Carnival began in Italy hundreds of years ago as a costume festival. It was held just before Lent, when Catholics are not supposed to eat meat, and is named after "carnevale," which means "to put away the meat." Carnivals spread to Catholic countries throughout Europe and eventually to other parts of the world. Colourful masks and costumes add to the spectacle and often represent characters from local folklore and history. Learning about carnivals and masks is an effective way to help children understand and appreciate cultural diversity.
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Types of Masks
Masks may be full faces, partial faces with only the mouth exposed, or just cover the eyes. Smaller masks can be tied on with ribbon or attached to a stick and held up in front of the face. A variety of materials are used. Those meant to be worn are often constructed of paper mache, which is lightweight when it dries; masks intended as decorative items can be made of a heavier material such as ceramic.
Learn about Carnivals
Create a unit on carnivals held throughout the world, including their history and origin, common characters, and folklore surrounding them. Choose a carnival to support a unit on a particular country, language or culture, and teach about the foods and other traditions that take place during the carnival.
Have the students cut masks out of coloured poster board. Decorate the masks with crayons or paint in the traditional colours for a particular carnival -- purple and gold for Mardi Gras, for instance, or primary colours for masks worn in Latin American countries. The students can decide whether their mask will cover their eyes or all or part of their face. If the mask is to be held, glue it to an ice pop stick. Ask students to bring items from home to decorate the masks, including feathers, ribbons, decorative buttons, beads, sequins and other embellishments.
Have a Carnival
Learn about the foods, music and other customs associated with a particular carnival and hold a carnival day. Invite the children to make costumes to go with their masks and to bring traditional food and drink for the carnival, or make the dishes in class. Create a music unit to learn about carnival instruments and sounds and incorporate them into the celebration. Have children pose as traditional characters and re-enact carnival scenes that depict a culture's traditions or history.
Create a Display
Devote a wall or hall display case to carnivals and display the children's masks along with traditional costumes, beads, musical instruments and other carnival items. Include photos or posters of actual carnival scenes.
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