Native American Unit Study
Through the month of November we are doing a deep dive into studying Native Americans while we also learn about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. My boys love everything to do with survival skills, hunting, wilderness, etc, so learning about how the Native Americans lived is really interesting to them.
To make our learning fun we plan to read various Indian legends, do lots and lots of crafts and art projects, make recipes, and also read a really interesting read-aloud that you won't want to miss.
Below is a list of the resources we are using and have used in the past along with info on how we used the items and other important information for each item. If you are looking for ideas for your own Native American Unit Study then I hope this is helpful to you.
I often use the Layers of Learning books as my base for unit studies. This book includes an overview on the following groups of American Peoples: Inuit, Woodland, Southwest, Mississippian, and the Pacific Northwest. Included is information about each group and a craft to go along with the studies. Examples of crafts are sand art, construct an Indian Mound, birch bark canoe, a toilet paper totem pole, decorate your own maize printout with popcorn kernels, etc. The end of the book also includes Indian Legends and craft ideas like how to make your own dream catcher and an Indian drum craft. You can also make your own printable book with an Indian Legend about How the Raven Stole the Sun. This book is packed with information and craft ideas and would be enough all on its own, but I love to use various resources, so keep scrolling for more.
You just can't learn about Native Americans without making your own dreamcatcher! There are various kits on Amazon, but many of them are pretty pricey. This dreamcatcher kit is very affordable. Click here to read The Legend of the Dreamcatcher - a Chippewa Legend - as a way to introduce Dreamcatchers and the story behind them.
If you've ever read a DK Eyewitness Book, then you know that these books are like a museum within a book. It's loaded with images of actual artifacts and information on each image. It truly is like bringing a section of a museum home with you.
Usborne always does a wonderful job and their book entitled Who Were the First North Americans is no exception. The book answers a different question on each two-page spread. Some examples of questions asked are, "Did they build towns?", "Where did they buy things?", "What did they do for fun?", "Did they have an army?", and more. One of my favorite things about this book is the interesting little facts they include here and there. One example of a new fact I learned is that the Inuit wore sunglasses! The book says they made wooden eye shades to keep the glare of the sun out and it shows an illustration of what they looked like. Some other interesting facts included are that they had saunas (sweat lodges), criminals were punished by being ignored (no one would talk to them or even look at them) but murderers found guilty would be put to death, and some tribes cooked stew in buffalo stomachs because they didn't have iron pots before the Europeans arrived. The little facts included are what I think make this book especially great.
This little Indian Village Sticker Book is just a tiny little book, but it's an adorable activity for little ones. You pull out the sticker pages that are stapled inside and use the inside of the cover as the background scene to stick the stickers onto. It's just a little activity, but especially great for little ones.
This North American Indian Activity Book includes 53 pages of different activities. The types of activities included are mazes, spot the difference, connect the dots, find the hidden objects, and crossword puzzles. The activities vary in difficulty. My 6 year old is able to do some of them, and my 10 year old is able to do the harder ones, so it's been a nice book for them to share.
Learn about Sacajawea and the story of how she guided Lewis and Clark in their expedition across America. This is a biography reader that grades 2-4 can read on their own and learn all about Sacajawea's true story.
Learn about The Trail of Tears with this 48 page reader for 3-5 grade. Your child can learn about the trials the Cherokee nation faced as they were forced to leave their home and go settle in Oklahoma, over 1,000 miles away.
Step Into Reading Pocahontas
Learn The True Story of Pocahontas with this 48 page reader suitable for 2-3 grade readers. Both boys and girls will enjoy this action-packed story.
Use Native American patterns as your inspiration to design your own bracelet, anklet, keychain, or anything else you'd like with this bead loom. If your kids love crafting this will be the perfect project for them.
If you love to include crafts in your unit studies, then the Make it Work books are for you! It is packed with high quality craft ideas all while learning history. Examples of crafts are: Sioux headdress, life size teepee, make a longhouse model, carve a totem pole out of balsa wood, hopi boiled corn cakes, make a drum and drumstick, make a clay pot, make a basket, dying fabric with foods, make your own weaving frame, make a canoe with balsa wood, and soooo much more. The crafts included are not your little construction paper crafts that you end up throwing away a year later. These are high quality crafts using good materials to make something that can become a real keepsake.
The Girl Who Helped Thunder book is a collection of Native American legends. Stories of dangerous quests, competitions, and animals stories are included in this illustrated book of tribal tales. The stories are short, usually about 3-4 pages, and most of them include an illustration. Each story tells the tribe that it came from and there's usually a short intro to the story to give some historical background. This book is excellent for sharing Native American tales with young children. Your kids will not want you to stop reading!
Spirits, Fairies and Merpeople is a collection of 7 Native American stories of creatures from other realms. It's interesting to learn about how the mermaids, fairies, and gnomes that are so often connected to northern European legends, were also something that the Indians believed in. Enter an imaginary world with this book of Indian legends.
All the Stars in the Sky is a collection of Native American tales having to do with the stars and sky and spirit world. It's fascinating to read the stories about how the Indians viewed these topics. Each story is only a few pages and includes illustrations.
Learn the story of Squanto and how he helped the pilgrims with this beautifully illustrated book. Learn how he was captured into slavery and used by God for a Thanksgiving miracle.
If you have an older elementary or early middle school child and are looking for a book for them to read on their own, The Sign of the Beaver is an excellent choice. My 10 year old son is currently reading it and enjoying it very much. He said the first few chapters started out really "boring" and slow, but I encouraged him to keep going and give it a chance and now he is enjoying it very much. It's all about a boy who ends up alone in the wilderness and makes friends with a Native boy. This Newberry Honor book is one that you definitely need in your school library.
Adopted by Indians
Adopted by Indians is an excellent read-aloud book choice. I am currently reading this to my kindergartner and 4th grader as part of our morning basket, and they both are truly interested. It's the true story and autobiography of a boy who ends up going to live with a nearby Indian tribe. They take care of him after his mother dies and he ends up speaking their language fluently and learning all about how the Indians lived and survived. Each chapter describes a different topic, such as how they hunted, how they cooked, games they played, etc. It's truly a fascinating read as it is written by the person who experienced it and he shares in detail how the Indians lived. My boys like to color while they listen, but they often get so caught up in the story that they completely stop coloring to listen more intently. It has truly inspired them to get outside and try some of the things that are described in the book for themselves.
I have not yet read Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, but it is a Newberry Honor book and it looks very interesting. I can't say much about it since we have not read it yet, but I wanted to include it on the list in case it looks interesting to you...and also to remind myself to get it next year for our read aloud when we study the Native Americans again!
Peacemaker is a book that I read to my son last year when he was in the 3rd grade. We both enjoyed it very much. It is the true story of a young boy who witnesses the arrival of a mysterious man who appears in a white canoe and brings peace to the multiple tribes and begins the Iroquois Confederacy. It is well-written and truly a wonderful read-aloud option.
The Indian in the Cupboard is a classic that is a great book choice for a Native American study. It's about a boy who receives a toy Indian that comes to life. The boy and the the toy Indian warrior form a friendship and the boy has to find a way to keep his living toy from being found out and taken away from him.
History Pockets: Native Americans
This is one of 2 items included in this list that I have not yet tried. The reason I included this one is I know a lot of people really like these History Pockets books by Evan-Moor. If your child really loves the hands-on cut and paste and coloring learning style then this might be a really good fit for you. My current kindergartner may enjoy this in the future when he gets into grades 1-3, so I wanted to include it here to save it for an idea for later. The idea is a you make a pocket book and each pocket focuses on the tribes, food, clothing, shelter, and family life. It's something to consider for early elementary, especially if your child enjoys this style of learning.
That concludes my list of Native American Unit Study resources, but below I have also included some additional activity ideas that I will continue to add to from time to time.
I know there are a lot of items included in this list and if you're spending only a month studying Native Americans, you would never be able to get through it all! But I like to have options and I like to see what my kids are interested in and follow their lead, so I know that these items are great to keep in our library and if we don't get to all of them this year (which we definitely won't), we can always come back to them in years to come.
Additional Activity Ideas:
If you're looking for a fun activity to go along with your Native American studies, be sure to check out my free Native American Inspired Sand Art printables. Click here to get the free download!
Indian Corn Bread VS Modern Corn Bread
Another activity idea is to compare our modern corn bread recipes to a traditional Native American corn bread recipe. Start by reading the book Fry Bread and then move to the kitchen to make your favorite corn bread recipe like we make it today and then make it like the Indians used to do. Eat them together and vote to see which one is your favorite. Here's a sweet modern corn bread recipe and here is a link to a Native American Corn Bread Recipe for kids. I also found this fantastic blog post, which has multiple different historical corn bread recipes from different eras (a few Indian recipes are included). The Fry Bread book includes a recipe at the end that looks delicious if you wanted to use their recipe as your Indian Corn bread recipe!
Play Dough Indian Village
Design your own Indian village with play dough and Indian figurines! You get to choose the layout and design your own Indian village however you want it. Are your houses made of popscicle sticks atop an indian mound? Are they made of teepees that you cut out with paper and color? Or are they pueblos made out of play dough? Use a piece of cardboard as your base. Use blue playdough for ponds, lakes, or streams, green for grass, and yellow for corn fields. Get as elaborate as you'd like and be creative! This is a great activity to do during read-aloud time. My 10 year old absolutely LOVED this project and told me he definitely wants to do more of that! Here's a picture below of the village he made:
Leave a comment below if you enjoyed this list or if you have any recommendations for improving it!
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