to turn it into lecture, so I limited myself to saying that if you can take an object, bend it in two and one side mirrors the other side, then you have symmetry.
The line of symmetry is that line that divides an object in two. Sometimes you need to imagine that line.
An object can have more than one line of symmetry.
If your kids are older you can discuss the types of symmetry: radial, bilateral, and spherical.
Now tape a ribbon down the middle of your work space and practice creating symmetrical images. My son wanted to create a Star Wars scene.
He wanted to use beads for the sky as we couldn’t find anything in our backyard that is close to color blue.
Here is when the kids started to get wild in the swimming pool and I said, “let me take your artwork inside.” “Oh no! I’m not done yet!” my daughter said jumping out of the water to prettify her design. Then a few minutes later our cat jumped on the table and the design ended up on the floor. Tears, tears…
For our final project my daughter wanted to make use of dried grass and apple tree twigs to create something that she could give to daddy on Father’s Day. She wanted it to be something with flowers (but not real flowers as they wouldn’t last till Father’s Day). After a bit of deliberation we decided that yarn, fabric and paper are all natural things and are ok to be used in our project.
I tried crocheting some flowers, but I could not create two that were about the same and they were rejected. Next, we tried making paper flowers, but for some reason it wasn’t a good day for paper flowers for us. We didn’t make anything my daughter liked enough to use. I finally stumbled upon some scraps of fabric and we managed to turn them into decent imitations of flowers.
I just bunched up the fabric or folded it and sewed through it with a thread to keep in place.
If you would like to create a Nature Collage with us follow the instructions below.
Symmetrical Nature Inspired Collage for Father’s Day
NOTE: Remember to divide the work space in half and only do one half at a time for symmetry practice. I helped my daughter do the right half and then she did the second half on her own. The only thing I helped with was cutting a butterfly shape out of paper.
We used a piece of cardboard painted black for our background. If you choose to do so, paint now and let it dry overnight.
- Create sky. My daughter made a purple sky with puffy paint. You can use white cotton balls instead, if you like.
- Cover the bottom of the page with glue and attach some dried grass to it.
- Cut a twig in small sections and glue them on.
- Glue on the flowers (however you made them).
- Make a butterfly by cutting a butterfly shape out of colored paper. Fold the butterfly in two and cover one side of it with puffy paint or any other paint. Then close the wings together to create a mirror image.
- If your butterfly if very small and you don’t want to get paint on your fingers and smudge design, use twizzer to attach the butterfly to a glob of paint.
- Let your design dry.
- Now invite kids to create the other half all on their own.
- Let it dry overnight.
- Hang it on the wall or give it to a dear person as a present (Father’s Day is coming up.)
This Nature Collage/ Symmetry Lesson is part of a month long series on taking STEM outdoors!
Check out all the fantastic STEM ideas and activities here.