Learning About Korea Through Its Kites: Teaching the Kono Korean Fighter Kite

Level: Intermediate (3-5/6) Middle (6-8)
Grade from: 4
Grade to: 8
Length: 1-5 sessions, including student readings (20-40 minutes each) and decorating, constructing, and flying the kite (can be combined into one or more longer sessions). The kite alone can be constructed in 45 minutes (no decoration or flying time).
Cultural Studies Integration:

Focus: 

These readings and activities introduce Korea and its tradition of making and flying fighter kites, an element of seasonal celebrations during the lunar New Year period. Students will learn about the history and cultural significance of Korean kites, and can make a version of the kite (requires purchase of a kite kit).

Curriculum Integration: 

Science: analyzes how the parts of a system go together and how these parts depend on each other; analyzes how well a design or a product solves a problem.

Mathematics: understands the concept of area; understands and applies strategies to obtain reasonable estimates of length and area.

Social Studies: describes how differing environments both provide varying opportunities and set limits for human activity; analyzes the impact of technology and tools on the production of goods and services; identifies the ways cultural traditions are expressed through artistic creations and use of the environment; explains how some forms of cultural communication contribute to societal cohesion and/or division.

Visual Arts: understands and demonstrates the use of line through direction, type, and quality; identifies and uses color and form in a 3D artwork; combines art elements for expressive purposes; uses proportion to analyze size relationships in an artwork; balances forms and uses emphasis in an artwork; develops work using a creative process with instructor assistance; identifies general attributes of artworks from a specific culture.

Language Arts: applies vocabulary strategies in grade-level text; understands and applies content vocabulary critical to the meaning of the text; summarizes the information in an expository text; reads to learn new information; reads to perform a task; writes for different purposes; writes in a variety of forms/genres (answers to questions).

Cultural Integration: Asia

Materials: 

Student Reading: The Kite Mistaken for a Shooting Star: Why Kites are Important in Korea (PDF file)

AND/OR

Student Reading: The Fighter Kites of Korea (PDF file)

Purchase Kite Kits:Kono Korean Fighter Kite Kit, per student

Materials You Supply: Scissors (good quality); markers, pens, crayons, watercolors, stamps and/or dyes for decorating the sail; white glue and glue cup; cotton swabs; large plastic carrier bag (optional, for carrying kite home)—per student

Optional Sessions One - Two: Introducing Korean Kites (20-40 minutes each)

These optional readings are designed to establish a cultural context for the kite students will make and/or to complement an existing unit of study about Korea or Asia. From these readings students should learn the following information about Korea:

Kites have been part of Korean history for centuries and continue to play a part in cultural observances today.

The Korean fighter kite is a signature cultural artifact, with special techniques, motifs, and accessories for construction, decoration, and flying.

Fighter kiting is a popular sport throughout Asia; Korean fighter kites are known for being especially fast and tough.

Students will also pick up incidental cultural and historical information to integrate with any ongoing study of Korea or Asia.

Sessions Three - Five: Decorating, Constructing, and Flying the Korean Fighter Kite (45-60 minutes each; can be combined)

It is recommended that students spend the first session decorating the fighter kite sail. Decorate on the UNPRINTED side of the paper. Students at Roxhill Elementary especially enjoyed using Chinese character stamps, with gold stamp pads and gold markers, to decorate their sails. Chronicle Books makes Chinese Characters, a set of twenty wood-backed rubber stamps (such characters as friend, spirit, peace, courage, and forgiveness) with an explanatory booklet by Barbara Aria.

FAS water soluble dyes (a product from New Zealand, available in the US from Literacy Learning, will create the intense colors characteristic of traditional Korean kites.

To construct the kite, follow instructions in the kite kit. For tips on flying a fighter kite, check the site of Dave Gomberg, past president of the American Kitefliers Association.

Additional Resources: 

The Kite Fighters (2000) by the by the Newbery-award-winning Linda Sue Park is an outstanding short novel, recommended for students in grades 3-7. Set in Seoul, Korea in 1473, the story tells of brothers, Kee-sup the elder and Young-sup the younger (age eleven), whose father introduces them to kites. Kee-sup can barely launch or fly a kite, but he is a meticulous and inspired kite maker; Young-sup is a careless builder but understands the “language kites speak” as they swoop and dip in the wind. The brothers learn to collaborate through kite making and flying, and in the process expand their father’s attitude toward traditional Korean family responsibilities and relations. The story ends with the New Year kite fighting competition, in which the brothers are making and flying a kite as covert representatives of the young King. In an author’s note, Park says that the boy-King figure is based on the historical King Songjong, who ruled Korea from 1469 to 1494.

The many details about kite making and flying are accurate (Park consulted with Dave Gomberg; see above), and are seamlessly woven into Park’s elegant and exciting narrative. Students can learn that kite making and kite flying are different skills: splitting these skills between the two brothers supports Park’s exploration of their need to collaborate, by joining their skills, to win the competition, despite traditional Korean beliefs that the younger son must defer to the older, who is responsible for upholding the honor of the family. Similarly, a clever plot twist about the invention of cutting line, and whether its use will be permitted in the kite fight, fits with an exploration of Korea’s Confucian emphasis on proper behavior. Finally, and most important, Park’s sparely poetic phrasing very aptly conveys the pleasures and rewards both of building and decorating a fine kite and of conducting that kite through its conversation with the wind.

Librarian Pat Bliquez, whose students at Roxhill Elementary in Seattle tested the suitability of this kite design for intermediate-level students, worked with The Drachen Foundation to develop teaching notes for The Kite Fighters and online research projects to extend learning about East Asia and amplify the kite making activity. Link to these resources (which were showcased at the Washington Library Media Association conference in October 2006) here.

For teacher background about Korea, see “Top Ten Things to Know About Korea in the 21 st Century” by Edward J. Shultz, published in Education About Asia, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Winter 2002), pp. 7-10, available online as a sample article. Intermediate-level students will pick up much information about Korean traditions and culture in Land of Morning Calm: Korean Culture Then and Now by John Stickler (2003): it discusses and illustrates such topics as the Korean alphabet, religion, celebrations, ceramics, music, and food.

Learn more about Korean kites (Bangpae) here.

Related Past Projects: 
International Arts Consortium