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Lesson 1

Lesson 2
Social Studies

Lesson 3
Visual Arts
Art Making

Lesson 4
Black History

Lesson 5
Black Artists

Lesson 6
Music & Dance

Lesson 7


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Lesson One: Why a museum about beads? What constitutes a bead?

Beads are small material representations of ancient and contemporary cultures. They are symbols of identity and status; they are used in barter and exchange; they are amulets and talismans, they are ornaments, and they are used in rituals and ceremonies. Beads are associated with linking people together in communities, and with making immediate statements about values, ideas and beliefs. (judy butzine, Youth Zone Editor,

Objectives: Benefits to Students--Students will:

  1. examine and explore the cultural and historical significance of the artworld** of beads and a bead museum.
  2. participate in a reading circle, whereby the literature read reinforces the universal human CONNECTION to the artworld of beads.
  3. discuss the concept that beads are referred to as one of the oldest material expressions of art and are representational forms of communication that aid in interpretation of suggested possible meanings.
  4. review the archeological literature that interprets beads as the first material forms of abstract thinking, thereby proving the essential link to language.
**artworld is a term defined by Dr. Mary Erickson and Dr. Faith Clover, art education professors, in an article titled, "Worlds of Art".

It is the desire of The Bead Museum Staff that a field trip to the museum will occur. Please contact Christy Puetz, Education Coordinator, (623) 931-2737

It is the desire of The Bead Museum Staff that a field trip to the museum will occur. Please contact Christy Puetz, Education Coordinator, (623) 931-2737

Background Information for Teachers

Quote:   Dr. Curtis W. Marean, Professor
Institute of Human Origins
Department of Anthropology
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona e-mail

An article in an ASU Research News Brief publication from the College of Liberal Arts documented a dig in Africa that Dr. Marean had actively participated on and its findings. Ostrich eggshell beads were identified along with Stone Age objects at a site in the Serengeti Plain, Tanzania, Africa. "Beads were not previously believed to be present in the Middle Stone Age and nothing like this has been published in Africa." The chronology of these beaded forms is still being considered, but it is believed that they predate the other known beaded artifacts of over 35,000 years in age. When asked what the possible significance of these beaded forms was, Dr. Marean's reply is as follows:

"As a means to bodily adornment, I think beads are clearly an expression of symbolic activity. What exactly that symbolic activity may be varies by culture, and is contextual to a people, time and place. So I would be a bit more guarded about suggesting universals about the meaning of beads. Our main concern is that they are a clear indicator of symbolic thought, and such thought is mandatory in language." (e-mail, to Bead Museum, 6/24/04)

Beads are very diverse in their materials and Uses:


Interview between a Bead Museum Staff Member and Alany (an individual living in the greater Phoenix community), October 7, 2004.

Bead Museum Staff Member: One of the things we talked about was making this lesson unit more of a story than rote memory for the students. What I would like to do is ask you some questions to develop your bead story. Is this okay?

Alany: Yes

Staff: By including this interview into Lesson One, Why a Museum about Beads? I would like to get your views of, "Why, you, Alany, came to The Bead Museum?"

Alany: I first came to the museum because of my love of beads! I felt drawn to them.

Staff: How did your journey begin to evolve from your first visit?

Alany: It started because I realized I had this enjoyment of beads; and I enjoyed creating my own jewelry designs. The jewelry sets I saw and sometimes bought from the stores did not reflect the type of jewelry designs that appeal to me. It would never fail that I would bring the jewelry home, try it on again, and take the beads apart and reassemble them back into designs I liked. I first heard of the store and decided to come for a visit. And after coming several times I discovered that there was an entire museum hidden away in this space.

Staff: What did you get out of coming into the museum that you did not know before?

Alany: First of all, I learned how wide and diverse the whole concept of beads and people using beads is, and the "CONNECTION" to the Human Experience. I knew I was drawn to beads; but I did not have a concrete idea of "Why". I really believe that everything about an individual has a rationale. We may not understand it at the moment, but over a period of time things click. Everything from my hairstyle to what I wear, to the person I married, to the way my children have evolved is a pattern of personal values, ideas and beliefs.

Staff: So this is about YOU, You being Special and Unique. And the beads being a visual expression of you and what you want to project to those whom you come in contact with.

Alany: Yes, and by coming here I actually began to find out more about myself. I was drawn to the history of beads. And now several of my relatives have come here with me. I had an aunt who was visiting back in the spring.

Staff: What information did she walk away with that one might not expect?

Alany: The history of beads. It was something particular in one of the exhibitions that presented the idea of the need to adorn yourself. And how this desire is the same now, as it was thousands of years ago. So our desires/needs do not really change as the centuries go on. It is this same human need; and it is a universal human need. And it is a connection. So whether or not you actually thought about it before, when you come to the museum, it becomes an up close and personal experience.

Staff: I love the idea where you use the "Circle of Life" from the Lion King and how you have explained it with the bead and your diagram. The hole on the interior of the bead is a circle. It is unbroken. When there is a gap in the circle the bead can no longer be strung. This is definitely a wonderful visual metaphor for the children about life.

Alany: Yes. I like using this theme because it is something familiar to most children and is easy to understand. There is a scene in the movie where the father, Mufasa, tells his son, Simba, that they are all living beings within the "Circle of Life" and are intended to be responsible beings that give rather than just take. Then, one day, when they die, they will continue to be part of that continuous "Circle of Life".

Staff: In the museum we also talk about the circle on the inside of the bead. The bead by its simple design, with a hole in the center, is intended to be strung. Beads can be seeds, shells, rocks, bottle caps, etc or priceless gemstones. The object becomes a bead because the bearer gives significance and meaning to it. We can term this focused intent, a sense of "spirit" or "awe", locked inside the circular hole. All of this discussion has to do with the idea of context or connection: the meaning of a bead or beadwork depending upon the culture, time and place where it appears. In this lesson unit we are discussing beads and beadwork in the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, a country located on the western coast of Africa.

Staff: Alany, you have taken the bead experience into classrooms for both adults and children. Can you talk about that experience a little?

Alany: I was first asked to come into a school and speak with adults who were exploring multicultural education. They wanted to learn more about the differences between the cultures, as well as the conflicts that sometime emerge between cultures. Then, I was asked to talk about my beaded jewelry designs, my collection of beads and how beads connect to the multicultural experiences. Well, I told them, beads are a lot like people. We may not look at it that way, but beads are diverse. When I am creating jewelry designs, I don't simply use one type of bead to achieve my design. I select new beads, old beads, multi-colored beads, small beads, large beads, smooth beads and rough beads to achieve my designs. No matter how many different designs, shapes, and sizes of beads I put together, I come up with a different design every time. The possibilities are endless, no matter how many times I do it. Then, I told the class how the same concept works with people-we are all different and we all have a story to share. When you bring all of us together-our talents, our life experiences, our potential, our stories- the possibilities are endless!

Staff: So the beads become a means to tell a story about not only another culture, but a personal story as well.

Alany: Yes.

Staff: Thank you so much Alany, for your contribution to our reader's understanding of the world of beads.

The Bead Museum mounts displays in local libraries.

Teacher/Student Activity:
The teacher reads the story One Small Blue Bead by Byrd Baylor. The book's story illustrates the connection and meaning Alany and I have been discussing.

A youth meets a young boy from a different tribe/clan and an important moment of connection through the exchange of One Small Blue Bead from one youth to another occurs. The bead becomes a token of communication and sharing. The boy who receives the bead wears it with pride and a sense of thankfulness for the old man's safe return with a new friend.

Expanding upon the concept of the bead as a metaphor to communicate ideas and beliefs: In the August 2000, Archeology magazine there is an article about the skeleton of a youth, about 12-14 years found in Africa, that is approximately 30, 000 years old. Around his neck was a pierced seashell and around his head were antelope teeth that had been drilled and worn. It is speculated that the shell was a symbol of adornment and the antelope teeth, a material representation of the need to connect to the fast pace of the antelope so the boy could run faster in the hunt for food.

Each teacher or librarian will present this children's story from their own teaching perspective. Some guidelines are as follows (the background information has been presented):

At The Bead Museum this book is presented as a parable** because it so beautifully tells the story of One Small Blue Bead and the truth and power of the bead.
**parable - a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, moral lesson or other abstract meaning through the action of fictitious characters that serve as symbols . Random House, Webster's College Dictionary, 1992.

  1. Talk about the author and illustrator:
    An Arizona resident, Byrd Baylor, who lives in an adobe house in the desert region surrounding Tucson, Arizona, writes this story. Most of her beautifully written and illustrated books are about local events, past and present, concerning children who are American Indian. Even though she primarily writes children's literature, the themes are universal and timeless in the messages conveyed.

    The reader may want to talk about the illustrator and the images.

  2. The book is presented in a reading circle whenever possible.
    This circle is called "The Circle of Power" and is compared to the communal story telling circle where all ages sit and listen to a storyteller in the evening around a fire. Many times the society of individuals listening to the storyteller are hearing a message that reveals ideas and beliefs woven into a myth or parable that brings a lesson about life to the community.

    This book is likened to a modern day storyteller's message.

  3. The Bead Museum educational staff has identified three universal themes in the story. (The teacher presenting the reading may choose to acknowledge other interpretations.)

    • Many people have an internal yearning to venture to far off places whether for personal survival, knowledge or adventure. (The old man's quest to find other people, as well the clan's need to find another source of food for their survival.)

    • Hope that one holds onto in times of angst. The hope in this story seems to be supported by hard work and positive actions to bring resolve to a situation of concern. (The young cave boy does not just sit around hoping for the man's safe return. He works hard to take over the chores of the wander. He also seems ready to accept the possibility that the old man may not return and the clan must move on without him.)

    • The bead as a material form of communication. The blue bead, no larger than an apple seed, is a symbol of a material connection and friendship in the exchange between the two youth. The blue bead is also special and unique and is viewed with "awe" due to its beautiful, clear color. (The idea that an object can instill a feeling of "awe", or appear to contain a spirit.)

  4. Before beginning the reading it is ideal that each child receive a small, blue bead to hold. This stimulates the sense of touch and fingering, which naturally occurs when one uses beads as a means to focus, as in thoughtful meditation.

  5. Each page is read and the pictures shown as the story progresses. At the end, inquiry ensues about the understanding of the uses and meaning of beads. What are a couple of the other themes? Hope and the desire to seek out new places. The teacher/facilitator guides the discussion having read all the art history information provided at the beginning of this lesson plan.

  6. Hopefully some of the bead images have been downloaded and are available on a poster board.

  7. At the participating schools beaded objects will be on exhibition in the library or visual arts room.

Student Outcomes:

  1. The children may be asked to go home and ask their family members if there are any beads in their possession that have special meaning and importance.
  2. The children may be encouraged to return with these stories and/or the beads for discussion in class.

To end this lesson plan the teacher/facilitator introduces the Yoruba Social Studies Unit with a couple of the Yoruba beaded artworks pictured here.