Games, Sustainable Cities

Painting like the Ndebele people

Today’s aim is to teach children about traditional African patterns, based on the ornaments used to decorate houses of the Ndebele people and learn to create ornaments.


  • photos of the Ndebele houses (attachment 9.1)
  • rules of the game (attachment 9.2)
  • house template (attachment 9.3)
  • dice
  • markers
  • brown paper
  • glue
  • scissors

Step 1

Introduce the children to the topic by showing them a few pictures of houses from attachment 9.1. Explain to the children that they will learn about a type of African architecture which is unique at the global scale: the houses of the African tribe Ndebele that lives in Zimbabwe.

Print out the attachments. Decide whether the children should create their own houses or wok in groups. If you choose group work, every group should be responsible for one house.


The Ndebele houses are famous for their beautiful ornaments. Those patterns were a secret code of the tribe’s members, developed as a result of wars they waged with other tribes. Their opponents did not understand the symbols and thought that they were only simple, harmless paintings. In fact, the ornaments were part of the Ndebele people’s identity. The tribesmen used them to express their sadness and as prayers.

Step 2

One child throws a dice and draws a pattern they have to recreate on their house template. The next child throws the dice and draws another pattern to add. This way they create an ornament, which is a repeatable pattern. Explain to the children that an ornament is usually symmetrical, which means that its left side is a mirror reflection of the right side (you can show it to the children, using a mirror).

Step 3

If children work on their own, they throw the dice multiple times to draw a few different patterns to recreate (one pattern may be used more than once. The aim of the activity is to create a repeatable ornament). The whole house should be decorated after six throws of the dice, unless you decide that children are ready for a longer activity. In such case, establish how many patterns (dice throws) they need to decorate their houses.

Step 4

After the whole house is covered with ornaments, it can be painted. It is best to choose a few colours and use them alternatively. The houses should then be cut out and put aside. It is the time to create roofs. Cut out the roof template, outline it on the brown paper and then cut out. The children need to make a few cuts at the base of the roof to make it look like straw. Then they glue the roof to the house.

The artwork is ready! 🙂

Logo Unii Europejsiej i Projektu Build Solid Ground
logo Habitat for Humanity Poland

Project is financed by European Union. This project is a part of global advocacy campaign of Habitat for Humanity aimed at improvement of access to land for a shelter.