It is almost Thanksgiving and the time of year when we push our desks aside and turn our class into a Native American village. While many of my lessons during the year focus on famous great thinkers, there are also countless others whose names were never written down in history books. We may not know their names, but we know of their great cultures.
With this in mind, my first graders and I celebrate the first Americans through the Sioux, the Iroquois, the Hopi and the Cherokee of long ago. Our adventure begins with building four large teepees and a sacred fire created out of logs and red and orange tissue paper, around which we will be doing all of our work
As ‘Wise Woman’ and ‘She Who Knows,’ I divide the children into the four communities and we spend our morning circles learning about each other. From the Sioux we learn to build teepees and hunt for buffalo. We also learn about the importance of kindness and the beauty of silence. The Hopi greet us with baskets of corn and special fruit that grows on cactus. We make Kochina figures and paint the colors of the desert’s sunsets.
The Cherokee help us to understand the importance of sharing what we have. We make beautiful beaded jewelry and dolls from cornhusks. The Iroquois welcome us into their many clans. We build miniature longhouses with popsicle sticks and make maple sugar candy. We also string wampum (shell) beads to remember the important events in our lives. It is precious to hear what qualifies as special moments to string up in the mind of a six and seven year old. For example: when my daddy raked up all the leaves, I got to jump in them! Or, when I rode my bicycle without training wheels for the first time.
After a weeklong visit with our Native American friends, we hold a Green Corn Dance celebration where we dance in a circle, plant corn and then gather it. And we invite the parents to join us in dancing and dining!