Dancing the Colors of Birds

Lesson Plan


Through interaction with Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug, the students will explore colors and rhythm through storytelling and dance.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 25—30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • identify at least three colors on Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug;
  • create a rhythm using percussion instruments; and
  • use movement and dance as a means of expressing an idea.


  1. Warm-up: Create a beat with any rhythmic instrument and have the children move around in response to the music. Encourage them to dance in ways that are enjoyable for them.
  2. Move the students into a circle. Hold up one color photocopy of Ason Yellowhair’s rug and pass around the other copies. Ask the children if they see any colors in the rug that they have seen before. Have them share what they see and point out the colors as they do so. Have the students take a colored feather that matches the color identified.
  3. Share with the students that the birds have special meaning for the artist who wove the rug. (According to Yellowhair, her birds “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”) Ask them how they feel when they see a bird or hear one singing.
  4. Share with the students that they are going to make rhythm music and dances that remind them of the birds in the rug and birds they have seen in nature. Have half the students use rhythm instruments to make sounds that remind them of birds; have the other half dance like birds or in a way that represents how birds make them feel. They should use the feathers in their dances. After an appropriate time, have the students switch their roles.
  • Older students could work in pairs to create the music and dance, and you could have each pair present their music and dance when they are finished.


  • One laminated 11’’ x 14” color photocopy of the rug for every four students, or the ability to project the image in color on a wall or screen (ideal)
  • One package of colored feathers (like those used for craft projects) with enough feathers for each child to have at least one of each color
  • Rhythm instruments or everyday objects the children can use to create rhythmic songs for their dances


  • About the Art sectoin on Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug (included with the lesson plan)


CO Standards

  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Bird and Cornstalk Rug

Bird and Cornstalk Rug


Ason Yellowhair, United States

Who Made It?

Ason Yellowhair is an accomplished weaver who lives on the Navajo Nation, an area that covers over 27,000 square miles of land, extending into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. In 2002, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. Yellowhair began weaving banded geometric designs and moved to pictorial rugs in the 1950s, eventually settling on her present style in the 1970s. She describes weaving as very hard work: “You perspire a lot. A man might work hard chopping wood, his shirt hanging out or maybe no shirt at all. It’s the same with weaving—very hard work.” Yellowhair has shared her skill with her family, teaching most of her daughters to weave when they were children, and continuing a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

What Inspired It?

This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. They are now sold to tourists, collectors, and museums. Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug is part of the DAM’s Gloria Ross Collection—a collection of Navajo rugs from the late 1900s.

The history of Navajo weaving is one of change and constant innovation. Navajos learned loom weaving sometime in the 1600s from neighboring Pueblo peoples. The art form was further enhanced by the introduction of sheep by the Spanish. Trade, tourism, and the art market have been an inspiration and influence for artists, and have made a major impact on Navajo weaving.


Rug Design
Rug Design

This rug follows the unique Yellowhair family style, which is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction.

Plant Stalks
Plant Stalks

Unidentified plant stalks are arranged in horizontal bands across the width of the rug. They are adorned with red, white, orange, and beige flowers. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on designs she saw on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers.


Although birds are significant in traditional Navajo religion, Yellowhair says her birds carry no specific sacred meaning, but “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”


The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.

Grey Background
Grey Background

Notice the uneven coloration of the grey background. The wool used to make this rug would have come from multiple batches that would have been individually dyed, resulting in slight variations in color between batches.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.