CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles

Students use washable paints, markers, and construction paper to illustrate a month from the traditional Mushkegowuk Cree Calendar (from the James Bay Lowlands).

Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 8


Art Techniques
Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts
First Nations, Metis, Inuit


background contrast foreground geometric shapes middle ground organic shapes pattern


Washable Paint Water Containers Scissors Paint Brushes Description of the traditional Cree Calendar (included) Construction Paper White Paper

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CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles - Step One

Step One

Choose a month from the Cree Calendar. Imagine the changes, cycles, and patterns in nature occurring in this month. Using a variety of colours brainstorm ideas about the month you have chosen in words and pictures. Record your ideas in your sketchbook or on a blank piece of paper.

CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles - Step Two

Step Two

Create a background for your chosen month using a pencil and ruler to make interesting patterns from geometric shapes. Use a variety of colours to paint each shape, make sure different colours are used on each shape creating contrast.

CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles - Step Three

Step Three

Draw an organic shape of an animal or plant included in the brainstorming activity on construction paper or heavier white paper. Draw three organic shapes: one large, one medium, and one small shape. Cut out each shape.

Place the shapes on the painted geometric background. Move the shapes around to create a sense of space (large in the foreground, medium in the middleground, and small in the background).

CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles - Step Four

Step Four

Create a border around each organic shape by using words to describe: the Cree Calendar month, the changes and cycles you notice taking place during the month, and finally what you love about this time of year.

Use warm colours to write on the large organic shape, and cooler colours on the two smaller organic shapes to show that you are moving back in space. Draw small symbols or images to mark the end of a thought or feeling, creating a pattern of words and symbols.

CREE CALENDAR – Shapes, Patterns, Cycles - Step Five

Step Five

Place the organic shapes on the painted geometric background creating contrast between the shapes and colours. Glue the shapes to the painted background.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Illustrate a month from the traditional Mushkegowuk Cree Calendar.
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the changes, cycles and patterns that occur in nature through words and images.
  3. Draw/paint geometric and organic shapes.
  4. Create depth in space using size.
  5. Connect personal life experiences to their artworks.


  1. Have students explore other First Nations' traditional calendars.
  2. Have students create a photo collage to illustrate another month in the Cree Calendar.
  3. Go for a nature walk with your students. Encourage them to observe the natural environment, and to make some sketches or take photos. Back in the classroom ask students to write a story about one of the images they drew, photo they took, or a natural object that captured their curiosity.


  1. Prior to this lesson download images from the internet, or find images in books or magazines of a variety of plants and animals (e.g. moose, geese, rabbits, frogs, eagles) in Ontario.
    Canada Goose
  2. Download the PDF, Thirteen Moons Curriculum, by the Ontario Native Literacy Coalition, 2010.
  3. Download images by George Littlechild, Canadian First Nations artist.
  4. Prior to this lesson have students experiment in their sketchbooks with geometric shapes, using a pencil and ruler. Encourage students to expore colour and contrast by filling in the shapes with a variety of colours.
  5. Locate a map of Ontario that students can refer to. Discuss the communities located along the western side of the James Bay coast. Create a mind map of the types of animals and plants you might find in this area of Ontario.
  6. Discuss and define organic shapes, and have students draw a variety of organic shapes from the class mind map.


  1.  Introduce students to the artist, George Littlechild. Have students look at a variety of George Littlechild's paintings, focusing on how he created his background (e.g., using colour and geometric shapes).
  2. Use a circle as a symbol to discuss the four seasons and how they change in a cycle, creating a pattern. Ask students to describe other patterns they see in nature.
  3. Explain that the Mushkegowuk Cree people of the James Bay region have six seasons: spring, blooming earth or break-up, summer, fall, freeze-up, and winter.
  4. Add the two new seasons to the circle. Show students where the Mushkegowuk Cree People of the James Bay Lowlands live.
  5. Traditionally First Nation People have used the moon as a way of understanding the passing of time. Each moon cycle is similiar to a calendar month. Share the 'Moons of the Cree Year' on page 18 of the Thirteen Moons Curriculum, with the students.


The Challenge

  1. Choose a calendar month from the 'Moons of the Cree Year'  (Traditional Cree Calendar).
  2. Use words, images, and shapes (geometric and organic) to communicate the changes that take place during the chosen month from the Cree Calendar.
  3. Make connections to the Cree Calendar month from personal life experience.
  4. Demonstrate contrast through painting techniques, colour, and natural shapes cut from construction paper.

The Process

  1. Have students choose a month from the traditional Cree Calendar, and imagine the changes, cycles, and patterns that take place during that time of year.  
  2. Have students brainstorm words, thoughts, feelings, experiences and images connected to the calendar month using coloured markers to record their ideas in their sketchbooks or on a piece of blank paper.                                     
  3. Revisit one of the paintings by George Littlechild and discuss how he painted the background, and the story told by the painting (examine the patterns he created using colour and shapes).
  4. Ask students to begin by drawing geometric shapes on a large piece of heavy white paper, then to paint the shapes using a variety of colours.
  5. While the paint dries ask students to choose an important animal or plant from the Cree month. Instruct them to draw three animals or plants (large, medium, and small) and cut each out.
  6. Continue to guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  7. Remind students to make connections to the land and what is happening during the time of year they chose.
  8. Observe students as they work.
  9. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Once all the artworks are complete ask students to bring their artworks into a large circle. Invite each student to share how they made connections to the traditional Cree Calendar month in their artwork.
  2. During the circle discussion include references to: contrast, painting technique, shapes (organic and geometric), and space (using size to create depth).


  1. Observe students as they work – exploring, experimenting, adding detail, thoughtful focus.
  2. Listen to and observe students as they discuss the artworks – attentive listening, insightful contributions.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - CALENDAR_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students reflect on their own artworks in their sketchbooks. Ask students:
    - What worked well in you artwork? Why?
    - What would you change or do differently next time?
    - What connections did you make to the Cree Calendar from your own life experience?