Goals: Introduce students to Lao culture through stories, textiles, music, and symbols.
Objectives: Students will be able to:
Locate Laos on a world map.
Explain why some people from Laos came to the United States and settled in Iowa.
Name the Southeast Asian ethnic group from Laos that calls Iowa its western home.
Explain some of the connections between Lao Buddhist and Lao traditions.
Examine stories from Lao culture.
Identify various Lao musical instruments.
Examine Lao Natasinh dance.
Examine some Lao foods.
Identify traditional Lao textiles and patterns.
Questions to be answered:
What happened in Laos leading up to 1975, and why did so many people flee?
What Southeast Asian ethnic group settled almost exclusively in Iowa? Why?
How does Buddhism influence Lao traditions?
What are some traditional Lao stories? Compare and contrast them with traditional stories from other cultures.
Which instruments are used in Lao music?
What are some traditional Lao dances and what characterizes Lao dance?
What are some traditional Lao foods?
What type of traditional clothing do Lao people wear during celebrations and ceremonies?
Suggested methods and activities:
Divide students into small groups. Locate Laos on a world map, and ask each group to research Lao history. Each group might present a one-page overview to the class. Discuss the reasons why some Lao fled and settled in Iowa.
Have students name and provide plot summaries of traditional stories from other cultures (including their own). Why do we tell stories?
Have students ask their parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles if they know any stories from their childhood. Ask students to interview those relatives and write down those stories. Invite storytellers into the classroom.
*This activity may be adapted for K-5, though the first question is most appropriate for grades K-3. K-2 may have stories read to them. Grades 3-6 should answer the second question as well as the others.
Students will research various instruments used in Lao music and dance including the lanath (curved wooden zylophone), lanath oum (bass xylophone), khongvong (gong circle), khouy (flute), gong (drum), khene (bamboo mouth organ), phin (mandolin), xor-doung and xor-ou (small and large two stringed violins), and ching (small hand cymbals). For teachers or grades 8-12, read the article about Lao musicians and dancers. Invite a Lao traditional musician into the classroom. If instruments are available, have students experiment with sounds. Ask students to compare and contrast the sounds of Asian and western musical instruments.
Invite Lao traditional dancers into the classroom. (see Folk & Traditional Artists link for this unit.) Have students try to do some of the traditional hand movements. What are some of the characteristics of Lao traditional dance? Compare and contrast Lao dance to western classical ballet. How do the hands and feet movements differ?
*This activity may be modified for all grade levels.
Students will explore the variety of foods from Lao culture. Visit links to research the types of food eaten and prepare traditional foods, such as sticky rice. If possible, have students visit a Southeast Asian market in their town or nearby (consider a fieldtrip!). If this is not possible, visit some of the websites listed instead. Have students name and describe 3-5 ingredients for 1-3 Lao traditional foods.
*This activity most appropriate for grades 6-12, but may be modified for younger grades by working as a class to prepare foods.
Ask students to explore traditional Lao clothing. Have them research the fabrics most commonly used, the colors and differing styles. Discuss the importance of the patterns, motifs and symbols. Examine a variety of silk and traditional tie-dyed cloth found in local Asian markets, tailor shops, in books (see resource list) or online. If possible, invite a Lao seamstress into the classroom or, if there are students of Lao heritage, invite their parents to bring a variety of textiles into the classroom to display and talk about them. Older students might be able to talk about these traditions themselves.
*This activity most appropriate for grade 5-8, but may be modified for older grades by expanding the activity to include a presentation of fabrics/clothing.
For older students, what are some of the ways that Buddhism influences Lao music, dance, stories, food, and customs? What is a Baci ceremony? When and why might a Baci ceremony happen? Refer to text of Lao unit and to this pdf on Lao culture.