Winter Cardinals


I very rarely do the cutsie, cookie cutter lessons… However with the little kids, sometimes they are needed and when I do pursue this type of lesson I try to leave lots of room for individuality. If a child asks if they can switch something up I ALWAYS tell them, “By all means!”

With that being said, this project is pretty darn cute. I definitely LOL’ed as I uploaded each work of art. Somehow each cardinal takes on a funny little personality of its own!

Charley Harper is one of my faves for teaching 1st graders how to simplify an object. Harper was a modern artist who became famous for his nature paintings which made their way onto calendars and into illustrations. His work is simple and gorgeous and kids LOVE it!

What you need:

  • Smart board or other way to show illustrations
  • Pencils
  • Sharpies
  • Erasers
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Photocopies of sheet music
  • Around 2×2” piece of black paper per student
  • 4.5×6” piece of red paper per student
  • 1×1” piece or orange paper per student
  • 12×4.5” piece of white paper per student
  • 9×12” piece of grey construction paper
  • Hole punchers

Let’s get started!

Step 1:

I begin by showing some of Charlie Harper’s artwork and showing this short illustration. There’s something so mesmerizing about this video that my students and I can’t get enough of!

We then look at this picture of one of his cardinals… This little guy is our goal. I keep him up on my smartboard as a reminder.


“What shape is he? Teardrop or raindrop.” Don’t be surprised if your first graders can’t draw one… I had mine all come practice on the smart board. This way I know exactly who can and cannot draw a raindrop! Then I teach those who struggle how to fix theirs. Once they can prove their drop-drawing abilities I send them to draw a big one on their piece of red paper and cut it out.

Step 2:

Next we have the U shaped part of the cardinal’s face… again they’ll struggle a bit, but that’s what makes our little cardinals so cute!


Lastly we have the “rhombus” shaped beak. I said a diamond shape but my first graders corrected me and told me that it’s a rhombus? I guess I wasn’t listening when they taught me that in first grade!

Step 3

Once our cardinal is put together I point out the details I would like added with a sharpie. Note that the eyes sit outside the body!

Step 4:

Now on to the background! Give everyone a grey piece of construction paper and a long white piece of paper for snow. Have them cut the top off the snow for a wavy look and glue it down.


For trees I show how to draw a winter birch tree on the sheet music paper. I simplify it to a long skinny triangle trunk, skinny upward facing triangles for branches and so on.

Step 5:

I suggest hole punching some berries and point out ways that Harper drew sunflower seeds and little bird prints in the snow.

Their classroom teachers loved these so much they are keeping them and using them as a writing prompt! Have fun!

Student Examples: