Although I believe people of color should be celebrated and included in the curriculum year round, Thanksgiving time is a great time of year to zoom in more closely on Native American culture. The first Thanksgiving was one of the few peaceful events regarding the Europeans’ treatment of the American Natives, so of course it brings them to mind when that holiday rolls around. The Native People did indeed treat the Europeans with kindness, and were probably the reason the first settlers even survived the winter here in America, but later, the Europeans would pretty much kill off the Native population through war and disease in order to steal their land- but you can save that happy topic for older kiddos! It should absolutely be taught later on though, because it is history. Watering it down to make white people look better is not an honest treatment of the events that transpired, but I digress! (sorry- the cultural anthropologist in me went off on a tangent there!) LoL In any case, here are a few simple ways to begin introducing the richness of Native American culture to your toddler! I’ve included activities from tribes that encompass several regions of America from the Eastern Woodlands to the Subarctic to avoid building a stereotypical image of who the First Peoples of America were (and are).
–Woodland Indian Wampum bead necklaces: Native Americans are known nationwide for their beautiful bead work. Beads were made from things found in nature, such as shells and turquoise rocks until the settlers arrived and traded glass beads with them. Wampum beads were fashioned from purple and white clam shells found along the eastern coast of the United States, then made into belts to be given as gifts or worn in ceremonies, and they were used as the very first form of currency in the United States! To make our “beads” I tossed some ziti with white and purple paint in two separate Ziplock baggies, allowed them to dry on some wax paper, then let my littles string them to make necklaces. Please note we did not do feather headdresses out of respect for the Native Americans’ regard of feathers as being sacred.
–Plains Indian Tee pee making: I printed a few Blackfoot Tee Pee templates that I found online and had my littles color them. Then I cut out the tee pee, taped it in a cone shape, hot glued some sticks to the top, snipped open the door and folded back the flaps!
–Drum making: I cut out a piece of tan construction paper to fit around an empty oatmeal canister then had my little color it to decorate it. Then I hot glued the paper around the canister and gave it to him to play!
–Southwest Indian Piki bread: I don’t think this recipe is entirely authentic (real Piki bread is made from finely ground blue corn meal, water and juniper ash, which lends a unique flavor and extra nutrients! You can read more about it here!) but it came out pretty yummy! Maybe this is just a more modern version? Anyway, you mix 2 cups of self rising cornmeal (or just add in a TSP of baking powder if you can’t find self rising), 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk (I used soy and they turned out fine!), 2 eggs and 2 TBSP of sugar. Pour scoops of the batter onto a frying pan on medium high heat and cook similar to pancakes! We ate ours with honey and it was delicious! I got the recipe on Teachers Pay Teachers.
–Q-tip corn painting: Give your little a sheet of cardstock with a long oval drawn on it and a plate with Indian corn colored paint (we did orange, yellow, purple, and brown) and Q-tips for each color. Then tell them to make dots with the Q-tips in the oval (I showed my little how first). When they’re finished, allow the paint to dry, then have them add tissue paper leaves to their corn! I got this idea from Mrs. Jones’ Creation Station.
–Totem pole craft: Many of the tribes of the far north west made and erected totem poles to tell familiar stories, recount ancestral lines, or recount notable events- so we decided to make our own! First, I let my littles paint paper towel rolls. When they were dry, I had them stick on faces using a $5 Melissa and Doug animal face sticker pad I found on Amazon (some of the stickers were waaay too big, but we found enough that they worked!) Last we added wings to one of our totem creatures as a finishing touch!
–Native American music: Another fun activity to do is to have Alexa play traditional Native American music so your littles can listen to it!
- face stickers (ie. mouths, eyes, noses, etc)
- paper towel tube
- painted ziti (purple and white)
- oatmeal canister