Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pow Wow 2011

Today was the culmination of our month long study of the great Native American Nations.  When Chets Creek opened, Chief Jumping Frog was a Kindergarten teacher and she brought the tradition of a Native American Powwow around the Thanksgiving holiday with her from another local elementary school.  Today Chief Jumping Frog Principal Susan Phillips and that tradition have evolved from one of teaching our children that Native Americans use bows and arrows to hunt buffalo and all live in tepees to an in-depth study of First Americantribes across this country.  As the years passed we became dissatisfied with our simple ceremony and began to delve into all of the differences among the First Americans that inhabited our land.  We learned that the Sioux really did live in tepees but the the great Iroquois Nation were people of the longhouses and the peaceful Lenape built wigwams and Inuits actually lived in igloos...  As each tribe researched the clothes that their tribes wore they found that many of the Natives used the skins and feathers of the animals that they hunted in their area and that the Seminoles of our native Florida used shells which were abundant along the shore and that each tribe had different traditional garb so the costumes of the Powwow took on different colors and shapes.

It was not long before we knew that we wanted to involve parents more heavily into our study so homework for the month became family projects.  Families were asked to tell their children stories of their own childhood and their child's early days and to make knots in a counting rope as they told each story just like the beautiful Iroquois story of a Grandfather who tells the story of the birth and childhood to his blind grandson in the beautifully written and former Book-of-the-Month Knots on a Counting Rope. Children bring their ropes back to school and share one of their favorite stories with the class. 

A cardboard gingerbread shape is sent home and families are asked to decorate the native child after researching how their child's tribe might dress.  These colorful First Americans hang in our hallways.
Parents are invited in Tuesday before Powwow for a night of fun as each tribe gathers their families to make replicas of the types of houses that their tribe might have lived in and then these are also displayed in the hallways.  You can walk through the halls and see Seminole  chickees,  Hopi adobe homes, and plank houses with totem poles from the Nootkas...

Several years ago we decided to keep all the information together on a Native American wiki.  Not only is there space for each of the tribes to upload information but on the home page there is a copy of every letter sent to parents, lists of materials to gather for the many projects, invitation sent to first graders, and a million of the other little details that help to keep us all organized!  What a gift each year as we recreate this tradition at our school.  This is a HUGE project and is only accomplished because the work stands on the shoulders of the teachers who came before.

It wasn't long before we began to worry that we were sending our children from Chets Creek with many stereotypes about Native Americans because we were only talking about how Native Americans used to be, but we knew that our five years olds were too young to take on the rich, but sometimes difficult histories, of our tribes, so we decided to bring the tribes alive again in Social Studies in fifth grade.  Our older students do projects that include "compare and contrast" and then do models and PowerPoint's and include many different kinds of technology.  They join us on the night that we have kindergarten parents in for "Make 'n' Take" and make their presentations to the kindergarten children and their families.  Each child gets a "passport" at the beginning of the night and has it stamped at each stop.  When they fill their passport, they can collect a Native American bracelet from Chief Jumping Frog as they leave for the night.  This addition to our curriculum brings our study full circle.

Today was the great Powwow celebration.  Fifth graders joined us by helping to give out programs, holding authentic Native American flags, dressing with colorful tribe-related sashes and roping off the Powwow area and performing a million different chores.  Kindergartners performed Native dances and songs in Native tongues, dressed in their Native costumes.  Chief Chets Creek performed a traditional grass dance that is actually performed to stomp the grass flat before a Powwow.  He had researched, not only the dance and specific dance steps, but the costume, which was replicated by a parent. Parents and children enjoyed the entire Powwow presentation, led by Chief Jumping Frog, of course, and snapped a gazillion pictures.
But that is just the start of the day.  The kindergarten children visit centers throughout the day, led by our Resource Team and each one teaches something important about the tribes.  A real tepee is erected around the flagpole (amazing to behold).  The children enter in disbelief and look up at the beautiful paintings on the inside wall of the tepee.  This is one of the most anticipated and meaningful stops of the day.   Peaceful Waters (Media Specialist KK Cherney) tells stories about the "three sisters."  Each child leaves with seeds of corn, beans, and squash to plant at home.  As she tells the stories Drawing Hands paints a picture.  Peaceful Waters then tells of the native tradition of a talking stick and as she passes the stick to each child and adult, she asks them to tell of one thing they are thankful.  Many of the children are thankful for family and friends - Daddy coming home from Iraq, a grandmother that has been sick, a new baby brother.  A few are thankful for their teachers (thank goodness) and a few are also thankful for dinosaurs and videogames and toys!  The adults always seemed surprised when Peaceful Waters asks each of them to name the thing they are most thankful, but it is not unusual to sometimes see grown men cry.

Next the children visit Colorful Wind (Art Teacher Jen Snead) and she teaches them about the natural dyes used to paint and communicate.  Children are surprised to learn that the Native Americans so long ago could not run to Walmart for paint and brushes!  Then the children experiment by painting with such things as beets and blueberries and spices.  At another art center the children mold clay into balls and then discs and use shapes of native designs to make a keepsake that will be fired and returned. Some of these will be used on necklaces and some will find their way onto Christmas trees commemorating the child's first Powwow.  At that same center each child is given a piece of animal hide (or crumpled brown paper bag) and encouraged to use some of the Native American designs from a chart to write a story. 

Chief Sing um Song invited the children in and taught them a Native song.  They got to beat the steady beat on drums and then used paddles pretending to row boats to the beat of the paddle song.  Today my class visited this center as the last one of the day and Music teacher, DeeDee Tamburrino, was just as upbeat and excited to teach this last group as she had been to teach that first group so much earlier in the day. 
The children always need a break to run and play so the PE teachers divide the tribe into groups and let them compete, much like the Native American kids did.  They have a list of things that they can find in the elements on a picture list and have to find each of the items in the wooded area of our property.  Some of the items are planted such as bird eggs and nests and animal fur and others are found in the natural surroundings such as rocks, sticks, bark, and pine cones.  As they come with their treasures, the teachers discuss how the Native American's used each of these items from their environment. Today, because it was a little blustery, the children gathered around the natural fire heat, much like children must have done in days gone by.

The tasting center is always a fun break.  The children get to taste carrots, dried fruit and apple slices.  They enjoy corn muffins and popcorn and even a taste of beef jerky.  Our Speech Teacher, Moe Dygan, a true hunter, also prepares venison from one of his catches, pork from a wild bore and turkey.  Many of the children make their first connections to the game that the Natives hunted and our own food supply.  Moe also brings in many artifacts of his hunting days for the children to see.  He shows the children real horns and hooves, reinforcing vocabulary we learned during The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  The children, and parents, sit spell bound as he speaks.
I don't even know how to explain how I feel about this day or this entire unit.  It has evolved over time, but there is just so much to be proud of as we complete this unit.  I am so proud of my colleagues and our parents who give and give and give - all who really put out the extra effort to make it such a rich learning experience for our children. Am I tired? EXHAUSTED!  But it is so worth it... The learning, the fun, the collegiality...  It just makes me proud to be a Creeker!

P.S-  Oh, and did I mention that my daughter-in-law helped lead the great Iroquois Nation and my granddaughter was with the peaceful Lenape tribe?  Yes, Kallyn I know that is is Lena-PAY and not Lena-PEE!  So-o-o-o proud to be a Creeker and have the opportunity to watch this tradition pass through the generations of my own family!

1 comment:

Maria Mallon & Cheryl Dillard said...

This is one of the BEST units in kindergarten. Students and teachers really become their tribe and learn so much about the first Americans. We have refined this unit year after year and it has truly become a wonderful learning experience. It is a lot of work but so worth the time and effort. I this this was the best one yet...but we say that every year :) MM