Red, white and drew

9th May 2008 at 01:00
A lesson about flags can prompt a discussion on identity and ethnicity, while splashing paint around. Matthew Friday picks up his brush
A lesson about flags can prompt a discussion on identity and ethnicity, while splashing paint around. Matthew Friday picks up his brush

I thought a Year 2 art lesson on painting flags would be easy. The concept certainly is: pupils select a flag of a country that has some meaning to them, and then paint a copy. A pre-booked ICT suite and your standard painting resources are all that is required. The result: a lovely, cross-curricular, contextualised lesson.

The tricky bit turned out to be the introduction. As I'm showing my first example, the Union Flag, and talking about what a flag represents, I'm asked by one girl, who was born in Wales, why there's no dragon - she really likes the dragon in the Welsh flag.

And what about Cornwall? Four pupils know that the county has its flag (white cross on a black background) because they have been on holiday there and stuck its flag in their sandcastles.

And what about Jersey? One boy knows the island because his dad keeps lots of money there so they don't have to pay taxes. And which bit of Ireland is in the Union Flag? Northern or Republic? If you want cross-curricular bonus points, you'll find out how, why and when the Union Flag was created. Needless to say, it's not a simple story.

But then nor is identity, especially British identity. That's the beauty of this lesson: you get to explore important issues with young children while splashing paint around. My pupils, aged six and seven, selected their flags based on a range of perceptions about themselves: the countries they have visited; the countries their parents or grandparents are from or countries they've heard of.

Interestingly, the lesson also demonstrates the economic background of the class. Some of the more affluent travellers have trouble making a choice - Australia or Cambodia? Whereas some have never left Wandsworth, let alone England.

With some guidance, every child is able to produce a flag that means something to them as individuals.

Plus, you can guide their understanding of cultural identity and re-direct any early germination of national stereotypes. For example, my Polish children are proud of their flag and not so keen on the German one.

My pupils find their flags on Google images, though our school server has failed to block photographs of buxom French women wearing bikinis designed with the French flag. I suppose some people just really love their country's flag.

Matthew Friday is a trainee teacher at the Initial Teacher Training Centre at Swaffield Primary School in Wandsworth, south London.


- Pre-cut the paper into rectangles that represent the flag, so pupils don't have to draw the edges.

- Suggest pupils draw any fiddly emblems and symbols on another sheet of paper, colour it in with pencils and then stick it on the flag once it is dry.

- Have a good stock of thin brushes for all that delicate painting work, or suggest they use the edge of a thick brush.

You know this lesson is going well when the children are talking about where they come from while painting.

You know it's time to pull the plug when everyone has picked just two flags and your classroom ends up like an international football match.

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