Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Exploring Switzerland with Kids | Poya Festival & Folk Art Inspired Project

As part of our afternoon jaunt in Switzerland, we learned about the Swiss living tradition of the poya and did an art project inspired by Swiss poya folk art. 

Poya in Gruyere region
Photo Credit: Pierre Schwaller (CC)

Each spring in Switzerland, it's traditional to take dairy herds up to the mountain pastures when the weather turns warm. This ascent is called the poya. In celebration of the cattle and their new found freedom, the cows are decked out with flowers and large cow bells, often with beautifully embroidered belts that have their owners initials on them. 

Traditional Swiss cow with bell
Photo Credit: Gerald Davison (CC)

In the town of Estavannens (in Gruyere), every few years they hold a large festival in honor of poya. Thousands attend for the parades of cattle herds and bell ringing, festivities and food. 

Poya painting
Photo Credit: Romano1246 (CC)

Poya also refers to simple folk paintings that depict this seasonal ascent. These paintings began in 1800 when herdsmen painted them during the procession up to the mountain as an inventory of the herd. They were then hung on their home's facade or over their windows as a sign of prosperity. There are nearly 800 of these paintings today in the Gruyere area.

Swiss house with poya paintings on its facade
Photo Credit: Romano1246 (CC)

A poya painting shows a long procession of cows accompanied by herders across an entire picture, and depicts typical mountain life. Modern poya paintings are no longer an inventory but are still sought for their simplicity and their representation of an idealized world with no machinery or commercialism to obstruct the scenery. 

Make your own poya inspired art project

The four of us worked together to make our own poya inspired art project - part painting, and part collage*. It would look more authentic if we used a legal size piece of paper, making it longer than wide. But in order to fit all our cows, I knew we'd need a larger piece of paper. 

*alternatively, you could use these printable alpine cow paint by number coloring pages

What you need:

  • Paper for painting
  • Smaller rectangles of paper for the cows - cut these pieces of paper slightly larger than you want the cows (we used cardstock for this, and the pieces were approximately 3" x 4")
  • Pencil & eraser to draw the cows
  • Paint for background and cows
  • Fine tip sharpie to outline the cows
  • Scissors and glue.
  • This printable instruction sheet on how to draw cows
As a collaborative project, the kids took it in turns - while one painted half of the background landscape, the other was working on drawing two cows.

I did a quick easy drawing with three lines to delineate the hills and a mountain range over that (see above). We talked to the kids about painting each section of grassy hill a different shade of green (adding either black or yellow to the green paint to change the shade) to differentiate the levels. The intention was to have the cows climbing up the hill, ascending, to the pasture*.

Working on the cow drawings

We also took it in turns to guide the kids into drawing a cow, following the directions found in this printable instruction sheet. The papers for the cows were already cut to size and cross section lines already drawn. They both started by drawing their cow body (a rectangle) quite small which made the rest of the drawing difficult. It helps to guide them into drawing a decent size rectangle as a base to their drawing. It's also easier to erase the extra lines as you follow the steps, not at the end of the drawing. Once the cows were drawn, details were colored in with paint. 

*We forgot to draw some cows facing the other way in order to have them ascend the tiered pasture painting. In the end it's a field of cows, having already ascended to their mountain pastures :)

Once the paint on the background and the cows had dried, we outlined the cows with a fine tip sharpie, cut them out and glued them to the painting. 

Poya painting was part of an afternoon of exploring Switzerland - find out what else we did here.

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. I misread that as "carry their cows up the ascent," and I was thinking, wow they are strong.

    I think I have a Swiss bell hiding somewhere in my house from my trip to Europe ages ago.

    1. Must be all that fine Swiss chocolate & cheese - makes them so strong they can carry their cows!
      Thanks Ticia, I always love a good laugh :)

  2. I love the end result! I think Alex would like doing this one.

  3. Happy Mother's Day. I have a little gift for you over at my blog. http://homeschooljournal-bergblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/best-mom-award.html

  4. You have to be the coolest auntie around! This is such a lovely thing you are doing for your niece and nephew.


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