Use this guide to explore VMFA’s galleries and engage with the art. Then create a work of art at home inspired by what you saw! A printer friendly PDF of this resource can be found here: Early Childhood Lesson Concept: Animals! (PDF).
Animals are an important part of our world. They make us laugh, they help us learn to care for others, they live all over the world and in different environments – and you can find many of them at VMFA!
To begin, ask your child what they know about animals– their coverings (fur, scales, feathers), their features (eyes, ears, noses, tongues, tails), what sounds they make, and other important aspects that make them unique (what they eat, drink, or like to play with).
Did you know that phrasing your questions a certain way can make children think and strengthen their cognitive development and observational skills? Try asking open-ended questions that spark creative responses rather than questions that result in Yes or No answers.
One of the tools we use to engage our students is enrichment activities – songs, games and materials that invite children to explore the objects in a deeper capacity. We invite you to do the same! Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
Enter the museum through the main entrance and travel up the glass elevator to the third floor. Turn right out of the elevator and then left into the South Asian Art Gallery. You all will enter a room filled with stone sculptures that once lived in temples throughout India.
At the center of the room you will find Ganesha seated on a throne. Ganesha is an elephant headed deity and one that children love to visit! As you all observe Ganesha, invite your child to tell you what they notice about him.
Gallery Action Rhyme: We often sing songs and rhymes in the galleries and you are welcome to do so as well! This is a wonderful action rhyme that we love to sing when we talk about this sculpture: Five Elephants in the Bathtub.
When you are ready to continue on your tour, head through the South Asian Gallery making your way past the Garden Pavilion and the Howdah (you all may enjoy looking at how the Howdah would sit on the elephant and the decadent textures and mythical animals on the object). In the last room of the South Asian Galleries you will see an exit. This will lead into the South Asian Lounge with sculptures like Padmasambhava and a wonderful view of Boulevard.
When you walk to the right of the room, you will be able to look down upon the Large Leaping Hare –and you will have spotted our second work of art! Before you head down the elevator to see it up close take a moment to gaze at it from above. In the corner of the room the glass runs down to the floor so your child should be able to stand on his/her own to see him and then you are welcome to lift your child up to view his nose, ears and back from directly above as you walk closer to the elevator.
Take the elevator down to the 2nd level to get a closer look at the hare!
The artist, Barry Flanagan, loved to watch hares run through the chalk hills of England. He was inspired to use this subject to make many different sculptures.
This sculpture depicts an important animal in Ancient China. Camels are very special, unique animals. They store fat in their humps and can live without water for 6-10 days! They have a third, clear eyelid and they have two rows of long lashes that protect their eyes from blowing sand. Sand up the nose can be a problem, but not for camels- they can shut their nostrils during sand storms.
Gallery Action Song: Here is an exciting song to go along with this desert animal: Alice the Camel.
Exit the Ancient Chinese gallery and enter the Cochrane Court (the large echoing room with the The Four Seasons mosaic in it.) Find the doorway that is protected by a pair of Guardian Lions and inside this gallery you will find the last animals we are featuring!
Monju (Bodhisattva Manjusri) on Lion (pictured on the left), and Fugen (Bodhisattva Samantabhadra) on Elephant (nearby in the gallery) are the most important bohdisattvas of East Asian Buddhism in the Heian period. Monju represents wisdom as he sits upon a lotus blossom which rides on the saddle of a lion. Fugen rides an elegant elephant which embodies sensory perception and royal power.
Gallery Action Song: Here’s a song to sing with fabric leaves!
Lions and Tigers
(Sung to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down)
Lions and tigers go peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo,
Lions and tigers go peek-a-boo, lions and tigers
Lions and tigers come out to play, out to play, out to play,
Lions and tigers come out to play, lions and tigers
Lions stand up and tigers sit down, tigers sit down, tigers sit down,
Lions stand up and tigers sit down, lions and tigers!
Forest elephants are found in jungles and rain forests! They are smaller than the elephants that live in Africa. Learn more here.
After your visit to the museum, create your own animal artwork! Remember that some children may create a recognizable animal, but others may create a creature that is unique to themselves. They may press the clay in many different ways and enjoy the process of manipulating the material. The process is more important than the outcome. Allowing children to create their art with the freedom to make their own choices builds confidence and independence. We encourage this and hope that you will too! Learn more about the benefits of process based art here.
Here are some suggested books that relate to this resource:
Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Camels Have Humps (Tell Me Why?) by Susan Heinrichs Gray
Jazzy in the Jungle by Lucy Cousins
If You’re Happy and You Know It (Jungle Edition) by James Warhola
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney