One of our favorite things about homeschooling is getting to introduce our children to places and cultures they might not have experienced yet. This week, we’re sharing books and activities about First People of North and Central America. The books selected in this unit were written by Native People because we wanted to introduce the Indigenous cultures of North and Central America in an authentic way. The books highlight the things we all share in common, including the love of food, dance, and nature. We can’t wait to get started on a week of celebrating culture and tradition. 🌎 Click here to download your weekly tracker!
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) symbol.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (or listen to it on YouTube here)
- SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (or listen to it on YouTube here)
- Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (or you can read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to it on YouTube here)
Optional additional reading:
- We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell — This is a beautiful book to start a conversation about gratefulness with your child. It is not required for this week’s lesson, but if your child is an avid reader, it is a great one for your personal library!
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- thin cardboard (empty cereal boxes would work)
- brown + black construction paper
- paint brush
- shallow dish
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- round yellow labels (or you can use corn kernels or any other counter)
- paper plates
- paint stir stick or 12-inch tongue depressor
- masking tape
- dried beans or beads
- raffia and feathers (optional)
- ¼, ½, and 1 cup measuring cups
- dried corn kernels
- large bowl or plastic bin
- funnel (optional)
- watercolor paints
- popsicle sticks
- Ingredients for playdough: flour, salt, cocoa powder, cream of tarter, water and vegetable oil.
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
Letter of the week: N
New to the letter of the week? Start here! This week, we’ll highlight the letter N! Print your letter N coloring sheet and Letter Guide. Let your child color the coloring sheet as you work through the next part of the lesson.
The letter N makes one sound, /n/ as in “Native American” and “northern lights”. In this case, we’re using the proper noun form of Native, so you can also show them the difference between an upper and lower case N. Reinforce the sounds with our Letter of the Week Song.
Remember, the guide isn’t a worksheet! The first page is for you, the grown-up. Use it to introduce the letter name, the sounds it makes, and to demonstrate how to draw each letter. Display the Letter Guide in your school area along with the completed coloring sheet to reinforce the lesson throughout the week.
Next, use the second sheet to create a page for your child’s phonics book. Review the book a few times each week until your child has mastered these phonics.
Begin this week by looking at this map of North America that details the names of the tribes that originally inhabited North America. There were hundreds of tribes across every part of the land. Look for your home state and find the name of the tribe in your area. If you have a local native museum in your area, plan a trip for later in the week or month.
Next, read Fry Bread to introduce the Native people culture to your child. Point out the similarities that you find in the story to your own family.
Activity 1: The common home of Native people in North America is the wigwam. This fun craft will help you build a small-scale model at home.
(+) Remember the upgrade we hinted at in the Neighborhood Unit? Put your wigwam next to the paper bag house you created last week. Next, draw a venn diagram or use this printable download and prompt your child to compare and contrast the house and the wigwam. Here are some questions that can get them thinking:
- What is the wigwam made of?
- What is the house made of?
- What details do you see just on the house?
- What details do you see on both the house and the wigwam?
- Who lives in the house?
- Who lives in the wigwam?
Activity 2: Corn is an ingredient in the fry bread and a staple of many Native diets. This printable incorporates corn in a fun math game. Print the pages and give your child two dice and some yellow circle stickers. Have them roll the dice, total the dots, and then cover that number on their printable with a sticker. (Note: You can use corn kernels, pennies, or other small items as counters if you don’t have the stickers.)
(-) Modify by using only one die instead of two for little ones who aren’t ready to do sums.
(+) If your child is ready for bigger numbers, use the second sheet to write your own and give them as many dice as necessary.
Start by reading Jingle Dancer. Native or First People have rich traditions that still exist today. Point out to your child that the Native family in this story is living in modern times, but they continue to practice their tradition of jingle dancing and share it with all of us. Next, show this video of a real powwow to show what a jingle dance looks like.
Activity 1: Native American Rattles Craft – Make your own rattles to dance along with Jena.
Activity 2: Corn Kernel Math
(-) Modify this activity for younger children by using the corn to create a sensory bin. Simply add a funnel and some measuring spoons and let the exploring begin.
Read the SkySisters story, then begin the activity below.
Activity 1: The sisters in our story travels to the top of the mountain to see the Northern Lights. Explain to your child that these lights are real, then share this simple explanation of the lights here. That link also has great pictures of the lights, so be sure to share those with your child, too. The sisters in our story didn’t know the science behind these lights but were retelling the myth and legend they had been told. Explain to your child that often, people in history made up stories to explain things that they didn’t understand. The link above shares legends around the Northern Lights from around the world that you can share with your child if they are engaged.
Activity 2: Northern Lights Watercolor Craft
Remind your child about the girls drinking hot chocolate at the beginning of the SkySisters book. (You can also reread the book to refresh their memory.) Explain to our child that the cocoa bean has a long history in Mesoamerica. It was used in marriage ceremonies and even as currency! 🍫
Here are a few chocolate facts to share with your child:
- Chocolate starts off as a seeds on a cacao tree. The cacao tree grows in warm areas of North and South America, Africa, and Asia. The seeds form in long, cucumber-shaped fruits called pods. When the pods are ripe, workers cut them from the tree and remove the seeds. The seeds sit for several days before being dried, either by the Sun or in an oven. The dry seeds, called cocoa beans, are then processed (or changed) into powers, paste and cocoa butter.
- The Aztec people would make a bitter drink with cocoa beans called xocoatl.
- When Europeans tasted xocoatl they didn’t like it, so they added sugar, vanilla and cinnamon to make it sweet and add flavor. (source and source)
Activity 1: The Chocolate Song – This simple Spanish song is fun and easy to learn (you’ll probably be humming it all day), and the video depicts how hot chocolate is made.
Activity 2: Next, make your own Mexican Hot Chocolate! If your child doesn’t mind spice, try this authentic recipe. Need something more palatable for your little one? This adaptation has all the zest of the original without singeing their taste buds.
Activity 3: Chocolate playdough. Prepare chocolate scented playdough with this simple recipe.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- ¾ cup table salt
- 4 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Combine the dry ingredients together, then add the water and oil and kneed until combined.
(Note: this isn’t safe to eat. If your child tends to put things in their mouth, you’ll need to bake the flour for a few minutes before using it to kill any harmful bacteria. To do this, simply spread it evenly on a baking sheet and bake it for about 5 minutes at 350°F.)
Once your playdough is made, pretend play chocolate maker or chocolate shop.
It’s art day! Today, you and your child will explore one of the oldest known Native American arts, basket weaving.
Activity 1: Start by looking at the baskets in this Indigenous Art. Native American basket weavers transform twigs, grasses, roots, ferns, and bark into works of art that are unsurpassed for their beauty and technological skill. Point out to your child how different tribes would use different materials and techniques to build their baskets in unique shapes.
Activity 2: Try your hand at some hand weaving with this simple craft.
(-) Need something a little bit easier for little hands? Simply tie a piece of yarn to a wooden stick and let them work those fine motor skills by wrapping the yarn around the stick.
(+) Ready for an upgrade? Try this paper plate and yarn weaving project. Tip: Use a multi-colored yarn (like this) so that you don’t have to change yarn colors.
Bonus activity: Plan a field trip to a corn maze to get an up-close look at how corn grows.
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